SHANNON BRIGGS has divided opinion since pitching up in England a few months ago and filling the streets of London with his incessant ‘Let’s Go Champ’ chant.
At 44, and having suffered some punishing losses during his long career, Briggs is seen by some as a danger to himself, a mercenary who should no longer be on the battlefield.
On Saturday he swatted aside a helpless Emilio Zarate to set up a lucrative fight with David Haye, who himself battered another no-hoper in Arnold Gjergjaj in the main event.
Briggs’ journey to the O2 Arena – where he is likely to meet Haye in September – could easily been seen as a string of easy wins sandwhiched in between relentless stalking and taunting of Wladimir Klitschko, and now Haye.
However there is more to him than that. After his 12 round drubbing at the hands of Vitali Klitschko in 2010, Briggs had to endure a stint in hospital and he was all but forgotten by boxing. He claims he slipped into a serious bout of depression.
“I was at home, depressed after losing to Vitali Klitschko. I suffered a broken arm, torn tendons and I fought him for 12 rounds with one arm and I didn’t even get a dime for it, not one penny,” he said after beating Zarate.
“I went home, got a job and during that process I was down and out. I was depressed. I was feeling bad about myself, I contemplated jumping off a bridge a few times. I have two boys and a girl and I had my daughter, she’s four years old now, and just looking at her eyes, her beautiful face, it told me I had to live and make something of myself for my little baby girl. Here I am today in London, being accepted and it’s a wonderful feeling.”
Briggs, whose outlandish antics and deafening bark make him seem simpler than he really is, can be incredibly honest and candid when the time is right. While basking in the glow of securing his fight with Haye, he delved in and out of a difficult past.
“I was really going through a lot of things. My mum died on my birthday, December 4 ’96, my dad died in prison. I had a rough life growing up with asthma, I was always sick. I wasn’t able to get a good education because I was in hospital a lot. I was homeless at 13 years old,” he admitted.
“I suffered deep depression, to the core. I was 400lbs exactly. I couldn’t even tie my shoes, I was that fat. That was about four or five years ago, after the Klitschko fight.”
He describes his ‘Let’s Go Champ’ catchphrase as a mantra, one which brought him motivation to lose weight and get back to the only thing he knows how to do – fight. There are plenty who feel he shouldn’t be allowed to anymore, but the genie’s out of the bottle. The British Boxing Board of Control licensed him for his farce with Zarate, so they have no leg to stand on if they try and refuse him one for his fight with Haye.
It’s a risky move for all involved – Briggs is no defensive wizard and Haye can be lethal when on the attack.
Regardless of whether he should be allowed to glove up in earnest, Briggs is an engaging character who refers to any and everyone he speaks to as ‘champ’.
His upcoming circus with Haye is likely to be best remembered by its build up, as ‘The Cannon’ is unlikely to prosper against Haye once the bell rings. However he hopes to spread his message of rejuvination, and you can’t knock him for that.
“I’m all about positivity, I mess around and clown around but that’s what the sport needed. For a long time things were boring, I decided to take a page out of Jack Johnson’s book, out of Muhammad Ali’s book to antagonise and get as many fans as I could.
“I didn’t have any money for a publicist, I hardly had money to feed my family, and here I am today on the verge of building more fans than I’ve ever had.
“People say ‘he’s looking for a payday.’ Yes, I’m a grown man, I’ve got kids to feed, I’m supposed to be out here promoting myself, looking for a payday.
“At the same time, I’m doing something no one’s doing – and I’m not patting myself on the back – I’m trying to motivate people, tell them my story. I was on the brink, and now I’m here.”