November 1, 2014

KO Digest Interview: Shannon Briggs — “I'm the George Foreman of 2014”

Let's Go Champ!
The last time Shannon Briggs owned a heavyweight title belt, the national average for gas was $2.18, George W. Bush still had two years remaining in his presidency, Pluto and many of boxing’s current stars hadn’t yet come into their own—Floyd Mayweather included, who was still a year away from beating Oscar De La Hoya and entering the mainstream sports landscape as boxing's money-making king. One constant throughout this time is that Wladimir Klitschko was (and still is...) the heavyweight champion, undefeated since 2004.

Like many American fight fans, Briggs is sick of that title reign.

Calling himself the “real heavyweight champion of the world,” Briggs might sound a little bit off base regarding his place in the division’s landscape. But, when he says “boxing needs Shannon Briggs,” don’t snicker—he actually has a point. When was the last time there was a heavyweight title fight that excited you—or better yet, when was the last time a heavyweight fight that did excite you actually lived up to the lofty expectations formed in our conscience by warriors like Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, and George Foreman? Although some appreciate the dominance of Klitschko, his style leaves a lot to be desired by Americans who grew up admiring the brutal beauty of warriors in the heavyweight heyday.

Even worse, despite Klitschko’s love for America, its people, and his time spent in the state of Florida, homegrown boxing fans don't relate to his personality. Seemingly as robotic outside the ring as he inside the ropes, Americans just can’t relate. Enter Briggs, the paddle-boarding, shoe-throwing, trash-talking rabble-rouser. When Briggs took the lineal heavyweight crown away from the aging George Foreman in 1997, he took not only the title belt, but also the torch in some sense for aging entrepreneurs. Briggs fights, he acts, and he promotes. Literally stalking Klitschko, he’s managed to do all three at once over the last few months.

Utilizing social media as well as anybody in the sport, Briggs is a man of the people, and a funny one too. Outgoing, boisterous, and incredibly confident, he has taken his personal maxim “Let’s go champ” to heart and body. By his own admission, he didn’t always handle training, fighting, and life in general as best he could when he was young. Now aged 42, he has a lifetime of lessons learned in his arsenal and he’s actually in the best physical condition of his life. If Briggs gets his wish and earns a title fight with Klitschko, whether or not he’s capable of winning would certainly be debatable at best. However, you can bet the house that, win or lose, he could at least sell a heavyweight title fight in America. How many heavyweight champions in the last decade can say that?  

KO Digest’s Joel Sebastianelli: You’ve been tracking down Wladimir Klitschko lately. The videos you've been posting on social media have created some buzz between the two of you. How did this all start? Why are you doing all of this?

Briggs calls out the heavyweight champion
Shannon Briggs: I ran into him at the gym. I was on the way out, I was like “hey, what’s up champ? How you doin’?” He kind of ignored me. Brushed me off like I was just a common man so that kind of pissed me off. I was like, “I’m getting in shape, man.” I’ve never really liked him because as a person, he’s a nice guy, but as a fighter, he’s boring. I’m sick of it and most people are sick of it. His style is destroying boxing, all that grabbing and holding. He’s the heavyweight champion of the world, supposedly. I’m the heavyweight champion, he’s just the belt-holder. I’ve been tracking him down because that’s what boxing needs. Boxing is on the downgrade. People want to know what’s next. They don’t even care about the heavyweight division. They don’t even talk about the heavyweight division. You have the NBA conglomerate, the NFL conglomerate, the NHL, every sport—boxing? Come on man. Nobody is promoting the game. Boxing needs Shannon Briggs. Nobody else is throwing shoes, nobody else is throwing tables and chairs and nobody else is fighting in restaurants, they aint doing nothing! 

KOD: So what is the end goal here? Is the end goal a fight between the two of you?
SB: When people talk about boxing, they get depressed. People don’t even know who Wladimir Klitschko, the heavyweight champion of the world is. He ain’t dominating the game and destroying people like Mike Tyson, or even like me. He ain’t bringing the heat. I am the real champ. The people have nominated me, they elected me. I’m down to the people and in the streets. I was born and raised in Brownsville, Brooklyn. I’m a common person that people can respect and love who’s working hard. He worked hard too to become champion and retain it but he’s destroying the sport. He’s boring! The heavyweight champion of the world should be the most dominant figure in sports. He’s the most boring figure in sports, and he’s the heavyweight champion. That’s why I’m the heavyweight champion of the world and if he doesn’t beat me, he’s not the heavyweight champion of the world.

