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Al "The Haitian Temptation" Sands (left) and former world heavyweight champion Shannon "The Cannon" Briggs highlight tonight's boxing card at Black Bear Casino in Carlton. John D’Auria / For the News Tribune

Former world champion’s comeback is no joke

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Boxing promoter Zach “Jungle Boy” Walters took a phone call Sunday night asking if he had room on tonight’s professional boxing card at Black Bear Casino in Carlton.

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Walters said, “ ‘For who?’ And they said, ‘Shannon Briggs.’ I said, ‘Of course. We’ll roll out the red carpet for a former world champ.’ ”

Briggs, 42, might be past his prime but said his comeback is no joke. Shannon “The Cannon” (52-6-1, 46 KOs) will fight Francisco Mireles (17-8, 5 KOs) in a scheduled 10-round heavyweight bout, part of tonight’s seven-bout card headlined by Duluth cruiserweight Al “The Haitian Temptation” Sands.

“Briggs needed a fight, and we’re always looking at giving Northland boxing fans a treat,” Walters said. “It’s just great. It was the perfect storm.”

This will be Briggs’ second fight of his comeback. Briggs once held International Boxing Union and World Boxing Organization heavyweight belts and is the last American to hold a world heavyweight title. He was out of boxing for 3½ years before returning to the ring just last week, dispatching Maurenzo Smith (12-9-3) with a first-round knockout in Tampa, Fla.

Don’t let Briggs’ age, time off from the ring or Mireles’ strong record fool you. Briggs will win this fight handedly unless he gets careless and walks into a punch.

“I came here to fight!” the animated Briggs said after weighing in. “This ain’t no game. I didn’t come here to play. I’m for real.”

With a touch of gray on his goatee, a clean white T-shirt and a calm demeanor, Briggs could have passed for a Just for Men commercial before the shirt came off for the weigh-in. Then he looked and acted more like Terry Crews, the former NFL football player who plays the crazed Old Spice pitchman in television commercials.

“Was that Kimbo Slice?” a passerby said after hearing Briggs’ rant, drawing a comparison to Kevin Ferguson, aka Kimbo Slice, of Ultimate Fighter fame.

Say what you will, but Briggs certainly appeared to be an ambassador for the sweet science of boxing on Friday. This is the same boxer who once beat George Foreman and went the distance with Vitali Klitschko in his last bout before his comeback, losing a unanimous 12-round decision on Oct. 16, 2010, in Hamburg, Germany, for the World Boxing Council heavyweight title. Briggs said he couldn’t even use his left arm for most of that bout because of a biceps injury.

On Friday, Briggs hammed it up with the ring girls, mugged for a photo with the headliner Sands and didn’t disrespect his opponent or the promoters by doing a professional stare down for the cameras.

Longtime Duluth boxing trainer Chuck Horton said Briggs is the biggest name to fight locally since James “Buster” Douglas fought at Pioneer Hall in Duluth on Feb. 24, 1988. Douglas went on to hand world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson his first loss two years later.

“Heavyweights like Shannon Briggs are of a different breed,” Horton said. “He’s an animal.

“Briggs is taking a page out of George Foreman’s playbook. When Foreman came back, he was at an age where he wasn’t wanted as much, so he worked the circuit and fought his way to the point where they couldn’t ignore him anymore.”

The 6-foot-4 Briggs weighed in a shade below 252 pounds. The 5-foot-10 Mireles weighed in at 286 pounds.

Briggs, a Brooklyn native who is training in Miami, flew into Duluth on Friday and will fly to Germany on Sunday. His goal is to goad Ukrainian world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, Vitali’s brother, into a world title bout, which would bring all the fame and money that comes with it.

“I’m going to fight every month, every week, until Vladimir Klitschko is going to fight me,” Briggs said. “I’ll fight anybody and everybody every week until he fights me. The heavyweight division (stinks).”

SANDS STAYS FOCUSED

Sands didn’t see Briggs’ appearance on tonight’s card as a sideshow but a bonus. Sands (12-1, 11 KOs) will fight Keith Barr (12-5, 3 KOs) tonight for the vacant North American Boxing Association-U.S. cruiserweight title.

“It’s really cool to have a guy like Briggs on the card,” Sands said. “With his experience, it’d be great to have an opportunity to pick his brain a little bit. It’ll be cool. It’s great to bring those kind of big-time fighters up here. It’s not a distraction. I’m still focused on the task at hand.”

  •  Duluth boxer Markus “Hooch” Morris, the “Hope of the Hillside,” is also on the card.
  •  Duluth boxer Ryan Watson of Twin Ports Boxing will fight in the semifinals of the Golden Gloves Upper Midwest boxing tournament at 7 p.m. today at Palace Casino in Cass Lake, Minn. The finals are 1 p.m. Sunday. Watson is ranked No. 7 among Golden Gloves super heavyweights in the U.S. and sparred with such professionals as Ray Edwards, Caleb Truax and Andy Kolle.
  • Edwards (5-0), a former Minnesota Vikings defensive end, will fight Ray Lopez (4-8) in a heavyweight bout tonight as part of a professional boxing card in Dearborn, Mich. Edwards, 29, hasn’t fought since earning a unanimous decision over Alex Rozman on Jan. 24 at Grand Casino in Hinckley, Minn.
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