Exclusive Interview with Shannon Briggs
by Geoffrey Ciani - Former WBO and linear heavyweight champion Shannon Briggs is planning to make a return to the ring sometime in the very near future. Briggs was last seen inside the ring back in June 2007 when he lost his WBO title against Sultan Ibragimov. I was afforded the opportunity to have a brief chat with the former champion and here is what he had to say:
Article posted on 22.08.2009
Q: Hi Shannon, good to speak with you. How long after your fight with Sultan Ibragimov did you decide you wanted to continue on with boxing?
Well it’s great talking to you, too, as well. I appreciate the interview. Let me see, wow! It was maybe like eight or nine months out that I was already missing the ring. I missed the regiment of getting up every day and training and all of that. It wasn’t immediately after, but it was a couple of months. After the fight I started hanging out, partying a little bit, and spending time with the family and that kind of stuff. Then I thought, “What am I going to do?” A lot of people said I should go into acting full time, but I have been doing it (boxing) for so long that I’m kind of used to it. You do what you know. I missed it, and then I finally decided about six months ago that I wanted to rededicate myself and start fighting again..
Q: When can we expect you in the ring again and who would you like to fight?
I should be in the ring next month, for sure. It should be definitely next month to within the month. Then hopefully I will be fighting and staying active every month. I have no in particular person in mind, I want anyone in the top fifteen after a couple of fights when I work my way back into shape. After that I’d like a top 15-top 20 opponent and then I’ll move forward from there.
Q: Now Shannon, what is your opinion on the current heavyweight landscape and how do you think you will fare against the best fighters out there at this moment?
I think the current landscape isn’t as bad as people make it seem. There’s not one dominant figure right now: there’s no Mike Tyson, there’s no Joe Louis, and there’s no Lennox Lewis. There’s not one dominant guy right now that’s killing everybody or knocking everybody out, but at the same time, it could be better for boxing in the sense where there’s a lot more heavyweight fights going on. For instance, you have the Klitschko brothers where Vitali is fighting (Chris) Arreola and Wladimir I think will fight (Eddie) Chambers. So it’s keeping things busy, whereas in the past, you had guys like Larry Holmes who was champion for so long and you may have gotten one or two fights a year.
Hopefully, having—I won’t call them champions, I’ll call them belt holders—multiple belt holders means you will have more fights. You got some guys on the rise, too. You got Chris Arreola, Kevin Johnson, Odlanier Solis—so there’s some good guys coming up. As far as my chances go, I’m excited. Again, there’s no Holyfields around or Tysons or Lennox Lewis, so this is a great time. I’m not beat up so I feel great about my chances of coming back and winning a title.
Q: What is your target ideal fighting weight for when you ultimately shake off the ring rust after a couple of fights?
I’m thinking anywhere from 250 to 265 where I’m strong. When I fought (Ray) Mercer, I thought that was the best for me weight wise. My stamina was great that night, it was unreal, and I felt I was getting stronger as the fight went on and I wasn’t carrying around too much muscle. Anywhere between 255 and 260 should be a target weight for me. I’ll feel great at that weight.
Q: Shannon, given that you were the only heavyweight champion in history who suffered from asthma, how has this affected your career and have you needed to do anything special in your preparations to help you deal with this for once you get inside the ring?
It’s been miserable! It’s something that I had to live with. I was born with asthma, and I’ve been criticized and ridiculed, oh “he doesn’t do roadwork”, “he doesn’t train hard”, “he’s this”, “he’s that”, but people have no idea what it takes for me to be a professional boxer with asthma. If it was that easy and simple, I’m sure you would have someone else in history before me to accomplish that. In a way it’s really hard, and at the same time, it is who I am and it is what it is. Like I tell people, you could go without food or water for weeks to a month, but you can’t go five to ten minutes without oxygen before you die.
