Badou Jack v James DeGale may never have happened without Shannon Briggs
By James Dielhenn & Tim Hobbs
Last Updated: 12/01/17 12:31pm
Badou Jack’s journey to this weekend’s world title unifier against James DeGale has been obscure, so it should come as no surprise that Shannon Briggs, the colourful heavyweight character, played a crucial role.
Jack could scarcely have emerged from any two places with less tenuous links to boxing than Sweden and Gambia, his birthplace and his father's homeland, respectively.
He may have been an obviously talented prospect, but both nations lacked the regimented framework that could help him fulfill his potential.
Sweden banned boxing in 1970 due to fear over its dangerous implications, and only four-round bouts are permitted nowadays with limited rule-sets.
Such was their lack of enthusiasm for the sport that once made Ingemar Johansson a national legend, only two representatives were selected for their 2008 Olympic team, neither of which were Swedish-born.
Jack, aged 24, represented the land of his father's birth, Gambia, and was their flag-bearer at the Games in a clear sign of recognition. A first-round loss to India's Vijender Singh barely registered in his homeland of Sweden, and Jack's pro career seemed irrevocably damaged.
"Almost 10 years ago, I went over to Sweden and was fortunate enough to watch him fight for the first time," said Shannon Briggs, a perhaps surprise saviour. "I was super impressed."
Three of Jack's first five pro fights were in Sweden, in four-rounders, and former WBO heavyweight champion Briggs was a hulking presence at ringside that must have stood out like a sore thumb in a country that may not have even recognised him.
I've been fortunate in my career that there have been many guys, which people don't know, that I have discovered that became champions.
"I saw the talent, I saw the composure," Briggs remembered. "Everything about him said 'champion'.
"I've been fortunate in my career that there have been many guys, which people don't know, that I have discovered that became champions.
"I don't brag about it, but I've got an eye for talent. I've had five or six guys that I discovered that have become champions. It wasn't the time for me to say 'hey, I discovered this guy!'
"This is a job, and if I see someone who needs a job, I say 'this is what you need to do'. I will always do that because we're working on the job, champ, and it's just a job.
"He had only had a couple of fights but I went up to him and introduced myself. I told him 'I'm going to bring you to America one day'. I'm sure he'd been told that before, but I was serious.
"A few months later I flew him to America and he stayed at my house. We trained together and I said 'we're going to make something happen'.
He was raw, but he's learned so much. He's a tough kid, trust me, he's tougher than hell. His boxing skills have gone from level one to level 10 overnight.
"He was raw, but he's learned so much. He's a tough kid, trust me, he's tougher than hell. His boxing skills have gone from level one to level 10 overnight."
Briggs had proved true to his word but, having aided the young Jack, was in need of help himself. Having fallen short in his pursuit of Vitali Klitschko's WBC title, Briggs began a four-year hiatus from the sport, after encouraging Jack to seek his fortune elsewhere.
"He went out to Vegas and met Floyd Mayweather, and that was it. I was happy for him. At that point, I was going through my own things mentally - depression, I was trying to put my life in order. I thought it was best for him to move on. I am never going to be one to stagnate anyone. I'm a people person - I want to see everyone happy, smiling, and doing well."
Jack's smile had never been broader than when, after he impressed in a sparring session against Andre Dirrell, Mayweather made him a lucrative offer. Jack, 11-0, relocated to the fight capital of the world and penned a promising deal with Mayweather Promotions, but never forgot the man who made it possible.
"He said: 'champ, do you want to be part of this?' I said 'I'm already part of it'," Briggs recalled. "All I needed was to see him make it."
How proud was Briggs to see Jack become a world champion in April 2015 by winning Anthony Dirrell's WBC belt?
I knew it, champ. I knew he would become successful from when I first laid eyes on him.
"I knew it, champ. I knew he would become successful from when I first laid eyes on him, and not just from a boxing standpoint. From conversations, you could hear he's a serious guy who wanted to make it."
New York-based Briggs' life and career are back on track, and he has never been so popular. This weekend, he will be an interested spectator in his hometown as Jack fights IBF super-middleweight champion James DeGale in a unifier at the Barclays Center. As usual, Briggs will see plenty of friendly faces.
"DeGale's trainer is one of my closest friends, Jim McDonnell," he said. "We go back to '92-'93. Jim stayed at my house, in Jersey, for about two months and we trained. I love those guys.
"I'll be at the fight. I'm from Brooklyn, born and raised down the street, so I'll be there. DeGale is phenomenal so this could be fight of the year."
Watch James DeGale v Badou Jack in a unification fight from the Barclays Center, New York, live on Sky Sports 1, 2am, Sunday, January 15.