NEW YORK — WBO heavyweight champion Shannon Briggs (48-4-1, 42 KOs) is taking every measure possible to prepare for his first title defense against undefeated heavyweight contender Sultan Ibragimov (20-0-1, 17 KOs). The bout is scheduled to occur on June 2 at the 11,500-seat Luzhniki Sports Palace, in Russia.
The Briggs-Ibragimov fight was supposed to have fought on March 10, at The Theater of Madison Square Garden in New York City. The fight was postponed when the boxing community learned that Briggs was diagnosed with having pneumonia.
Briggs spent more than two weeks in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber at the Hilton Head Health Institute in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Briggs appears to be in high spirits and is approaching fight condition.
“I’m a little ways away,” Briggs admitted during an exclusive interview with BASN. “I had walking phenomena and asthma. Golden Boy Promotions and Warriors Boxing put pressure on the WBO to make the fight happen as soon as possible. I want to do everything possible to hold onto my belt. So I sped up my recovery. I’m in South Carolina at a Hilton hyperbaric chamber.”
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy consists of pumping 100% oxygen into someone’s blood stream. As a person’s blood oxygen level increases, so does their healing of many physical aliments.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy also repairs muscle tissues, relives tension, and helps to increase the intake and release of oxygen throughout the lungs.
“It’s to increase healing throughout the body,” Briggs said. “Spare no expense, I’m doing everything possible. I’m going to be 1,000% for this fight. I’m addressing all of my physical issues that will make me stronger physically and help me mentally.”
Briggs admits that while he’s living a lifelong dream as a world heavyweight champion, the experiences that he has endured over his upcoming fight with Ibragimov has been horrendous.
“Don King not wining the purse bid was a tragic thing,” Briggs said. “What I have had to deal with has been horrific. I really want to punish [Ibragimov] on behalf of his promoters.”
As soon as word spread about Briggs having to pull out of his previously scheduled fight against undefeated Ibragimov, Golden Boy Promotions and Warriors Boxing had their doubts.
“Warriors and Golden Boy claimed how I was a coward and a liar about having asthma and phenomena,” Briggs said. “My doctor did an X-ray on my lungs. Warriors and Golden Boy said ‘go to our doctor.’ My doctor said I’ll be ready to resume training in 2-3 months. Their doctor said it could be up to 6 months. They shut up! They were quiet.”
“I went to their doctors because, when I signed the contract they’d purchased insurance. They paid for my training expenses, which was inadequate. They wanted their insurance money.”
Briggs also countered numerous rumors of having been knocked down by Sultan in a sparring session. There is also talk of Briggs ducking Ibragimov because his southpaw style may present too many problems.
“I never sparred with him at all,” Briggs said. “That’s completely untrue. I sparred with his cousin Timor. He said he knocked me down. He must have KO’d me because it didn’t happen.”
Briggs, a native of Brownsville, Brooklyn was supposed to have fought Ibragimov as part of an HBO-televised doubleheader featuring IBF champion Wladimir Klitschko.
The plan was for Briggs and Klitschko to be showcased in an attempt to build an IBF/WBO heavyweight title unification fight between Klitschko and Briggs.
Instead, Briggs now has to travel more than 5,000 miles to face Ibragimov in his native country. But Briggs doesn’t seem to be bothered by Ibragimov’s home field advantage or his southpaw style.
“I’m glad the fight is in Russia,” Briggs said. “I never fought a southpaw in my life. I never sparred with a southpaw. I’m not making it an issue. I’m going to get to his chin. When I get to his chin, it’s going to be hell on earth. All I want to see is blood. I just can’t wait.”
Briggs believes that his WBO mandated title defense is a political move based on Ibragimov’s powerful alliances in the boxing community.
The pressure to fight Ibragimov, who earned a No. 1 contender spot following a 12-round draw against Ray Austin, is a move to increase the European grasp of the world heavyweight division championship. A move that could generate huge dollars through international television broadcast rights.
“They signed Ibragimov with his rich billionaire manager, who signed with De La Hoya’s people,” said Briggs, who believes that Ibragimov is undeserving of a heavyweight title shot.
“No not at all. Ibragimov is fighting because of politics and power. One minute he’s ranked one thing. The next day he signs with De La Hoya and he’s ranked something else?” and the next minute he’s ranked something else.”
Before Ibragimov figured into the equation, Briggs had an agreement with Shelly Finkel to fight Klitschko for the IBF heavyweight title at Madison Square Garden in November.
