By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Chris Joseph
By Terrence McCoy
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
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.
As Warriors Gym is still unfinished and not officially open for business, this rule is relaxed a bit. Three weeks before the Stern excursion, a novice Tough Man competitor and an American Airlines pilot spar at half steam in the pro ring, but they deferentially work around the squared circle's legitimate occupant, former Olympic heavyweight Ismael Kone, who shadowboxes his way around the ring, throwing jabs at an invisible opponent while head-faking this would-be adversary's counterpunches.
The place is practically empty, save Robinson, Caicedo, the gym rat (every gym has one; this one is named Chris), a bunch of workmen laying down floorboards, two rubber mannequin torsos stuck on steel poles and anchored into the floor, and Andre "Stone" Purlett, a 27-year-old, mild-mannered professional who looks more like an off-duty model than a sweet scientist. He stands ringside in his blue Gap shorts, perfectly pressed yellow Polo shirt, black sandals, and yellow Nike hat, watching Kone with a sharp, knowing eye.
Caicedo enters the ring wearing focus mitts -- round, padded gloves that resemble oversize catcher's mitts. Taking the hint, the two scrubs clear out. As Caicedo puts Kone to work, even an untrained observer can see that Kone is a badass. His six-foot, two-inch frame gracefully carries his 225 pounds of muscle, a washboard stomach, and some angry tattoos. His professional record is eight wins, one loss, seven knockouts; in the 1996 Olympics, he lost in the semifinals.
"Slip three, hit three," Caicedo calls out to Kone. "Slip three, hit three! You've got a bug on the brain. You're slipping three, hitting two." Kone punches three in a row. "Harder!" The trainer is riding his fighter, even though every punch Kone has thrown could have killed a full-grown pit bull.
"Come on. Fight! Fuck the defense. Fuck the bullshit. Fight!" Kone responds and one-twos Caicedo into a corner while sounds of leather on leather elevate above the nail guns and band saws. At ringside Purlett smiles. Kone is to be one of his sparring partners in the near future, perhaps when the gym is finished. After all, this gym was constructed, more or less, for Purlett. He's going to be one of the gym's banner names, its marquee fighter. He's the one around whom the local boxing community will rally. Some pundits have already begun to mention Purlett as a contender for a heavyweight title.
Purlett left the borough of Brooklyn and the gritty Gleason's Gym on Front Street three years ago to come to South Florida and train full-time for the heavyweight championship. To train just up the road from where great champions of yesteryear used to get in shape, among them Sugar Ramos, Mantequilla Napoles, Luis Rodriguez, and the greatest of all, Muhammad Ali. To train with Robinson and Caicedo.
Right now Shannon Briggs's comeback bid is Warriors' ticket to the Howard Stern show, but make no mistake: This is the gym that Andre built.
For years Warriors Gym was a dormant, neglected building in a Hollywood strip mall at 4151 N. State Rd. 7. All the buildings in the area are owned by various members of the Seminole Indian tribe. The gym's owner, tribal councilman David Cypress, shuns the limelight: He won't even talk to New Times, much less Howard Stern. He doesn't have a cell phone or even a home phone. Have a question for him? Give it to Chris the gym rat, and he'll pass it along.
But this much is known: Cypress grew up tough. For most of the 20th Century, the Seminole Nation was impoverished, its members often tormented people. In his terse written responses to questions from New Times, Cypress says he endured harassment from local white kids growing up; he turned to the tribe as his security blanket.
As he grew up, the Seminole Nation grew in power. Its members acquired land throughout South Florida and became prominent in the cattle industry. Then the casinos started popping up. Like other Indian-run casinos across the country, the Seminole facilities began hosting professional boxing matches. About six years ago, Cypress saw Andre Purlett fight at one of the local Seminole casinos and came away impressed by the boxer's speed and power.
Boxing had always been a hobby for Cypress, as both participant and fan. But he saw in Andre his chance actually to have a piece of a pro fighter, to manage Purlett from a Caribbean Games gold-medal winner to potential heavyweight champion of the world. He teamed up with Purlett in 1996 and convinced him to move to South Florida from New York City two years later.
Cypress's first order of business was to encourage Purlett to pack on the pounds. Purses for heavyweight fighters far surpass those of any other division. So Purlett got in the gym and bulked up from a solid 190-pound cruiserweight to a fast, fit 220-pound heavyweight.
