No matter what you think about Shannon Briggs, let’s make one thing clear. He is one of just 37 men to hold the true Heavyweight Championship during the gloved era. I would rank him very far down that vaunted list–ahead of Leon Spinks, certainly. But he is in that bottom quintile.
Briggs became the champion nearly 20 years ago this November, when he took a majority decision from 46-year-old George Foreman. Many fans, including myself, did not believe he deserved that victory. In April 1998 he was battered by Lennox Lewis in his first defense, knocked down three times and stopped in Round 5.
Still, when Briggs beat Foreman he entered history, in a very rare and elite way. The title that he won had been traded in the ring stretching all the way back to when Floyd Patterson knocked out Archie Moore, following Rocky Marciano’s retirement. It went in a straight line from Patterson to Ignemar Johannson, back to Patterson, to Sonny Liston,, to Muhammad Ali, to Joe Frazier, to Foreman, back to Ali, to Spinks, back to Ali, to Larry Holmes, to Michael Spinks, to Mike Tyson, to Buster Douglas, to Evander Holyfield, to Riddick Bowe, back to Holyfield, to Michael Moorer, back to Foreman and finally to Briggs.
Earlier this week, Briggs was promoting his June showdown with Fres Oquendo. The WBA is calling this a “World Title” fight, which should make us all blush. The belt on the line here will have absolutely no relationship to that vaunted championship Briggs held briefly, two decades ago.
Even by WBA clown-show standards, calling this a world title fight is a joke. Oquendo is 44 and has not fought since losing a majority decision to Ruslan Chagaev in 2014. Briggs has won nine fights since coming out of retirement in 2014, eight of them by KO. But that was against club fighters. His last truly significant fight was a brutal decision loss to Vitali Klitschko in October 2010, when he absorbed a scary amount of punishment.
The WBA is sanctioning this fight for one reason–Briggs is a charismatic, colorful figure. Whether or not he’s a true contender, his historical legacy and hype abilities make him at least a nominal draw.
And boxing, as always, remains show business.