Sunday, May 22, 2005

The Contender....

Boxing: The Contender Week XIII
By John "Johnny Detroit" Lepak - May 20, 2005

I missed Sunday's broadcast on NBC for The Contender because I was on the red-eye home from a week in Las Vegas. Before I could catch the replay on CNBC, I learned that NBC had announced that The Contender will not be back for a second season. Being a contender on network TV must be a whole lot tougher than making it as a contender in the sport of professional boxing.

While The Contender has finished last every week in the ratings department during its normal time slot on Sunday nights, the ratings were higher than any other boxing telecast on television these days. I figured the show would manage to hang around for at least for one more season possibly being dropped to a Wednesday evening with a reduced budget. Guess I figured wrong. This whole scenario reminds me of the way so many guys from various walks of life decide because they have a few dollars in the bank and have sat ringside at a few fights they are going to get into the boxing promotional business and make a splash. The only splash that generally ends up happening is a big belly flop that leaves them on the canvas with empty pockets.

After watching the replay of this weeks episode the news of the shows cancellation still had my attention far more than what happened in week 13. I thought the concept of the show was solid. The concept had the makings of success written all over it. I think the creators took possibly a touch too much of Hollywood and forgot that boxing is a sport that needs to be left rough around the edges. I guess to step into the ring on Sunday night prime time TV you better bring your A+ game. I think a little less tears and more mud slinging would have scored some better ratings no doubt. This would have been easy to do if they took a closer look into the world of professional boxing and not so much the Contenders family backgrounds.

On to week 13. The show opens as always in the ring from last week's bout where Jesse picked up a nasty cut over his eye in his victory. While looking in the mirror reviewing the damage to his eye, Jesse admits that he has been cut before, but normally has had time to allow the cut to heal. "I've had probably seven or eight different cuts. But you always wait anywhere between three or four months before you get back in the ring. That way they're 100% healed. I've never waited three days and gotten back in there." After a boxer is cut in most bouts, he is automatically suspended for any where from 30 to 60 days, or until a doctor has reviewed the injury and gives him the OK to fight again. I don't think a cut like this can heal in a matter of only days. Since these bouts are sanctioned by the California State Athletic Commission it will be interesting to see how this one plays out. If he is not ready to fight in time, Jesse could lose his next fight by forfeit.

Alfonso, Peter and Sergio join Jesse with a final four hug back at the loft. While Jesse enjoyed his moment of victory, Peter couldn't help, but think of the fact that Alfonso gave him his only defeat on his professional record to date. Sly and his crew gather with the remaining contenders at his office to give Jesse the final four medallion for his victory. Jesse's eye was looking worse than it did after the fight. There is no way I could imagine him being allowed to fight only in a few days with a tender eye like that. Sly then dropped a twist on things when he told the boxers that the fights would now move to 7 rounds and the bouts would now be decided by the contenders and not the winner of a challenge.

It didn't take long for the guys to agree that "the rematch was on" between Alfonso and Peter, but not before the fighters got to enjoy a day at the beach with their family members. The contenders and their families hung out for a day under the sun and did their best to forget about the training. "Behind all the punches, there is humble people with hearts who love each other, who grow as families, you know?" Alfonso said. Its nice to see boxers in a positive light rather than being shown as barbarians with no common sense. The casting department at NBC really had their work cut out for them on this one because I cant recall a promotion I have ever been associated with that had a group of good guys like this in all my years in boxing. The crew at NBC did a good job because if they had not done some serious evaluating, I have to imagine the loft would be stripped down missing a few couches and VCRs by the time this show was done being tapped.

When training resumed, Peter admitted that he underestimated Alfonso the first time they fought and wouldn't make the same mistake twice. The rematch is a big part of boxing. Generally it is the boxer who won the first fight who carries the psychological advantage going into the rematch. In rare cases like when Thomas Hearns finally got his second chance at Ray Leonard it was the opposite. Hearns wanted Leonard so bad that nothing was going to deny him victory that night, except the judges who awarded the one sided beating Hearns put on Leonard and called the fight a draw.

Sugar Ray stopped by the loft to visit the guys and said how he couldn't believe how close the guys had become. I really didn't know how this would work out in the beginning of the show. Boxers can bond and become like brothers or it can be the complete opposite where too many egos and too much testosterone in one room can lead to some major blow ups. The bond these guys formed reminds me much the way a group of young amateur boxers gather like "Team USA" would leading up to the Olympics.

