When the second season of The Contender begins airing on ESPN at 10:00 P.M. Eastern Standard Time on Tuesday, July 18, there will be several changes.
Sylvester Stallone and Jackie Kallen will be gone, but former heavyweight contender Jeremy Williams, who we saw briefly near the end of season one, will be back, as will Sugar Ray Leonard and Tommy Gallagher.
The biggest difference is the fact that the first season profiled relatively inexperienced fighters. This season’s participants, although not better known to casual fans, seem to be much more seasoned ring veterans.
Many have been seen on ESPN2, and one of them, Steve Forbes, even held the IBF super featherweight title. Although his 29-3 (9 KOS) record indicates that he is not much of a puncher, the general consensus is that he is the most experienced and talented fighter of the group.
All of the fighters will be competing as welterweights, and the first place prize is $500,000. While that might not seem like much to some people, many of the Contenders have never made more than a low five-figure purse.
Others have never even made that, and all have been forced to augment their boxing earnings with steady employment.
Forbes, for example, has worked second jobs for much of his career. He did carpentry work and even owned his own commercial cleaning company. He desperately hoped for a big boxing score, but it never materialized.
“The road has been long and hard, but this might be what I need to be appreciated,” said the 29-year-old Forbes, whose nickname of “Two Pound” comes from the fact that he weighed only two pounds when he was born prematurely at just seven months.
Many people assume that his nickname was spawned when he relinquished his title on the scales, after being two pounds overweight against David Santos. Forbes won a decision, but the title was still declared vacant.
“I was a champion, but nobody knew it,” said Forbes, a native of Portland, Oregon, who now lives in Las Vegas. “Believe it or not, I wanted to give the title up the day I won it. It was so hard to make weight. I had been making 130 pounds since I was 14. When I fought Santos I was 25.”
The fact that Forbes no longer has to torture himself to make weight has resulted in him being the favorite to walk away with the half-million dollar prize and a second lease on his stalled career.
Hopefully he has learned from all of his past challenges, because he will be facing challenges aplenty on The Contender. Here is who and what he will be up against:
Nick Acevedo: The 30-year-old native New Yorker was a phenomenal amateur who fizzled as a pro. His biggest loss was a ten round decision to former IBF junior welterweight titleholder Vince Phillips. A mortgage broker by day, Acevedo, who has been plagued with promotional and managerial difficulties, knows that this is his last shot at glory. Record: 15-1 (9 KOS).
Gary Balletto: The hard-punching 30-year-old from Providence, Rhode Island, says he was “built for this show.” A slam-bang action fighter, Balletto will most certainly be a fan favorite. A big question mark looms about why Balletto keeps fighting after so many serious injuries, including numerous concussions. Moreover, Balletto is a successful businessman with interests in a construction company and a gym. Record: 29-2-2 (25 KOS).
Vinroy Barrett: The 31-year-old native of Kingston, Jamaica, now lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where he trains alongside season one Contenders Jonathan Reid and Brent Cooper. The always smiling and extremely friendly Barrett, who works as a fitness trainer and housekeeper, is the first to admit that he is more of a boxer than a brawler. Record: 21-4 (11 KOS).
Norberto Bravo; The rugged 35-year-old from Tucson, Arizona, has been toiling as a pro since May 1991. He said the producers were enthralled with his unrelenting Mexican spirit and willingness to fight to the death if necessary. He is a maintenance worker at the Honeywell Corporation. Record: 20-10 (12 KOS).
Grady Brewer: The 35-year-old journeyman from Lawton, Oklahoma, is best known for losing a decision to Sechew Powell on ShoBox in June 2004. Most observers thought that Brewer, who works rotating 12 hour shifts at the Lawton Goodyear Tire and Rubber Factory, did more than enough to win. Record: 18-11 (12 KOS).
Cornelius Bundrage: The 30-year-old Detroit native is also best known for a loss to Powell on ShoBox, although his loss was less controversial than Brewer’s. Shortly after the opening bell, Bundrage and Powell scored simultaneous knockdowns. Both arose, but Bundrage was finished off after just 33 seconds of the first round. Record: 21-3 (13 KOS).
Rudy Cisneros: The 25-year-old from Chicago just missed making the 2004 Olympic team, but is close to earning a college degree in architecture from ITT Tech in the Windy City. Cisneros seems like a man with a plan, who is equally adept at using his head and his fists. Record: 8-1 (4 KOS).
Michael Clark: The 32-year-old from Columbus, Ohio, was another sensational amateur who has floundered as a pro after developing a reputation as a hot dog. To this day he insists that when Floyd Mayweather Jr. turned pro, the Pretty Boy was following in his footsteps. In the early days of Clark’s pro career, he used to spar with young Mayweather to get him ready for amateur tournaments. Record: 35-3 (18 KOS).
Freddie Curiel: The 30-year-old from Paterson, New Jersey, grew up tough with eight family members in a two-bedroom apartment. He is a family man who works hard as a boxer, as well as in his other life cleaning gutters. The extremely determined Curiel could be the dark horse of the show. Record: 15-5-2 (6 KOS).
Andre Eason: The 30-year-old from Brooklyn, New York, has lost to Demetrius Hopkins, the cousin of Bernard Hopkins, who was 11-0 at the time. Most of Eason’s defeats have come against quality opponents, including a 10 round decision to Francisco Bojado. Eason is very busy, but his lack of firepower will hinder him badly. Record: 15-4 (6 KOS).
Ebo Elder: The 27-year-old from Atlanta was a highly touted amateur whose promising pro career was enhanced with a thrilling 12th round TKO victory over Courtney Burton on ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights. He had been scheduled to fight WBA lightweight champion Juan Diaz, but Diaz was forced to withdraw. Elder was then stopped in the 12th round by Lavka Sim. In his spare time, Elder plays in a rock band. Record: 22-2 (14 KOS).
Jeff Fraza: The 28-year-old from Haverhill, Massachusetts, was forced to leave the show’s first season early after coming down with chicken pox. He is glad to get this second chance and is determined to make the best of it. Record: 17-2 (10 KOS).
Michael Stewart: The 28-year-old from New Castle, Delaware, works by day as a union bricklayer. All action, all the time, Stewart is never in a bad fight and is also one to watch. Even his fifth round TKO loss to Ricky Hatton was exciting for as long as it lasted. Record: 38-4-2 (22 KOS).
Aaron Torres: The 27-year-old from Philadelphia described himself as a “troubled kid” and says boxing turned his life around. He is nicknamed “Two Guns,” because of his heavy two-fisted attack. Record: 14-2 (6 KOS).
Walter Wright: The 25-year-old from Seattle survived a hellish childhood to find a measure of personal redemption in the ring. After all he’s been through in his young life, it is hard to imagine him being the least bit frightened by boxing. Record: 10-1 (5 KOS).