Tuesday, June 28, 2005


I was never a fan of Golf.. a sport of finesse. I'm not quite good at it yet, but I'm getting there. Just trying to consistently hit the damn ball! hehehe.

I borrowed the practice club from Budi and right now this is what I'm working at:
Keep left arm straight, eye on the ball, don't lift up the body when closing the swing, and keep the toe up.

Posted at 12:17 PM by cun2
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Thursday, June 23, 2005

I guess I can relax this weekend =)

Finally found what's making my IE sick:
pxwma.dll !!! Located in C:\WINDOWS\pxwma.dll

Once it's deleted, IE runs like new.

Posted at 9:18 PM by cun2
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Time to reformat?

I'm not sure what the hey is going on with my computer at home. The symptom is whenever I open Internet Explorer, it freezes and consumes tons of memory.. it keeps increasing to about 1.7Gig (yes, Gig), then it crashed with a Visual C++ Runtime error msg:

Program: C:\Program Files\Internet Explorer\iexplore.exe
This application has requested the runtime to terminate it in an unusual way. blablablabla....

Ran spyware tools.. clean.
Ran anti-virus tools.. clean.
Checked startup programs.. clean.
Ran XP system restore utility.. failed!

I don't think it's TCP/IP corruption nor spyware as pointed out by the hundreds of search results from Google. My Opera is running fine. I'm sure if I install FireFox, it'll be ok too. It's just this freakin IE!!! Why put out a product full of holes?!??! Grrrrr....

It's not much trouble formating my system as it is setup to do so, but it's just annoying u know.. not knowing WHY ... but I do know WHEN... : it's right after I gave administrator rights to Piggie!!!! hehehe

Posted at 12:23 PM by cun2
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Monday, June 20, 2005

TVs and DVDs plays at 30 fps...

We as humans have a very advanced visual system. While some animals out there have sharper vision, there is usually something given up with it (for eagles there is color, for owls it is the inability to move the eye in its socket). We can see in millions of colors (women can see up to 30% more colors than men, so if a woman doesn't think your outfit matches, she is probably right, go change), we have highly movable eyes, and we can perceive up to and over 60 fps. We have the ability to focus as close as an inch, and as far as infinity, and the time it takes to change focus is faster than the fastest, most expensive auto-focusing camera out there. We have a field of view that encompasses almost 170 degrees of sight, and about 30 degrees of fine focus. We receive information constantly and are able to decode it very quickly.
So what is the answer to how many frames per second should we be looking for? Anything over 60 fps is adequate, 72 fps is maximal (anything over that would be overkill). Framerates cannot drop though from that 72 fps, or we will start to see a degradation in the smoothness of the game. Don't get me wrong, it is not bad to play a game at 30 fps, it is fine, but to get the illusion of reality, you really need a frame rate of 72 fps. What this does is saturate the pipeline from your eyes to your visual cortex, just as reality does. As visual quality increases, it really becomes more important to keep frame rates high so we can get the most immersive feel possible. While we still may be several years away from photographic quality in 3D accelerators, it is important to keep the speed up there.


Posted at 1:25 AM by cun2
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Monday, June 13, 2005

Sergio Mora back to reality

Mora Comes Back to Reality
By Steve Kim (June 13, 2005)

Last Wednesday afternoon, on a slightly overcast day, Sergio Mora finally made it back home after a whirlwind week in the aftermath of his winning 'The Contender' finale and taking home the reality series' million dollar grand prize.

"It's something I'm glad I did," said Mora on the front lawn on his home on Allston St., which is just a block off of Whittier Blvd. in East LA on the outskirts of Montebello. "I know every 'Contender' that was on there, it changed all their lives. But it changed mine especially because I won a million dollars. I got 11 million people that watched me fight and my next fight's going to be exciting. People are anticipating it and it changed my life literally. I mean, not the money, it was the exposure and I knew that going into 'The Contender'. I didn't think I was going to win the million dollars. I thought I had a chance to win it, a very good chance."

It's a far cry from last year, when Mora fought on NBC against Les Ralston as a virtual unknown and earned a paycheck of $7,000. After beating Ralston via
decision, Mora remained a nameless face in the game.

"That's why I say it's a fairy tale, a dream come true, and sometimes it's one of those dreams that you know you're bound to wake up from; I hear that all the time and you hear these singers and actors say that, 'It just happened overnight'. I mean literally overnight you're one thing and the next day you're...I don't like using the word 'famous', but hey, that's how it feels."

Over lunch at Nick's Burgers, which is located just a block from his home, he tells of mingling with Jessica Simpson, who said she was a fan of the show. His cell
phone receives calls throughout the afternoon from the likes of Wilmer Valderrama, who invites him to hit the Hollywood hot spots later that night.

Noted artist Andy Warhol once stated that everyone gets their 15 minutes of fame; right now, Mora is in the midst of his allocated time.

"It feels like you're actually somebody important and it feels great, but you just have to stay grounded because it can easily, easily get the best of you, because I went from East LA to partying with Carmelo Anthony and Cuttino Mobley and all these superstars and stuff," he says of his new found notoriety. "I got people telling me how much they loved and respected the show and these guys are people that I admire and I can only respect what they say and do."

'The Latin Snake' would down Peter Manfredo on May 24 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on prime time. After the post-fight press conference he would then
get the cut over his left eye stitched up at the hospital and he wouldn't leave there until after one in the morning, missing his own victory party.

From there, he would embark on a hectic media tour that had him traveling cross-country and back. That next morning he would make an appearance on ABC's
'Regis and Kelly', which led off a busy day of interviews and other media obligations in New York. On Thursday he would appear on the 'Today' show on NBC,
waking up at five in the morning. His day would not end until 11 that night as he took care of more requests for his time.

"All I did was wake up - and they're waking me up - they push me in a limo, they drop me off, I get off, I smile, I answer questions and then I get back in a limo and go to the next destination," recalled Mora.

Welcome to the big time. Hey, it beats anonymity.

That Friday, he would go to Bristol, Connecticut to co-host ESPN2's 'Friday Night Fights' with Brian Kenny. During that day, he would do a host of other interviews for ESPN's various forums. "That was the most draining," said Mora," but it was the most exciting."

His busy week would end back in Las Vegas to fulfill even more media duties.

Mora would not get back into Los Angeles till Monday, May 31.

"I haven't gotten a chance to watch my fight," he said last Wednesday. "I haven't had a chance to do anything. Today is actually the first day I got to exhale."

At the post-fight press conference, he has stated that winning 'The Contender' was not about the money or the fame. But it's clear, he does have a certain amount of both now. There are now demands made on his time. The two schools that he attended, Eastmont Intermediate and Schurr High, have asked him to speak at their graduation ceremonies.