Initially Purlett trained at the Tiger Tail Gym on Stirling Road in Hollywood, owned by famed trainer Angelo Dundee. But he soon found the place wanting. Purlett says he showed up religiously every morning. Yet sometimes no one would show up to open the gym. While he waited he worked out in the parking lot, shadowboxing to his own reflection in his car window and running for miles all over the area. But there was no one to push him or fine-tune his techniques.
Herman Caicedo was one of the trainers at Tiger Tail Gym who would also show up at cock's crow, often to the same locked doors. He and Purlett started talking about their frustrations; they brought their concerns to Cypress. Warriors Gym was his solution. The complete overhaul began in late 1999. Cypress won't comment on the cost, but the results are impressive: new wiring, more windows, mirrors, speed bags, double-bladder speed bags, heavy bags, double-end bags, an assortment of different gloves, headgear, free weights, and of course the two sparring rings. He split the levels of the gym as well. The upstairs is for weight training and paying customers who want to learn to fight. The downstairs is for highly skilled amateurs and professional boxers.
"There's a boxing scene locally that keeps things going," Caicedo says, "but nothing megastar. What we're trying to do is put something together that will raise the roof of the boxing world. People fall in love with a local hero. Well, we've got three between Hollywood and West Palm Beach in Andre Purlett, Shannon Briggs, and Michael Moorer. And what starts the ball rolling is the gym. There's not going to be a gym in the country that can compare to this one."
Ismael Kone finishes his work with Caicedo; now it's the contender's turn. Purlett changes into a tank top, yellow mesh shorts, his old-school Air Jordans and a pair of new black boxing gloves. He gets in the ring and begins shadowboxing. "Dre," as he's called, has a strict training regimen. One day he does ring and mitt work, going hard for five hours or more. The next day he heads to the University of Miami to work with Hurricanes track coach Mike Ward on his speed and endurance. Ward says without hesitation that his scholarship sprinters couldn't do the workout that the 27-year-old fighter does. The following day, Purlett works on his brute strength with coach Greg Pierre in the weight room at L.A. Fitness in Fort Lauderdale. Frequently an audience gathers to watch him warm up with 300 pounds on the bench. Then he squats 500 pounds. A small child could learn to count by studying the stringy muscles in his calves and thighs.
Every couple of weeks, he spars. A boxer doesn't want to spar too often; too much ring work could make him peak too soon, and besides, there's no point in taking punches when he doesn't have a fight coming up. When it comes to sparring partners, a fighter wants to work with somebody good enough to bring out his best but not so good as to show him up and wreck his confidence before the big fight.
Purlett recently returned from Las Vegas, where he was scheduled to spar with Lennox Lewis. Lewis was preparing for what became his greatest defeat at the hands of Hasim Rahman. Purlett flew to the desert, but once he got there, Lewis wouldn't fight him; he always had an excuse. "Both he and his trainer kept ducking Purlett, saying he was too small and he wasn't ready for a monster like Lewis," Caicedo says. Lewis did spar with Lamon Brewster; Caicedo says Brewster made the champ look bad. And though Lewis didn't get in the ring with Purlett, Caicedo's charge lit Brewster up. Many critics have said that Lewis lost to Rahman because he didn't train hard enough.
Back in Hollywood, Robinson steps into the ring with his Everlast focus mitts to make sure Purlett doesn't make the same mistake.
"Come on now. Chin down," Robinson yells. "Chin down more!"
Caicedo, now watching from ringside, adds his two cents. "Get your damn chin down!" Purlett turns his head to look at Caicedo. "Don't watch me!" Caicedo yells above the workmen, causing them to stop what they're doing and observe the commotion. "What the hell are you watching me for? Watch him! Dead stare, no matter what I say!"
This is how a trainer molds a champion. He doesn't coddle him, no matter how great he is. The circus training camp is merely a memory of a different era. The dingy, damp, dungeonesque gyms where coaches would puff cigars at ringside while Mob bosses surveyed their meal tickets are long gone. This gym is different. Warriors Boxing Gym is plush, offering all the best amenities a boxer could hope for. Roaches aren't crawling from the walls, and the metal spit buckets aren't rusty. This is a business. And if Purlett trains right, it will be a big business.
Andre Purlett has 30 wins and no losses, with 27 of his wins by knockout. With a record like that, there's no question he should be fighting the biggest names the heavyweight division has to offer. But he's not. Yet.