KOD: When we interviewed Wladimir last April in training for Alex Leapai, he seemed very respectful of the untested but undefeated Deontay Wilder, saying “Wilder has the desire, strength, and talent to become a champion.” Do you resent the fact that Wladimir doesn't respect you enough to fight you? He seems to be on more of a collision course with Wilder than with you.

"Beyonce Wilder and Wladimir Scarecrow"
SB: Yeah, I feel very disrespected. But, I ain’t talking about them no more. I don’t want to talk about those other guys. They’re doing nothing for me and I’m doing nothing for them. I’m giving no more PR to any of them. I'm on my own mission. Deontay Wilder’s name is Beyonce Wilder. That’s what I named him, but I’m not giving him any more promotion. He don’t like me. And I like that brother. I have names for all the heavyweights, but I’m only bringing them out when I fight them. Wladimir Scarecrow, that’s his name! Or Willamina Klitschko. I know you’re thinking, “what kind of interview is this?” This is the best interview you’re ever going to get in your life!  

KOD: Rumor has it that Klitschko is actually seeking a restraining order. Is that true and is it going to stop you from going after him?

SB: I heard that too. I know people are like, “man, Shannon Briggs is nuts.” But, that’s right. That’s what it takes to become the heavyweight champion of the world. Don’t think Wladimir Klitschko ain’t nuts. Don’t think Jack Johnson wasn’t nuts. Don’t think Muhammad Ali wasn’t nuts. We’re a different breed of man. So yeah, say what you want, but know one thing: I’m 42 years old, I’m back on my feet, and I’m pursuing. Let’s go champ, get it! Nothing is going to stop me. Nothing. Nothing is going to stop me because I’m pumped up. I’m motivated. Momentum is on my side. Why stop now? I’m only 42 years old. I’m enjoying life, I’m in phenomenal shape, and this is keeping me alive! Training every day, eating healthy, fighting, keeping busy, it’s keeping me alive. 

KOD: Let’s talk about Shannon Briggs, the heavyweight champion. Since the Vitali fight, you have healed and are still fighting, but not against quality foes. If you do want to fight Wladimir Klitschko, why not build up by fighting contenders in the division?

Pimpin aint easy
SB: I don’t have a promoter. I’m on my own. I’ve been on my own since my man Marc Roberts split. I haven’t had a manager in years. I’m doing this from my iPhone everyday promoting myself. Actually, the people are my promoters—I apologize to the people. People are my promoters on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and social media. Those are my promoters because no boxing manager is promoting me. Nobody is out there trying to get me fights, I’m doing it myself. I’m pushing, nobody is helping me. I don’t have Al Haymon. I’m not with Bob Arum, Don King, or Lou DiBella. I’m by myself. As far as these contenders go, I put in to fight two guys in the top ten and was denied. I don’t want to put the names out there until one more incident, but two people in the boxing world in the top ten were offered fights and they turned me down. When you talk about me fighting guys in the top ten, I know what I bring to the table but I’m not going to be pimped. If you put me on any card, I’m going to sell it out because I’m going to talk so much crap that people are either going to want to see me win or want to see me get my head knocked off.

KOD: Are you without a promoter and a manager by choice?

Briggs looks crazy but he sounds very sane
SB: I don’t want no pimpin’ manager and I don’t want no pimpin’ promoter. I’ve already been there, done that. I formed a company called “The Empire.” That was my company, so I already know how to manage and promote myself. I’m doing a phenomenal job. I have over 25 million views on YouTube. I’m not trying to give myself a blowjob, I’m just trying to show the fighters out there that you don’t have to be pimped by these managers and promoters, because guess what? We’re about to be in 2015, you can promote yourself! It’s a long way from where we need to be as fighters, but we need to stop being pimped by these so-called managers and promoters.