"Famous is a big word," he says, contemplating it all. "I don't like using that word, I like using 'popular for the moment'. I don't want to fool myself and say that I'm a superstar. It's 15 minutes of fame, maybe five more minutes added since I'm a boxer. I got a profession, so I'm going to capitalize on those 20 minutes of fame and try to do what I always do and that's just train hard and fight.

"If people want to consider me a role model, that's good. If I had an influence or an impact on people, that is just amazing. I'm basically the same person. I'm going to be the same person. If I'm influencing people and people want to see me and treat me any differently, that's on them.

"As far as I go, I'm the same old person."

And as of now, he really isn't living any differently than he did before. His living conditions are modest, to say the least. For the time being, he lives in the same small dwelling that he did before coming aboard 'The Contender', with his three brothers. Earlier in the day, he found out that winning a million bucks isn't really winning a million bucks.

'Uncle Sam' gets his share, too.

"It ain't what it used to be," he said, shaking his head. "I went into my accountant's office and my financial advisor's office thinking, 'OK, I got a million dollars and I'm gonna change my life, my brother's life, my coach's life, and basically what my financial advisor said is, 'No, you haven't even changed your life, really. After taxes and after everything you gotta pay, you're probably looking at...' and I'm not even going to say the numbers because it disappoints me.

"But I'm going to fight as much as possible and strike while the iron is hot."

But not that he's complaining; his bank account is much healthier than it's ever been.

"Oh, yeah, listen, I appreciate what I did and I thank God," says Mora, of his recent good fortune. "I appreciate everything, everything; every little second I'm humbled and I'm flattered. But to tell you the truth, it's funny that I went from 'insufficient funds' to literally having one million in the bank account before taxes."

While he has stayed in posh hotels and been whisked around in limos and hung out with A-listers, he comes back to a home that wouldn't exactly be a destination
for Robin Leach. As he shows you around his place, you would never know he had a million dollars in the bank. As you sit down, he puts in a home video of a
compilation of his 'barbecue boxing' where his boxing career began, knocking out his friends in unsanctioned smokers. On the corner bookshelf you see the works of Tolstoy and Nietzsche prominently displayed. On one wall hangs a picture of Tupac. Outside of his 'Contender' belt and the gloves he wore for the Manfredo bout, you probably couldn't have separated Mora from anyone else that lives in his neighborhood.

Even after winning 'The Contender' he's in the same place.

"It's a huge dose of reality because in reality everything's the same as far as I go, but in reality, everything around me has changed and it's not the same," says Mora, who has well-wishers stop their cars in the middle of the street to give him their congratulations. A girl coming home from school asks for his signature. As he conducts this interview, his brothers' friends drop in. For Mora, it's business as usual in many respects.

But one thing has changed.

"My mom has stopped working, so that's a good thing. She didn't go to work this past Monday, I'm taking care of her as far as that," he says with satisfaction. "But I still got to hustle, I still gotta go out there and train, I gotta stay grounded, I still gotta be the same person who got me here or else I go down the drain. And it's even easier now to fall down the drain and fall into the pitfalls of success. It's even scarier to tell you the truth."

There's an old adage about how sleeping in silk pajamas can kill a boxer's desire. Right now, that doesn't apply to Mora and it could be the best thing to happen to his boxing career.

"It does make it easier because you're still hungry," he states. "Because you realize,'OK, I got a million dollars in the bank account, but bottom line, I'm still sleeping on a sofa.' How weird is that? How ironic is that? So I'm still hungry; I still want my next fight, which is in two months. I still want to take my opponent's head off, I still want to run and train and spar and be the same dude. 'The Latin Snake', that's me. I don't want to change and I don't expect that to change whether I'm here or in Bel Air."

There really hadn't been too much hoopla in the local area for Mora thus far, although he said that a block party was being planned in his honor for that weekend.
But he did note that there were 'haters' that would never give him any credit for his victory, which included some of his own neighbors.

Welcome to the big time.

The interview is interrupted when a SUV starts doing 'donuts' at a nearby intersection for no apparent reason than to wear out its tires and cause a rancid odor of burnt rubber. When you ask why someone would do that, he replies," Man, that's just East L.A., people trip like that."

Yeah, he's back home, all right. Just a block away from his gym, the 'Solid Rock' boxing gym off of Whittier Blvd., which now reads on its awning: "Home of Sergio Mora, 'The Latin Snake'". Now, he looks forward to the rest of his career, which could resume July 5, where he could be facing Manfredo in a rematch or his good friend Alfonso Gomez in Las Vegas.

"My next fight is going to be huge and I could easily say six, seven, eight million are going to watch me fight, maybe more," says Mora, who's still not sure if his cut will be healed completely by that point. "That's already three times any pay-per-view fight. That is just amazing to think about; it's even hard to fathom I'm going to fight in front of six, seven, eight, ten, twelve million people and I'm not even a world champion.

"I understand it's just a popularity thing; it's 'The Contender', it changed my life and I beat legitimate opponents. Man, it just changed my life."

There's no denying that it has upped his profile. Early that morning he was a special guest of the popular morning show hosted by 'Big Boy' on Power 106. His website,, would net approximately 500 hits after his bouts on 'The Contender. After winning the finale, it got 10,000 unique visitors and 6,000 new newsletter subscribers. With his new found popularity he will now have to order a new batch of 'Latin Snake' t-shirts as he is now sold out.

But with all this, Mora wants to be much more than the winner of 'The Contender'.

"Winning a world title, that's what I'm fighting for. I want to be a world champion, a respectable world champion. WBC, WBA, IBF, whatever, I want to be a
world champion," he said with emphasis. "Right now, I'm a world class contender and I got that belt. The ultimate goal in my life is to be a champion and I think that's going to be the pinnacle, the zenith, the apex.

Posted at 1:15 PM by cun2
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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

could it be?

The rat that got Jesse rilled up against Ishe might be the Contender crew(s).

Posted at 11:47 PM by cun2
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More Trouble For "The Contender"

By Thomas Hauser: On the morning of February 14, 2005, at 3:00 AM, Angela Chapple's telephone rang. The caller was Najai Turpin.

Angela and Najai met in 1996 during a summer youth program that they attended after ninth grade. Two years later, they began dating. Angela is now a computer technician. Najai became a professional boxer and also worked as a cook at Bottom of the Sea Restaurant in Philadelphia to support the daughter that they had together two years ago.

Najai's life was in a downward spiral and had been since he'd travelled to California several times the previous year. The first trip was in July 2004. He'd impressed representatives of NBC's TV reality show The Contender at an audition in Philadelphia and was invited to Los Angeles for further testing. He hoped to be one of sixteen fighters chosen to appear on the show, but there was a snag. The candidates were subjected to extensive psychological testing.