A few months ago, one of Don King's people approached Purlett with a contract, promising him all kinds of shots at various top names and even tempting him with a fight against Larry Donald right out of the gate. Donald is currently preparing to fight Kirk Johnson July 7 for a shot at the World Boxing Association title: The WBA has declared that the survivor of that bout is a mandatory challenger to the winner of the bout between Evander Holyfield and current champion John Ruiz, set for August in Beijing, China.
So a Purlett-Donald fight would have been bigtime. All things considered, that could have been Purlett's break. But Donald is a violent fighter. For a fight like that -- let alone a contract for spinoff fights to follow -- a basic requirement should be a contract for one and a half years with a $100,000-per-fight, three-fight minimum and a $500,000 signing bonus, Caicedo says. This is, after all, a small price to pay considering that a maniac like Tyson could be your next fight. And Purlett would be the underdog. He's ranked by the WBA, but tenth -- and as a cruiserweight.
Don King's people approached Purlett with an offer: a five-year contract with a $35,000-per-fight minimum and a $150,000 signing bonus. In boxing parlance, that deal ain't shit.
"King thinks I'm going to stick an athlete like Purlett, 30-0, in the ring against a Holyfield or a Lewis for $35,000?" Caicedo growls. "I give Don King a lot of credit, because he's done a lot for boxing. Some of it ain't pretty, but you can't deny his influence. But come on, now, let's be serious. That contract. What am I, fucking nuts?"
Is he crazy enough to want Purlett to fight Mike Tyson? Absolutely. In fact both Caicedo and Robinson want Tyson to bring his camp to Hollywood to train, and both Purlett and Briggs want a piece of the 35-year-old brawler. A Purlett-Tyson match could be fascinating. The ex-champ clearly has a power advantage, but Purlett has catlike speed and reflexes. He can dodge a punch and, before you know it, slip a jab up in your face.
"I think I could take Tyson," Purlett says with his slow, heavily accented diction. A native of Guyana, he's been stateside now for almost a decade but still hasn't kicked that Caribbean cadence. "People say this and that about Tyson, about his strength and heart. But let them talk. They've got the right to say what they feel. They don't get into my head. I'm into my training, and I do my talking in the ring."
That's the only place Purlett shows any sign of life, let alone action. On the street he's eerily calm and reserved. He moves slowly -- if you didn't know better, you'd describe his manner as lazy. He's a family man (three kids and a wife) who shakes your hand if you tell him you're married. He offers no tattoo, no trash talk, just hard work. Caicedo says he's a pleasure to train.
Robinson certainly seems to be enjoying today's session. "Chin down. Body shot," he shouts. Purlett, now dripping with sweat, responds by pounding the stuffing out of Robinson's new mitts. "Body shot, up top, now take him out!" Caicedo turns and addresses everyone watching the spectacle.
"He's exceptional," Caicedo declares, pointing at Purlett. "He's above-average," he says, now pointing at Ismael Kone, who's skipping rope in the next ring. "You've got to be honest with the fighters. You've got to tell him if he's gonna make it. Kone will be great, no doubt about it. But this," he gestures at Purlett again, "this is gonna be huge."
Before Cassius Clay became a Muslim, South Florida was a boxing mecca. Before Clay could shake up the world, he had to make a pilgrimage to the rat-infested and roach-ridden holy of holies on the corner of Washington Avenue and Fifth Street in Miami Beach.
Angelo Dundee's Fifth Street Gym had only one entrance: a splintering door frame next to a drugstore, behind which an iron staircase led to the second floor. At the threshold sat Emmett "The Great" Sullivan, a slump-shouldered old man who wore clothes too big for his feeble frame and who always had a slimy, unlit Cuban cigar sticking out of his toothless puss.
A day's workout cost 50 cents; those who managed to sneak in under The Great's radar had to endure his wrath. He'd badger freeloaders all day long, shadowing their movements while lambasting them with calls of "mud turtle."
The gym itself was pretty bare-bones. It had one sparring ring, a couple of heavy bags and speed bags, and two bare light bulbs that illuminated the place with an eerie lighting scheme usually reserved for airports and horror films. (The two windows were overlaid with years of grime, mostly obscuring the fierce subtropical sun.)
With the Cassius Clay-Sonny Liston fight approaching in 1964, not a single sportswriter in the country picked Clay to pull off the upset. But the show he put on at Miami Beach's Convention Hall was nothing short of humbling for all the naysayers. And he let them know it, too. When Liston refused to answer the bell in the seventh, Clay turned to all the sportswriters sitting ringside, raised his arms above his head, and let them know who he was.
