Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Contender Strikes Back: Boxers to Duke It Out Once Again on ESPN

Just yesterday I was driving through Los Angeles, lulled into a half-stupor by the pulsating brake lights of afternoon traffic. As I passed the STAPLES Center, I saw something that shook me awake and made me question whether I might have just entered a time warp right there on the 110:

The Contender: Sergio Mora vs. Peter Manfredo Jr, the Jumbotron display read.

The Contender’s back?” I thought.

“The Latin Snake’s defending his Contender title against The Pride of Providence? This is something I must not miss.”

And I was understandably stoked and awake straight through LA to Pasadena, my home and home to the Contender Gym.

It turns out that Mark Burnett has teamed up with ESPN to bring three boxing specials to the fight-thirsty masses. The first will be telecast live from STAPLES Center on Saturday, October 15th, 2005.

The fight card promises more East vs. West action from The Contender gang. Alfonzo “Superman” Gomez, as dogged and tenacious a fighter as there is, will take on Jeff Fraza; Jonathan Reid goes up against Miguel Espino; and in what should be a fascinating rematch, Anthony “#1 Daddy Hat” Bonsante will fight Jesse Brinkley.

One of the best reasons to watch these fights is that all of the fighters will have had time to recuperate and get into proper physical and mental shape for a professional bout. There were periods during the debut season of The Contender — particularly during the later rounds — where boxers were competing on three to six days of rest.

In the Season One live finale of The Contender, the charismatic Sergio “The Latin Snake” Mora used his lanky body and graceful quickness to soundly defeat the more traditional punching power of Peter Manfredo, Jr. Manfredo, who has already proven that he has the heart to march back from defeat (he was voted back onto The Contender after an early defeat, after which he stampeded into the final match), will be looking for payback and redemption come October 15th.

Jesse Brinkley knocked out Anthony Bonsante (his nickname is actually The Bullet, but he’s best known by his incessant and tearful tirades about how much he loves his kids) in what was the most exciting and surprising fight of the entire season. Bonsante had Brinkley running and battered through most of the fight via his maniacal yet effective monsoon of aggressive strikes. Brinkley, always the crafty veteran, found his opening at perhaps the last possible moment with a wonderfully vicious uppercut that laid out the larger Bonsante, effectively ending the bout.

I’m also happy to see Jonathan Reid get another shot in primetime. While he was knocked out of the competition early, he has a congenial and optimistic spirit that most people will enthusiastically get behind. While he didn’t get a lot of airtime, he proved to be an entertaining and effective self-promoter as a guest on radio’s Love Line.

Fans of the first season of The Contender got to know and care about this group of boxers, which added tremendously to the emotional weight of the elimination bouts that ended each episode. For newcomers and fans of the fight game who have not yet caught on, this event has every chance of providing exciting, competitive, and entertaining boxing action.

This is real. This is reality TV.

Fire up those DVRs. Let’s get it on.

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