Tonight in Atlantic City, New Jersey, WBC Heavyweight Champion Lennox Lewis took on challenger Shannon Briggs.
Much has been made of this matchup between two men who are considered question marks in the heavyweight division. Lewis' career has been plagued by inconsistent flashes of excellence, while the once hot prospect Briggs couldn't even beat an aged George Foreman. Indeed, tonight's matchup hoped to answer some of the more pressing questions surrounding either fighter's abilities.
Briggs entered the ring first. His demeanor was in marked contrast to his nervousness prior to the Foreman fight. Briggs was smiling and wore only an old t-shirt drenched in sweat to attest to his pre-fight warmup. Lewis came next, robeless. Once he entered the ring, he stood in complete stillness, his eyes locked on Briggs. Like a giant statue, Lewis eyeballed Briggs through Michael Buffer's ever-growing list of official's names, not blinking once. As he was announced, HBO's cameras zoomed in...only his eyes filled the screen. It was a menacing focus that didn't let up during the final instructions when a laughing Briggs said to Lewis "We're in prime time." Lewis backed up slowly to his corner. No less than eight times he was told to step all the way back, and each time Lewis took a baby step back, as though he were going to pounce at the opening bell.
When the bell starting Round One rang, Lewis came to Briggs quickly and fired a few solid power combinations to Shannon's head. It was clear within moments that Lewis was looking for the quick kayo that many had predicted. After backing the challenger up for a moment, Briggs fired a few one-two's of his own to let Lewis know that he wasn't going to fold like Golota had. As the round continued, Lewis was trying too hard to knock out Briggs. His reputed jab was simply pawing for range so that his big right could end the night. This continued until, with half a minute remaining, Briggs landed a left hook that caught the top of Lennox' head while he was squared up. Lewis staggered back to the ropes so off balance, that it initially looked as though his retreat was due to a slip. But when Briggs caught up with him, Lewis covered up and Briggs unloaded. As four left hooks backed up the 6'7" champion, Lewis spun around. A Briggs right hand landed on the back of Lewis' head and he staggered again, this time across the ring to a neutral corner. When Briggs came in to finish, Lennox Lewis used his 84" reach to full advantage, hugging Briggs like he was home for a family reunion. As Lennox clung for dear life, the bell rang. The party was over.
Round Two began with Briggs coming out fast, showing his new confidence. Unfortunately, Lewis suddenly found his jab. While Lewis has often bragged about his jab after fights in which it was feeble at best, his stick had good hard snap on it in the beginning of this round. Shannon Briggs was kept at range for the first two minutes of the round until he landed a left hook and two good right hands that hurt Lewis. Lennox was able to answer with a flush overhand right of his own before the bell. Lewis had regained control of the fight's pace, but again in this round was being hurt each time Briggs caught him.
After two rounds of reversed expectations, Lennox Lewis finally got his act together. He began the third round fast, landing a number of combinations on Briggs. Lewis also changed up his timing, opting instead for lead right hands that caught Briggs expecting a jab. Briggs seemed to take most of the round off, and Lewis capitalized, dominating the round and tying up Briggs before he could retaliate. Lewis was now in firm control
Lewis came out for the fourth round the way he should have come out in the opening round: aggressive, fast, and powerful...but with the patience that guaranteed his accurate punching would be effective. After 45 seconds of unanswered punishment, Briggs staggered back and fell to the ropes after absorbing a beautiful Lewis right hand. Briggs showed the courage many felt he lacked in his sole loss to Darroll Wilson by getting up and coming right back at the champion. Lewis obliged Briggs by hitting him with everything but the kitchen sink for another minute. Mid-swarm, Briggs snuck in another of the left hooks he had successfully used against Lewis, and for a moment, Lewis again looked stunned. But before Briggs could capitalize, Lewis suddenly unloaded a heavy three punch combination that again dropped Briggs onto his side. Briggs rose and survived the round, but his destruction seemed nearly complete.
The Fifth Round began unlike the others, with Lewis beginning slow and Briggs throwing the first punches. Lewis, looking tired, deals with Briggs attempt to regain respect by steadily beating his opponent. Shannon's face becomes a mask of anguish. He seems unable to stop Lewis from clubbing his head, and at 1:10 of the round, a particularly heavy right hand drops Briggs flat on his back. As he lies spread eagle at center ring, his closed eyelids are flicking as if he were in REM sleep. HBO announcer Jim Lampley calls out that "Briggs will not get up from this one." But Briggs' eyes snap open at the count of six and he jumps to his feet, shakes his head and somehow is able to convince Frank Cappuccino to let him continue. Lewis bombards him with punches and snaps his head in every direction. Just as it becomes clear that the fight should be stopped, Briggs launches a final hail mary left hook that misses Lewis and carries the weakened Briggs to the canvas. Cappuccino, waves his hands. Briggs' protests (he was not dropped by a punch), but the call is just. Lewis had given Briggs a serious beating.
Lennox Lewis TKO5.
But who won? The answer might not be as obvious as it seems.
Yes, Lennox Lewis dropped Shannon Briggs three times before referee Frank Cappuccino mercifully prevented Briggs from taking more punishment, but did he meet expectations? Absolutely not.
Winning was not enough. Winning by knockout was not enough. Looking invincible was what mattered tonight. Lennox Lewis looked anything but.
In the aftermath of the Andrew Golota fight, Lennox Lewis needed an equally unquestionable win to solidify his chances of luring Evander Holyfield into a matchup. Only by looking too good to ignore could he perhaps entice the competitive Holyfield into a fan-mandated showdown of champions. But tonight's fight, while still a solid victory, smacked of his loss to Oliver McCall. In that fight, Lewis was looking past the lightly regarded challenger to a mega-fight with Riddick Bowe. His susceptibility to a good left hook got him knocked out that night, and it nearly ended his second title reign tonight in similar circumstances. While still demonstrating his power, Lewis reminded us that his chin is weak, that his balance is a major problem, that his jab can evaporate without notice, and that he still hasn't learned not to underestimate his opponent.
After the fight, the much anticipated interview with Lewis did not produce the call-out to Evander that Emanuel Steward had led reporters to believe was a given. In fact, a humble (by his standards) Lewis looked thankful to have survived the bout. The Brit claimed that he was only "at 80% tonight" and alluded to the fact that he hadn't trained particularly hard for the fight. One can only wonder why.
As for Shannon Briggs, one wonders where he can go from here. Not only was he beaten severely, but after the fight, he too admitted to a lackadaisical training regimen, blaming the boxing press' critique of his performance against Foreman for him "only getting into the gym a month ago". So lightly regarded is Shannon Briggs, that the precious lineal title that he held after decisioning Foreman was not mentioned a single time on the air by HBO. This loss drops Briggs back into the depths of the top-20 rankings, where perhaps he should stay.
Once again Lennox Lewis gets the victory...but not the win.
© 2001 Chris Bushnell. All rights reserved.