Tuesday, March 08, 2005
(Photo: Yahoo's "The Contender" Page
I've been waiting for NBC's "The Contender" to premiere for weeks. Similar to Spike TV's "The Ultimate Fighter", which trains mixed martial arts contestants instead of boxers, "The Contender" features 16 boxing upstarts who get a chance to be trained by Sugar Ray Leonard for a chance to win $1,000,000. The last two fighters will face off at Caesar's Palace in May.
Created by Sylvester Stallone, "The Contender" is definitely the real deal. Stallone and DreamWorks spared no expense in making this a top-notch affair. All of the boxers have nice living quarters, they have legendary trainers on hand to help them improve their skills, and they train in a state-of-the-art gym. Viewers will really like the fights, in which weigh-ins and press conferences are done beforehand with real boxing journalists, and there was a pretty large crowd for the first fight.
However, I can't say I'm excited about the rounds being edited. While they were edited perfectly, and I understand them trying to do so because of time and dramatic effect, it would have been good to see them unedited for boxing fans to sit back and be able to accurately judge the rounds for ourselves.
All of the contestants have a "Rocky"-like story. They're placed in two groups: West Coast and East Coast fighters. A number of them have wives and children to make a living for. Some come from boxing families, and others just come from the streets and had it hard growing up. Unlike "The Ultimate Fighter", where the MMA guys are literally shut off from the outside world (no television, no clubs, just training at the house), "Contender" actually encourages the fighters' families to live with them during their time there and are featured throughout the show. This adds a really emotional twist to the show, as viewers get to know everything about the fighters' backgrounds and are able to understand what the families are going through.
Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing depends on the perspective you're looking from. No doubt it brings more drama and emotion to the show; no doubt that's the angle Stallone is trying to reach, and it makes it more entertaining. But I doubt boxing purists will approve of that much interaction the families actually have in the show. In the first episode, both families were with the fighters almost up to belltime. That could distract the fighter and possibly make him a little more nervous than normal.
For example, the first episode's main event pitted East Coast fighter Peter Manfredo Jr.
vs. West Coast fighter Alfonso Gomez
. You could see the contrasting qualities of the two fighters. Gomez was considered the underdog, while Manfredo was considered one of the strongest fighters from the East because of his record (21-0).
However, the West Coast team won the challenge, which meant they got to decide the fight. While the West fighters were discussing it, Gomez immediately stepped up to the plate and offered to fight Manfredo. The West thought he was biting off a little more than he could chew, but they eventually relented.
Gomez, in retrospect, had everything going for him. He had no family to worry about making a living for, his father was his trainer, who was a former boxer in Mexico, and he had time to hype himself up for the fight. Manfredo had brought his wife (Who was that hotness. Whew.) and his baby girl with him. His father, who was a former boxer as well, didn't come with them. I also suspect Manfredo didn't expect to fight first.
All of this had to play into Manfredo's psyche, and it showed in the fight. Gomez went to him and challenged Manfredo as soon as the bell sounded, and it seemed that Manfredo was taken aback by his aggression. He didn't respond, and Gomez continued to stay busy, using uppercuts and jabs to start the fight.
Manfredo seemed as if he was ready for the second round, and popped Gomez with a hook that hurt him the rest of the round. At one point, it seemed as if Manfredo would stop Gomez, and Gomez had a cut above his right eye to close out the round. I think the fact that Gomez came out strong in the third round probably demoralized Manfredo, because he didn't do anything for the rest of the fight. Everything he tried to do, Gomez took it, and brought something better. Gomez never really hurt Manfredo, but constantly frustrated him with his aggression and his constant busywork. From the third round on (it was a five-round fight) Manfredo couldn't find anything that worked and Gomez won by unaminous decision.
Check out Tommy Gallagher's commentary of the fight on Yahoo's "The Contender" page
, which I find easier to read than NBC's official website. He comes to almost the same conclusion I did, in that attitude was the deciding factor of the fight. You can also watch the fight here
The next episode is Thursday at 8PM EST on NBC. I expect the West Coast to be a little cocky after that surprising win this week, and from the teasers they gave for next week, the sparks that flew at the press conference between an East and West Coast fighter might turn into a fire. Word is, there's going to be an altercation on the training grounds. George Foreman will visit the guys on Thursday as well. I hope to watch it and give a recap on it as well.