In locker rooms before the fights, its Contender locker room as usual with the fighters families stopping in to wish them good luck. Peter's dad stopped by and you could tell that he would be far better off with his father in his corner than the "house trainers" he was forced to use in the show.

In round 1 both fighters had their moments, according to the slow motion clips, but it appeared Peter had the edge. Round 2 opens and the crowd was chanting "Alfonso" (or at least it the sound clips made us think that) and he nailed Peter with a body shot that appeared to drop him, but the ref ruled it a slip. Peter responded in round 3 with a battering of head shots to Alfonso and appeared to win the round. In round 4 the only meaningful punch according to the fight clips was an uppercut by Alfonso. I guess this means round 4 goes to Alfonso. Alfonso continued with good ring generalship in round 5 and avoided any attack by Peter. In round 6 Peter rocked Alfonso with a big uppercut and did not let up. Peter appeared to be the fresher fighter in round 7 and poured it on as Alfonso seemed to tire down the stretch. After 7 rounds of action Peter Manfredo, JR. was announced the winner and he is now headed for Las Vegas for the finals.

After the fight Peter admitted that Alfonso gave him the toughest fight of his career. Gomez was gracious in defeat and said it simply was not his day, but it was his friends day. Alfonso looked like he took a serious beating when it was all over. It still will not be a bad day for Alfonso to fight in the semi-final bout at Caesars where he should be fighting for at least a couple hundred thousand according to the "boxing grapevine". That's more than most boxers receive on Showtime and HBO Boxing After Dark these days.

As the show ended the two boxers embraced and Alfonso hung up the gloves and exited the show. Considering that he is headed to Caesars Palace to fight for a couple hundred thousand, I would be skipping down the sidewalk. Paydays like that in boxing are hard to come by these days. You always hear about how the promoters are the guys who make all the money and the fighters end up fighting for peanuts. That's not the case on The Contender. Unfortunately, it appears that NBC will be the latest in a long line of guys who enter the professional boxing business with big dreams and just end up blowing big money.


Posted at 1:42 AM by cun2
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Wednesday, May 18, 2005


Monday, May 16 2005

By Karl Freitag

The NBC network announced its fall schedule today and among the casualties are the boxing reality series "The Contender," which will not be returning for a second season. The network, which has fallen to fourth place in the ratings wars, will move "West Wing" into "The Contender's" Sunday night timeslot. A top NBC executive blamed a lack of female viewers for the disappointing ratings of "The Contender" which was created by Sylvester Stallone, reality TV superstar Mark Burnett and Jeffrey Katzenberg of DreamWorks. The last two episodes will air as scheduled.



Ah, the boxing elite. If they were dying of thirst in the desert, and you gave them water, they wouldn't thank you. They'd tell you it wasn't cold enough.

What a strange bunch they are. Like old cops who have heard it all, they are somewhat embittered and cynical, keepers of the sacred word... humbug.

After many years of drought that saw boxing disappear from prime time television, NBC decided to plunk down a few gazillion dollars to make boxing the focus of a prime time reality show called "The Contender."

Fantastic! Right?

Not necessarily.

With much harrumphing, the whining about "Contender" began almost immediately. Self-ordained boxing purists spouted forth great wisdom from "Mount High."

"It doesn't reflect 'real' boxing."

"We think the challenges are stupid."

"We don't like the music."

"Sugar Ray Leonard said Toyota too many times."

"Waaah, Waaah, Waaah, Harrumph!"

Sorry to shout, but did we happen to mention that BOXING IS BACK ON PRIME TIME TELEVISION?

And it's pulling five to six million households a week!

NBC thinks the ratings are low, and they are dragging their heels on a second season commitment, but that's because they don't understand the impact their show is having on the sport.

ESPN recently held their first pay-per-view card on April 23rd. They are said to have pulled 150,000 buys. At last check, the Mariachi band was still playing, and the champagne was still flowing.

Give ESPN an average of three people per household, and there were 450,000 people watching boxing that night, which is an extremely respectable number for a first time foray into pay-per-view boxing.

If you use the same formula with "The Contender," there are between fifteen and eighteen million people watching boxing every week.

When's the last time that happened?

I'll take "never" for a thousand, Alex.

NBC has planted a seed that has taken root. People are excited about boxing again. High school kids, people in the office, the guys in the gym. Everywhere you go, someone mentions the show.

And it's true; by network standards the ratings are low. But NBC has been there before. The first season of Seinfeld had dismal ratings, but NBC stuck with the show, and it became one of the biggest hits ever. Hopefully they'll stick with "Contender" as well.