Representatives of The Contender refuse to discuss the matter, but the best available information is that a written psychological test was administered to the fighters on Thursday, July 15th, and that psychological-profiling interviews were conducted on July 16th and 17th. One fighter selected for the show says that the personal interview lasted well over an hour and was conducted by a man and a woman. The written portion of the examination took longer. "One of the things they asked me," he recalls, "was if I got depressed or ever considered killing myself."

"Najai came back to Philadelphia after they did the testing," Angela remembers. "He told me, 'I didn't make it because the doctor said I'm manic-depressive.'"

That evaluation had a foundation. It's unclear how much the people who evaluated Najai for The Contender knew about his personal history. But five years earlier, at age eighteen, he had attempted suicide by swallowing 47 Tylenol pills and a bottle of vodka after his mother died.

The statement that Najai made to Angela is similar to what he told Percy "Buster" Custus. Custus runs an inner-city gym in Philadelphia and began training Najai eleven years ago. When Najai filled out an application for The Contender, there were spaces for "mother" and "father." Next to his mother's name, he wrote "deceased." He made no entry at all for "father." Then, beneath his mother's name, he wrote in "Percy Custus" as his "stepfather."

"After the testing," says Custus, "Najai told me, 'Mr. Buster; they won't take me. This guy out there said I was manic-depressive.'"

"I didn't know what that meant at the time," Custus acknowledges. "I thought it meant you got depressed sometimes and had highs and lows, but that it's something you work through."

Then a representative of The Contender telephoned and said that Najai had been selected to be one of sixteen fighters on the show.

But the Contender experience was very different from what Najai expected. The tone was set by a written directive entited "Rules For First Week At Hotel" that instructed the fighters, "There is absolutely no talking between contestants." Note that they were referred to as "contestants" (as on a television game show), not "boxers" or "fighters."

The fighters were further advised "No one is to leave the hotel room without permission and an escort" and "all phone calls to home will be made from the production office in the hotel."

Angela later recalled, "Whenever Najai called me from the office, before we could talk, there was a voice on the phone that said everything in our conversation was being taped. It was like he was in a prison cell."

Each fighter who appeared on The Contender was required to sign a non-disclosure agreement stipulating that any breach of confidentiality would subject the fighter to the "imposition of liquidated damages of up to $5,000,000."

Nonetheless, on condition of anonymity, several fighters who appeared on the show have begun to talk. One says that there came a time when they began to understand how much money was passing into the hands of the show's producers and talked about organizing a strike. "We weren't necessarily counting how much money they were making," says another. "There was a time when some of us were upset at the way things were going. But we decided as a group that we all knew what we were signing up for when we signed the contracts and we should stand by what we signed."

Other fighters went AWOL during production, including one who departed on an unauthorized overnight trip to Las Vegas.

The Contender experience was particularly painful for Najai, who was rooming with Ahmed Kaddour. The TV people liked Ahmed. He was good-looking, wore flashy clothes, had a sexy girlfriend, and shot his mouth off. Najai didn't like him and, at one point, there was a physical altercation between them away from the ring.

There was also grumbling that black fighters were under-represented on the show and that some of the decisions made by the show's producers were motivated by inappropriate racial considerations. One person familiar with the situation says that Najai was subjected to racial taunts and told by another fighter, "All you niggers fold when you get hit on the chin."

By that time, Najai wanted nothing more to do with The Contender.

The rules for participants forbade the fighters from communicating with the outside world on their own. Cell phones, pagers, and email devices were prohibited. To enforce the rules, the fighters were subject to personal searches at any time. But some of the fighters found a way up to the roof, where no cameras or microphones were present. And one of them had managed to smuggle in a cell phone.

"Najai called me from the roof," says Angela. "He said, 'It's awful here. I feel like I'm in jail. I want to come home.' But he was afraid to come home because he was afraid that the Contender people would sue him for breach of contract."

"Najai was so distraught at times that your heart broke for him," says another fighter who appeared on The Contender. "Mostly, he kept to himself. Juan [de la Rosa] was the only person he really talked with."

Najai returned to Philadelphia at the close of the Contender taping. In October, Angela and their daughter moved in with him. But despite the fact that he was home, his unhappiness lingered.

Part of the problem was that boxing, which had been an anchor in Najai's life for more than a decade, had been taken away from him. In the past, he'd fought regularly; first as an amateur, then fourteen professional fights in three years. But after losing a decision to Sergio Mora in August, Najai's career had been put on hold. The contract he'd signed gave The Contender the right to control his ring life through May 24, 2009. Under no circumstances would he be allowed to fight again prior to May 24, 2005. And thereafter, The Contender could limit him to two fights per year.

"After Najai got back from California," says Angela, "he started drinking. That wasn't like him. And he started going to the gym less because he wasn't allowed to fight. The Contender was still controlling life."

Meanwhile, one of the Contender fighters recalls, "After the show, Najai cut himself off from the rest of us. Some of us tried to call him; and for a while, he wouldn't even take the calls. If a guy won't talk to you, what can you do?"

On Tuesday, February 8th, Najai agreed to go with Percy Custus to a training camp in the Pocono Mountains to work with Custus and several of his fighters. Angela went to her mother's home with their daughter so there would be someone to assist with childcare. Unbeknownst to her, Najai returned to Philadelphia two nights later and stayed at home alone for three days. In the wee small hours of Valentine's Day, he telephoned her and said that he was outside her mother's house in his car.

Angela went downstairs and got in the car. It was cold. Najai turned on the heat so she'd be more comfortable.

"What would you do if I killed myself?" he asked her.

"Don't talk like that. We went through that once."

"Would you take care of my daughter?"

"I always do."

Najai reached down with his left hand, pulled out a gun, and shot himself in the head.


Last month, in an article entitled the Contender on the Ropes that was posted on this website, I reviewed the history of The Contender and discussed many of the issues surrounding the show. In summarizing the first four episodes, I noted, "Some boxing fans like The Contender. Others find it silly and boring."

Five weeks later, "silly and boring" seem to be carrying the day.

Fighters don't carry logs up a hill in 90-degree weather the day before a fight. That's not how real boxing works, but it happens on The Contender. A fighter doesn't leave his living quarters and go someplace to visit with his wife and children the night before a big fight. That's not how real boxing works, but it happens on The Contender. A fighter's team doesn't leave him alone in the dressing room before and after a fight and make him walk to the ring alone. But that's what happens on The Contender.

Week after week, it's the same show, from the controlled scenes of fighters talking on the telephone with family members to the funeral dirge music that plays as the loser sits in his dressing room. There's excessive crying in every episode. Guys cry when they lose. They cry when they talk about their children. They cry when they reflect upon their mothers and fathers and other loved ones.