KOD: You’ve had multiple roles as an actor outside for your boxing career. Has this venture into show business helped you to create and maintain a sort of show business of your own in boxing to help sell fights and attract attention to yourself?

SB: I don’t have an acting background. I have an aggressive background where I earned money and survived. You said actor, but you’ve got to talk promoter. One of my guys that I promoted, he's a champion right now, I found this guy in the Dominican Republic. Badou Jack is another guy I found. That’s my friend, I love that guy. So, you’ve got to understand, I’ve been a promoter not only for myself, but I’ve been promoting other guys for years. Now, with that being said, I don’t have an acting background but I’ve dabbled with acting and had some fun. Why not? It’s entertainment, and people are missing that. My goal right now is to bring people who don’t like or watch boxing and to bring them into boxing. We already know who the boxing fans are. They’re already involved with boxing and they’ll watch it like I'll watch it. I’m trying to bring in a mother, a father, or a daughter, and the kids. I have thousands of people following me on Twitter and Instagram right now. They see my antics. They see me training hard. They see me with my family. They see me at the grocery store. I’m the people’s champ, champ. Let’s go champ!

KOD: Let’s talk about the other Klitschko. You fought Vitali in 2011. Do you see a lot of similarities between him and his brother?

Briggs gets pummeled by Vitali Klitschko in 2010
SB: Yeah man. You know I fought him with one arm for twelve rounds? The injury happened in the first round of the fight. I fought him for 12 brutal rounds with one arm, and nobody gave me any credit. I gave my all, fighting with one arm. I feel 2000 percent now. I’m even stronger than before. I’m in better shape at 42 than I was at  22. I’m active, pumped up, and fired up now more than ever because of Bernard Hopkins. I really feel like everything happens for a reason, and you now what? I’m the Black Cinderella Man. I’m going to shock the world and get a fight with this bum and knock his face off.

KOD: In your opinion, is the blueprint for beating VItali Klitschko the same for beating younger brother Wladimir?

SB: Not at all. With Vitali, I could have knocked that bum out had I been strong and healthy. The same with his brother. You’ve got to step to them bums and knock then down like little Sam Peter. Peter is like 5’11”, come on man! They’re robots. They grab, hold, and jump on you like an octopus. You have to fight like you’re in the hood, knock them out and yell “World Star!”

KOD: The George Foreman fight was the biggest of your career at the time and also a signature victory, but the outcome was debated and most people believe Foreman won. How do you look back on the fight and the final result years later?

Briggs beat Foreman with some help from the judges
SB: Don’t you realize what you just said? Put the pieces together, brother. I fought George Foreman in 1997. It was his last fight. He was going on to become a successful marketing genius. He passed the torch to the champ: me! I won the lineal championship from him. A couple of fights before that, he fought Alex Stewart and Lou Savarese and people thought they won, but we never talk about that. Right now, I am the George Foreman of 2014. I’m 42 years old. He passed the torch to me, and I’m going to knock the bum out, but it’s going to be bigger than when he knocked out Michael Moorer in 1994. Why? Because Moorer was a new champion. When we talk about the reigning champion—he’s been reigning for how long? Who else but me is going to beat him? Pulev? Stiverne? Beyonce Wilder? They’re aren’t going to beat him! They don’t have the firepower.

KOD: You were a boxing "young gun" when you fought Foreman in 1997, but even at his age, how good was Big George? Did he still show you signs of what made him such a legendary fighter?

SB: Oh man, he hit so hard I couldn't speak for two weeks. He knocked me out in the seventh round and hit me with another punch that woke me back up. I never felt anything like it, it was like bone breaking. I was like, “man, I’ve got to do this” because my back was against the wall. What, I was just gonna get knocked out like everybody else? No, man. That aint in me. I had one foot in boxing, one foot in acting, one foot in the streets, one foot hanging out, one foot in girls—I was a crazy kid! I had to grow up. Nobody lived the life I lived, of a champion! I didn’t make all that much money. I maybe earned $5 million in my career, but I lived like I made $50 million. I enjoyed myself and even though I’m 40, I’m still having fun. Now, I have a new passion, which is inspiring people. People look at me, here I was at fat, depressed, down in the dumps and financially in ruins two years ago. Everybody turned their back on me and people were coming against me—I was being attacked, but bro, I pulled myself back together and shed 130 pounds! I got down to where I feel good about myself.