Of the sixteen fighters to appear on the show, one of the most likeable is Peter Manfredo Jr. Manfredo, now one of the final four, came to the show with a record of 21- 0, and was eliminated in the first week after losing to Alfonso Gomez. The remaining fighters voted to bring Manfredo back to the show after Jeff Fraza came down with chicken pox and was disqualified.

Put to the test again in his first week back, Manfredo clearly beat Miguel Espino, prompting Jesse Brinkley, also in the final four after his stunning come from behind knockout of Anthony Bonsante, to say, "We let a lion back in."

Asked why he felt he lost to Gomez, Manfredo said, "I don't like to use excuses, but I had to lose ten pounds the day before the fight and I was drained."

"When we first got there," Manfredo explained, "we were in a hotel for a week for photo shoots, interviews, stuff like that. I'm the type of guy that looks at food and gains weight. I have to train hard to stay in shape and make weight, and we weren't training that whole week. On the show, the weigh-in happens just a few hours before the fight. So I had to drop the weight and then fight right away. I had no legs, and I couldn't find my rhythm. I was out of shape."

Manfredo is also used to fighting ten or twelve rounds, and he found it somewhat difficult to drop back down to five.

When asked what "The Contender" has meant to his career, Manfredo says, "It's like a surreal, unbelievable experience. Just going from the average boxer, trying to make it, to still being the same boxer, but just being on live TV, you've made it. I come home, and you're a local hero to people, and people look up to you. It's just unbelievable. People see me on the street and say, 'Hey you're on that show! Gimme some love.' There's a lot of high fives and stuff like that. It's just been great. It really has. How many people in life get up and go to work and wish they could see how a celebrity lives? I got to experience that. Like when we were walking through the casino with Sly and Ray, there were bodyguards keepin' people away, and we were with them, so you kind of get to feel what its like."

Many of the fighters on the show, win or lose, will experience similar notoriety on the streets, and in the boxing world as well. They'll get fights they could never have gotten before. There is already talk of Ishe Smith fighting "Sugar" Shane Mosley. Prior to "The Contender," Smith wasn't even a blip on that radar screen.

Of course, the big debate has been whether "The Contender" is good or bad for boxing. Maybe Peter Manfredo Sr. best answered that question when contacted at the gym where he trains his son.

Asked if there was time to do an interview with Peter, Manfredo Sr. asks if you would mind holding on for a few minutes.

"Peter," he says proudly, "is just signing some autographs."


Posted at 12:35 AM by cun2
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Friday, May 13, 2005

Week 12 of The Contender

This is probably my favorite episode so far. Jesse ate like a bull, having fun and being himself. He could care less about his next fight with Bosante and feast during his meal with Dundee and the guys. Jesse finally did make his weight and proceed with the fight.

Round 1:
Anthony opened with a strong right, followed by a tiny uppercut and a right from Jesse. Tommy says Jesse lost this round in his opinion. But who gives a flying crap what Tommy thinks.

Round 2:
Dirty fight started in this round. Jesse delivered a left uppercut that just missed Bosante's chin by a booger.

Round 3:
Jesse came out strong, showing off his power. Yeah!! Bosante started to brawl and tried to deliver a poor uppercut, easily avoided by Jesse.

Round 4:
"Get Dirty!" yelled Sergio. Bosante fought like a true brawler, exhausting his energy plumelling Jesse. Jesse stands strong.

Round 5:
"OK, that's the way you fight" said Sergio. "Increase the pressure" said Jeremy. "Jesse, you gotta know him out this round" yelled Tommy. "Knock him out!" yelled Peter repeatedly. "Kick his ass Dada" yelled Brinkley's baby daughter. heehhe.
Anthony came out swinging. His mother and daughter were cheering. Jesse saw and opening.. and WHAMMM... an uppercut wobbled Anthony. Jesse came in again and delivered a very strong, beautiful and powerful uppercut that sends Anthony to the canvas. There was nothing Bosante can do at this point. The ref stopped the fight and Jesse won by Knock Down. TKO.
"He got lucky there" said Tommy. Again, I don't give a crap about what Tommy says. He's a cocky SOB.
"Noooooo.... Nooooooooo" Anthony cried like a little punk when he realized that the fight was stopped. He couldn't even remember he went down. He needs an MRI! hehehe.

The winner by KnockOut .... Jeesssseee Brinkkleeey!!!

Yeah baby!!!!!!!!! Go Jesseeee!!!

Posted at 6:38 PM by cun2
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