Shannon Briggs is slowly turning over a new leaf. Once nothing but a crude, boisterous nuisance who harassed other fighters, he’s come across differently of late. First, there was the showing at Jim McDonell’s gym, where the two of them embraced like friends who go way back (which they do). He introduced himself to the guys who were training, and playfully bear-hugged James DeGale, shouting his infamous “Let’s go, champ!” slogan. He seemed genuine, kind, and good to be around. I was surprised at this, as I’m generally annoyed by his antics. But more surprising was what took place during his gate-crashing of the press conference for David Haye‘s next fight.
Picture the scene: I, along with everyone else, was busy searching BoxRec for the name of the second opponent of Haye’s comeback campaign, all of us looking quite unhappy. The reason? The announcement of the unpronounceable, unknown and untested Arnold Gjergjaj. Nobody needs to look up his record to see that this fight is way below the standard expected of Haye. No one, and I mean no one, has ever heard of this guy before. The basics are thus: He’s undefeated but against mediocre opposition. His best opponent is Denis Bakhtov (who Anthony Joshua blitzed in two rounds), and was put down in the 5th before winning on points. He’s fought outside Switzerland only once, when he flew to Hungary to knock out Lazslo Toth 4 ½ years ago. He’s sparred Wladimir Klitschko and Tyson Fury before, but his fights have been a universe away from that level.
Anyway, I digress. At the conference, Steve Goodwin is speaking about the under-card when he is interrupted by a shout: “YEEEAH!” In strides Shannon Briggs, his posse in tow. I was about to groan, when he barks at the Londoner: “Tell the people at home why you’re fighting him, who we’ve never heard of, instead of me?” Silence among the journalists. Although Haye vs. Briggs isn’t high on everyone’s list, he has a point. Haye tries to deflect: “Well, will you pass a brain scan? That the question that we…” “ANY TIME, ANY WHERE! I’VE JUST HAD EIGHT FIGHTS! MRIs, EVERYTHING DONE CHAMP! I’M IN THE BEST SHAPE OF MY LIFE!” Which is true.
Then he turns towards the press. “He’s a chump, y’all. Who’s he fighting? Who is this guy? We’ve never heard of you. Who are you? Who ARE you?” An awkward pause, as everyone in attendance sits in silent agreement. Like him or not, Briggs is right on this one. Haye rallies: “Well, you know, this guy’s undefeated”. “He ain’t nobody, we’ve never heard of him” responds Briggs instantly. “I’ll knock him out right now”.
Who’d have thought Shannon Briggs would be the guy who says exactly what the boxing public is thinking, and says it to the guy that needs to hear it? Briggs has been a bit of a circus act in recent years, and doesn’t exactly have a record of his own that oozes with quality since his comeback, but there’s something about him that is starting to feel almost… honest. That doesn’t mean he is well-meaning all of a sudden, but he’s in danger of sounding like he knows what he’s talking about.
It certainly seemed so here. David Haye struggled to avoid the accusations. “Will you pass a medical?” he asks again. “Fight on the under-card. Show the British people you can fight… Then [if you win] we can sit down, talk about it, and if the people are genuinely interested…” Briggs interrupts again: “Are YOU interested? That’s what we want to know”. Haye responds with a phrase that is becoming increasingly popular, and is looking ever more suspect. “I’ll fight whoever I need to fight”. Oh, really. OK David, but in order to achieve what? A world title? Or something else? Money? Notoriety? Personal satisfaction? Simple attention, perhaps? It’s a thinly veiled excuse to avoid answering a bigger question, and Briggs is rightly having none of it.
“Well then why are you fighting him? You don’t need to fight him now, you can fight me now. We’ve never heard of this guy, man! Where’d you get him from? Whole Foods?” Briggs turns away. “London, get y’all money back, he don’t wanna fight. Get a refund… And I WILL fight on the under-card, if you can sign a contract saying that after you beat this pie [Gjergjaj] you’ll fight me next”. He is then ushered out of the room, but not before he delivers one last message. “Anthony Joshua, Tyson Fury, they’re ALL frauds. I came here to prove it. [I] came to London looking for [fights], and ain’t nobody saying nothing. [David Haye’s] a chump. Let’s go, champ! Have a good day!” And with that he leaves, to the sound of applause from the press. Bizarre.
Aside from the fact that the press needed someone to liven up what was an uninspiring conference, they also needed someone to ask the tough questions for them. Briggs’ demands may still be falling on mostly deaf ears, but his reasoning for Haye’s selection of opponent is sound. If he is fighting guys like Gjergjaj (who took the event in good humour), then Briggs should also fall into consideration. And given the choice between him and Gjergjaj… well, ‘The Cannon’ has been loud enough for long enough, maybe he does deserve a shot… certainly if opponents like Gjergjaj are being chosen above him.
On a broader note, it’s refreshing to see such a farce called out so publicly. A spate of match ups in recent years have left some of us a little nonplussed, with this being the latest installment in the saga. If Haye is serious about recapturing former glories, then he needs to operate at a higher level. If fights like this continue to get made, characters like Briggs will have more and more legitimate complaints to make about them. And people will start paying attention sooner or later, because Briggs is finally speaking about something worth listening to: the truth.