Briggs after a brutal beatdown from Vitali 
KOD: How old do you feel right now?

SB: It’s funny because it depends what time of the day it is. I feel 22 sometimes, I feel 16 years old, but the truth of the matter is I changed my lifestyle. I live by the ocean which is phenomenal for health benefits. I don’t party. I haven’t had a sip of alcohol in three or four years. I was never a big drinker, but I wasn’t living my life as a fighter and I got what I deserved, what I put in. I’m happy with that because I ain’t punch drunk. I can still have a conversation with you. A lot of fighters are financially ruined and they're punch drunk! I’m doing it for them. I really want to help fighters because I’m one of them. I was betrayed by managers. I was betrayed by promoters. I’m one of those guys. I want to inspire them to eat right, to change their diets. So many fighters don’t know how important nutrition is for our brains after years of being hit in the head. Nutrition is key. Exercise is key. We need to stay working out because our bodies have PTSD.

KOD: After the George Foreman fight, you fought Lennox Lewis in 1998. That fight didn’t go your way, losing in five rounds. What lessons did you learn from that fight?

SB: Train hard and don’t take fights when you’re not really prepared. What could I do? I was a kid. It was the biggest payday of my career. I lost to a great legendary champion. I gave it the best I could at the moment. I’m a very competitive person and I don’t like to lose, but I give respect when it’s due. Even Wladimir, he did his thing, but it’s like watching the same TV show every night for years. Enough is enough. I have the right to say what people are speaking and what they tell me. People say “we don’t even watch boxing no more because Wladimir Klitschko, or whatever his name is, is so boring.” I’m not holding my tongue anymore for these boxing writers. I know the boxing world already. They love you today and hate you tomorrow. You can lose in basketball and come back to play the next day, but boxing, you’re a bum and you ain’t nothing, and you go home with your head knocked in. I want to help every fighter who’s been through the same thing I’ve been through. I’ve been down, depressed, and in a bad place. Managers and promoters stay the same, but fighters come and go. I don’t care if you’re anti-Shannon Briggs. I don’t care anymore. A lot of fighters are just like me, but they don’t have my voice to say what I'm saying. I’m speaking up for the people. That’s why I’m the people’s champ who cares about other fighters. You think Klitschko cares about these people or about any fighter? Does he care about Alex Stewart? He don’t care about these people.

Whatever Wlad does, Briggs does
KOD: In some ways, going on without a promoter or a manager is almost admirable, but without them, how do you expect to get the fight done with Wladimir Klitschko? Doesn’t that make things a lot more difficult? 

SB: I want the people to make the fight. That’s my goal. I’m ready for Wladimir Klitschko and I’m going to stay ready. We’re having fun, swimming in the ocean, staying in shape, and feeling good. I’ll be like the black Jack LaLanne at 70, 80 years old hopefully still working out. I’m eating right. Training is my life. I'm at "Whole Foods" right now! 

KOD: As you touched on earlier, you had a rough upbringing growing up and were actually homeless. How did that experience impact your life?

SB: I was homeless on and off from age thirteen to twenty. My father died in prison. I live with that hurt. That’s my family and I love them, but I’m a breadwinner working hard to keep my family by fighting, making business deals, and acting. I’m a go-getter. If people don't like that, too bad. I may not be the best fighter in the world but I'm the last American heavyweight champion and the boxing world didn't come to my rescue when the champ was down and out. I'm hard to kill.

The Future of Boxing

KO Digest Interview conducted by Joel "The Future" Sebastianelli

Joel joined KO Digest in January 2013 and has been a fixture on press row in the New England area for three years. In 2012, he served as the host of “The Boxing Fix” on Leave it in the Ring Radio. Sebastianelli is the future of boxing journalism and broadcasting.

Joel can be found Tweeting on Twitter @JJSebastianelli