For many, the once hit TV reality series The Contender, was a show that was used as a tool to revitalize a so-called dying sport.
The first season set the precedent, but then the following seasons (with the exception of a few fights) failed to follow suit. Now, with the announcement of an additional season, it's fourth, and the many changes that will come with it, it is probable that this can easily be their final nail in the coffin.
The Contender has suffered a fall from grace, and while the quality of the show might not hurt boxing's popularity for it's hardcore fans, it surely doesn't help the sport attract fans, either.
The show's first season was popular because of it's diversity. It provided sheer guts and will from some fighters and brash and flash from others. Other than that, everyone likes a little drama and there was no shortage in that department.
The season also introduced some new faces, too, some, albeit not many, weren't too successful, but a few were. Sergio Mora, Peter Manfredo Jr., Alfonso Gomez, and Ishe Smith are four fighters that have reaped the expected benefits from the series.
It must be noted—it wouldn't be wise to expect worldy success from fighters on The Contender. They're on that show for a reason—because they weren't successful in the first place. But that doesn't suggest any lack of skill—the fighters could have been misguided or led down the wrong path by the bureaucracies that come with prize fighting.
In other words, when The Contender 1 winner Sergio Mora captured a Junior Middleweight Championship, despite losing the rematch, he exceeded many expectations—probably even his own.
Season two, however was the start of a decline. Moving from network television to cable tv, despite ESPN being a more suitable home for the show, doesn't make sense in regards to potential audience. Going from ESPN to NBC means millions of potential viewers lost—period.
While the second season was filled with drama and potentially superb boxers, just like it's predecessor, barely any fighters delivered—especially the supposed winner of the contest, Grady Brewer...yeah, remember that guy? He was the winner—where is he now?
It's a shame when the guy beaten in the finale of a show that supposed to be a catalyst to boxing careers has more success than the man who won.
It's not only Forbes that enjoys more success than Brewer, but practically everyone else on that roster has been at least somewhat active, even in losing efforts. Brewer personifies what The Contender shouldn't be about.
But how much blame should go on their promotion?
Much of it—many of the fighters who have continued their careers in boxing have openly criticized the promotional company The Tournament of Contenders for lack of activity with fighters outside the company, among many issues, with the exception of Sergio Mora, who seems to be the company's only marketable fighter.
With that in an eggshell, Grady "Bad Boy" Brewer will fight Cornelius "K9" Bundrage in an undercard fight in mid-November in Providence, RI. The main event will be Peter "The Pride of Providence" Manfredo vs. Sakio Bika, the third season's winner.
The third installment of the series was a return to the Super Middlweight division, and just like the previous two seasons, it had it's share of drama and potential stars. It also featured a Fight of the Year candidate in the show's main event, Sakio Bika vs. Jaidon Codrington.
The season also featured diversity in it's fighters, from all different backgrounds and different ages—it had the potential to be the best yet. Fighters like Sakio Bika—who pushed perennial top-tier pound-for-pound fighter Joe Calzaghe to the brink and Sam Soliman, who pushed former star Winky Wright to the brink. The season also featured supposed future stars like Henry Buchanan and La Farrell Bunting and some veterans like Rubin Williams.
The big downside of season three was their newly implemented power ranking system, which judged who advaned in the tournament based on how fast they beat their opponents—it doesn't favor strategy.
But, just like the previous two seasons prior, another huge downside was the level of fabrication and editing done to the show. It was rare to see a fight in it's entirety outside of the live finale, and the addition of lame sound effects and the editing of rounds misled the audience.
It left many unsatisfied, and the show failed to adjust on those key issues, thus contributing to it's fall from grace.
Now, Contender 4 will debut in December and again, many changes will be featured. Now, the show isn't even on ESPN, it's on the Versus network, an even bigger downgrade for a show that began on network TV.
Additionally, if the show does improve on the fabrication that flawed its previous seasons, a different level of authenticity has taken a hit.
The show replaced boxing legend and Hall of Famer, Sugar Ray Leonard, with former pro fighter and long time fan, Tony Danza. Maybe the replacement is a plan to take the show in a different direction—more fan oriented.
Additionally, Buddy McGirt and Pepe Correa will not still serve as the trainers, being replaced by Tommy Brooks and John Bray. There have also been speculation that the tournament will be in U.S. vs. The World format. Given the roster, that is clearly unlikely.
According to ESPN, the show is being filmed now in Singapore and will be 11 episodes, featuring a two-hour finale in February. The grand prize hasn't been announced, but this season's competition will feature 16 Cruiserweights.
Mike Alexander (12-2, 8 KOs)— Claim to Fame: Heavyweight fight vs. American contender, Chazz Witherspoon (23-1, 15 KOs). Alexander lost a Unanimous Decision in 10.
Felix Cora Jr. (18-2-2, 9 KOs)—Claim to Fame: Fight vs. Russian Cruiserweight Vadim Tokarev. Cora Jr. was TKO'd in the fourth.
Ryan Coyne (9-0, 1 NC, 3 KOs)—Claim to Fame: He's young and undefeated, but hasn't fought anyone worth noting.
Ehinomen Ehikhamenor (12-3, 7 KOs)—Claim to Fame: Fought for the New York State Cruiserweight Championship, and WBC International Cruiserweight Championship, losing both.
Deon Elam (9-0, 5 KOs)—Claim to Fame: Young and undefeated, but fought no one.
Alfredo Escalera Jr. (15-1-1, 11 KOs)—Claim to Fame: No. 2 ranked Puerto Rican Cruiserweight.
Tim Flamos (20-4-1, 8 KOs)—Claim to Fame: He's 41 and has fought for the Mass. State Cruiserweight Championship a few times...none really.
Richard Gingras (8-1, 4 KOs)—Claim to Fame: None.
Akinyemi Laleye (10-1, 5 KOs)—Claim to Fame: Ranked top Nigerian Cruiserweight.
Troy Ross (17-1, 12 KOs)—Claim to Fame: In 2007, Ross fought someone with 97 losses...that is not a typo.
Jon Schneider (7-2-1, 5 KOs)—Claim to Fame: None.
Rico Hoye (20-2, 15 KOs)—Claim to Fame: Fought Adrian Diaconu for the WBC International Light Heavyweight Title, and lost, also fought Clinton Woods (L), Montell Griffin (W), and Prince Badi Ajamu (W).
Joell Godfrey (9-0-1, 5 KOs)—Claim to Fame: None.
Lawrence Tauasa (30-5-1, 17 KOs)—Claim to Flame: Ranked no.2 Australian Crusierweight.
Erick Vega (8-2-1, 6 KOs)—Claim to Fame: None.
Darnell Wilson (23-7-3, 20 KOs)—Claim to Fame: Fought for the WBA Cruiserweight Championship, and lost, fought fellow contender Felix Cora Jr., and lost, fought Zab Judah's brother, Daniel.
All in all, barring a surprise in comptetiveness and vast improvement in skill, it seems like another downgrade for The Contender 4. Frankly, don't be surprised if this is the end of the television series forever.