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Articles of 2010

Briggs A Winner In One Respect

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The official record won’t reflect it, of course, but it could be argued that heavyweight enigma Shannon Briggs won a split decision in what should be the final bout of an intriguing, maddening career.

But as always is the case with Briggs, that decision is apt to remain controversial long after his retirement from the ring.

No, no, the judges got it right in Saturday’s WBC title bout at the O2 World Arena in Hamburg, Germany, between Briggs, an overwhelming underdog making his last grab for the brass ring, and champion Vitali Klitschko. “Dr. Ironfist dealt a fearful beating to the outgunned challenger, winning 120-107 on two of the three judges’ scorecards and 120-105 on the other.

Initial reports were that Briggs, who was rushed to a hospital immediately after the foregone conclusion of a decision was announced, had suffered a concussion and possible cerebral hemorrhage, and that he was in critical condition. Briggs’ current promoter, Greg Cohen, later confirmed that such was not the case, although the injuries his fighter did sustain – fractures under both eyes, a broken nose and a torn left bicep and tendon – should be extensive enough for everyone, even the nearly-39-year-old Briggs, to concede that it’s time for him to step away from a brutal business that has not always treated him kindly. Then again, Briggs has deserved at least a few of the verbal shots that stung him nearly as much as the punches he absorbed in 57 bouts over 18 years as a pro.

For 14½ years now, it has been Briggs’ burden to have injury routinely added to insult.

To hear some tell it, Shannon Briggs, from the same blighted Brownsville section of Brooklyn, N.Y., that spawned Mike Tyson and Riddick Bowe, is a lot of things that aren’t praiseworthy: unmotivated, frequently ill-conditioned, a head case and, the worst thing any fighter can be accused of, a quitter.

To others, Briggs’ more deserved legacy is that of a talented fighter whose physical gifts were muted by a chronic condition, asthma, that flared up at inopportune moments and robbed him of the opportunity to fulfill his vast potential.

Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between. But in refusing to yield to Klitschko’s obvious superiority, and to accept a frightening pounding that turned the bones in his face into a splintered jigsaw puzzle, the excuse-making coward perceived by so many at least served notice that the more positive sort of reviews he occasionally has received at least counterbalance the negative, and maybe more so.

The trashing of Briggs’ reputation began in earnest the night of March 16, 1996, in Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall during an HBO-televised tripleheader that was billed as “Night of the Young Heavyweights, featuring several highly regarded prospects – Briggs, David Tua, John Ruiz and Courage Tshabalala.

Briggs, with his loquacious manner and bleached-blond dreadlocks piled high on his head, was widely regarded as the best of the bunch, or at least the most marketable. He brought a 25-0 record, with 20 victories inside the distance, into what most figured would be a quick and easy night against journeyman Darroll Wilson.

But while Tua spectacularly starched Ruiz after an elapsed time of only 19 seconds, and Tshabalala also took out Paul Lockett inside of one round, Briggs – a 20-1 favorite – was a TKO victim of Wilson in three rounds, in what could only be described as a shocker.

“Everything was Shannon, Shannon, Shannon, Wilson said afterward. “It was like he was the only guy anyone was interested in. They were making him out to be the next Muhammad Ali or Rocky Marciano or whatever. The rest of us were, like, just there. I think the feeling more or less was that I was another warm body for Shannon to knock out.

Even great fighters occasionally lose fights they aren’t expected to lose, but Briggs’ defeat took an even more embarrassing turn when his trainer, Teddy Atlas, promptly resigned as his chief second. A furious Atlas claimed that Briggs conveniently cited his asthma as the sole reason he had been cuffed around by Wilson.

“I think it’s insulting to the guy that beat him for Briggs to claim he had asthma, Atlas said. “He was fine up to the time he went into the ring. I went to the hospital when he was getting stitched up and for four hours he never coughed or wheezed.

For years, Atlas, later afforded a high-visibility soapbox as the analyst for ESPN’s “Friday Night Fights telecasts, would take potshots at Briggs’ heart, or lack thereof. Consider his prefight analysis of why George Foreman decided on Briggs as his opponent instead of Hasim Rahman for a Nov. 22, 1997, 12-rounder, also in Boardwalk Hall.