And despite being a "reality" show, there are times when The Contender departs from reality altogether. In Episode #8, Peter Manfredo Jr was seen as the chief cornerman for Jimmy Lange, while Jeremy Williams served in a similar capacity for Joey Gilbert. In Episode #9, Ahmed Kaddour and Alfonso Gomez were working the corners. Since these are supposed to be "real" fights, it would be nice to have a real trainer in each corner.

The show gets sillier and sillier. Recent "challenges" have included:

* Hauling Everlast medicine balls up the Sepulveda Dam and putting them in the back of a Toyota truck.

* Demolishing a cinderblock wall with sledgehammers and putting the blocks into the back of a Toyota Tundra. As the fighters were doing this, Ray Leonard said admiringly, "You guys are animals, man," and Tommy Gallagher shouted, "Don't scratch the Toyotas."

* Navigating an "urban obstacle course" that required the fighters to "run through the Toyota traffic jam" (I'm not making that up; Ray Leonard actually instructed the fighters to "run through the Toyota traffic jam"); jump over some hurdles with advertising on them; throw tires in a dumpster; empty the tires out of the dumpster; take the keys out of a Toyota; use the keys to unlock a lock; and climb to the top of a truck with advertising for Bally's on it.

* Running around an obstacle course while wearing Everlast boxing gloves, picking up Everlast medicine balls, and throwing the medicine balls in a basket.

* Pulling harness-racing carts around Santa Anita Race Track. This was one of the most demeaning moments for professional fighters ever on network television. Anthony Bonsante pulled a hamstring muscle during this idiocy, demonstrating from a technical point of view why fighters shouldn't be treated like racehorses.

The "rewards" are comparable. After Peter Manfredo Jr won a mulligan over Miguel Espino, the East team was invited to sit in the audience for The Tonight Show and shake hands with Jay Leno. Afterward, Manfredo said, "It was awesome to shake his hand," while Joey Gilbert declared angrily, "It really sucks losing this reward." That came one week after the West team played poker with Antonio Tarver, who was described as "the only man to ever knock out Roy Jones." Apparently, the masterminds behind The Contender have never heard of Glengoffe Johnson. And let's not forget Episode #8, when the seven remaining fighters [Ahmed Kaddour had not yet returned] were flown to Caesars Palace, where they kissed cocktail waitresses and ate grapes in an infomercial for Caesars. They also drew cards to see who would win a Toyota Tundra. Sergio Mora emerged victorious and ran to the vehicle to the accompaniment of music that sounded like the soundtrack from The Ten Commandments.

These shortcomings haven't been lost on the public. From a financial point of view, The Contender has turned into Jack Dempsey versus Tommy Gibbons, with NBC playing the role of Shelby, Montana, to The Contender's Doc Kearns.

Ratings have been a disaster. NBC was told to expect 15,000,000 viewers per episode, but the number is hovering around 5,000,000. The network has done everything possible to right the sinking ship, including putting additional money into a wave of radio ads and preempting Dateline for an hour-long Contender rerun special on Easter night. But right now, The Contender is running on wishful thinking.

One industry insider says that NBC has already decided against bringing the show back for a second season on network television. But it wouldn't be good business to brand The Contender a failure before it finishes its run, so the public execution will have to wait. If there's a second season for the show, most likely it will be on cable.

Meanwhile, the finger-pointing has begun, with some in the Contender camp complaining that NBC's decision to run the initial three episodes on three different nights during the first week undermined its success. But the scheduling was designed to offer The Contender to the widest possible audience. The fundamental problem is the show itself.

Anyone who has ever been around boxing knows that fighters are the most quotable athletes in the world. But The Contender is so contrived and so antiseptic that not one memorable quote has come out of the show.

Also, reality shows thrive on diversity. As far as viewers are concerned, there must be something for everyone. But all of the participants on The Contender are professional fighters. They're all portrayed as having the same motivation ("I'm doing this for my family; I want to be a champion"). They react the same to winning; they react the same to losing. It's repetitious and boring.

There is one area, however, where The Contender realistically reflects professional boxing. The promoters have made every dollar possible off the fighters. Best estimates are that the show's producers have taken in gross receipts in the neighborhood of $40,000,000. That's roughly equal to the annual boxing budgets of Showtime and ESPN combined.

There's also concern in some circles about the way several of the fighters have been portrayed on the show. For example, in Episode #6, Anthony Bonsante was trashed for betraying his teammates by turning his back on an agreement to fight Jimmy Lange and calling out Brent Cooper instead. This led to Bonsante being branded a "back-stabber" and a "coward." But the fighters have to fight whomever the producers of the show tell them to fight. That's made clear by the promotional contract, which states, "All bouts hereunder shall be against opponents on dates and at sites to be designated by Promoter in its sole and absolute discretion."

Likewise, it was unfair to criticize Juan De La Rosa for withdrawing from the competition because of a badly-cut eyelid, sprained wrist, and swollen knuckles. De La Rosa is a young man who, prior to The Contender, had only three fights in his entire career. If De La Rosa had fought on in the tournament, his eye might have wound up looking like David Reid's.

And most recently, the tape of Ishe Smith's loss to Sergio Mora was edited in a way that made Smith look foolish in the ring. It's unfair to do that to any fighter. Also, several people who were on-site say that Ishe left the ring shouting he'd been "robbed" and pushed a TV camera away from him. That didn't make the final cut.

Mora-Smith was a split decision: 50-45, 49-46, 46-49. "Sergio was badly hurt at the end of the last round," says one of the fighters who was there. Thirty seconds more, and Ishe would have had him. So how do you score all five rounds for Sergio? The truth is, none of us wins five out of five rounds against Ishe. There's no way you can score that fight a shut-out for Sergio, but one of the judges did. If that fight had been in Vegas, Ishe probably would have won. But I don't think The Contender tried to fix the decisions," the fighter continues. "I think it's a question of California judges doing funny things for California fighters all though the show. I can't blame The Contender for something that happens all the time on ESPN."

Still, some of the fighters have begun to question other aspects of the tournament process. Among other things, they're skeptical about the "vote" by which Peter Mandredo Jr was brought back into the fold after losing to Alfonso Gomez.

"Why would we vote Manfredo back?" asks one fighter. "Manfredo had a bad fight against Gomez, but we all knew he was tougher than, say, Jonathan Reid. We're fighting for a million dollars. Don't tell me that a majority of us voted to bring back Manfredo. It's the TV people that voted to bring back Manfredo."

But another fighter says, "I voted for Peter, and nobody tried to influence my vote. My reasoning was, we could vote back Jonathan but that would give someone else an easy fight. So bring back Peter. He was bruised from fighting Alfonso. And whatever happened in his next fight, he was going to bruise the other guy and come out more bruised himself."