I’ve accomplished something, Geoff—something that no one else has done in history—and I’m proud of it. That’s one of the reasons I continue to fight on. There have been instances when people have ridiculed me, and said this or that, and they just talk. It’s all talk, because they don’t have a clue what it would be like to be in a ring when you can’t breathe. When a man is coming at you to knock you unconscious, you could possibly die. If you look at all the deaths in boxing, where did they come from? Lack of oxygen to the brain. That’s it. I’m already at a deficit when I get into the ring and then I get all this crap from people, but it has helped me grow a tougher skin. I realize that you can’t please everybody, and some people are going to talk smack.
It’s funny, because I was watching Roy Jones and he looked phenomenal. I remember when he was knocked out by Tarver and then knocked out by Johnson, and people were saying, “Oh, he sucks!”, “he’s this”, “he should retire”, “Blah, blah, blah”. Now the guy comes back and he beats Jeff Lacy. He’s just not laying down, and then you have people who jump back on the bandwagon, “Oh, he’s great!”, “he’s this”, “he’s that”. So you just got to do what you got to do, man, and be the best you can be and at the end of the day not worry about what people have to say.
As far as answering your question, as far as the asthma goes, it’s been tough and it’s been brutal, but I like to think that there’s some asthmatic kid somewhere right now who feels hopeless or like he will never be able to achieve anything, let alone in sports. When I was a kid I was never picked to be on basketball team, or a football team, or a baseball team. They said, “Oh, he can’t play, he has asthma.” I feel like, if I can inspire some kid out there to say, “Hey! You know what? Shannon Briggs did it, he never gave up. Let me take my medicine and exercise and diet right.” If I can do that, then I’ve accomplished something.
Q: What was your proudest moment inside the ring as a professional boxer?
I haven’t had it yet, Geoff, because with the Foreman fight and the so-called controversy with the close decision and then even with the Lyakhovich fight, people were saying I knocked him out with one second left on the clock and lost most of the fight. One thing about me, Geoff, I never said I was the greatest fighter of all-time. I never have. I’m not even that good, I’m okay, but I get the job done. I’m a puncher, man. I go in there like a man going to work every day, and I work hard.
Let me just say this, I have to train harder than the average man, which is something a lot of people don’t realize. I have trained harder than the average man, because I know that in rounds 7 and 8, if my asthma kicks in like it did with Lyakhovich in the first round, my ass is grass! So I have to train just as hard mentally and physically to get as far as I’ve come. Unfortunately, people will say some of the worst things about me. I read the blogs, and I read some of the things, and I say, “Wow! This is unreal.” But I’m doing what I got to do. I’m working hard with a disease that millions of people suffer from—millions of people. I still became champion, so with that being said, I’m proud of myself for that.
Q: Shannon, if you could write your own story for how your career will unfold from this point forward, how would write that story?
Globally around the world, my goal is to spread awareness about asthma. I was told from day one, when I entered the gym that I wasn’t going to make it. I was never athletic, I was sick my entire life, and I missed a lot of school because of it. I lived an asthmatic life. So for me, being able to come as far as I’ve come, I want to share that with people. Men, women, asthma doesn’t discriminate man, white or black, young or old. I want to get out there and show the world my story, and at the same time, I want to win the title again. I want to win the title—not for the belt’s sake, not for the money’s sake, but for the people’s sake.
You alluded to the disarray in the heavyweight division right now, because people don’t know who the champion is. Not to knock the Klitschkos, but they’re not the most marketable people you could have. You have two champions, two brothers, but how marketable are they really? So I want to come out there and I want to be the people’s champion. I don’t care about the belts anymore, I may never get a title shot, you know? But I was active and I won the WBO championship, but Klitschko didn’t want to fight me—that’s just the bottom line. I was supposed to fight him, and for nine weeks I sat by my fax machine and waited for e-mails, and getting calls from Shelly Finkel saying, “The fight’s a go, the fight’s a go!” Then at the end of the day, in New York City where I’m from, they wanted to fight Calvin Brock who was from South Carolina. What sense does that make? I’m a New Yorker. I’m a former linear heavyweight champion. Why wouldn’t he fight me? We could have sold the place out. It would have been a much more exciting fight.