"I am the king!" he shouted. "I am the king! King of the World! Eat your words! Eat! Eat your words!"
At the time Miami was still a sensible place to hold a fight. It had all kinds of secondary entertainment for the kids, a major airport accessible from anywhere in the country, and best of all, perfect winter weather. Las Vegas, in contrast, was still a barren desert; despite the handful of hotels that had sprung up, there wasn't much of an audience out there for a title bout. But the coming of the grander hotels to Nevada soon spelled the end of professional boxing as a worldwide spectacle in Miami.
Still, South Florida is home to boxing legends past and present, from Ferdie "The Fight Doctor" Pacheco in Miami to Dundee in Hollywood to the reigning "King of the World," Don King, whose corporate offices stand in Deerfield Beach. If Herman Caicedo and Jessie Robinson are to add their names to this list of greats, they'll need to bring all of their diverse talents to bear in training and managing fighters like Briggs and Purlett.
Born to Colombian parents in Queens, New York, and transplanted to Miami at the age of six, the now-30-year-old Caicedo grew up fighting on Miami's mean streets. His domain was SW Eighth Street and 27th Avenue, right next to Little Havana. At age eight Caicedo began his lifelong pursuit and study of martial arts.
Bruce Lee turned a lot of kids on to Asian fighting techniques in the 1970s. The movie Enter the Dragon was what did it for Caicedo. "But at that time, martial arts was very, very hard," Caicedo says. "It was rigid. It was designed for the hard-core."
By the time he was 11, he was whipping 19- and 20-year-old men in competition. His talents took him to Long Beach, California, in 1983, where he competed in the prestigious Ed Parker Invitational -- the tournament where, 20 years earlier, Bruce Lee had knocked a man straight across the floor with his "one-inch punch." Caicedo won first place in the junior men's national competition. And such a feat is no small accomplishment.
He won again in 1986. "Throughout all that time, I became one of the youngest known instructors. I was training heavily, and I loved the art," Caicedo recalls. "Like boxing now, you could have asked me anything about the martial arts then, and I knew it. I involved myself, and I lived it." Caicedo, at this point, was studying the discipline of American Kenpo karate.
In 1987 Caicedo switched to kickboxing when that craze hit the country. Kickboxing is a brutal hybrid of the most dangerous elements of boxing and martial arts -- sweeping and kicks. He won all 14 of his fights, 10 by knockout.
With the 1990s came another martial arts craze, this one even hairier than the other two: shoot fighting, a mixture of submission wrestling and kickboxing. There was no rule when it started other than to keep your opponent breathing. The Ultimate Fighting Championship and Tough Man competitions are somewhat milder versions of shoot fighting.
Because of Caicedo's great fighting skills and the fact that his mother was essentially raising him herself, Caicedo at age 14 announced that he was leaving home -- just like that and for no particular reason. "I thought I was a man," he says. "I thought I could defend myself. My mother was a firm believer of the school of hard knocks."
Caicedo wasn't on his own too long before he started getting into all sorts of trouble. He dropped out of school in the seventh grade and spent time in and out of the juvenile detention center. (The juvenile judges knew him by name, he says.) He was known as a great fighter, so gangs of Miami roughnecks would try to get a piece of him. "When you're 13, 14, 15 growing up in Miami where we were, all kids cared about was getting laid and fighting."
When Caicedo got out of juvie at age 16, he decided to turn his life around. He went to his martial arts trainer and got a loan to open his own franchise. Tiger and Dragon (later renamed Black Panther) was Caicedo's venture on SW 122nd Avenue and Eighth Street. For years he was his own boss, running a full-on martial arts school and gym. But the pressures of making rent, keeping and attracting new customers, and making sure his employees were paid wore on him. He wanted to get back into training, and he wanted to get into boxing full-time.
Caicedo sought Angelo Dundee, who at the time owned the Angelo Dundee Training Center at Pines Boulevard and Hiatus Road in Pembroke Pines, and the two moved to Tiger Tail Gym in Hollywood. Caicedo wasn't wanted there initially. He commuted from Miami (as he still does) and showed up every day anyway. He was eventually given a job as an "assistant" -- a glorified water boy. Six months later, in 1999, he was Dundee's head trainer. When he hooked up with Purlett and manager David Cypress a few months after that, Caicedo saw an opportunity to make his mark on the South Florida boxing landscape.
