How did I get in touch with Briggs? Why did I decide to do a story on him? Was he gentle or was he cocky and brash like he was in the ring? Why didn't he fight Mike Tyson? What are his regrets? His future plans? How did a homeless kid with asthma grow up to become heavyweight champion of the world? Read on to find out.
Briggs is far from being the best technical boxer, but he can punch like hell and rumbled with many other greats, including George Foreman, Lennox Lewis (whom he nearly knocked out) and Vitali Klitschko.
Around 2010 or 2011, I added the former champ on Facebook and his posts were always entertaining, sometimes as funny as his post-fight interviews. Not pursuing him as a reporter but as a fan, I occasionally asked him questions in his inbox and he always got back to me. He was also posting about launching a comeback and expressing his desire to get a crack at Wladimir Klitschko for the heavyweight championship.
I know an under-appreciated former heavyweight champion when I see one. Shannon had a great career and a lot to say but wasn't getting the media attention I felt that he deserved. The public is fascinated with Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Floyd Mayweather Jr, etc. But you don't hear much about Briggs anymore. That's a real shame. Like other big-talking boxers like Muhammad Ali and Roy Jones Jr, I knew Shannon would give me some great quotes. Guys like that are reporter's dream. Shannon Briggs is one of the best trash talkers of this generation. See one example here. Even his rival Vitali Klitschko, wanted to laugh. Not many guys can hype a fight like Shannon Briggs.
One day out the blue, I asked him if he would like a phone interview with me for an article I was writing about him for The Tennessee Tribune. He wrote back almost immediately with the words, "Let's do it." Twenty minutes later, he called me in his car, and the result was the interview and article you see below.
We hit all of the big points of Shannon's career - his battles with Lewis, Foreman, Mercer, Klitschko, etc, as well as his battles with asthma (Briggs is the first asthmatic heavyweight champion) and his future plans. As a boxing fan, I wanted to know this stuff anyway. I learned a lot from Briggs, including the fact that he wasn't paid for his fight against former WBC Heavyweight Champion Vitali Klitschko. (Briggs suffered an injury early in the fight but bravely fought on for 12 rounds). We talked a bit about what it was like having the tough Teddy Atlas as a trainer. Briggs also noted that George Foreman hit him harder than anyone else.
I was always curious about why Briggs never got the opportunity to fight Mike Tyson. Certainly 'Iron Mike' should have been in Briggs' cross-hairs during the late '90s after he was released from prison. Briggs confirmed for me that Tyson ducked him. This doesn't surprise me in the slightest, especially since Tyson also avoided Ray Mercer, David Tua and Tommy Morrison during this time period. In fact, he dropped the WBC title to avoid a fight with Lennox Lewis and fought Evander Holyfield instead. Shannon Briggs was in his prime at time and Tyson didn't want that fight. Briggs did shock me, however, by saying that he "wouldn't stand a chance" against Tyson at his best. He also didn't criticize Tyson for avoiding him because Tyson was aging and rusty after his three-year incarceration. It's always humbling to hear professional athletes admit that a rival would likely beat them. Marvis Frazier also credited Mike Tyson as one of the best ever when I interviewed him.
A.J.'s Final Word
Recently he shaved off his trademark gold dreadlocks, lost a lot of weight and is launching a comeback, planning to win the heavyweight title again. He keeps his fans updated on his progress, posting pics and videos of him training. I wish him the best of luck. He certainly has the punch to knock Wladimir Klitschko unconscious if he lands flush on the current champion's chin. Between Shannon's weight loss and the late Emanuel Steward no longer training Klitschko, Shannon's chances of landing that brutal knockout blow and recapturing the heavyweight championship for a third time are likely. Wladimir better not get careless and overlook "The Cannon."