Briggs said he waited months for a contract, but instead was used as a pawn to block promoter Don King from securing a Garden date. “I personally don’t want to fight this guy,” Briggs admitted.
“I wanted to fight Klitschko. This guy Ibragimov is undeserving. They went to the Garden and they used my name to get a date away from Don King. They pushed Don King out of the Garden and he went to Chicago with Nikolai Valuev.”
Briggs added that Shelly Finkel and the rest of Klitschko’s management team are hesitant of matching Klitschko against a fighter that has a puncher’s chance to beat him.
“Klitschko blew out a street fighter in Ray Austin,” Briggs said. “If he wanted to fight me, he would of. They’re not trying to fight any punchers. Chris Byrd is not a puncher. Calvin Brock is no puncher. Look at what happened with Lamon Brewster. He was taking a beating, hit Klitschko a few times and Klitschko crumbled.”
Briggs didn’t get Klitschko, which would have been a very intriguing fight between two solid heavyweight punchers. Briggs was instead was given a world title opportunity to meet Sergui Liakhovich for the World Boxing Organization’s belt.
Briggs was behind on all three judges scorecards going into the final round. He appeared to have been grasping for breath and needed a knockout to win.
“I was never tired, I was just short of breath,” Briggs admitted. I’m sure if it was the excitement or the adrenaline. I had sparred 115 rounds for the fight. Was it the adrenaline? I can’t point my finger on it. I felt I was ahead, I was countering with a lot of right hands.
Briggs landed several powerful right hands that dropped Liakhovich. With under 25 seconds remaining, Briggs’ punching power came through when he needed it most. Briggs broke the Soviet grasp of the heavyweight championship when he knocked Liakhovich was knocked through the ropes.
Briggs’ title-winning effort against Liakhovich was Briggs’ 12th consecutive victory by knockout. It’s the longest knockout streak of Briggs’ career. Briggs attributes his success to his determination to prove people wrong, his refusal to quit, and a change in regimen.
“I had to change my plan,” Briggs said. “I have to knock people out. Some guys are naturally stronger with timing. I’ve been concentrating on strength. Weight-training and balance, hitting the bag a half-hour straight. That’s what I’ve been doing over the last couple of years.”
The last time Briggs knocked out nearly as many opponents was when he started his professional career in July of 1992. Briggs knocked out his first 8 opponents, 7 in the first round.
“Ibragimov will be number 13, first round,” Briggs stated emphatically. “That you can take to the bank. I beat the man, who beat the man. I beat Liakhovich, who beat Brewster, who knocked out Klitschko.”
When Briggs defeated Liakhovich, Briggs broke up Europe’s unprecedented grasp of the world heavyweight championship. For the first time in boxing history, the world heavyweight championship was held by four fighters from the former Soviet Union.
In addition to Klitschko (IBF) and 7-foot-3, 325 pound Nikolai Valuev (WBA), Oleg Maskaev also has the WBC heavyweight title. Maskaev is involved in a political move to block Nigerian heavyweight contender Sam Peter of his mandatory title shot so that Maskaev can fight Vitali Klitschko instead.
“I was on the cover of a magazine overseas and it said ‘Briggs win, Bad for Boxing.’ I’ve been charismatic and appealing to the public. All these white champions, would that make boxing better? Valuev is not exciting. He fights like a stiff. He fights bums. Lennox Lewis wasn’t appealing to watch. Holyfield and Tyson were appealing to watch.”
Briggs added that everyone was complaining that there was no American heavyweight champion before he beat Liakhovich. Afterwards, Briggs, the only American heavyweight champion, has been greeted with limited press coverage and recognition.
“Why isn’t Jet Magazine covering it? Why isn’t Ebony Magazine covering it? They should be! Everyone was saying Rahman vs. Russia, its America’s last stand. Rahman didn’t do it. Brock didn’t do it. I did!”
Briggs was referring to Hasim Rahman’s WBC heavyweight title loss to Maskaev in August of 2006. Maskaev stopped Rahman in the twelfth round of a highly anticipated rematch from six years ago to end America’s possession of the heavyweight title. Briggs also made reference to Calvin Brock’s failed attempt to beat Wladimir for the IBF crown in November.
Poverty Stricken Youngster Fights Out of Brownsville Ghetto
Briggs is a real-life rags to riches story. He grew up in a fierce neighborhood of Brownsville, in Brooklyn, NY. Briggs fought poverty and homelessness. He literally fought his way out of the ghetto, off the streets with an ailment.