About 1400 miles away in inner-city Detroit, Jessie Robinson, now age 39, was taking hard-hitting street kids and turning them pro at the Kronk Gym. Robinson had started training amateur boxers in 1985 and built a strong amateur team. Detroit, the home of boxing legends Tommy Hearns and Joe Louis, is a hard-working boxing town in the same fashion as Miami.
By the early '90s, Don King had added both Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield to his stable of fighters. King was putting together a crew of trainers to take good fighters to Orville, Ohio, (a town outside Cleveland) to spar one another. Deciding to take the best fighters of the bunch and promote them, King brought Robinson in as one of his freelance trainers for this venture.
"When he called, I would be there," Robinson says. Eventually King brought Robinson on full-time. The trainer flew all over the world with Don King Promotions, living out of a suitcase in Vegas, Australia, wherever he was needed. "It was a great experience," he says. "When you get to work with the greatest promoter in the world, you get to meet everybody and do everything. I got to meet Tyson and become friends with him, and through the process, I brought Christy Martin to Don King."
Christy Martin put women's professional boxing on the map. She was the first woman to fight on pay-per-view television, usually on the undercard of the biggest fights. King gets credited with discovering her, but Robinson brought her to King.
Robinson had seen Martin fight in Daytona Beach and thought she was spectacular. When he first suggested adding Martin to the King roster, his boss scoffed. "I have enough controversy now," Robinson recalls King saying. "A woman boxer... they'd eat me alive!"
But Robinson was persistent, and King gave Martin a crack: She stole the show. She made the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1996.
Not long thereafter, Michael Moorer, who had at one time been heavyweight champion, was again rising in the heavyweight-boxing ranks and came to Robinson for training; he has trained under him ever since. Though Moorer is still working out in L.A., Robinson says the fighter will relocate to Warriors in the near future.
Robinson gets excited when he starts talking about the prospect of Moorer joining Purlett and Briggs; the more worked up he gets, the more he sounds like Don King. While many trainers who've been in the business as long as he has are now jaded and callous, Robinson is still warm and welcoming. He smiles often and never has a mean word to say about anyone. Warriors is among the best training facilities he's ever seen, and Purlett one of the best prospects he's ever trained.
"Oh, we gonna do something great here," Robinson offers. "We gonna raise this here up through the stratosphere. And Purlett is the type of fighter who's gonna get his opportunity, and he's gonna shock the world. He's got all the tools: a good right hand, a good uppercut, a good left hook. And when he get his chance, he gonna chisel these guys up. When he steps to the ring, you gonna see some lightnin', and you gonna see some thunder and all the stuff that comes with it.
"It's sort of like me in a sense. I'm not a world-renowned trainer. A lot of people in boxing know me, but I'm like one of those people that come in the back door. So is Purlett. We're those people that come on in, and when we wind up in the house, people wanna know how we got there. And he's almost there. And it's time to shine. And the truth will come out. We gonna raise this roof. And I done trained fighters in the best gyms and in the worst. And this gym is one of the best I've seen. It's the Caesar's Palace of boxing gyms. This is a world-renowned, first-class, VIP gym."
Shannon Briggs, for one, agrees with Robinson's assessment; that's why he chose Warriors as the headquarters for his comeback. A bruiser from the hard-hitting streets of Brooklyn, Briggs started his career with a first-round knockout win in 1992. Five years later, in front of a packed house in Atlantic City, Briggs (29-1 at the time) got his shot at a belt against 48-year-old fighter and fat-free-grill pitchman George Foreman. The fight was ugly, even by the heavyweight division's currently low standards, and the judging, according to Sports Illustrated, was "outrageous." Outrageous or not, the judges gave the fight to the golden-dreadlocked Briggs, handing Foreman only his fifth defeat in 81 bouts and finally ending his career.
After that Briggs rode a wave of publicity and stardom. Boxing magazines praised his skills. Sports Illustrated ballyhooed him as the next big thing. Then he switched gears and did high fashion. He started modeling and was featured in Details, GQ, and other pop-culture periodicals. Vibe dubbed him a top black athlete, complimenting his fighting skills and promoting his new record label.