They stuck Brock in and I know why: The God’s honest truth is that Emmanuel (Steward) said that I was too dangerous. He knew I was dangerous, I worked with Emmanuel before—he trained me for the (Francois) Botha fight. He knows my power and he knows what I can do. His biggest fear was not knowing which Shannon Briggs would show up. Will it be the Shannon Briggs who fought Mercer? The one that has asthma? Or the one that didn’t train with (Jameel) McCline? There’s different things, so him not knowing is too much of a mystery with a guy who hasn’t always shown the best beard in the world. So there was no incentive for them to jump out a window and fight me so I wound up fighting Lyakhovich.
In this comeback—and I don’t really like to call it a comeback—but with me fighting and getting active again, I’m not going to sweat it. I’m not going to chase someone and I’m not going to disrespect him. He’s a man I’m a fan of, and I’m a fan of boxing itself. I’m just going to fight. I’m training for the people. I’m fighting for all the people around the world who share this disease and say, “You know what? This guy didn’t lay down.” I’ve taken a lot of unwarranted and unnecessary abuse from the press. Someone even said in the blog that they wonder how I feel about Teddy Atlas.
The question at East Side Boxing was, “How do I feel about Teddy Atlas?” That whole experience was really hard. It was really hard. That fight with Darroll Wilson, when I lost my first fight—it’s a fight which you can watch on YouTube, it has almost 500,000 hits—you can see in the first round that I’m gassed out. I can’t even breathe in the second and third round. It was really hard for me emotionally. You have to understand, Geoff, that Teddy after that fight pretty much threw me under the bus and said I didn’t have asthma. I was hurting, because many times, Teddy took me to the doctor and took me to the hospital for my asthma. So for me, for him to say that, I was just like, “Wow!” It felt like betrayal, and this was from a guy whose whole thing was about character and being honest with yourself as a fighter. So I was devastated. Then the press thwarted me. “Shannon Briggs is a coward, he has no heart.” I thought, “Why, because I was stopped?” I mean, Joe Louis was knocked out by Max Schmelling. Was he a coward? I don’t know, I’d have to look back to see what the press had to say about him.
From that point on, being that Teddy had so much influence in the media—even then—I started getting a lot of bad things said of me, a lot of really, really bad things. Then I come back and I beat Foreman, and they said, “Oh, it’s a controversy.” Then there was the Sedreck Fields fight. I thought it was a fight that I won. Should I have knocked him out? Probably, because he was not a guy that was on my level. That was a fight that, no knock to him and no excuses, but I didn’t train. I got off my couch, someone said, “Do you want to make 30 grand? We need to fill a spot.” I said, “Okay, what’s his record?” They told him 11-18 or some crap. I was like, “Alright, sign it up.” So for 30 grand, I thought after the first couple of rounds of me pounding him, than he wasn’t going to swing (back). I’m like, “What the?—somebody fixed me up real good.” I lost the decision. I watched the fight twenty-five times and I thought I won, still. I thought I outpointed him, but he was busy, but at the time, Geoff, he was a guy who was coming out of training camp with the Klitschko Camp. He was a sparring partner there for a year or two, so he was ready. I didn’t know that. Had I known that, if I knew this guy was training in their training camp as a sparring partner, I wouldn’t have fought him because I wasn’t in shape. Me just being cocky at the time, I took the fight on a couple of days notice, but that was my mistake, and that’s something I learned from.
Another thing I want to address, Geoff, is that I have often read that I didn’t fight anybody. Let me tell you this: I was supposed to fight David Tua on “Night of the Young Heavyweights” when I was undefeated and he was undefeated. His trainer at the time was in the crowd when I fought Will Hinton. I knocked Will Hinton out in the first round. This was a guy who was a journeyman who was going rounds with everybody. I stopped him in the first round. Two weeks later, Tua pulled out of the fight, he didn’t want to fight me. Over the years, I’ve signed the dotted line and was willing to fight anybody and everybody. I turned no one down. So I don’t get this, “Oh, Shannon Briggs never fought anybody.” They didn’t want to fight me! After the Lennox Lewis fight, they didn’t want it. Lennox was a guy who was supposed to just gun me down and just knock me flat out, and I was up to his level and it was a great fight. After that, people weren’t jumping out the window to fight Shannon Briggs. That was a problem. So a lot of people with big mouths say that I never fought anyone, but nobody wanted to fight me! (laughs)
:Q: On that note Shannon, if there was one fight that could have potentially been made in your career but wasn’t, what fight would you have liked that to have been?
