Lewis shows a champions belt Engishman survives knockdown, stops Briggs

March 29, 1998|By ALAN GOLDSTEIN | ALAN GOLDSTEIN,SUN STAFF

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. - England's Lennox Lewis showed the heart and power of a heavyweight champion last night, surviving a first-round knockdown to hammer title challenger Shannon Briggs to the canvas four times before referee Frank Cappuccino stopped the exciting brawl at 1:45 of the fifth round.

This was a heavyweight fight equal in intensity and excitement to the three Evander Holyfield Riddick Bowe battles. Lewis, the World Boxing Council champ, issued an open challenge to Holyfield to meet in a title-unifying bout.

In his previous three knockout victories, over Oliver McCall, Henry Akinwande and Andrew Golota, Lewis (33-1, 27 KOs) raised as many questions as he provided answers.

But last night before a Convention Hall crowd of 9,173, Lewis, a formidable 6 feet 5 and 243 pounds, began to exhibit the all-round ring ability that has his trainer, Emanuel Steward, proclaiming him the best heavyweight in the world.

After two shaky rounds, he began to rock Briggs (30-2, 24 KOs) repeatedly with brutal right hands. He dropped Briggs, from Brooklyn, N.Y., twice in the fourth and twice more in the fifth.

The challenger, who had knocked himself to the floor in missing a wild left in the closing seconds, was in no condition to continue when the referee intervened.

"He was overcome by exhaustion," said Cappuccino. "When a fighter is like that, he's really vulnerable to get seriously hurt."

Lewis applauded Briggs' effort.

"He's a game fighter, and I didn't think he had that much heart," Lewis said. "He did a lot of talking the week before the fight and tried to back it up, but I knew my defense and power was too much for him."

Said Briggs: "I let the media dictate my strategy because of all the furor of my [controversial] victory over George Foreman.

"I wanted to be more steady tonight, but when I hurt Lewis in the first round, I started righting in a frenzy and got away from my game plan."

Lewis will make a mandatory defense of his WBC belt in July against little-known Zeljko Movrovic of Croatia. The site will be either England or Spain.

Last night, Lewis appeared intent on ending the bout as quickly as in his 98-second knockout of Golota. He charged out of his corner and pinned Briggs against the ropes with four solid punches.

Briggs showed no ill effect and was content to box until suddenly exploding a left flush on Lewis' chin. The champion's knees buckled, and he staggered across the ring. He spent the last 10 seconds of the round hanging on desperately until the bell sounded.

Lewis turned more cautious in the second round, jabbing and picking his shots while fighting at close range. But once more, Briggs caught Lewis with a lightning combination that sent him flying into a neutral corner. There was a show of concern in Lewis' corner before the third round started.

Lewis, at 32 six years older than the challenger, looked composed in the third round and landed a hard combination to the head. Two more bristling right crosses put Briggs on the defensive.

The fourth round turned into a slugfest with the two fighters trading haymakers. Lewis landed five crushing rights before dropping Briggs. But Briggs quickly recovered and shook Lewis several times in mid-ring. Lewis weathered this attack to floor Briggs a second time. He got up on wobbly legs and survived the last 15 seconds of a spectacular round.

The slugging continued in Round 5, as both fighters abandoned all science. Another right cross sent Briggs flying to the canvas. He showed considerable courage in regaining his feet, only to be dropped a fourth and final time.

In another title bout, International Boxing Federation super-middleweight champion Charles Brewer of Philadelphia stopped Herol Graham of Sheffield, England, at 1:34 of the 10th round.

Brewer (31-5, 21 KOs) had to overcome a pair of third-round knockdowns by the left-handed Englishman (48-6, 28 KOs).

Heavyweight contender Chris Byrd raised his record to 24-0 by stopping Derek Amos of Fort Washington, Md., at 1:31 of the sixth round.

Pub Date: 3/29/98

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