Nonetheless, questions linger; including questions about the fighters themselves. They're championship-caliber fighters. Right? After all, Sylvester Stallone tells them, "The only difference between you and the current world champions is that they got a shot and you didn't."


Let's take Brent Cooper as an example. Cooper, fans of The Contender will remember, is the nice young man who told viewers, "My relationship with Jesus is outstanding. The Lord put me here to be The Contender. I don't think God brought me here to lose."

Cooper took a beating during the first two rounds of his fight against Anthony Bonsante. At that point, his girlfriend ran to the corner and told him, "I love you." Properly motivated, Brent was knocked out 38 seconds into the third round.

Cooper entered the tournament with a record of 20 wins, 2 losses, and 2 draws. But let's be honest. Sixteen of Cooper's wins came against opponents who had never won a fight in their entire career at the time he fought them. As for the other four victories; one was against Lester Yarbrough (who is now on a 36-fight losing streak). One was against Bob Walker (who won two fights in his entire career). The other two were against Jerome Hill (whose record is currently 1 win and 48 losses).

Worse, one of Cooper's losses was against Robert Muhammad, who has lost 21 of his last 22 bouts and is continuing to fight after being treated for a subdural hematoma. Cooper's other loss was at the hands of Reggie Strickland, who has been defeated the staggering total of 272 times. Cooper's draws were against Rashawn Gore (in the only fight of Gore's career) and Strickland. That's right. Cooper couldn't beat Reggie Strickland in two tries.

As for the future; the Contender finale is slated for May 24th in Las Vegas. There will be six fights divided into morning and early-evening sessions. The "championship" bout is scheduled for seven rounds; each of the other fights for five. The Nevada State Athletic Commission has granted permission for an extra round to decide each fight in the event of a draw. However, it refused to grant a waiver that would have allowed the fights to take place in a 17-foot-square ring.

All of the pre-taped Contender bouts have been fought in a smaller-than-regulation enclosure. But fighting in a miniature ring so there will be more punches is like playing basketball with nine-foot baskets so there will be more dunks. Professional fights should be contested in a real boxing ring; in this case, a 20-by-20-foot enclosure.

It's unclear what will happen to the 15 remaining fighters once the tournament is over. The promotional contracts they signed purport to bind them to The Contender well into the future. But one prominent boxing attorney said recently, "It's a slave contract. Any good lawyer could get them out of it."

Also, the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act has a section entitled "Disclosures to the Boxer" that declares, "A promoter shall not be entitled to receive any compensation directly or indirectly in connection with a boxing match until it provides to the boxer it promotes the amounts of any compensation or consideration that a promoter has contracted to receive from such match."

Several of the Contender fighters say that this required disclosure has not been made in a timely manner. However, at the same time, they agree with one of their own who declares, "It was tough at times. The producers were learning what it's like to be around boxers, and we were learning the television business. They made mistakes, and we made mistakes. But on balance, they were good to us. Usually, when we complained about something, they tried to make it better. The good outweighed the bad. I'd say they treated us well."

Thus, the biggest legal headache facing The Contender might relate to Najai Turpin. After his death, representatives of the show established a trust fund to provide for his daughter. They've refused to state publicly how much they contributed, but reliable sources put the amount at $100,000. Public donations have increased the fund to $200,000.

In addition, The Contender paid for Najai's funeral, although Percy Custus complains, "They ran these guys like Stallone out here to carry the casket, and then they refused to pay for the headstone. We had to ask them and ask them until finally, I guess, someone there decided it would look bad if they didn't pay for that too."

Complicating matters is the fact that Angela is expecting her second child, a boy, in late-September.

Prior to appearing on The Contender, each fighter was required to sign a contract providing that neither he nor his estate could sue the show, NBC, or various classes of employees, licensees, successors in interest, or assignees for wrongdoing even if such wrongdoing was the direct cause of the fighter's injury or death. But legal experts say that this prohibition would be invalid if The Contender engaged in certain types of wrongdoing.

Also, Najai wasn't the custodial parent for his daughter. Angela was. And Angela says, "As far as I know, I only signed one thing. The TV people came to Najai's home to tape with us. Right before they left, they asked me to sign a paper that they said was a confidentiality agreement and also would allow them to show tapes of me and my daughter on the show. They asked me to sign it right then, and I did. I never had a chance to show it to a lawyer."

Thus, Najai's daughter might have a claim against The Contender and some of its participants independent of his estate. And it's impossible to inadvertently waive the rights of an unborn child.

In the end, Najai Turpin bears the ultimate responsibility for his own death. He's the one who pulled the trigger. And doing it in front of Angela made it a particularly horrible act. But just as clearly, Najai must have been suffering terribly to do what he did. And something was very wrong with his emotional balance.

"Let's be honest about this," says one person who works for The Contender. "The man is sleeping in the closet. You have his psychological test results. If I'm running the show, if I care about him at all, I'm going to give him all the emotional support I can, and I'm going to keep giving it to him when the taping is done and he goes back to Philadelphia. We say over and over that the key to our success is to make viewers care about the fighters as people. And with Najai, it might look to some people like we didn't care about him at all."

In order for The Contender to be held liable for damages, there would have to be a judicial finding of wrongdoing on its part AND a causal connection between that wrongdoing and Najai's death.

Did the people who evaluated Najai's psychological profile on behalf of The Contender find him to be manic-depressive or in some other way more vulnerable to the pressures of a TV reality show than the other fighters? Did they include him in the show knowing that he had a psychological condition that put him at greater risk than the other fighters? How much did Najai's experience in California and being precluded from boxing afterward contribute to his mental slide?

The records of Najai's psychological-profile testing could be very interesting to a plaintiff's lawyer. So might the thousands of hours of Najai and others on unedited tapes. In the event of a lawsuit, there would also be depositions, including extensive questioning of the fifteen remaining fighters. In the event that liability is found to exist, most likely the damages would be considerable. The Contender's own promotional material emphasized the bright future that Najai had in the ring. Two children have lost their father. And the punitive damages could be enormous.

Meanwhile, Angela hasn't decided yet what course of action she wants to take. She's balancing her desire for privacy, the need to provide financially for her children, the hope to get on with her life, and myriad other considerations. But several new developments trouble her.

"In seven years, I never once saw Najai's father," Angela says. "Buster was the closest thing that Najai had to a father. The first time I saw Najai's father was after Najai died, but he's here now. Najai didn't have a will, and now some of his family -- I won't say all of them -- are doing and saying things that aren't right."