I was supposed to fight Mike Tyson three times. Three times we were at the negotiating tables for me to fight Mike Tyson. He was supposed to fight me one time, and he went with (Cliff) Etienne, instead. Tyson was supposed to fight me, it was in the paper and everything, it was in New York—a great fight for the Garden—but he fought Etienne. Another time he was supposed to fight me, he fought (Lou) Savarese. So three times we were in talks with Mike Tyson, and it never happened. Ironically, oddly enough, who was representing Tyson at the time? Shelly Finkel. Who was representing the Klitschkos? Shelly Finkel. By the way, ironically enough, Shelly was my first so-called manager. As an amateur, Shelly was the first guy to ever offer me a dollar, and say, “You’re going to be with me when you turn pro.” He was the first guy to court me as a potential professional boxer when I was in the amateurs.
Almost twenty years later, every guy who I was supposed to fight with Shelly—it never happened. And Shelly knows me. Shelly knows me well, I have a lot of respect for him. When I most recently saw him it was at the Bernard Hopkins-Joe Calzaghe fight. He pulled me to the side, and I have so much respect for him—but he pulled me to the side, away from everybody, and said, “Listen why don’t you go get in shape?” At the time, I was like 300-something pounds, and he said, “Why don’t you get in shape? There’s no one for these guys to fight.” This is from Shelly Finkel’s mouth, “There’s no one for these guys to fight, why don’t you get in shape and comeback?”
That being said, I’m here. I take a lot of bumps and bruises, and a lot of people are very disrespectful, and there’s a lot of stupid things, but I never ran from anybody. I was willing to fight anybody. I’ve made my mistakes, no question about it: fighting out of shape, and not really showing up sometimes, but I’m still talented and I still have something that people really like to see, and that’s knockout power.
Q: When your career as a professional boxer is eventually over, do you intend to continue working both as a commentator and an actor?
Yes, I do. I would love to. Right now, I’m doing a reality show about me fighting again, and being active, and fighting with asthma, and showing the weight loss—I’ve lost, when I started I was 334 pounds and now I’m like 270-something. So I’m working on that show right now, and I love television, and hopefully I will continue working as a commentator after my career is over. I love boxing. First and foremost, I’m a fan. I watch every fight, and I love boxing because it’s in my blood. Hopefully, but there are a lot of things out there for me and I just want to be prepared for them. I really want to close the chapter on this book in a great way. It doesn’t have to be for a title. If that’s not going to happen, it’s not going to happen. If it is, great! Phenomenal, but at the same time my goal is to just be active and fight as much as possible and go out on a good note. I would love to fight for a title one day, but I’m not going to chase anyone, I’m not going to beg, I’m not going to get on my hands and knees and beg Shelly, or anybody for a title shot.
My goal is to be the people’s champion. If the people love and respect what I do and they appreciate it, they’ll decree me as a champion. I’m a likeable guy, I’m not an asshole. So, we’ll see Geoff.
Q: Shannon, thank you very much for your time. Is there anything else you would like to say to all of your fans out at East Side Boxing?
I want to say thank you to all the fans. I want to thank bkdon, and Stalin, and all the guys who are not all over me. (laughs) I also want to say thanks to t-bone—he made a comment about me the other day, and I want to thank him, I got no beef with t-bone. I just want to thank everyone out there who supported me and appreciated my fights. I’ve had a lot of them, over fifty fights, and I want to have about twenty more, hopefully. And I want to thank you, as well. I want to thank you for the interview. I really appreciate it.
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