On Saturday night, Vitali Klitschko defended his WBC heavyweight title against Shannon Briggs in Hamburg, Germany. In the process, Klitschko both established himself as one of the most dominant heavyweight of his era and inadvertently hammered out an argument for reform in his beloved sport.
Like his younger and smaller brother, Wladimir, the six-foot-seven Vitali is a pile- driving puncher. Since he retired from his retirement in 2008, he has not, I believe, lost a round. And he certainly got the best of every stanza on Saturday when he pounded the all too gritty Shannon Briggs almost at will. Unable to provide any meaningful offense, Briggs absorbed scores of right hands and left hooks that would have surely shorted the neural circuits of less durable humans. Early on, Briggs showed some good lateral movement. He landed some respectable right hooks to the body, and even though he was getting the worst of it, there was a glimmer of hope that maybe he could make this a fight. However, after about six rounds, it was evident that Briggs's power had been sapped, and that even a lucky punch was out of the question.
To their credit, as the bout wore on the commentators on ESPN-3 wondered aloud why neither Briggs's corner nor the ref would put a halt to the massacre. By the end, it was clear that the experts talking us through the fight were appalled that the fight continued.
After the bout in which all justly praised Briggs's toughness, the Brooklyn-born fighter went to the hospital where he was put in the ICU. There are reports of fractures in both of his eye sockets and conflicting accounts about possible brain trauma. We can only pray that this courageous former champion will soon be able to walk out of the hospital. However, most of the damage in boxing takes years to accumulate. It is often only when fighters enter their fifties that it becomes time to pay up for all of the punches they have bought. And anyone who has ever attended a large gathering of former professional boxers will know just how hefty that price can be. Having closely observed the terrible thumping that Briggs took from the giant Klitschko, it is hard to imagine that the challenger in this fight will not face serious challenges down the road of a very different sort than gloved fists. And for what?
Boxers don't pull any punches and neither should those of us who train and write about these fearless warriors. Whether a championship is at stake or not, one- sided bouts in which a devastating puncher is at work must be halted, if not by the corner, then by the referee or doctor. Boxers must be protected from their bravery. The punishment that Briggs suffered on Saturday was so egregious and unnecessary that it was a blow to the gut to watch. It was enough to make a person feel guilty about being involved in the sport.