“Briggs always had ability, Atlas said. “I spent four years with him giving him a base, a technical base, to use that ability. He has hand speed, he has good size, he can move around a little. But the maturity, the in-ring character … that’s something that comes from within. A trainer can’t give that.

“Maybe (Foreman) saw something in Briggs’ style, or maybe Briggs himself, that convinced him to go in that direction. I’m guessing that George believes Briggs can’t handle the pressure of the moment, that Briggs maybe is devoid of certain attributes, character-wise.

In what should have been the crowning point of his boxing life, Briggs won the linear heavyweight title from Foreman, who would turn 49 in less than two months, on a majority decision. Two inexperienced judges, Larry Layton and Calvin Claxton (and when was the last time you heard from either of them?) submitted cards favoring Briggs by margins of 117-113 and 116-112, respectively, with veteran Steve Weisfeld seeing the fight as a 114-114 standoff. But HBO’s ringside commentators were outraged and claimed that Foreman should have won easily, a talking point that seemingly was buttressed by punch statistics furnished by CompuBox: Foreman landed 284 of 488 (58 percent) to 223 of 494 (45 percent) for Briggs.

It proved to be the last ring appearance by Foreman, who bade his farewell with an admonishment that time stands still for no man, not even a legend.

“I stood there tonight in the last round and the guy started throwing shots at me, I started throwing shots at him, Big George said. “I was thinking, `This could go on for the rest of my life,’ me chasing young guys. It’s time for young guys to chase young guys.

Briggs then was 25, with youth on his side and some grand destiny to chase, yet he was vilified for being the recipient of not only a perhaps undeserved decision, but one that served to forever chase the beloved Foreman from the sport.

For much of what has followed that watershed meeting with Foreman, Briggs remained an enigma, alternating moments of high drama with those of low humor. How could someone with so much ability lose to Sedreck Fields, which he did on April 27, 2000? Then again, how could someone who no chin and no gumption nearly stun the great Lennox Lewis? Lewis stopped Briggs, a 12-1 underdog, in five rounds on March 28, 1998, but only after he was twice wobbled himself in the opening stanza.

Briggs’ more positive attributes were such than a dizzying succession of trainers, promoters and managers took chances on him in the hope he would finally put it all together. But some left muttering as had Atlas, questioning the mental toughness and resolve of a remarkable physical specimen who was as apt to show up overweight and underprepared as he was to kick ass.

After Briggs battled Francois Botha to a draw on Aug. 7, 1999, at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, a fight many believed the South African deserved to win, Briggs’ then-trainer Emanuel Steward joined Atlas in throwing Briggs under the bus.

“Shannon got hit with right hand after right hand after right hand, Steward complained. “It showed he has a good chin, he has heart. But that doesn’t do anyone any good.

“He has so much talent that he doesn’t even use. He let Botha dictate the fight. He didn’t counterpunch, didn’t jump back, didn’t box. And he hesitated. He would get there and stop. He would get in front of Botha and wait. He let Botha punch first. He was getting hit with the same thing over and over again.

Briggs’ final moment of semi-glory probably came on Nov. 4, 2006, in Phoenix. Coming in at 268 pounds, 41 more than he had for Foreman, he was as immobile as a statue most of the night against WBO champion Sergei Liakhovich and was on his way to a one-sided points defeat when he unleashed a series of power punches in the 12th round which so discombobulated the native of Belarus that he couldn’t survive to the final bell. Briggs had won an alphabet title and another bit of relevance.

It wasn’t to last. So pleased with himself was Briggs to again be a champion that he ate his way up to a career-high 273 pounds for the first and only defense of his newly won WBO belt, which he surrendered on a unanimous decision to Sultan Ibragimov on June 2, 2007, in Madison Square Garden. It seemingly was the last gasp of a fighter whose long journey of peaks and valleys had bottomed out. Hadn’t it?

