On This Day: Lennox Lewis Beats Shannon Briggs
By Sina Latif
In 1998, a young Shannon “The Cannon” Briggs was entering the year fresh off four stoppage victories before getting a decision victory over George Foreman for the lineal heavyweight championship in Big George’s final professional fight.
Then, on this day, 28 March 1998, the-then WBC heavyweight king Lennox Lewis and the lineal champ met in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in what turned out to be a surprisingly exciting fight.
In the lead-up to Lewis’ fight with Henry Akinwande, Lewis’ late great trainer Emanuel Steward had stated:
“I recently had a conversation with Lennox where I explained to him that he’s a good fighter, and he will remain a good fighter, but he will never become a great fighter unless he is willing to take risks. All great people take risks, and from here-on he has to start being impressive, and being impressive in every fight, not just every other fight.”
Lewis was dominating his opponents, but Steward felt that Lewis was ‘too conservative, too intelligent and too analytical in the ring’ and that he ‘would become more conservative in situations where it’s not even necessary’.
Steward clearly wanted Lewis to put some of that caution aside and really go for the kill, as the great trainer saw the mean streak that Lewis possessed within. Glimpses had been shown earlier in Lewis’ career before his link-up with Steward, in a two round demolition of Donovan ‘Razor’ Ruddock, a man who had really pushed Mike Tyson over two fights and was expected to beat Lewis.
Oliver McCall had refused to fight Lewis in their rematch for the then-vacant WBC title, crying in the ring and clearly demonstrating his mental demons. This left the referee Mills Lane with no choice but to stop the fight. Henry Akinwande failed to fight Lewis with the excessive holding, eventually being disqualified. Opponents refusing to fight was no fault of Lewis’.
However, in the following fights, Lewis certainly took on Steward’s advice and started being more aggressive.
The Brit knocked out Andrew Golota in a one round blowout destruction.
The then-32 year old Lewis was on a seven fight winning streak since his first pro career loss to McCall and was making the third defence of his WBC title, the title he had lost and regained from the same man in McCall.
This fight against Briggs, billed as “March Badness”, was an epic five rounds of action which became an instant classic.
In the first round, Briggs survived an opening bell onslaught by Lewis and then rocked Lewis with a left hook, sending the WBC champ sprawling backwards onto the ropes, unleashing a barrage of lefts, straight rights and body shots at Lewis. Lewis held firm. Briggs arguably won the first two rounds.
However, perhaps Briggs should have had more regard for defence rather than constantly shaking his dead contempt-fully at Lewis, because Lewis showed his experience to start taking over in the third round. Lewis was landing jabs frequently, which were beautifully setting up his right hand.
Briggs deserves a lot of credit for showing heart and courage to be decked heavily twice in the fourth round to gamely rise and fight back, before the American touched the canvas a further two times in the fifth round and forced the referee Frank Cappuccino to intervene and stop the fight.
Prior to the fight, during Lewis’ ring walk, Larry Merchant said:
“In a sense he’s in a no-win situation here. If he scores a quick knockout, he won’t get credit for that because of Briggs’ reputation. If the fight even goes four or five rounds, it won’t do him a lot of good in the public’s eye.”
Lewis scored a fifth round KO and the way the fight played out, Lewis actually displayed his class in this bout and the fight did do him good. Although Lewis showed vulnerabilities and looked beatable in the early rounds, his punching power and class prevailed to get rid of a very game opponent.
After getting hurt in the first round, Lewis calmed himself down, stayed patient and out-boxed Briggs before unloading a series of vicious shots and really put a dent in Briggs, forcing the referee to stop the fight and save a game Briggs who was showing tremendous heart and had no quit in him.
Lewis would go on to become a British heavyweight icon, one of the greatest heavyweights of all time.
Briggs was a serious player in the late 1990’s and after a few years of not having another meaningful fight after the Lewis bout and becoming somewhat of a forgotten man, the American became a two-time heavyweight champion in 2006, knocking out Sairhei Liakhovich in the 12th round to become the WBO champion.
This was a great achievement and Briggs became the creator of the famous “Let’s Go Champ” slogan, an inspirational slogan that unites people in the divided world of today, motivating people to push through in times of adversity against all odds.