How a world title loss saved the life of Paul Briggs

IT takes a special type of person to embark on a career as a punch-for-pay athlete.

For the best part of two decades, Paul Briggs was considered a leading light in combat sport circles, lifting a world title as a kickboxer, before making a successful transition to boxing.

Despite his sustained success and reputation as a telegenic fighter on the world stage, like many before him, Briggs (26-4, 18 KOs) wasn’t granted the fairytale ending that many fighters crave.

After two razor-thin majority decision defeats to unbeaten Pole Tomasz Adamek, once in 2005 and again 17 months later, Briggs never fulfilled a lifelong dream in boxing.

The journey was brutal and the end result proved harsh, but ultimately — it saved his life.

“It was the best thing that ever happened to me, not becoming a world champion, and not winning that belt,” Briggs told Ben Damon on the Main Event Boxing Podcast.

“If I’d had become world champion and beaten Tomasz that night, I’m not sure I would’ve been alive for probably another year or two after that. It would’ve just destroyed me completely.

“I’m in Los Angeles, the cocaine in LA is — forget it about it — and I was a coke head. I had not even begun to address my demons, or my addictions, or my attachments, or anything like that.

“I’m hanging out with movie stars, and all that kind of rubbish, you know, and it would’ve destroyed me. I’m grateful, I’m really grateful that there’s someone looking out for me in the sense that I didn’t.”

In his prime, Briggs was widely considered as the most avoided fighter in Australia, missing out on a slew of domestic clashes due to his experience and notoriety as a pure puncher.

Given his natural ability and tendency to take part in fan-friendly fights, America called for the former national and regional titleholder.

The lifestyle suited the Queenslander in many ways. But the temptations that followed him were ever-present, and very real.

“I was always clean and dedicated, always,” he explained.

“What I mean by that, is I was fighting two times a year. There’s only six months of the year. What are you doing with the other six months? And on top of that, I was a father and a husband.

“If I was out with different guys, we would go to the opening of an envelope, we would indulge in something or whatever. It was never like my early days, it was never like that.

“It wasn’t like a certain athlete in this country.”

In hindsight, the combined 24 rounds with the aforementioned Adamek, who went on to lift a further two world titles at cruiserweight, resulted in irreversible neurological damage.

Although he went on to compete two more times in Australia — including an ill-fated 29-second clash with Danny Green — Briggs was never the same.

“I had a brain haemorrhage after the first Adamek fight. This is something I’m still dealing with now,” he revealed.

“That’ll lead into what happened with the Green fight… I was a great starter, but come by the sixth round (in the Adamek rematch), I wasn’t there. I just wasn’t there at all.

“I realised after that fight, I just wasn’t the same. I wasn’t the same guy. I remember being in the gym at Woolloomooloo, I started skipping and it was like I was in an earthquake. It was like the whole building started to move.

“Johnny (Lewis) was watching me, and he came walking over and said ‘son, listen, put the rope down, I want you to get every scan you can get’ — I knew at that point my career was over.”

Armed with the knowledge that hindsight often gives you, the 44-year-old takes full responsibility for how his career played out.

“I have absolutely loved this sport, impeccably. I’m in a love affair with it, even today,” he said.

“When I was offered that fight (against Green), it was complete insanity. I’m not going to accuse anyone of anything. I own it, I decided to take the fight. I got in there, and it went the way it went.

“I was not right. Should I have taken the fight? Definitely not. But I’m a warrior, I fight.

“You’ve got to have that mentality as an athlete to get to the top. I wasn’t thinking for one second about my wellbeing. All I was considering was what had to be done to succeed. That was it.

“You could’ve blown me over with a slight breeze before that fight. It wasn’t me in there.

“Do I accuse Danny of anything? Not at all. Did he take an easy mark? Maybe. But that’s for him to deal with. That’s none of my business.”

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