“I am so happy to be Shannon Briggs. I use to sleep on the D-train. I was on welfare. I was born and raised on it my life. I remember getting free cheese and shoes. Sometimes I use to go to the doctor’s office with Medicaid and the other kids use to laugh at my sneakers and say ‘look he’s on welfare.’
“I was the kid no one else wanted to play with. Kids die every year from asthma and nobody talks about it. People know about HIV/AIDS and cancer. No body talks about Asthma. I already beat it. Asthma is an ailment and people don’t talk about it.”
Briggs’ parents weren’t the best. His mother Margie was a heroine addict and his father died in prison when he was young. Living off the streets and dealing with asthma, Briggs found solace and gratification in boxing through Jimmy O’Farrell’s Starrett City Gym.
Briggs had a respectable and accomplished amateur boxing career. Briggs was a highly touted prospect. He won a New York Golden Gloves title, a national PAL tournament crown, and a silver medal at the Pan Am Games.
Coming off the same streets of Brownsville, Brooklyn, NY with Riddick Bowe and Mike Tyson, a very muscular 6’ 4,” 225-pound Briggs with signature gold dreadlocks had the look and the raw talent that couldn’t have been overlooked.
Briggs had one of the best management teams with Marc Roberts, Michael Marley, and trainer Teddy Atlas. Briggs knocked out 8 of his first 9 opponents after turning professional in July of 1992.
He remained undefeated for the first four years of his career. Briggs’ name started to appear bigger in press clippings and the interest was building.
“When I turned pro I was with Teddy Atlas. They wouldn’t dare write badly about those guys. I had Mike Marley who wrote for the NY Post. I had a great team and we were rolling,” Briggs admitted.”
The gravy train stopped once Briggs suffered the first loss of his professional career. Briggs, after dominating the first round of his HBO television debut, was stopped in the third-round by Darroll Wilson to the surprise of many.
The fight was built as Briggs’ HBO arrival and perhaps road to superstardom. After the loss to Wilson, Briggs quickly realized how quickly people can rip the first three pages out of a brand new book.
“Once Teddy and I split, I was a target for the media. I lost to Darrol Wilson, they said I was nothing. I lost one fight and it was all my fault? I had my problems with Lou DiBella. In my opinion, I feel he had a lot to do with it. I was no longer with Teddy. I didn’t have any coverage.”
The loss to Wilson put Briggs on a path of obscurity in the press and although he was a young 24 year-old heavyweight prospect, he had to start all over from the bottom.
Briggs would rebound and eventually earn an opportunity to fight one of the heaviest punchers of all time, George Foreman in November of 1997. It was an intriguing match featuring a rising heavyweight contender with movement against a 48-year-old Foreman, three years removed from becoming the oldest fighter to win the world heavyweight championship. Briggs was challenged with adversity once again.
“I’m motivated by the fact that I’m not the guy they want,” Briggs said of his uphill battle. “When I fought George Foreman, I was picked out of 25 to 30 guys”.
“Larry Merchant begged HBO not to pick me. Foreman picked me. Thank God for George Foreman for underestimating me. Larry Merchant said ‘this guy was hustling and playing chess for money to eat.”’
“Had it been better robbing people for their money?” Briggs asked.
Briggs admitted that he was not star-struck by Foreman’s presence and went on to win a 12-round majority decision.
“I was a kid. He was scary though. He’s a big puncher. We all know about his power. I’m a little more star struck by him now. He’s a great man. I appreciate him for giving me the opportunity”.
“I’m happy to have had the opportunity to have fought him. I look up to him more as a human being than as a fighter. No other fighter has been able to do for his star power than George Foreman. The Meineke commercials. The George Foreman grill.”
The victory against Foreman led to a WBC heavyweight championship fight against Lennox Lewis on March 28, 1997. Briggs nearly had the championship won in the first round when he nearly knocked Lewis through the ropes in opening seconds of the fight. Lewis fought his way back into the fight and the bout was stopped in the fifth round.
Briggs also drew criticism following a 12-round draw against Frans Botha in August of 1999 and strongly feels he owes no one any apologies.
“Against Botha I went in with a broken rib,” Briggs said. “I had torn my left bicep, busted my ear drum during the fight and the fight was ruled a draw,” Briggs said. “I gave the fans and the public what I had.
“If they didn’t give me the Foreman or the Botha fight, it wouldn’t have been a problem,” Briggs said. “I have persevered with a promoter or a manager at times. They’re saying to themselves ‘we have black listed him and he’s heavyweight champion of the world. How the hell did that happen?’”
