Talk about an oddity of a heavyweight title fight; a fight that was almost devoid of action for 11 rounds but then gave us a genuinely stunning, ‘Real life Rocky’ ending. It was 15 years ago today, when Shannon Briggs met defending WBO heavyweight champ Sergei Liakhovich in Phoenix, Arizona. Briggs, aged 34 and considered by many to be a talented big man who had failed to achieve all that he should have done, revived his career in one dramatic way.
Liakhovich of Belarus was coming off a great win in a great fight, this his April 2006 win over Lamon Brewster. “The White Wolf” went toe-to-toe with Brewster in an absolute slugfest, winning the WBO belt via 12-round unanimous decision. It was a different Liakhovich who fought Briggs.
Briggs had won his last 11, this during a decent spell that had followed his 2002 decision loss to Jameel McCline. Not too many people felt Briggs – who had beaten George Foreman in 1997 to become lineal champ and had then lost the distinction to Lennox Lewis the following year – would become champion all over again. But Briggs somehow pulled it out of the fire in the dying seconds of the final round of what had been a slow-motion, snooze-fest showdown.
Briggs, looking to land single shots, was allowed to fight at a conservative pace by the curiously lethargic Liakhovich. Maybe the Brewster war had taken its toll on 30 year old Liakhovich. The first 11 rounds were duller than dishwater and, had things remained the same until the final bell, no-one would be remembering and writing about this fight 15 minutes after it had ended, let alone 15 years later. But the 12th round was amazing.
Liakhovich, ahead on all three cards, had only to remain upright to win. But Briggs, gassed badly, sucked it up and drilled the defending champ with three big right hands to the head, the third shot sending Liakhovich down and almost out. An exhausted Briggs then closed the show by sending Liakhovich clean through the ropes with the follow-up shots he was able to muster. Liakhovich crashed to the floor, into the press section, as Briggs was too shattered to be able to celebrate.
But Briggs had done it. He had reignited his career and he had regained a portion of the heavyweight championship. Briggs gave Don King full credit for having given him a chance when “no-one would touch me.” Briggs had arguably scored the most dramatic, snatch-victory-from-the-jaws-of-defeat since a hopelessly behind Mike Weaver had ruined John Tate with a single shot way back in 1980.
But “The Cannon” had fired the final remaining missiles in his arsenal. Briggs would lose to Sultan Ibragimov in his next fight and his time as a world champion had come to an end. Liakhovich fought on himself but the most memorable fight from the remainder of his career proved to be the nasty and disturbing KO defeat he suffered at the hands of new heavyweight star Deontay Wilder.