"I've heard a lot of ugliness since Najai died," Angela continues. "I've heard stories that the baby's not his. I've heard stories that we were breaking up. And in my mind, that's a spin the Contender people are putting on things. None of it is true. Najai and I were planning together for the future. We were going to move to Delaware. The Contender people told me they want a DNA test for the baby that's coming in September. That won't be a problem. Najai is the father. There's no chance of anyone else."

Then Angela smiles. "Najai always wanted a junior," she says.


Posted at 11:41 PM by cun2
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"The Contender" On The Ropes

By Thomas Hauser: Ten months ago, I wrote an article about The Contender for this website. I recounted the plans of the show's producers and closed with the words, "At some point, The Contender will become more than a game, and reality in its truest sense will intervene."

On February 14, 2005, reality intervened. Najai Turpin, a 23-year-old boxer from Philadelphia who had lost in the first round of the Contender competition, shot himself to death.

Prior to The Contender, Turpin had a professional record of 12 wins and 1 loss with 8 knockouts. By all accounts, he was a hard worker, a good person, and a quality fighter. Despite what he did in the ring, there was a gentleness about him. A lot of people who come from where he came from have hard insides. They have to in order to survive. But Najai had a personality that bordered on sunny and innocent. He was also very quiet and kept a lot inside.

TV "reality" shows put a great deal of stress on their participants. High-pressure situations are constructed to entertain the viewing public. Contestants live in a fishbowl, where every mistake and embarrassing moment is magnified.

Also, unlike most reality shows, The Contender has the potential to impact enormously on the real jobs of its contestants. If a truck-driver goes to the South Pacific for some Survivor fun and games, his old life is there for him when the show is over. Fighters who appear on The Contender will benefit from the attendant publicity. But they're precluded by contract from plying their trade outside the confines of the show for almost a year. And even then, they're bound to the show's promotional entity.

Because of these and other pressures, both The Contender and The Next Great Champ (its rival on Fox) administered psychological tests to prospective fighters in the form of written questions and a personal interview. In each instance, the television network and the program's insurer required it. The tests were administered by an outside group and sought to determine the fighters' ability to deal with stress, anger management skills, and their predisposition to depression and other forms of mental illness.

In the case of The Next Great Champ, close to three dozen candidates were tested. One insider recalls, "There were a couple of guys who we liked a lot who we lost because of the psychological testing."

As the selection process for The Contender narrowed, each of the fighters vying to be among the sixteen finalists was similarly tested to determine how suited he was to cope with the emotional rigors of a television reality show. The Contender test was graded on a scale of 1 to 6. Most of the fighters chosen as finalists scored a 6. Najai Turpin finished last out of the sixteen fighters chosen. His score was 3.

"They knew going in that there was a problem with Najai," says one person familiar with the test results. "I don't know how far the word spread internally. I'm sure there were a lot of people who didn't know about the results; and obviously, no one thought that Najai would commit suicide. But the tests showed that he was a fragile guy."

The Contender has five equity participants with varying degrees of input into the show. They are Mark Burnett (who's best known for having created Survivor and The Apprentice), movie executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, show business veteran Jeff Wald, Sylvester Stallone, and Sugar Ray Leonard. NBC is paying a higher price per episode for The Contender than has ever been paid for a TV reality show. It has backed the project with a huge promotional budget. And there are other revenue streams as well.

According to a February 10, 2005, article in The Hollywood Reporter and information gathered from other sources, Contender Partners LLC. will reap the benefit of:

(1) A license fee from NBC of close to $2,000,000 per episode.

(2) The right to sell six commercial spots per episode. NBC sold these spots to Contender Partners LLC at a discount with the understanding that they could be resold at a profit.

(3) All product integration fees, including stock warrants to purchase up to five percent of the stock in Everlast Worldwide Inc at $2.75 per share. Everlast is the exclusive supplier of boxing equipment, active-wear, and shoes for the show and is featured prominently in every episode. The warrants were worth several hundred thousand dollars at the time the deal was made but have increased in value as Everlast stock has risen. As of the close of business on March 24th, the stock was selling at $10.09 per share. If The Contender returns to NBC for a second season with at least ten new episodes, Contender Partners LLC. will receive warrants for an additional five-percent stake in Everlast. The same is true for a third season, which could give them a total equity interest of fifteen percent in the company.

(4) A significant portion of ticket-sale revenue from the grand finale, which will be contested live in Las Vegas at Caesars Palace on Tuesday, May 24th.

(5) Future promotional rights to all of the fighters in the show. The fighters still alive are Anthony Bonsante, Jesse Brinkley Brent Cooper, Miguel Espino, Juan De La Rosa, Jeff Fraza, Joey Gilbert, Alfonso Gomez Jr, Ahmed Kaddour, Jimmy Lang, Peter Manfredo Jr, Sergio Mora, Jonathan Reid, Tarick Salmaci, and Ishe Smith.

(6) Various other commercial rights to the name, story, and likeness of each fighter; for example, the right to make a feature film about Najai Turpin.

Each episode of The Contender to date has had a common structure. The fighters have been divided into two teams (East and West). The teams compete in a "challenge," and whichever team wins gets to determine the match-up for the fight shown at the end of the episode. In addition, there's a "reward" for whichever team was represented by the winner of the previous week's fight. And of course, there's a lot of personal interaction between the fighters, their families, and the camera. That plays to Burnett's strength, which is getting viewers emotionally involved with the characters on his shows.

Some boxing fans like The Contender. Others find it silly and boring. The challenge in the first episode involved fighters carrying logs up a hill. In Episode #2, they ran around the Rose Bowl, picking up pieces of a cloth puzzle. In Episide #3, it was "Contender Dodge Ball." Episode #4 saw the fighters pulling a 5,000-pound Toyota Tundra along a dry river bed, picking up Everlast heavy-bags with letters on them, and, at the finish line, assembling the bags so they spelled out the word "Contender." The most obvious purpose of this exercise was product placement for Everlast and Toyota.

The "challenges" are reminiscent of "trash-sport" television from the 1970s. For those too young to remember, in one episode of ABC's Superstars televised in 1973, Joe Frazier found himself in a 50-yard freestyle swimming race that gave new meaning to the phrase "down goes Frazier."

"You think he's kidding," Jim McKay cried as Frazier thrashed around in the water and began to sink. "He is not kidding."

The "rewards" given to fighters on The Contender are as inspiring as the "challenges." In Episode #2, viewers were supposed to get excited about watching George Foreman eat hamburgers with the "west" team. The "east" team wasn't invited because Peter Manfredo Jr. had lost the fight that ended Episode #1.

Other rewards to date have been an "awesome" dinner with Sugar Ray Leonard at an "exclusive" restaurant and a shopping spree for suits with Tommy Gallagher serving as a fashion consultant. Getting fashion tips from Tommy Gallagher is like getting advice on business ethics from the folks who ran Enron. Given the fact that the clothing store's outdoor signage was prominently displayed, one assumes that an exchange of goods for services was involved.