Home is where Briggs’ Motivation Is
Briggs is motivated to continue fighting through his two children Chann, Cayden, and girlfriend Alana. Briggs continues to deal with the bad wrap from writers, networks, and promoters because he simply refuses to quit and still finds boxing enjoyable.
“I have fun,” Briggs said. “I’ve met so many people, so many chicks. I’ve traveled the world – Poland, China, Puerto Rico, and all over the United States. I’m good at fighting. I like to workout. I enjoy the celebrity status that comes with it. I’m definitely a success story.”
“What’s more important is Chann and Cayden,” Briggs added. “I’m not trying to sell myself to the public. I’m 35. I’ve got two kids. I don’t want to fight forever. I want to be able to leave this game and play with my two kids. I’m fighting one more year. I’m not the great fighter that Holmes was. I’m not going to B.S. myself. I’ll fight a couple more times.”
Now living in Florida, Briggs respects his past and accepts his realties.
“I surpassed all of that. I live in a $1.1 million dollar home and I laugh myself to the bank,” Briggs said. “It’s just real.”
Heavyweight Boxing Has Changed
Boxing has changed through the years. The years of a of a prime George Foreman, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Sonny Liston, and later Larry Holmes was considered one of the golden ages of boxing. Fights lasted 15 rounds the best fought the best constantly. Have times changed.
“Look at Joe Louis. Back in the day people listened to fights on the radio. Fighters fought during hard times. The time and determination was different. The world grew and changed day-by-day. My son has $150 sneakers and a cell phone. He’s only in the fourth grade.”
Louis achieved tremendous fame and attention when the United States fought Germany in World War II. Louis was a reflection of his time having fought Germany’s Max Schmeling in two epic battles heard throughout the world.
“Back in those days, there was no remote” Briggs said. “People had to walk to work. Walk to school. You don’t walk to the stores anymore. Now you drive. If you put Joe Frazier in the ring with one of these guys today, Frazier would kill‘em. These guys today don’t have that killer mentality.”
Boxing Needs An Image Make Over
The popularity of boxing has declined. Although HBO, Showtime, and ESPN have increased their boxing coverage and pay per view telecasts through the years, only a dozen fighters have world-renown recognition and crossover appeal and that wrestling has become more popular.
“Everybody knows who John Cena is,” said Briggs, who believes boxing has to work harder as a collective front to improve its status.
Briggs believes that: “Boxing doesn’t keep it real,” Briggs added. “What’s killing boxing is that it isn’t on TV. It’s not organized. NBA, NHL, NFL, MLB, UFC, and wrestling are companies”.
“If Don King and Arum would be in business together they’d have boxing arenas. The Boxing Hall of Fame should be in a big city like New York or Las Vegas.”
Briggs went on to add that after Oscar De La Hoya’s epic WBC super welterweight championship fight against Floyd Mayweather on May. 5 in Las Vegas, NV, there will be no more super fights. Further proof that boxing’s popularity and image is suffering.
“I wish boxing had a better face on it. Boxing isn’t promoted very well. I like to see people, sponsors support it like NASCAR, and the PGA. In golf, all you do is swing a stick at a ball and people come out in droves to support it”.
“I want to see boxing change. I want to see boxing with more sponsors on TV with marketing behind it.”
Briggs’ Plans for the Future
Briggs admitted that he doesn’t want to fight forever and that 2008 will be his last year. Already Briggs is planning for life after boxing, as he hopes to use his celebrity, experience and marketing ideas to create opportunities for other fighters through Fighters, Inc.
“We go out to get licensing deals for fighters,” Briggs said. “We have a trading card deals for fighters. We have 25-30 fighters. You watch a Gatorade commercial and you see actors. There are no boxers. We have a video game coming out in the next two years. Bobble heads are in production.”
“I’ve been on TV, in movies and commercials. I’m a go-getter. I’m not against working. My dream job is to work at Blockbuster with free movies at my disposal. I’m not beyond working. Boxing has been great to me. But I’ve had my ups and downs.”
Right now Briggs is on top looking to become the first fighter in boxing history to unify the WBO, WBA, WBC and IBF heavyweight championships. Mike Tyson, the youngest heavyweight champion at age 20, became the first fighter to unify the WBC, WBA, and IBF heavyweight titles in 1987.
“I’m going to clean up this mess,” Briggs says of the heavyweight division’s current state.