WBO title holder Shannon Briggs looks to keep America in the mix at this Saturday's Boardwalk Hall heavyweight match-up against Sultan Ibragimov
The great American heavyweights like Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali who once dominated the boxing world are long gone. Taking their place are Eastern European giants staking their claim on the division.
Oleg Maskaev (WBC), Ruslan Chagaev (WBA) and Wladimir Klitschko (IBF) are the current heavyweight world title holders hailing from Eastern European nations. That leaves Shannon Briggs as the only American heavyweight still standing with the WBO belt around his waist. If he wants to keep it, the Brooklyn. N.Y. native will need to get past unbeaten Russian Sultan Ibragimov (20-0-1, 17 KOs), currently rated No. 1 by the WBO organization.
This international battle is taking place Saturday night, June 2, headlining a pay-per-view card at Boardwalk Hall.
This encounter is several months in the making, dating back to March 10 when it was scheduled to take place at New York's Madison Square Garden. Briggs pulled out after being stricken with pneumonia, and it was rescheduled for June 2 in Russia. The deal fell apart, moving the fight to the Jersey Shore.
It will be Briggs' (48-4-1, 42 KOs) first title defense since winning the belt November 2006 from Belarussian Serguei Lyakhovich in dramatic fashion. In the 12th round, Briggs sent his opponent through the ropes and onto the scorers table, scoring the technical knockout.
Now that he is wearing the belt, the top heavyweights from around the world are chasing Briggs, including Ibragimov, a southpaw also known as "The Russian Bomber." The challenger is one of the top up-and-coming names in the division. Of his 21 professional fights, 11 have been stopped in three rounds or less. This includes a first-round TKO of Javier Mora on March 10. The Russian also won a silver medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Now, he is ready to add the world heavyweight title to his ring resumé.
"I look forward to this opportunity to show the world that I deserve to be world champion," Ibragimov says. "I have been training in my gym [in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.] along side boxing legends Arturo Gatti and Mickey Ward. I am honored to have the opportunity to win the world title in Arturo's adopted home [of] Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
"They have been in big fights such as this one, and everyday is a learning experience for me," he adds. "This will allow me to be a better all-around fighter when I step into the ring."
Gatti and Ward (now Gatti's trainer) are busy preparing for a July 14 Boardwalk Hall appearance against Alphonso Gomez.
For this week, the focus is on the heavyweights with Briggs looking to win his 13th straight fight, with 11 of the 12 coming via knockout. The champion hasn't lost since April 2002 when he dropped a 10-round unanimous decision to Jameel McCline. He has also squared off against a couple of the sport's biggest names. In November 1997 Briggs won a majority decision over George Foreman at Trump Taj Mahal. The following year he suffered a fifth round TKO against then WBC champion Lennox Lewis at Boardwalk Hall. Saturday will mark Briggs' return to the Jersey Shore, fighting last in July 1999 at the Taj Mahal, where his match against Francois Botha ended in a draw.
This time around, he is looking to leave town as the last American heavyweight champ still standing.
Boxing: Briggs vs. Ibragimov, Alvarez vs. Cruz
When: Saturday, June 2, XXpm
Where: Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City
How Much: $300-$50
Tickets: At Boardwalk Hall box office or via Ticketmaster at 1-800-736-1420 or www.ticketmaster.com
Jabbing for Leavander
Walk into the Atlantic City Police Athletic League building, at 250 New York Ave., and the memories of fallen world champion Leavander Johnson are displayed throughout the third-floor boxing gym with banners and posters. Shamone Alvarez remembers all the afternoons and evenings spent in the gym with his good friend, and even had the bruises to show for it.
"We were really good friends and he was a real good inspiration," says Alvarez after going through a recent early evening sparring session. "The reason I am where I am is because he beat me up for four, five, maybe six years non-stop."
When the undefeated welterweight (17-0, 11 KOs) steps into the Boardwalk Hall ring Saturday night, he will pay tribute to his fallen friend by donating a portion of the proceeds to a trust fund set up for Johnson's family. The former IBF Lightweight champ died following a September 2005 title bout where he suffered a brain injury. Three months earlier, Alvarez was in Italy helping him win the vacant IBF crown in June 2005.
“Being a boxing fan, I appreciate the legacy and history of boxing in Atlantic City. Of course, during the casino era, in the 1980s, when Don King was promoting the Mike Tyson fights, this is where the action was. And the town came alive with every major fight. It was good for the economy. Everybody did well.”
The City of Atlantic City is planning a massive Multi-Cultural and Heritage Festival, which will take over the resort town for three days, June 1-3.
"On Saturday, June 2, we're going to have an all-star boxing legends tribute. What we're trying to do is get together all of the boxing personalities. Whether they are boxers, managers, promoters, ring announcers, referees, you name it, we're trying to get together everybody to celebrate the contribution that they have made in making Atlantic City the boxing mecca that it is."
Just over five years ago, when I attended a rally at the new Police Athletic League building for newly crowned World Lightweight Champion Leavander Johnson, I knew in my heart this would be one of many years of celebration for Johnson, his family and the Atlantic City community.
Laughing with George Lopez
Fight Night at Boardwalk Hall
Rush to the Taj