Chances are you had no idea a boxer from Brooklyn was challenging for the heavyweight title on Saturday in Germany.
It's no secret the days when the heavyweight championship of the world was regarded as the greatest prize in sports are a sepia-toned memory, as quaint as transistor radios, corner malt shops and leaving the front door unlocked after sundown. But if Saturday's showdown between New York's
Why has Saturday's fight gone virtually unpromoted in the United States, even when the challenger hails from the same Brownsville neighborhood that produced
Maybe it's because Briggs is thought to be a dead man walking. He's listed as an 8-to-1 underdog and that seems awfully charitable: I spoke with dozens of boxing insiders over the past two weeks and not one gives Briggs the slimmest chance of hanging with Vitali (40-2, 38 KOs), the 6-foot-7, 250-pound Ukrainian who boasts the highest knockout rate of any heavyweight champion in history (90.0 percent) and has never been knocked down or taken a standing eight count. It's not a stretch to suggest that he'd still be undefeated if not for bad luck with injuries. Both of Vitali's losses -- including that brave 2003 effort against
Maybe it's because Briggs (51-5-1, 45 KOs), who turns 39 in December, is considered an undeserving challenger. Since coming back from a 2½-year retirement last December, he's fought four times: a no-contest against
Maybe it's because the long-bemoaned lack of an American heavyweight contender has laid bare man-made flaws that have undercut the sport in the eyes of the casual sports fan. In boxing's heyday, there were eight world champions, from flyweight to heavyweight, and everyone knew who they were. But the sport's lack of a central authority has created an alphabet soup with multiple champions, super champions, interim champions, regular champions and champions emeritus -- in 17 divisions instead of eight.
It's kind of a shame, because Briggs' backstory has all the trappings of a feel-good Hollywood feature -- minus, perhaps, the redemptive third act. There were the requisite humble beginnings, as he spent part of his childhood homeless and stumbled into boxing as something to keep him off the streets. There were lofty expectations that went unfulfilled in the early 1990s, as Briggs was the U.S.' No. 1-ranked amateur heavyweight but missed the '92 Olympic trials with a hand injury. There's been adversity at every step, as he's battled asthma from childhood throughout an 18-year professional career.
The one advantage Briggs does have -- the reason he got the title shot -- is you've probably at least heard his name. Most sports fans remember when 45-year-old
Briggs held the title for 128 days before a fifth-round TKO loss to the ascendant Lewis knocked him from the heavyweight elite. Since then, he's campaigned in the division's second and third tiers -- even winning the WBO belt from
A Briggs victory Saturday at Hamburg's O2 World Arena wouldn't reignite boxing in the United States, but it might drum up modest interest the beleaguered division could build on -- whether it's a rematch with Vitali on American soil or a unification bout with WBA title-holder
The far more likely outcome is a knockout in the middle rounds, news that might not even make ESPN's bloated news crawl on a college football Saturday, just another wire story lost in the zeitgeist.
I just wish we could catch it on TV.