Francois Botha has shed the extra weight and the cockiness that cost him a victory over Mike Tyson. Now he's trying to rid himself of the same label shared by many white fighters.
"I'm the only real white heavyweight out there that can do it and win the title," Botha said Monday after a workout. "I'm more than just a great white hope."
Botha is the latest of the recent white heavyweights, a group that has included Gerry Cooney, Tommy Morrison and most recently Peter McNeeley, hyped to take over the prized boxing division. He couldn't take advantage of a prime opportunity when he was knocked out by Tyson in January, but Botha has another chance to move into the upper echelon when he faces Shannon Briggs on Saturday night.
Briggs and Botha (39-2, 24 knockouts) will fight in Trump Taj Mahal at Atlantic City, N.J. The winner may get a shot at Tyson, or a second chance in Botha's case. The loser probably won't be mentioned in the same sentence as the word heavyweight champion again.
Briggs (31-2, 25 knockouts) is a Brooklyn, N.Y. native who was hyped as the next great heavyweight before losing to unheralded Darroll Wilson in 1996. He rebounded to win a decision over George Foreman in 1997 before being stopped in the fifth round by WBC champion Lennox Lewis in 1998.
Botha is from South Africa and actually held the IBF heavyweight title for a month after defeating Axel Schulz. He had his title taken away after he tested positive for steroids.
"He's never faced a guy like me," Briggs said. "I'm not Mike Tyson looking for one punch. I'm faster and my footwork is better. He'll be lucky if he makes the third round. He'll be really lucky if he sees the sixth round."
Briggs did run into Botha a couple of times in Big Bear, Calif., where they both trained last month, and Briggs couldn't believe the reaction.
"I saw him fishing one day and then I was running another time and I heard someone yell, `Hey Shannon' and waving to me and I couldn't believe it. What's wrong with this guy? Doesn't he know I'm training to kill him?"
While Briggs can trash talk with the best of the fighters, Botha has taken a new approach after squandering a possible victory over Tyson.
"I've got to stay focused, not like I did against Tyson," Botha said. "I was seeing the victory and I blew it. I'm in better shape than I was back then. I lost a lot of body fat and am all solid muscle now."
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