Four months after the Foreman upset, Briggs was back in Atlantic City, this time for a title shot against WBC heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis. Lewis had been a 12-1 favorite, but no one would have guessed it after the first two rounds. Briggs stunned Lewis with a big left hook and a barrage of combinations in the last 30 seconds of round one that sent the champion staggering across the ring. In round two he did it again, this time with a leaping left hook and vicious combinations to Lewis's also-dreadlocked head. But from then on, the fight was all Lewis. The bigger, stronger champion dominated Briggs so completely that the referee stopped the fight at 1:45 in the fifth round.
A year later Briggs fought to a draw against Francois Botha (a.k.a. "The Great White Hopeless"), once again in cursed Atlantic City. Although Briggs has won every one of his fights since then, the boxing world has generally written him off as an overhyped, has-been chump.
As he steps out of the low-riding ring at Warriors, he looks better than he ever has. His modeling and music careers on hold, he's sloughed off 30 pounds of cheeseburgers and milkshakes and has dedicated himself meticulously to a comeback career.
"I'm feeling great," Briggs says after one of Caicedo's grueling workouts. "I was living and training up in NYC and felt I wasn't making the progress I needed to. Finally I said, "I've had enough.' And I'm here now. I feel like, with Herman, I'll get everything I need. His teachings are sound and physical."
Briggs met Caicedo while sparring with Purlett a couple of years ago. He was impressed with the way Purlett, then a good 60 pounds lighter than he, worked him like a veteran. But he was most impressed with Purlett's drive.
"It's what encouraged me to come work with Herman," Briggs says while a trainer works on his legs. "He and his crew are professionals, and that's hard to find in boxing. I watched them train Purlett and saw them execute the kind of discipline I need in my life."
Briggs relocated to Hollywood in May and hasn't regretted it. "I've been in boxing a long time, and I know B.S. when I hear it. These guys are sincere; they're for real. This is where it'll happen. With them I'm ready to come back now and fight Lewis or Rahman."
If he had his druthers, though, he'd love to fight Mike Tyson, which is the main reason he, Purlett, Robinson, and Caicedo jetted to New York City last week for their date with the King of All Media.
As the Warriors Boxing Gym crew sits in the greenroom, Shannon Briggs tells Howard Stern -- and the world -- that negotiations between his people and Tyson's people for a September fight in NYC are in the final stages.
"Tyson-Briggs is gonna be the King Kong-Godzilla of boxing," Jessie Robinson announces to his compatriots, "'cause you can't get bigger than that."
Stern is skeptical. Over the speaker in their holding pen, Briggs's pals listen to Stern tell their boy that he's "too pretty" to fight an animal like Mike Tyson.
Briggs bristles -- politely. "We're from the same neighborhood, we grew up three blocks apart," he points out. "Just two Brooklyn guys going at it. I've got three great trainers in Herman Caicedo, Jessie Robinson, and Greg Pierre," Briggs announces.
The gang in the greenroom lets loose a burst of cheers and hoots. All of them, that is, except Caicedo. He lets a smile crack, but that's it. He's busy making sure that Purlett drinks all the water an intern just brought him, like a mother would tell her baby to eat all his peas. Purlett's next fight -- July 6 against Rocky Gannon in Reno, Nevada -- approaches.
Then Smokin' Joe Frazier, who remained in the studio after his interview with Stern, starts putting the heat on Briggs's trainers.
"Three trainers, you know, just having the guys around is a waste of time," he rasps. "If these guys don't know what the hell they're doing, send them back home," Frazier says.
"Naw, Joe, these guys are very talented trainers," Briggs declares.
Then come the phone calls, each one a little worse than the next. One guy calls Briggs "a big chicken." Briggs responds by making a bet with Stern: If Briggs beats Tyson, then Stern has to kiss his bare ass in the Macy's window in downtown New York. But if Briggs loses, he has to do Stern's show naked.
After a few more minutes of abuse from callers ("Shannon, listen, you got a girl's name; quit fighting"), it's over. Frazier's segment ran a little long, so there was no time for Purlett or the trainers. Briggs did squeeze in shout-outs to Purlett and the gym, but that was it.
Purlett isn't pouting about the missed opportunity. "Man, I'd just as soon leave this show-biz stuff up to someone else," he says in his soft voice. "I just wanna go home and train."
The crew leaves the station and walks up 57th Street together. There'll be plenty of time for show biz later. For now it's back to Briggs's house in New Jersey. The group will return to Fort Lauderdale Saturday and rest on Sunday. Then, at about a quarter to six in the morning Monday, Caicedo will unlock the doors of the Warriors Boxing Gym and get back to work.
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