But the heavyweight division in the 11th year of the 21st century is do bereft of legitimate contenders that a recycled Briggs, who at least brought some name recognition to the table, could be offered up as a viable option for Vitali Klitschko, whose previous opponent, after all, had been Albert Sosnowski. So the mismatch went off as scheduled, with a crowd of 14,500 Klitschko-loving fans on hand to witness the ritualistic execution.

Perhaps the elder of the Klitschko brothers, himself something of a relic at 39, can be faulted for not quickly and efficiently whacking out the fraying remnants of Briggs (51-6-1, 45 KOs), as Vitali (41-2, 38 KOs) had done in the past to so many other, and probably better, fighters. Maybe Klitschko’s blows do not pack the sort of blunt-force trauma they once did. Hey, it happens.

Or maybe Briggs, the alibi-prone asthmatic, had determined that if this was to be his valedictory, as he had obliged Foreman to deliver so many years earlier, he would leave the doubters and the skeptics no reason to again question his valor. Even as his trainers du jour, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad and Herman Caicedo, knew Briggs’ chances of reprising the last-moment miracle against Liakhovich were virtually nil, the fighter growled that he would “kill them if they surrendered on his behalf.

So take that, Teddy Atlas and anyone else who figured Shannon Briggs was a gutless wonder with big muscles, big hair and big talk that he too frequently didn’t back up. In a crushing defeat, perhaps more than ever, Shannon Briggs revealed himself to be a real fighter.

Oscar De La Hoya, whose grit and determination also were questioned at times, but for different reasons – he was too handsome to be a fighter, the naysayers claimed, and thus declined to engage in the sort of wars that might have left him with Carmen Basilio’s face – can empathize. He cringes whenever he hears someone suggest that a fighter, be it champ or chump, is lacking in courage.

“Very few people really understand what it means to be a fighter, De La Hoya said. “I hate it when I hear someone say, `That fighter doesn’t have guts.’ It really ticks me off.

“I don’t care if you’re a world champion six times over or a four-round fighter who just got knocked out in 30 seconds of your first professional fight; to step inside that ring, you have to have guts.

Articles of 2010

Judah To Fight Mbuza March 5 In NJ

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Totowa, NJ – Kathy Duva, Main Events CEO, announced their promotional firm won the purse bid held at IBF headquarters in East Orange, NJ, Thursday. The bid was for the right to hold the IBF's junior welterweight title fight between Zab Judah of Brooklyn, NY and Las Vegas, and South Africa's Kaizer Mabuza.

IBF Championships Chairman, Lindsay Tucker explained, “It is a 50-50 split of the earnings between the two fighters. Kaizer is ranked No. 1 by the IBF, and Judah is No. 2. Where the fight will be held is up to the winning bidder.”

Judah (39-6, 26 KOs) is promoted by Main Events and his own firm Super Judah Promotions, and Branco Milenkovic, of South Africa, promotes Mabuza (23-6-3, 14 KOs).

Kathy Duva confirmed the fight will take place at Prudential Center in Newark, NJ, late February or early March this year as part of Main Events' Brick City Boxing Series.  (Saturday Update: the fight is March 5th, in NJ at the Pru Center. The bout will be part of a PPV card.)

“We are very happy that Zab has the opportunity to fight for the IBF Junior Welterweight title right here in New Jersey.  Winning this fight will put Zab right in the mix with the winner of Bradley-Alexander and Amir Khan.” Duva elaborated, ” Zab will work very hard to win this fight so that he will be one step closer to his ultimate goal of unifying all of the Junior Welterweight titles by the end of 2011!”

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Articles of 2010

UFC 125 Preview: Frankie Edgar Vs. Gray Maynard

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Few predicted Frankie Edgar would grab the UFC lightweight championship last year but he did. Most felt he would eventually win it but Edgar not only took the title, he beat one of the best mixed martial artists in history to do it.

Edgar (13-1) has emerged from the milieu of nondescript MMA fighters to become one of the more brilliant performers for Ultimate Fighting Championship. Next comes a rematch with Gray “The Bully” Maynard (11-0) tomorrow at the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas. UFC 125 will be televised on pay-per-view.

