Where Does Shannon Briggs Fit In?

30.08.05 - By Chris Acosta: There's no reason to become overly optimistic about Shannon Briggs' knockout over a 44 year-old Ray Mercer on Friday night. Too much is made over a single good performance in the heavyweight division nowadays, a blind hope conceived at the hands of a media in desperate need for the next big thing. A guy has one solid performance, case in point Dominick Guinn in his win over Duncan Dokiwari, and we're quick to label him, package him into a can't miss commodity and then ship him of to Canastota.. There's so much credence put into an undefeated record that we take any blemish as a sign of complete and utter failure without considering that maybe, a loss (or losses) can be a good thing in the long run. In any facet of life, experiencing setbacks is a step towards perfection. A music teacher I had a few years ago once told me, "You'll never do it right the first time and if you do, you definitely won't do it right the second or third time."

We're not talking about music though, this is boxing but the idea remains the same. With so much pressure put on fighters to become the "heir apparent" or "next so and so", we've found that boxers with great potential can become so obsessed with the idea of being flawless that they forsake instinct for impression. After all, when million-dollar contracts are on the line, you had better damn well look like you are worth paying for.

Shannon Briggs was once that guy. With the historically successful pedigree of a Brooklyn heavyweight, a menacing persona (his style of dreadlocks were always scarier than Lennox Lewis's) and undeniably great potential, Briggs was touted as a future champion by everyone from Evander Holyfield to most of the media. It didn't seem to matter to many folks that he hadn't fought anyone remotely threatening at the time of all this praise, it was the way he was doing it that had us excited. Briggs was notorious for running across the ring and unloading all manner of combination at his hapless set-ups until they fell in a heap on the canvas. He could have been fighting Carrot Top for all we cared because we were infatuated by nothing more than Briggs himself and not what he had in front of him.

But we found out on an installment of "Night Of The Heavyweight" on HBO a few years ago what we had all secretly suspected: that once in a while, someone punches back. Before we knew that Darrol Wilson had no chin, he was an undefeated prospect and a pretty good one. He weathered Briggs' opening onslaught and quickly worked his way back into the fight. As Wilson's jabs began to find their mark, it mildly appeared that Shannon might be losing his composure but for all that we'd heard about this monster from New York, we figured it to be little more than a passing nuisance and that he'd suddenly turn the tide. But he never did and as soon as right hands and hooks followed those jabs, Briggs looked like a soldier looking for someplace to hide under heavy gunfire. As he was hit with a few punches against the ropes, he went down from mental collapse as much as anything else and just like that, the myth of Shannon Briggs made public domain. It's been made obvious that in our cynical society, we're more drawn to the fall of the mighty than we are to their continued good fortune. Call it jealousy, call it morbid fascination, call it what you want but most of us subscribe to the idea regardless of the person's moral standing. When Briggs crashed, he was dismissed with little more than a shoulder shrug as another in a long line of men who failed to live up the hype. But it didn't shock the division nearly as much as it would have today since Lewis, Holyfield and Tyson were still in the mix along with contenders like Andrew Golota, Michael Grant and David Tua. There was still more than enough potential to keep us from mourning the loss of one guy and just move on to the rest of the weeding process.

Lewis however, became a one- man weed killer by plucking Golota, Grant and Tua from boxing's fertile lawn of challengers and forcing his acceptance upon those of us who continually doubted him. All three of his above conquests who were ironically noted for their intimidating presence, shriveled up against Lennox like a males private parts in frigid water. Briggs on the other hand, who had been tagged as a quitter gave Lewis hell (Didn't another guy with the same reputation do the same thing?). Knowing that his best chance for a win came in the early rounds, Briggs went for broke- and very nearly came away with the upset. His quick hands found Lewis' chin before the giant Brit could react and even when Lennox began to fire back with his own heavy bombardment, Shannon never wavered. His courage in the fifth round knockout loss restored his reputation and put him right back in the mix.

But there was never to be any momentum to be gained. Instead, there were long periods of inactivity, an uninspired draw against Frans Botha, and a points loss to the then -streaking Jameel McCline. Suddenly, he had disappeared from the radar and more significant was that few people cared. But things are never really over when you have someone as unusually optimistic as promoter Cedric Kushner. Searching the lands for heavyweights who are just one punch from validating his promoting abilities, Kushner found Briggs and matched him with the tough but well past -his -expiration date Mercer. Weighing lighter than in previous bouts, Briggs came in at a rock-solid 257 pounds and with a looseness not exhibited in his younger days. He came out fast as usual but rather than become clueless once he stopped punching, settled into a nice rhythm and displayed a balanced dosage of fire and ice. To his credit, Mercer staged a nice rally by way of his noteworthy stiff jab and landed enough to remind us that Briggs isn't the unbeatable terror he was once made out to be.

But for Briggs, that may be his key to success. At a relatively fresh 33 years, there is little wear and tear on the New Yorker. As stated before, he fought a much more relaxed fight than he did years ago when he was trying so hard to make us pay attention to him. He hasn't lost any of his physical abilities as evidenced by the jarring combinations still in his arsenal. And perhaps the most vital element to his return: there are no expectations. This isn't a fighter who is manufactured anymore, he's been recalled and re-built, a hot- rod but without the nice paint job. We might not give him more than a passing glance when he pulls up next to us at the stoplight but there's something rumbling underneath that hood that makes us listen up. Briggs, like Corrie Sanders, is blessed with speed and power (two things rarely afforded to a heavyweight) and far less in the way of technical prowess. He can be out- boxed and out-thought but as long as his fists are moving, he brings a serious punchers chance into the ring. Briggs also speaks of taking on one of the champions with a confidence exuded from a man with nothing to lose.

Inside, he may honestly feel that none of the current title- holders are the stature of a peak Lewis and thus his chances are very good to finally win a championship. For a man on top, such a rationalization could be viewed as over-looking an opponent but for someone who's been forgotten and senses an opportunity more within grasp, he can smell blood. It can motivate him to fight with more abandon than he ever has and in Briggs' case, more maturity than he ever has, and that makes him potentially dangerous.

Article posted on 30.08.2005

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