A more serious criticism of The Contender has been that it's phony. Boxing, in the ring, is the most basic and honest of all sports. But The Contender is contrived on its face.

Reality in boxing is Don King handing Hasim Rahman a duffel bag filled with cash to lure him away from Cedric Kushner. Reality in boxing is Gatti-Ward and Mike Tyson biting off part of Evander Holyfield's ear. Reality in boxing is Dan Goossen on the telephone day after day at five o'clock in morning, talking with people in Mongolia to arrange a fight for Lakva Sim. In the real world of boxing, sixteen fighters don't live together in a beautiful training center and do everything that they're told to do when they're told to do it.

The rebuttal to this criticism is that a reality show isn't a documentary. A reality show takes people and puts them in situations they wouldn't normally be in and entertains viewers by showing them how the participants react. But the bottom line is, when you mix fantasy with reality, you get fantasy.

Contracts and gag clauses give the producers of The Contender the right to filter out any whiff of reality that might interfere with their chosen story line. The show doesn't tell its audience about the contractual requirement that the fighters are forbidden to bring a cell phone, pager, computer, credit card, or cash with them. There's an inherent phoniness in "intimate private" moments that are recorded when a husband and wife know that cameras are rolling. And let's not forget that the fighters and their loved ones have long since been asked to leave the wonderful Contender family housing and have returned to their previous surroundings.

Also, the fights that end each episode are flawed. For starters, they're contested in an unusually small ring; one that is smaller than the 18-by-18-foot minimum required by law in some states. Five rounds of boxing are reduced to five minutes of cut-and-paste action with a good portion of those five minutes devoted to camera shots of Stallone, Leonard, and others in the crowd. The bouts are accompanied by background music that builds to a crescendo and sound effects that exaggerate the power of punches. During the introduction of fighters and the fight scenes that follow, viewers hear loud roars from the crowd. But looking at the television screen, it's clear that the mouths of most crowd members are closed.

These failings haven't been lost on the general public. The Contender has done better than expected in England. But in the United States, it has been a ratings disappointment. Survivor and The Apprentice each averaged roughly 20,000,000 viewers per show. By contrast, The Contender started its run with 8,100,000 viewers and is now down around 6,700,000. That puts the show far behind its primary Sunday-night competition and looking very much like a fighter who's five rounds into a 15-round fight and just trying to survive.

Men don't like The Contender because it isn't real boxing. Women don't like it, period. Following Mike Tyson around for fifteen weeks would have been less expensive, garnered higher ratings, and been more interesting "reality" television. Also, the show's ratings can be expected to take another hit on April 3rd, when it loses sports fans to the season opener between the Yankees and Red Sox on ESPN.

But there are issues regarding The Contender that go beyond whether or not it's compelling TV drama. The first of these issues deals with the fighters themselves. At the start of each episode, Sylvester Stallone tells them, "The only difference between you and the current world champions is that they got a shot and you didn't." But that's not quite true. The Contender features sixteen hard-working young men. However, at this stage of their respective careers, only a few of them are A-list fighters. Yes, they entered the tournament with impressive won-lost records. But those records were built against opponents who had won only forty percent of their fights.

Moreover, there's a significant size differential among the fighters. Some, like Sergio Mora, are natural 160-pounders. But Najai Turpin, who lost to Mora in the fourth episode, fought his last fight prior to the tournament at 150 pounds. Ishe Smith weighed in for his final pre-tournament bout at 146.

And the size differential could have been more lopsided. Paulie Malignaggi is a talented junior-welterweight with a 19 and 0 record. His last fight was at 139 pounds. Paulie has personality, style, and a big mouth. In other words, he's perfect for The Contender.

"They were begging me to do it," Malignaggi says. "They told me, 'Do it; it will be great for your career. If you don't win, you'll still be a star.' And I was tempted. I think they're good people and it was a fantastic opportunity. But in the end, the weight difference was just too much, so I turned them down."

Malignaggi's promoter, Lou DiBella, takes a more cynical view. "It was, 'Paulie, we love you' and 'Paulie, you're great,'" DiBella recalls. "But it was clear that they didn't care about Paulie because, if you love a highly-skilled light-punching 140-pound fighter, you don't try to put him in the ring with guys who weigh 160."

Chucky Tschorniawsky is another 140-pounder who was courted by The Contender. He's a charismatic club fighter whose personal life has been filled with drama. "You're from Philadelphia; you're the real Rocky; you can do it," Chucky T was told. But Tschorniawsky declined, so The Contender made do with another Philadephia fighter; Najai Turpin.

Also, returning to the fights that end each episode of The Contender, there's no way to know what they were really like because the producers only show viewers what they want to show them. Each fight is edited in a way that makes it impossible for viewers to know who really won. And the contracts for The Contender require that each fighter waive his right to challenge any decision rendered against him in the tournament, including his right to challenge a decision under the Rules and Regulations of the California State Athletic Commission.

The judges' scores aren't announced on The Contender, but they are released by the California commission several days after a bout is televised. These scores are instructive. On television, Ishe Smith versus Ahmed Kaddour looked like a down-to-the-wire barn-burner. But in reality, the bout was scored 50-45, 50-45, 49-46. Jesse Brinkley ousted Jonathan Reid by the same margin. Meanwhile, Alfonso Gomez's victory over Peter Manfredo was presented as a back-and-forth struggle that was up for grabs in the final round. But the judges scored it 50-45, 49-46, 48-47.

Thus, promoter Dan Goossen declares, "The fights are phony on their face. You've got a phony soundtrack. You've got make-believe trainers. We know who the producers want us to think won each fight but not who really won. There's no accountability regarding the judges or any way to tell if the decisions are fair or not."

There are also questions regarding the extent to which the California State Athletic Commission bent its rules and regulations to accommodate The Contender. The commission chose to bypass the requirement of federal law that fight results be promptly reported. That's understandable given the nature of a TV reality show. But in Episode #1, Alfonso Gomez Jr suffered an ugly cut on his right eyelid that required sutures. How long would Gomez have been suspended under normal circumstances?

"The cut was a concern," acknowledges Dean Lohuis (executive officer of the California State Athletic Commission). "It was deep enough that Gomez was placed on 60-day suspension with the understanding that he could be cleared to fight earlier by a physician. They had fights every three days," Lohuis continues. "Gomez was cut on August 18, 2004, and cleared to fight again on September 15th."

It would be instructive if a public accounting were made of all compensation paid directly or indirectly to CSAC physicians by The Contender. And what other accommodations were made? For example, has there been timely financial disclosure to the fighters as required by the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act?