All it took was not one, but two victories over BJ Penn.

If you’re not familiar with Penn, he’s one of the most versatile fighters in MMA history and had been nearly unbeatable in the 155-pound lightweight division. That is until he clashed with Edgar. Until he met New Jersey’s Edgar, the Hawaiian fighter chopped down lightweight opponents with ease. It was only the heavier welterweights he had problems against. Namely: Canada’s Georges St. Pierre.

Edgar showed poise, speed and grit in defeating Penn in back-to-back fights. The world took notice.

“You know, if I keep winning fights, the respect will come eventually,” said Edgar during a conference call.

Now Edgar will find out if he can avenge the only loss on his record.

“I just think I grew as a fighter. You know, mentally, you know, physically I, you know, possess differently skills, increased – you know, I think I boxed and got better, my Jiu-Jitsu got better and, you know, just have much more experience now,” Edgar says.

Maynard seeks to find out if Edgar has added any more fighting tools to his repertoire. Back in April 2008, the artillery shelled out was not enough to beat the Las Vegas fighter.

“It’s a perfect time. He had the chance and, you know, he took it and the time is now for me and I’m prepared,” said Maynard (11-0). “Any time you’re going up against the top in the world, you evolve and change and so I’m prepared for a new fight, so it will be good. I’m pumped for it.”

Though Maynard’s record indicates he is unbeaten that’s not entirely true. He did suffer a defeat to Nate Diaz during The Ultimate Fighter series and subsequently avenged that loss last January.

The UFC lightweight title is in Maynard’s bull’s eye.

“Looking to take the belt for sure,” said Maynard. “We’ll see on January 1.”

Edgar versus Maynard should be a good one.

Other bouts:

Nate Diaz (13-5) faces Dong Hyun Kim (13-0-1) in another welterweight tussle. Diaz is the only fighter with a win over Maynard. Anyone watching TUF remembers Maynard tapping out from a Diaz guillotine choke. The Modesto fighter has a tough fight against South Korea’s Kim.

Chris Leben (21-6) fights Brian Stann (9-3) in a middleweight fight. Leben is a veteran of MMA and if an opponent is not ready for a rough and tumble fight, well, that fighter is not going to win. Stann dropped down from light heavyweight and we’ll see if the cut in weight benefits the Marine.

Brandon Vera (11-5) meets Thiago Silva (14-2) in a light heavyweight match up. Vera is trying to rally back to the promising fighter he was tabbed several years back. Silva is a very tough customer and eager to crash the elite. A victory by either fighter could mean a ticket to the big time.

Clay Guida (27-8) versus Takanori Gomi (32-6) in a lightweight bout. Guida has become one of the most feared fighters without a title. No one has an easy time with the long-haired fighter. Gomi lost to Kenny Florian but knocked out Tyson Griffin. Can he survive Guida?

Marcus “The Irish Hand Grenade” Davis (22-8) clashes with Jeremy Stephens (18-6) in another lightweight fight. Davis is a go-for-broke kind of fighter and is looking to get back in the win column after a tumultuous battle with Nate Diaz last August. Stephens needs a win too. In his last bout he lost to Melvin Guillard.

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Articles of 2010

Borges Looks Back, And Forward With Hope

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As the end of another year approaches, there’s no need to invoke Charles Dickens to describe what went on in boxing. It was neither the best of times nor the worst of times. It was just too much time spent on The Fight That Never Took Place.

For the second straight year the sport could not deliver The Fight, the only one fans universally wanted and even casual fans craved – the mix between Floyd Mayweather, Jr. vs. Manny Pacquiao.  No one has to be singled out for blame for that failure because this time there’s plenty to go around on both sides. The larger issue is what does it say about a sport when it cannot deliver its top event?

What would the NFL be without the Super Bowl? Where would major league baseball be without the World Series? Golf without the Masters? College basketball without March Madness?

They would all be less than they could be and so it was with boxing this year. Having said that, the sport was not without its signature moments. It was not bereft of nights that left those of us with an abiding (and often unrequited) love for prize fighting with good reason to hope for the future.

