Briggs sets sights on Lewis' title Challenger from Tyson's, Bowe's N.Y. neighborhood

March 27, 1998|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Mike Tyson, Riddick Bowe and Shannon Briggs are all products of the rough-and-tumble Brownsville section of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Tyson and Bowe would rise out of the squalor to become heavyweight world champions and earn millions of dollars. But Tyson, who spent three years in jail on a rape conviction, has never found inner peace and is currently suing longtime promoter Don King for stealing his ring income.

Bowe avoided trouble with the law, but when his boxing skills suddenly eroded, he engaged in a brief, but comical episode with the Marine Corps and then found himself publicly embarrassed by repeated domestic problems.

And now there is Briggs, 26, who is challenging England's Lennox Lewis for his World Boxing Council heavyweight crown at the Convention Center tomorrow night.

"I grew up watching the careers of Tyson and Bowe," he said. "I always wanted to follow in their footsteps in becoming a world champion. But I've always been my own man. I never said I was a Tyson, Bowe or Ali. I said I'm Shannon Briggs, the latest, not the 'greatest.' "

Few have had to overcome more obstacles than Briggs. His mother, Margie, had drug problems and he never knew his father.

Briggs learned the way of the streets early, fighting for respect and survival. And he remembers how close he came to heading down a dead-end street of drugs and violence.

"Some days, I didn't know how I was going to make it to the next morning," he said. "There was a lot of pain and the streets were awfully tempting."

After minor scrapes with police for petty thievery and street fighting, he appeared headed for hard times. A prison visit to his stepfather, Willis McDonald, who was convicted of manslaughter, set him straight.

"He told me, 'Don't let your life go down the drain and wind up in a place like this. Be strong!' "

The youthful Briggs found a way to curb his wanderlust at Jimmy O'Farrell's neighborhood gym.

Briggs went on to win the New York Golden Gloves heavyweight title four times.

Briggs made an instant hit as a professional. He gained media attention with his orange dreadlocks, 6-4, 225-pound frame, and boxing skills that produced 25 straight victories, 21 by knockout.

Then one devastating third-round knockout by unsung Darroll Wilson in March 1996 had ringside critics suggesting Briggs had simply benefited from a steady diet of sacrificial lambs.

"I wasn't ready to fight that night," he said. "I'm asthmatic, and I wasn't under medication. I was weak, and Wilson took advantage. But that loss made me mature."

He now controls his asthma with prescription drugs and has won his last five fights. But his most recent victory over former heavyweight king George Foreman last November brought only ridicule.

The 48-year-old Foreman seemed so obvious a winner, charges of "fix" were raised. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a strong advocate of boxing reform, investigated the New Jersey Athletic Commission before the verdict was allowed to stand.

And now Briggs will be $1.25 million richer after the Lewis fight.

"This is my opportunity of a lifetime," Briggs said. "I've got to go for it. The next time I go back to Brownsville, I want to be sporting a championship belt."

Fight facts

Who: Lennox Lewis (32-1, 26 KOs), London, vs. Shannon Briggs (30-1, 24 KOs) Brooklyn, N.Y.

What: For Lewis' World Boxing Council heavyweight title

Also: Charles Brewer (30-5, 20 KOs), Philadelphia, vs. Herol Graham (48-5, 28 KOs), Sheffield, England, for Brewer's IBF super middleweight title

Where: Atlantic City (N.J.) Convention Center

When: Tomorrow night. First bout, 7 p.m.

TV: HBO, telecast begins at 10 p.m.

Tickets: $400 to $25.

Call 800-736-1420.

Pub Date: 3/27/98

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