ON THIS DAY in 1997, the career of one of heavyweight boxing’s most legendary figures came to an end in Atlantic City, New Jersey. “Big” George Foreman, a heavyweight hero who had made a habit of defying the odds, met Shannon Briggs over twelve rounds and at the conclusion of the 36-minutes of combat most fans and experts felt Foreman had once again seen off both a younger foe and Father Time. Instead, Briggs was awarded a highly debatable majority decision.
10 facts about the fight:
1. 48-year-old Foreman was sporting a 76-4 record upon entering the ring to face the 25-year-old Briggs, who was 29-1. Foreman had won his previous four fights, in the process defending the “lineal” heavyweight title he had won by shocking Michael Moorer three years previously. However, Foreman had been stripped of the IBF and WBA belts he’s regained against Moorer, for not agreeing to defend against ranked opponents. Briggs had lost his perfect record to Darroll Wilson when he was stopped in the third-round in March of the previous year.
2. Foreman, who tipped-in at 260-pounds, was a substantial favourite to defeat the 227-pound Briggs, partially due to the way “The Cannon,” as Briggs was known, had capitulated against Wilson; blaming the loss on his asthmatic condition. Foreman also had the thousands of fans in attendance on his side, as well as the millions watching the fight at home in the U.S on HBO.
3. Foreman adopted his usual measured approach, calmly stalking his man and throwing mostly jabs and hard right hands. Briggs was on the back foot immediately and he remained there all night as the old man made the fight. Foreman’s punches may have been slow – Briggs later stated he saw every punch coming – but they were heavy and Briggs ate plenty of leather.
4. Briggs showed heart and a good chin, never going down or being noticeably wobbled. Foreman did break the younger man’s nose though, as well as cause his face to swell. Foreman also had some swelling below both eyes and he quickly donned a pair of sunglasses for the post-fight interviews.
5. After the 12 engrossing rounds, one judge had the fight all even at 114-114, while the other two officials had Briggs winning by scores of 117-113 and 116-112 respectively. HBO’s unofficial scorer Harold Lederman had the fight 116-112 in favour of Foreman.
6. The large crowd booed the announced verdict, with chants of “bull shit, bull shit….” breaking out. Briggs jumped up and down with great joy upon being awarded with the verdict, Foreman gave a wry smile upon hearing how he had been defeated for the fifth time in his long career (or careers). But post-fight, Foreman refused to complain he’d been robbed, asking “how can I have been robbed when I have five million dollars in my pocket!”
7. According to punch-stats, Foreman landed with an astonishing 58 per cent of the 488 punches he’d thrown. Briggs scored with an also impressive 45 per cent of his 494 punches.
8. In his mid-ring interview, Foreman stopped short of announcing his retirement from the sport, but he did say that he didn’t think he’d be boxing again. “I’m a salesman at heart,” Foreman said, after having plugged his famous grill to Larry Merchant. Foreman also said that he was proud of his performance and that he had again proven that the age of 50 “is not a death sentence.” Briggs later said he truly felt Foreman was trying to kill him during the tough fight.
9. Foreman’s promoters, Jeff Wald and Irving Azoff, launched a protest over the decision, with the aim of having the decision overturned. According to an article in The Los Angeles Times, Wald and Azoff polled 100 boxing people, from trainers to writers, and were unable to find one person who agreed with the verdict. Despite their efforts, the decision stood.
10. Foreman did sign up for another bout, however. In late 1998/early 1999, George agreed to fight fellow veteran Larry Holmes. The fight fell through when the promoter of the fight was unable to secure for Foreman the remaining $9 million of the ten million purse he had been promised. In his next outing, Briggs would challenge Lennox Lewis for the WBC crown. Briggs had some success in the first couple of rounds but was stopped in the fifth. Briggs’ career was far from over though – in fact he is still attempting to talk his way into a title shot against Wladimir Klitschko today.
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