Three times promoter Bob Arum took the sport into massive stadium venues just like the good (very) old days and each time boxing drew a far larger crowd than its many critics expected. Twice those fights involved the sport’s leading ambassador, Pacquiao, who brought in crowds of 40,000 to 50,000 fans into Cowboys Stadium against inferior opponents Joshua Clottey and Antonio Margarito. Imagine what he might have done had Mayweather been in the opposite corner?

While both fights were, as expected, lopsided affairs, they showcased the one boxer who has transcended his sport’s confining walls to become a cultural icon and world celebrity. Pacquiao alone put boxing (or at least one boxer) on the cover of TIME and into the pages of such varied publications as Esquire, GQ, The Wall Street Journal, the American Airlines in-flight magazine and even Atlantic Monthly.

As history has proven time and again, that is what happens when boxing has a compelling personality to sell it and Pacquiao is that. Mayweather is such a person as well,  but for different reasons.

The one night he appeared in a boxing ring, he set the year’s pay-per-view standard against Shane Mosley while also leaving a first hint of dark mystery when he was staggered by two stinging right hands in the second round.

Mayweather was momentarily in trouble for the first time in his career but the moment passed quickly and Mosley never had another. By the end he had been made to look old and futile, a faded athlete who’d had his chance and was unable to do anything with it. So it goes in this harsh sport when the sands are running out of the hour glass.

As always there were some surprising upsets, most notably Jason Litzau’s domination of an uninterested and out of shape Celestino Caballero and Sergio Martinez’s one-punch demolishment of Paul Williams. The latter was not so much an upset as it was a stunning reminder that when someone makes a mistake against a highly skilled opponent in this sport they don’t end up embarrassed. They end up unconscious.

SHOWTIME did all it could to further the future of the sport, offering up a continuation of its interminably long but still bold Super Six super middleweight tournament as well as the launching of a short form bantamweight tournament which already gave fans to two stirring and surprising finishes with Joseph Agbeko decisioning Jhonny Perez and Abner Mares upsetting Victor Darchinyan in a battle of contusions.

While the Super Six has had its problems – including several of the original six pulling out – it also lifted the profile of former Olympic gold medalist Andre Ward from nearly unknown to the cusp of universal recognized as the best super middleweight in the world this side of Lucian Bute. If Ward continues winning he’ll get to Bute soon enough because that’s why SHOWTIME signed a TV deal with the Canadian and America may get its next boxing star if Ward proves to be what I think he is – which is still underrated and underappreciated.

HBO and HBO pay-per-view put on 23 shows, few of them compelling and many of them paying big money to the wrong people while doing little or nothing to grow the sport that has helped make their network rich. But they did have the knockout of the year – Martinez’s second round destruction of Williams – and some fights in the lower weight classes that were left you wanting more.

Two new names popped up who are causing the kind of fan reaction that also gives us hope for 2011 – American Brandon Rios and Mexican Saul Alvarez. They are two of the sport’s brightest young prospects because each comes to the arena the old-fashioned way – carrying nothing but bad intentions.
Aggression and knockouts still sell boxing faster than anything else and each exhibited plenty of both this year and left fans wanting to see more. Alvarez is already a star in Mexico without having yet won a world title and Rios is the definition of “promise.’’ Whether the star will continue to shine and promise will be fulfilled may be answered next year and so we wait anxiously to find out.

Backed by Golden Boy Promotions, there is no reason 2011 shouldn’t be Alvarez’s year and if it is people will notice and remember him because he has a crowd-pleasing style that is all about what sells most.

That is what boxing needs more of – fresh faces and new stars… so as fans we should root for guys like Alvarez, Ward, Rios and young Brit Amir Khan, who is a star in England but still a question mark with a questionable chin but a fighter’s heart here in the U.S.

