When Manny Pacquiao returns to the ring on Saturday, another ex-champ will celebrate his own attempt at a comeback amid a bevy of bare naked beauties on Biscayne Boulevard. Shannon Briggs, the last American to hold the heavyweight boxing title, is hosting a watch party at the upscale gentleman's clubWonderland
for Pacquiao's bout against undefeated WBO welterweight champ Timothy Bradley.
Briggs, who hasn't had a major fight in four years, is looking to join George Foreman and Evander Holifield in the pantheon of over-40 heavyweight boxers who staged successful comebacks. He slashed off his signature blonde braids and dropped close to a hundred pounds in six months. At 6'4" and a lean 262 pounds, Briggs resembles a Spartan chiseled out of marble. Last month, Briggs went viral when he appeared on video throwing a shoe at current heavyweight champ and Ukranian boxer Wladimir Klitschko at the Hollywood gym where both men train.
Briggs held the heavyweight world title twice in his career, 1997 and 2006, respectively. He hasn't stepped in the ring since October 2010, when he lost to then-WBC heavyweight Vitali Klitschko, Wladimir's brother. Briggs took a vicious beating that landed him in the hospital for several days. He also injured his left arm in the first round of the fight.
On a recent night, Briggs invited me over to his Pembroke Pines estate for a late night barbecue to talk about rekindling his love for the sweet science, growing up homeless in the same Brooklyn neighborhood that produced Mike Tyson, and his first days in Miami, spent partying with Mickey Roarke and Johnny Depp on South Beach.
As far as celebrity boxers go, Briggs admits his career hasn't been stellar.
"I've been through a lot of ups and downs," he says. "But in the process, I won two heavyweight titles. Not many men can say that."
Briggs was born on Dec. 4, 1971 in Brownsville, back then "the worst hood in America," the ex-champ relates. He never met his father, and his mother was a heroin and cocaine addict.
"I was born into addiction." he says. "My first seven months were spent in the hospital."
When he turned 13, Briggs and his mother were evicted.
"I came home one day, and there was no home," he says. "For the next five years, my mom and I lived from shelter to shelter. We slept in abandoned cars and train cars. "
As a teenager, Briggs says he got arrested for shoplifting and other petty crimes.
"Just regular bullshit," he explains. "I got into hustling drugs a little bit, but I didn't feel good about it morally since my mother was on crack and heroin."
He found an outlet in boxing. Briggs became New York City Golden Gloves champion, New York State Champion, National P.A.L. Champion, and finished second place as a Heavyweight at the Panamerican Games in 1991, losing the final to Félix Savón. In 1992 he became the United States Amateur Champion.
By then, Briggs had been flying down to the 305 to train at the famous 5th Street Gym on Miami Beach. At the time, the city had just begun metamorphosis from last destination for senior citizens into the American Riviera.
"After the gym, I'd go to the nightclubs," Briggs says. "I was 18-years-old hanging out with Mickey Rourke and Johnny Depp at Mickey's club Risk. I was staying in a hotel for free. I met a Cuban girl down in Kendall. I was just living life."
Briggs went on to beat George Foreman to become the heavyweight champion in 1997, but lost the title a year later to Lennox Lewis. He would win several regional titles in the 2000s before claiming the WBO heavyweight title in 2006. He lost the belt the following year. No American boxer has been heavyweight champ since then.
Following his brutal defeat to Vitali Klitschko in 2010, Briggs says he fell into a depression. He was broke and had washed out as a boxer. He ballooned to 364 pounds.
"I came back to America to a nice house with all these bills and no money," Briggs relays. "I was prescribed sleeping meds to help me with my stress, my anxiety, and my depression. It was really hard picking up again."
About eight months ago, his outlook on life changed following a conversation with one of his oldest friends, Angus Phillips, a raspy-voiced New Yorker with sleepy eyes.
"I told Shannon he was looking for excuses to leave boxing entirely," Phillips says. "I told him, man, you need to get that money. Boxing is your thing.'"
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Briggs says he realized he hadn't given boxing 100 percent of his effort.
"It was not just pure laziness," Briggs says. "I was just surviving and boxing wasn't giving me what I needed. I'm blessed that I can still wake up and go get this money by boxing. I'm ten times better as a fighter now."
Join Shannon Briggs at Wonderland (7778 Biscayne Blvd., Miami) for his Pacquaio-Bradley watch party. Doors open at 10 p.m. Call 305-631-2564 or visit wonderlandmiami.com.