From NBC to ESPN to Versus.
From Sly Stallone to Sugar Ray Leonard to Tony Danza.
The arc of The Contender, from its broadcast home, to the hosts who act as emcee, has mimicked that of a down-on-his-luck boxer, who has gone from touted prospect, to diminished contender, to club show trialhorse.
But like that faded vet who still does the roadwork, eats right, and puts in the hours at the gym hoping fortunes will reverse, and bright shiny days (and paydays) still lie ahead of him, The Contender plugs away, hoping for a shot in the arm from an upstart network, and the least sexy of all weight classes from which to feature talent, the cruiserweight division.
That all said, we at TSS root for the underdog more often then not, and have always found Danza to be an appealing, likeable enough talent. So we tuned in to see the Season Four premier on Versus on Wednesday evening, and watched as a batch of cruiserweights kicked off a battle for supremacy in an elimination tournament.
This time around, the boys are living in Signapore. Why exactly was not made clear…maybe the producers got a fab tax break from the local government?
Readers of TSS probably know more than a handful of fighters in the cast, and at least one of the trainers, Tommy Brooks. John Bray, a former heavyweight boxer, headed up the other team.
The teams were divided in two, the Blue and the Gold teams. We saw the fighters check out their new digs, of course, since that is a reality show staple. Another reality show staple, the sad pining for absent family, was of course included in the mix as well. Rich Gingras of NH almost teared up looking at photos of the fam. Felix Cora of Texas called his dad, checking in to see how his home did against a hurricane.
Ten minutes in, we’d yet to have any smack talking or territorial beefs…wait, spoke too soon…Joell Godfrey of Tennessee and Erick Vega of Texas went at each other. “You are the weakest link, you are going home first,” Godfrey said to Vega.
We had a look at a few of the 16 strivers. Castmember Darnell Wilson of Ohio and Maryland has had a taste of the near-bigtime, engaging in fringe title bouts and tussling on ESPN regularly. He should make it to at least the semis…Another hitter, Tim Flamos of Massachusetts, maybe won’t last. He’s strong, but is 41, and hasn’t fought a stellar level of competition.
The two squads went into a room, and chose the man to represent them. They did so without knowing who would be fighting for the other team. But the winning team would then have the power to choose their foe.
Vega and Godfrey both chimed in, saying they wanted to fight first. We didn’t see the decision made, until the teams reconvened. Indeed, Godfrey manned up for the Yellows. But Cora stepped forward for the Blues.
On fight night, Brooks and Bray gave their guys pep talks. Then, it was go time. In the first, we saw Godfrey stick and move, and the lefty Cora stalk maybe too patiently. Of course, only small segments of each round are shown. In round two, Cora got busier, and he tagged Godfrey, who got caught on the ropes. In round three, Godfrey came out with more vigor. Then Cora bore in, and he was sitting down on his shots, and digging in with right hooks to the body. In the fourth, both men had their moments. In the fifth and final round, Cora pressed forward, and banged away like he wanted it more. The judges thought he did: they scored it 49-46, 50-45, 50-45. Via editing, the fight looked closer than the judges deemed it.
After, Godfrey said, “I don’t know what happened. I never got into my rhythm. I was there but my body wasn’t. Felix had a little bit more edge.” Brooks laced into him for not listening, and not staying off the ropes. “I let myself, the Gold team and my family back home down.” He said he will learn from the loss, his first as a pro after nine wins.
Readers, are you watching this season of Contender? Or are you over it? Did you stop watching when Gallagher exited? Weigh in!