Those guys and others not yet as well known are the future of boxing, a sport that for too long has been recycling the likes of Mosley (as it will again in May for one last beating against Pacquiao in a fight that's a joke), Bernard Hopkins (who can still fight although it is unclear why he bothers or where it’s all headed), Roy Jones and, sadly, even 48-year-old Evander Holyfield, who continues to delude himself but not many other people into believing he will soon unify the heavyweight title again.
If fighters like Ward, Alvarez, Rios, Khan, WBC welterweight champion Andre Berto and middleweight king Sergio Martinez continue their rise they could be the antidote for the art of the retread that Arum and Golden Boy have been forcing fans to buy the past few years at the expense of what boxing needs most – fresh faces.

The heavyweight division, which many believe determines the relevancy of boxing to the larger world, remains a vast desert of disinterest here in the US. The Klitschko brothers, Vitali and Wladimir, hold 75 per cent of the title belts but few peoples’ imaginations in the US, although to be fair they are European superstars and don’t really need U.S. cable TV money to thrive economically.

Each defended their titles twice this year, Vitali against lame competition (Albert Sosnowski and Shannon Briggs) and Wladimir against better fighters (Sam Peter and Eddie Chambers) but not competitive ones. Sadly, there is no American on the horizon to challenge them, a comment on the division and on our country, where the athletes who used to be Joe Louis or Muhammad Ali now opt for the easier and frankly safer road of the NFL or the NBA. Who can blame them considering all the nonsense a fighter has to go through to just make a living these days?

The one heavyweight match that would be compelling and might lift the sport up for at least a night would be either of the Klitschkos facing lippy WBA champion David Haye. The fast-talking Brit claims to not be ducking them but he’s had more maladies befall him after shouting from the rooftops how much he wants to challenge them that you have to wonder if Haye is simply a case of big hat no cattle syndrome.

For the sake of the sport, we should all be lighting candles each night in hopes our prayers will be answered and Haye will finally agree to meet one of them. It may not prove to be much of a fight but at least it will give us something to talk about for a few months.

Whatever Haye and the Klitschkos decide the fighter with the most upside at the moment however seems to be Sergio Martinez.  He has matinee idol looks, a big enough punch to put Paul Williams to sleep with one shot and a work ethic second to none. The Argentine fighter had a year for himself, starting with a drubbing of Kelly Pavlik followed by his demolishment of Williams. Those kinds of victories, coupled with his Oscar De La Hoya-like looks, are the type of things that if HBO or SHOWTIME would get behind him could allow Martinez to capture the attention of both fight fans and more casual ones.

In general, Hispanics fighters continued to dominate much of the sport’s front pages with Juan Manuel Marquez’s two victories in lightweight title fights leading that storyline. His war with Michael Katsidis is a strong candidate for Fight of the Year and his technical skill and calm demeanor make him the uncrowned challenger to Pacquiao. The two have unfinished business that should be settled this year if Arum stops standing in the way.

Two other fighters who gave us moments to remember in 2010 were Juan Manuel Lopez, who knocked out three solid opponents including highly respected Mexican warrior Rafael Marquez, and Giovani Segura, who won four times (that’s three years work for Mayweather) in 2010, all by knockout. Along the way, Segura defeated one of the great minimum weight fighters in history, slick Ivan Calderon, to win the belt on Aug. 28.

Lastly, boxing gave us another magical cinematic moment as well with the release of “The Fighter,’’ a film based on the life and hard times of junior welterweight scrapper Micky Ward. The film has won rave reviews and many awards and seems likely to have several of its actors nominated for Academy Awards, most notable Christian Bale for his sadly humorous portrayal of Ward’s troubled half brother, former fighter Dickie Ecklund.

Boxing has a long history of providing the framework for memorable movies and it did it again with “The Fighter,’’ a film that did more for boxing than any promoter did all year.

All in all, it wasn’t the best of years for boxing but it was a good year that picked up speed in the final months and, like that great golf shot you finally hit out of the rough on the 18th, left us with reasons to hope for a better year in 2011. If somehow it gives us Mayweather-Pacquiao, the emergence of Alvarez and Rios, the ascension of Martinez and Haye vs. the best available Klitschko in addition to the kind of solid performances that always come along, it could be a year to remember.

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