Shannon Briggs is one of the world's great illusionists. He's amazing for his ability to make something appear out of nothing.
Briggs is not a magician, at least not one of the David Copperfield variety. He has, however, managed a trick that could make Copperfield a little envious.
Briggs' trick was more stunning than pulling a rabbit out of a hat, more jaw-dropping than sawing a woman in half.
He managed to get a shot at a version of the heavyweight championship last year despite having no victories over anyone ranked in the top 15 in any of the four most recognized sanctioning bodies.
Briggs won the WBO belt in that fight following more than 11 dreadful rounds when he knocked out Sergei Liakhovich in the waning seconds in Phoenix.
He'll defend his title Saturday at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City against top-ranked Sultan Ibragimov.
Briggs has been around since 1992 and has fought 53 times. You'd think that by accident, he'd have run into a handful of guys who could fight.
But he's made a career out of facing guys like Jason Waller, Reynaldo Minus and Demetrice King, who do a disservice to journeyman everywhere. And beating third-rate opponents like those takes a lot of the sparkle off his 48-4-1 record and 42 knockouts.
He's fought only five men in those 15 years who could be remotely categorized as A level heavyweights, yet he once held the linear heavyweight title and now wears the WBO belt.
Talk about making something out of nothing.
He's great at giving the illusion of being a fighter. His size and dreadlocks make you think of Lennox Lewis. Listen to him trash talk an opponent and you hear Muhammad Ali. Watch him connect with one of those clubbing rights and you can see George Foreman.
But he's an illusionist, which is why he's rarely faced anyone who is a threat.
He got his first shot at the title by meeting Foreman in 1997 in what would be Foreman's final bout. Nearly everyone who saw the bout thought the nearly 49-year-old Foreman won. But Briggs took a majority decision to take the linear title.
He was knocked out by Lewis in his next outing, a bout in which Briggs nearly stopped the great Briton.
He drew with Frans Botha in 1999 a few months after Botha was knocked out by Mike Tyson and lost a unanimous 10-round decision to fringe contender Jameel McCline in 2002.
That was it for quality opponents until he got the title shot against Liakhovich last year.
He hails from the same Brownsville section of Brooklyn that produced Tyson and former undisputed champion Riddick Bowe. And though Briggs frequently spoke of fighting the two, he never once came close to doing so.
Boxing would be a much better sport if fighters actually had to earn their opportunities to fight for the belt. But Briggs got his shot at Liakhovich by defeating Brian Scott, Luciano Zolyone, Dick Ryan and Chris Koval, men who would make the fighters in Joe Louis' so-called "Bum of the Month Club" look like Hall of Fame material.
No one will confuse Ibragimov with, say, Larry Holmes, but he's the best man Briggs has met since Lewis in 1998.
Briggs must know he can't keep the magic act going much longer.
Should he lose to Ibragimov, he's either going to have to take on other top-rated heavyweights or he'll never get near another championship match.
Boxing in the U.S. is largely funded by HBO and Showtime, but the television networks, faced with declining ratings and interest, have been forced to be more discriminating in the matches they air.
It's hard to imagine either cable network choosing to show Briggs against another opponent the caliber of a Koval or a Ryan if he doesn't beat Ibragimov.
And that's why Briggs will decide to actually compete on Saturday. If he does, the bout has a chance to be reasonably entertaining.
Ibragimov is going to push the pace and try to make Briggs fight. Though he's hired Jeff Mayweather, a noted defensive specialist, to train him, you'll see more defense in an NBA All-Star Game than you will from Ibragimov.
If Briggs chooses to engage, the bout could turn out to be fun to watch.
But the best guess is that Briggs will try to rush Ibragimov and knock him out early, as has been his history. If he doesn't, he'll spend the last nine or 10 rounds hugging and holding on.
It's an image Briggs probably doesn't like, but it's the one that defines him now.
He's among the more skilled heavyweights, though, and it's not too late for him to change the perception of him.
If he gives up the illusion of being a fighter and actually becomes one, he won't have to deal with those David Copperfield comparisons any longer.
- Shannon Briggs
- Sultan Ibragimov