Let’s go, Champ!
It was a rather slow week in boxing – as the dog days of summer wind down – so I reached out on Monday morning to publicist Ed Keenan about interviewing Shannon Briggs, who continues his quest to recapture heavyweight glory this weekend against Mike Marrone at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Fla.
I hadn’t interviewed Briggs since July of 1999 when he was preparing for his bout against Frans Botha (a bout resulting in a 10-round majority draw at the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, NJ). Back then, I was doing a weekly boxing show on XTRA Sports 1150 before Al Gore invented the internet and gave me the opportunity to mortgage the HouseOfBoxing.com (remember that?). Yeah, the rest is history.
And now, 16 years later, our paths cross again.
“Remember that?!,” asked Briggs, excitedly, at least pretending to recall our encounter way back when. “That was a long time now. Many years ago, Champ!”
When asked if he can believe himself that he’s still an active boxer, he admits, “No way, no way possible, but I’m taking it one day at a time. I’m having fun. I’m enjoying, like, happy to be talking to you guys like you 16 years later, champ.”
Briggs is now 58-6-1 (51), he began his career in 1992 – months prior to Bill Clinton stepping into the White House. So what keeps him going at age 43?
“The people keep me going. The people inspire me,” he answers with vigor. “When I go out in the street, they say, ‘Let’s go, Champ!’ I put a smile on their face and I’m inspiring people, not people just in boxing but people who never watch boxing. That’s what keeps me going; that’s my fuel, to be honest with you.”
But there are critics (who might have a point) that he simply shouldn’t be fighting, to whom he responds, “How can it be over with when so many people are inspired? Non-boxing fans – and I got thousands – I have over 4,000 emails and texts because I give out my number, 954-761-5754. Anybody can call me, text me and I talk to people everyday and they tell me, ‘Champ, my mother died,’ or, ‘Champ, I had cancer but, thanks to you saying ‘Let’s go, Champ’! we seen your positivity and energy,’ ‘I’m feeling great. I’m feeling good.’ ‘I just found a job, Champ!’
“These things motivate me. The critics can’t beat that. One thing is that everyone laughed at George Foreman on his comeback. Well, guess what? I’m the 2015 George Foreman!”
OK, hold on, you really want to put your number out for public consumption?
“954-761-5754!” he states unequivocally. “Please, Champ! Anybody can call me or text the champ and tell me,’Champ, how you doing?’ or, ‘Let’s go, Champ! Vamos, Campeon!’ In every language, you can say, ‘Lets go, Champ!”
In many ways, like Foreman back during his improbable comeback, Briggs has reinvented himself as the man of the people (and yes, I was told by various people on Twitter that Briggs will actually engage you via text or talk to you. He says he’s even copyrighted and trademarked the phrase, “Let’s go, Champ!” while spearheading a mobile game app and a website offering a clothing line).
Back in 2010, Briggs took a frightful beating from then-WBC titlist Vitali Klitschko that left him hospitalized for a couple of weeks. It was at that point in which his career had seemingly come to an end. Even he doubted his future in boxing. “One hundred percent, I was in the hospital for 14 days after the Klitschko fight and I cried. It seemed like it rained every day for those 14 days and I laid in the hospital,” he recalled. “I stayed up all night, no painkillers and I cried. I said to myself, ‘Well, what’s next?’ I didn’t know what my future held, let alone with my promotional situation, my partnership – I had a partner; that didn’t go right – I wasn’t paid. Everything went bad for me.”
From that fight till April of 2014, Briggs was, in essence, a retired prizefighter and was employed at an internet marketing company for three years, actually making a good salary (he claims over $200,000 annually with health benefits and a company car) but he says, “I was depressed. I went up to 380 pounds and I was down and out.” It was during this period in which he met Gary Jonas, who help found Acquinity Sports and then Mike Tyson Promotions, but that relationship went sideways and Briggs said he essentially got himself fired so he could go back to his true love.