Next, there's the criticism that The Contender has failed to explain to a national television audience what it takes from a physical point of view to be a fighter; the skills involved and what it feels like to be punched in the face or body by a pro. To the contrary, it has trivialized the demands of the job with glimpses of Sylvester Stallone working out in the ring. Stallone is an actor, who wrote and starred in one of the best boxing movies ever. He is not, nor has he ever been, a professional fighter.

Also, Mark Burnett's genius as a producer is his understanding of everyday people, both as participants and viewers of television reality shows. But professional boxers aren't everyday people. There's something very different inside them. There has to be, given what they do.

Here, the thoughts of Tokunbo Olajide are instructive. Olajide is a promising junior-middleweight with a 20 and 2 record and 17 knockouts. He's also a promising musician (trumpet and piano), immensely likeable, articulate, and thoughtful.

"Tommy [Gallagher] was the first to tell me about The Contender," Olajide remembers. "I told him, 'It's not me; I'm not interested.' Boxing isn't a game, and I didn't want to be part of a game show. Then Gary Shaw [Olajide's promoter] said it would be good for my career and I'd be perfect for it, so I agreed to do a screen test at the New York Hilton. The Contender people called me the day after the test and said they'd love to have me on the show. Then they sent me the contracts. I read them. And it was 'no way, no how.' The contract was like indentured servitude. And it was demeaning. I could see right away that they'd have me doing clown stuff."

"I look at the show, and it's ridiculous," Olajide continues. "It has nothing to do with what a boxer's life is like. It's a circus with professional fighters playing silly games for other people's amusement. Team dodgeball? Come on. It's the reality show formula; copy, cut, and paste. And it's obvious that they're oblivious to the fighters' dignity. This isn't an attempt to make boxing better. It's about making money. The bottom line for the show, the only line for the show, is how many people watch it."

The people behind The Contender take issue with that view. They've talked openly about their desire to restructure boxing for the betterment of fighters and the sport. They plan to stay in the business through a promotional entity that includes contracts with the Contender fighters among its assets. And they've ruffled a few feathers with their plans for the future.

"Mark Burnett and Jeffrey Katzenberg are talking like they spent the last twenty years at Gleason's Gym instead of Spago," says Showtime's Jay Larkin.

"In our reality business," adds Dan Goossen, "I'm used to other promoters trying to talk to my fighters behind my back and lure them away if they can. But for people to make a grandstand show of saying that they'll be doing things the right way and then doing things the same old way is very discouraging."

Success in other areas of business doesn't necessarily translate into success in boxing. Sylvester Stallone tried his hand at real boxing promotion in the early 1980s. His debut card was Sean O'Grady versus Pete Ranzany in Las Vegas in 1982. The experiment didn't last long. Last year, Sugar Ray Leonard Promotions closed its doors.

But whatever comes next, let's hope that The Contender does right by the fifteen remaining fighters when the show's run is over. And let's hope that it does right by boxing too. In other words, no "people's championships." Boxing already has too many phony titles.

Meanwhile, on the streets of Philadelphia, Najai Turpin has become a symbol of "reality" in its truest sense. Based on what is publicly known, it would be irresponsible to say that The Contender contributed to his death. But it's pushing the envelope to say (as those involved with the show have done), that his participation in the show and the restrictions that The Contender placed on his life afterward had no bearing whatsoever on the tragedy.

Percy "Buster" Custis is part of the fabric of boxing in Philadelphia. He has been training fighters for twenty years. Custis started training Najai when Najai was twelve years old and became the proverbial father figure in the young man's life.

"I'm not blaming anyone," Custis says. "Najai did what he did, but I'll tell you a few things. When they wanted Najai on the show, they were calling me three and four times a day. But once they got him out there, they blocked the phones and he couldn't even call me unless he got their permission to use the phone in their office. I think they let him call me once; that's all. Under the contract he signed, he wasn't allowed to talk about the fight afterward, so that was something he had to keep inside. And under the contract, he wasn't allowed to fight again until the show ends. That's a long time for a young man to stay away from something he loves. Fighters want to fight. Sugar Ray Leonard came out of retirement three times because he wanted to fight. Boxing made Najai happy. And the Contender people wouldn't let Najai fight for eight months after he lost. There's no way to know what that did to his mind."

"And another thing," Custis continues. "Someone who was out there for The Contender told me that Najai won his fight. He said, 'Man, I don't know what's going on. Najai whipped his ass.' Now, I don't know if that's right or not. I'm not saying Najai won the fight because I don't know. But it would be interesting to see a tape of that fight. It would be interesting to see tapes of all their fights. I try to be positive about things. I try to look for the best in everyone, including the Contender people. But I know one thing. I'd never send another one of my guys to them."

At the end of Episode #4, Sugar Ray Leonard appeared on camera and informed viewers of what he called "the heartbreaking news that Najai Turpin had passed away." The Contender is a reality show. Why not tell viewers the truth; that Najai Turpin put a bullet in his head.

"The show was never the problem," Najai's brother, Diediera said recently. "Boxing and all of that was never the problem. It was a personal problem."

That might be so. But Najai's death is part of a high-stakes game. There were a lot of publicists for NBC and The Contender at his funeral. And one wonders what happened to the article that Sports Illustrated was planning on The Contender. It was known in boxing circles that Franz Lidz, a conscientious researcher and talented writer, was putting considerable time and effort into a feature story. Then, according to a reliable source, a call was made from NBC to TimeWarner (SI's parent company), complaining about some of the questions that Lidz was asking. The article never ran. And, oh yes. NBC televised a Sports Illustrated swimsuit-model-search reality show earlier this year.

In television, as in boxing, ratings have a way of making people do strange things.

It should also be mentioned that Dean Lohuis was at ringside for all of the Contender fights, including Sergio Mora versus Najai Turpin, which each judge scored 49-46 in Mora's favor. Lohuis's notes on that fight read as follows: "Non-stop action. Every round competitive. Very close bout. Phone-booth war. Both gave it everything they had. Scores do not do justice to Turpin's effort."

The Contender still represents an enormous opportunity for fifteen of the sixteen young men who were chosen to participate as fighters. It has made them far more marketable than they were before. "I told them 'no,' and that was the right decision for me," says Paulie Malignaggi. "But I think the show is great. I look forward to watching it each week. I was talking to Ishe Smith a few days ago. Ishe fought on Showtime, he fought on ESPN, and no one knew who he was. Now, wherever he goes, people recognize him. I think The Contender is great for boxing."

But a contrary view is expressed by those who think that, with all the money and talent involved, The Contender should have been something more. And to its most severe critics, The Contender epitomizes words spoken by Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront: "You don't understand. I could've had class. I could've been a contender. I could've been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am."


Posted at 11:40 PM by cun2
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