Botha (39-2-1), a 6-foot-2, 232-pounder who like Briggs is trying to establish himself as a major heavyweight contender, argued that he had won the fight and complained that he could never win a decision with three New Jersey judges. A number of ringsiders agreed that Botha should have won. Almost no one, including Briggs, thought Briggs had won.
"It was a close fight," said Briggs, who barely survived the final round. "I thought it was a draw."
Two of the three judges, Eugene Grant and John Stewart, agreed. They scored it 94-94. Joe Pasquale had it 95-92 for Botha.
Briggs, whose 32-2-1 career is coated with potential and excuses, had promised to use this fight to finally wake up his sleeping talent, to remain focused, to show his true grit, and to make no more excuses. He did none of it.
The final bell had hardly sounded before he offered his first excuse. "It was the ring rust," he said, alluding to eight months of inactivity.
To the credit of both fighters, it was an action-packed, crowd-pleasing, blood-letting scrap, for which each was paid $400,000-plus. But neither looked to be championship timber.
After a slow start, Botha broke through and scored repeatedly with quick left-right combinations, survived an eighth-round knockdown, and had Briggs in staggering retreat in the final round.
"Time ran out on me," Botha said. "I would have knocked him out if there had been another round."
Briggs, who ignored his corner's advice and tried to end the fight with one punch for the wildly cheering 5,150 fans - mostly Briggs supporters - almost did it in the eighth. He hammered Botha to the canvas for a six-count. But he didn't follow up, and the bell rescued Botha. Otherwise, Briggs seemed hesitant and backed away from Botha's invitations to mix it up.
Among Briggs' biggest critics was his new trainer, Emanuel Steward, who said he was "very concerned" and "not satisfied" with the performance of his 6-4, 230-pound fighter.
"To me, he fought a very bad fight," Steward said. "He has a lot more talent. He was getting hit with the same thing over and over, and he didn't throw anything back. The next fight, if they ever fought again, it would be totally different. He didn't use his jab, he didn't use his footwork, and he let Botha dictate the fight."
Briggs, 27, has beaten only one credible opponent in seven years, and even that was a highly disputed decision over 48-year-old George Foreman in 1997.
Botha, 30, a former firefighter who held a world title for a month in 1995 before being stripped of it for steroid use, is living off his game performance against Mike Tyson in January, a fight he was winning before being knocked out in the fifth round.
Both fighters, despite the bloody excitement they generated Saturday, seem on the verge of acquiring a dreaded label in boxing: "opponent."
The bout will be rebroadcast by Showtime at 11:15 p.m. Saturday.
On the undercard, junior-featherweight champion Marco Antonio Barrera (48-2) of Mexico decisioned Argentina's Pastor Maurin (41-2) in 12 dull rounds, and super middleweight Omar Sheika (19-1) of Paterson, N.J., scored an eighth-round TKO over Kevin Pompey (32-15-3).