He said of his former day job, “It was great but I know there was something more to me. I was born to be heavyweight champion of the world and the world has not seen the best of Shannon Briggs. I had a decent career. I fought George Foreman, got a good decision. I fought Lennox Lewis; I fought Vitali Klitschko, Ray Mercer. I won the [WBO] title against Sergey Liakhovich but I wasn’t fulfilled because I know they’ve never seen the best of me.
“They never seen the full talent, the hand-speed, the foot-speed. They haven’t seen it, so, for me, I couldn’t close the book until they see the best of me and they haven’t seen the best before – but it’s coming, Champ!”
As he says this he reminds you of Hulk Hogan – during his better days – exhorting his Hulkamaniacs to take their vitamins and say their prayers. There’s a certain enthusiasm that’s not only convincing but infectious. You can’t help but laugh – or at least smile – at his sales pitch. Part of the fun of covering this game are its personalities and Briggs certainly has one that’s as outsized as his physique.
The first time I heard of Briggs was back sometime in the early-’90s when I happened to come across a documentary on PBS, of all places, that featured Briggs’ early exploits as pro with Teddy Atlas as his trainer. Even then, when he had long flowing dreadlocks, he was someone who struck you as a fighter who could be going places. Back then, he was brash, young kid from Brooklyn, who, in all honesty, despite a productive career, never really lived up the hype.
They say youth is wasted on the young, that, with age, comes a certain perspective that simply isn’t possible when you’re young, rich and, quite frankly, a tad clueless. Briggs admits he is now much more appreciative of boxing than he was in his 20s.
“One hundred percent, as a kid it was something that I fell into. The homeless teenager, I was living in the street, me and my mom, and it was something I got into – getting off the street. I was getting in trouble as a teenager. Boxing was the only place I could go for refuge, a place to stay, something that was legal, let alone I wasn’t in trouble. I got into boxing because of that but I was never in love with the sport as a kid. It was just something I did to get me off the street,” he explained.
“But now, a father of three, married, I said, ‘Wow.’ I look back and I don’t have regrets, saying I wish I had my youth because I feel phenomenal. Don’t get me wrong but, at the same time, I am who I am and I’m in a good place. I’m in a great place. I feel confident with where I’m going, win, lose or draw. I’m the people’s champ and that’s what’s important to me – that I’m putting a smile on people’s faces. For the first time in my life, I’m making other people happy – genuinely happy – when they see me and say, ‘Man, Champ, I had a conversation with you and I feel good.’ They walk away feeling good. All I can give is positive energy and, like I tell ’em, positive energy is contagious.”
If he is Foreman 2.0, at this juncture, he’s at the Mark Young, David Jaco, Ken Lakusta stage of the comeback. At some point, he will have to face a live body to legitimize his campaign but he’s convinced he will get his crack at Wladimir Klitschko for the heavyweight championship.
“I think so, Champ, I think so,” Briggs says without hesitation, “but even if I don’t, it’s OK. I’m still going to continue to fight. I talked to Larry Holmes a month ago and the great Larry Holmes told me, ‘I’m watching what you’re doing. You better not stop.’ I said, ‘Huh, Champ?’ He said, ‘You better not stop. I kept boxing till I was like 51 or something like that and once you stop, it’s over. So you better not stop because you’re doing a great thing.’ I talked to the great Evander Holyfield. He said he’s proud; he’s happy. He said, ‘Don’t stop.’
“I’m 43 years old, Champ. A lot of these guys, Sonny Liston, they fought well into their 50s. Along as I’m not getting hurt and, again, I’m inspiring people – I’m having fun – how can I stop? I can do this till I’m 70 hopefully,” he said, laughing.
Hey, don’t believe him? Just give him a call.
Just a reminder that “The Next Round” is taking Labor Day Monday off. Here’s the latest edition with Gabe Montoya and Yours Truly.
The Tim Bradley-Brandon Rios bout is finalized for Nov. 7 at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas…Lamont Peterson-Felix Diaz will happen on Oct. 17 on the campus of George Mason University…Isn’t it great having college football back? It’s the most wonderful time of the year…I can be reached at email@example.com and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive