This Saturday, Shannon Briggs will stand in a ring in Germany, across from the WBC Heavyweight Champion, Vitali Klitschko, 40-2, 38 KO’s. Klitschko is imposing enough without an arena full of fans screaming his name, which is testament of how well the Klitschko brothers were sold overseas. This fight cannot even make American TV.
Briggs, 51-5-1, 45 KO’s, is the last of the 1990’s crop of heavyweights to still be a factor in the division. Most recently, David Tua was exposed in a bout with Monte Barrett. Chris Byrd and John Ruiz have retired. Ike Ibeabuchi is still enjoying prison life, Jeremy Williams has gone MMA apparently, and Andrew Golota has been pummeled in just about every recent fight. Briggs has kept active and vocal, using his charisma and power to remain a man of interest in boxing. He will have a tall order come Saturday but he is not without promise.
The pre-fight press conference was interesting with Briggs attempting to get into the head of the champion, something that he did quite well in 2006 when he met up with then WBO Heavyweight Champion, Sergei Liakhovich. Prior to the fight, Briggs was shouting about what he was going to do to the champion and Liakhovich was rattled and when the two met inside the ring, the champion was passive and was later knocked out by Briggs. On the surface, the pre-fight rumblings from Briggs have not had an affect on Vitali.
Vitali looks at boxing as a sport and disconnects his emotions, although there have been times, especially when David Haye was involved, that it became personal. Here, with Briggs, Vitali seems oblivious and is just prepared to defend his title against another heavyweight, but there is the slight possibility that he is underestimating the powerful challenger and that is a ray of hope for Briggs.
Another ray of hope for the challenger is his reduced weight. He is coming in far lighter, apparently, than he has in some time. His complaints of asthma being the cause for his continual wearing down the stretch of the fight may have as much to do with that condition as it does with the amount of weight he carried. He began his career at 205 pounds and has been 270 plus in many recent fights. If he comes in at 240 or around there, he will have the mobility needed to perhaps get some things done.
The latest defeat for the challenger came in 2007, his first defense of the WBO Title against the crafty Sultan Ibragimov, and it didn’t go well. Briggs was slow and plodding and couldn’t get his punches going against the smaller man. He would lose a decision clearly and didn’t appear to be able to pull the trigger. He looked like a spent force, but he regrouped.
Since the loss, Briggs has put together a record of 3-0 (1 No Contest), 3 KO’s, against mediocre opposition, and this has been the common practice. From 2003 through 2006, Briggs compiled a record of 11-0, 11 KO’s, four of which were in the first round, before challenging for the WBO Title. The C level is no match for Briggs and his incredible power. He has great timing and if he can land, he can win by KO.
Vitali Klitschko’s recent spree of opponents has been very good. After retiring nearly four years as champion, he returned to pummel Sam Peter to regain his title, followed up with a chase down and destruction of Juan Carlos Gomez, battered Chris Arreola into submission, kept Kevin Johnson in a shell en route to a UD, and stopped a game but overmatched Albert Sosnowski in 10 rounds. Vitali was widely criticized for taking on Sosnowski, but the Polish fighter was far better than any recent Briggs’ opposition.
This fight is going to be just another day in the office for Vitali if Briggs does not push the issue. There are two ways in which I could foresee a victory for the challenger…
#1: Blitz Vitali
Vitali, being so imposing, very few opponents want to get near him. They usually are pushed to the ring by their corner men because they would rather be somewhere else. Briggs cannot remain on the outside and try to box with Vitali. The best course of action seems to be a blitz. Get close to the champion and use that timing to land early and often if possible. With Briggs, he will only need one punch if it lands right and the longer he waits, the less and less chance there is of that happening. He needs to strike early, rattle the champion and catch him in an exchange.
#2: Confuse Vitali
The Kevin Johnson defense is a good fight to examine for Briggs. Although Johnson didn’t give a lot of aggressive effort, his lack of offense confused Vitali and, at times, the champion attacked recklessly, leaving himself open for counters. Those punches never came with Johnson, but Briggs might want to employ this strategy should the blitz fail. If he could play defense, wait for Vitali to get frustrated and look for the left hook, he may pull the upset.
There is no question that Vitali is the odds on favorite to win and rightfully so. When you look back at the Sultan Ibragimov loss or the Jameel McCline loss, it’s hard to imagine Briggs at this stage of his career stopping a guy like Vitali, especially in Germany, but he’s got that “puncher’s chance” that we all love and maybe there will be a few scares along the way for the champion.
This Saturday, the WBC Title will be decided and it is a shame that HBO is passing on the title defenses of the champion brothers, because this fight is an interesting one and Briggs always brings the crowd. Let’s hope he brings the fire and we aren’t treated to just another one-sided beating of a hapless contender. We’ll find out on Saturday.