Revisiting Lennox Lewis vs. Shannon Briggs

shannon briggs(Lennox Lewis, on right, fighting Shannon Briggs in 1998) 10.04.07 - By Geoffrey Ciani: Last night, while comfortably sitting on the sofa couch, I aimlessly flipped through the channels when I stumbled across ESPN 2 which happened to be airing a replay of the 1998 WBC boxing championship bout between Lennox Lewis and Shannon Briggs. Since I hadn’t seen the fight since way back when, I was very interested in giving it another look.

Unfortunately, by the time I discovered the replay it was already in the midst of the second round. This, of course, was after the nice flurries Briggs scored early-on when it appeared he had Lennox in some serious trouble. What surprised me most was how sharp and precise Lennox looked, even after having been badly rattled by Briggs. Likewise, I was shocked to see how much more athletic and fluid Briggs looked back then compared to the muscle-bound, stationary boxing target of today.

This is one fight that critics of Lennox Lewis tend to overlook. Actually, it’s just one of many fights his detractors make light of, but even still, this one might best represent the type of fight that’s easily undermined by those looking to discredit the former champion. Furthermore, this fight represents a textbook example of a fighter overcoming adversity.

In order to view this fight in its proper context, one must first consider the historic landscape surrounding the heavyweight scene. Back then, Evander Holyfield was widely recognized as the “real” heavyweight boxing champion of the world. After winning back-to-back bouts against Mike Tyson and avenging an earlier loss against Michael Moorer, Holyfield solidified his position as the top dog while securing two-thirds of the heavyweight crown (the WBA and the IBF).

Lennox Lewis appeared to be on the rise, but a series of unusual victories had many still doubting his abilities. After beating Oliver McCall (TKO 5) in the infamous rematch that saw McCall crying in the ring, Lewis went on to defend his crown against ‘Huggin’ Henry Akinwande (DQ 5) and ‘The Foul Pole’, Andrew Golota (KO 1). These three fights represented what might well be the most bizarre sequence of championship fights any fighter has ever partaken in.

Shannon Briggs, on the other hand, was quite the enigma. He was coming off an extremely controversial win against 48 year old pugilist “Big” George Foreman. Many observers (including yours truly) felt that Foreman was robbed in this bout. What made this bout significant was that despite not having an official title, Foreman was still recognized as the linear boxing champion for having beaten Michael Moorer; he had never lost his belt in the ring.

With Lennox Lewis holding the WBC boxing championship and Briggs being recognized as the new linear champion, the winner would be in position to make the best claim for being Holyfield’s top rival.

The fight ultimately proved to be an action-packed slug-fest with each fighter having his moments. Briggs wasn’t about to hug, he wasn’t about to get blown away early, and he certainly wasn’t about to break down and cry. It was obvious early-on that Briggs came to fight—something a Lewis opponent hadn’t done in a long time.

After the early flurry, it seemed Shannon Briggs had a great chance at scoring the upset, but by the end of round two, Lewis regained his composure and was once again working behind his trademark telephone pole jab. In round three, it was more of the same, as Lewis began taking control of the bout utilizing his superior overall boxing skills. Briggs was already showing signs of fatigue at this point, but it was uncertain whether he was just taking a round off to conserve energy, for he had already exerted a great deal in the opening two stanzas.

In round four, Lewis came out as aggressively as I recall having seen him since he made quick work of Razor Ruddock some six years earlier. He must have sensed something in Briggs, because he began unloading massive bombs that were landing flush one after another. To his credit, Briggs showed tremendous heart, and despite suffering two brutal knockdowns, he managed to survive the round. By this point, it became obvious that it was only a matter of time. In the fifth, Briggs was once again dropped brutally before the bout was mercifully stopped by the referee.

It was an entertaining slugfest that showed the best of both fighters. In the end, Briggs was outgunned by a superior opponent, but there’s no shame in losing to an all-time great like Lennox Lewis. What I find most ironic is that almost nine years later, Briggs is the reigning WBO champion and still considered amongst the heavyweight boxing elite. Who would have thought?

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Article posted on 11.04.2007

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