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In the early morning hours in midtown Manhattan, a half-dozen brutes make their way to the K-Rock (WXRK-FM 92.3) radio station on 57th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues. No passerby is in the area at 6:50 this Friday morning, but if one were, he or she would likely cross the street rather than confront this bunch.
They look dangerous because they are dangerous. The towering man in the shiny black jumpsuit with the tawny dreadlocks is boxer Shannon Briggs, who spent a brief time as the top contender for the heavyweight championship of the world. His trainers -- the young, dour Herman Caicedo and the slightly older, ebullient Jessie Robinson -- are pretty bad individuals in their own rights. But the most unassuming figure in the group, the button-down-shirt- and blue-jeans-clad Andre Purlett, could well be the man who puts South Florida back on the map of bigtime heavyweight boxing.
This group has flown from Fort Lauderdale to talk a little trash and get some priceless free publicity. Both Purlett and Briggs train with Caicedo and Robinson at Warriors Boxing Gym on State Road 7 in Hollywood, a brand-new haven for hungry professional boxers. About a month ago, promoter extraordinaire Don King was on the Howard Stern show, and in fine Don King fashion, he mouthed off about Purlett and his team, saying that Purlett had backed out of a fight. Caicedo called up that morning and gave King hell. Today these Warriors are on their way to Stern's program, planning to tell the world that they'll fight anyone, anywhere.
The group arrives at the station and is quickly shunted into the greenroom across the hall from the studio to chill and listen while Howard works his magic on a 20-year-old blonde who came in this morning to take her clothes off in front of Howard, Robin, and their various and sundry sidekicks. The woman swears she wants to do it because she loves Howard "and would do anything for you."
Caicedo paces the room, uneasily awaiting his chance to hit the airwaves. The others are relatively calm. Briggs keeps popping his head out into the hallway to catch a glimpse of the other pugilist Stern has scheduled: the celebrated Joe Frazier, there to promote the bout between his daughter Jacqui Frazier-Lyde and Laila Ali, daughter of Muhammad Ali. When Briggs gets Frazier's attention, he asks the former champion questions about training "back in the day."
"Yo, you know those guys were running eight, nine miles a day, every day," Briggs tells his Warriors Gym teammates, most of whom are sitting on a couch facing him. He then launches into a speech about the rigors of training in the '50s, '60s, and '70s, when there was a heavyweight division brimming with talent. Briggs is in the middle of a thought about Joe Louis and the "Bum of the Month" club, when he stops, looks up at one of the framed photos on the wall, and busts up laughing. "Man, I got to stop looking at that, yo," Briggs says. "They done him dirty."
As Stern's voice orders the now-naked woman to bend over and pick up a $100 bill, Briggs cackles at a picture of Stern regular Hank the "Angry Dwarf," who is also buck-naked and has passed out into a bathroom sink. Robinson, a former trainer in Don King's camp, looks up and over his shoulder and spies a photo of a woman in a thong bikini walking around Times Square with a prom queen crown on her head and a tampon sticking out of each nostril. Everyone has a good laugh. Everyone, that is, except Caicedo. He's all business, sitting ramrod straight, the calm before the storm.
"We got Shannon Briggs here, and he wants to fight Mike Tyson," Stern's disembodied voice announces. "We're gonna take a break and be right back with Joe Frazier and Shannon Briggs."
"Here we go," Briggs announces to the group. Everyone wishes him luck. Caicedo watches with a fixed stare as Briggs leaves. The announcement of Briggs's planned bout with Tyson can only be good for the work-in-progress Warriors Boxing Gym, but Caicedo seems a little cautious. Hey, it's Howard Stern -- what could possibly go wrong?
The two sparring rings that are front and center at Warriors are fresh out of the box -- no scuff or sweat stain, no hole, no dent. Just a sea of blue canvas. The turnbuckles are vibrant red, white, and blue, as are the four ropes enclosing the athletes. The mat sits directly on the floor, a concession to the room's low ceiling. The entire place smells like both new equipment and new construction, the redolence of fresh leather and nylon mingling with the smoky aroma of sawdust. The spotless full-length mirrors that sheath the walls create the feeling of being in a prism with 100 hands punching at once.
The ring closest to the full-pane, floor-to-ceiling windows that face State Road 7 -- and the casino of the Seminole Indians, one of whom owns this gym -- is the professional ring. Normally, only working boxers may enter. The other ring is for amateurs.