Former world champion Steve Forbes meets Grady Brewer in the Contender II finale at the Staples Center tonight.

Forbes (32-3), one of the favorites to win the event that began last spring with 16 contestants, faces Brewer (21-11) an early dark horse favorite because of his experience. The television reality event will be broadcast live on ESPN.

This year’s Contender series produced by Mark Burnett featured several different elements from last year’s inaugural event including the absence of Sylvester Stallone (who is executive producer), moving the series from NBC to ESPN, less fight editing, and the elimination of the non-boxing contests. It also doesn’t allow small children inside the actual fight.

“The big difference was the first season was more Hollywood. They (the fighters) would run hills, push trash cans, it was pretty funny and animated but it was not boxing,” said Sugar Ray Leonard, the show’s leader. “Now they rest before a fight which is essential. It’s more boxing specific because we also introduce fighters to the public.”

Another big difference is the champion’s winnings that have been reduced from $1 million to $500,000. That’s a hefty cut but these boxers are still giddy about the payday.

Last year’s winner Sergio Mora, has benefited significantly from the exposure he gained as the first winner of The Contender.

Before his Contender victories, Mora had never made more than $8,000. After beating Peter Manfredo Jr. in the 2005 final, he took home a cool $1 million.

“My life has changed a lot,” said Mora this past summer. “But inside I’m still the same Sergio Mora.”

For the other first-year Contender participants still under contract with the television show, they receive weekly stipends and fight for much more than the average boxer. Among those still connected with the Contender from last year are Alfonso Gomez, Miguel Espino, Mora and Manfredo.

“Sergio Mora has speed and an awkward boxing style that makes him dangerous for anyone,” said Derek Smith a boxing writer for a Los Angeles-based magazine. “Peter Manfredo is more orthodox but now that he’s with Freddie Roach his game has picked up a notch.”

Both Mora and Manfredo are currently ranked high in the middleweight and super middleweight divisions.

In today’s fight between Forbes and Brewer, you have a fighter whose biggest problem was trying to make weight and another fighter whose problem was getting enough time to train.

Forbes lost the IBF junior lightweight title at the scales against David Santos in 2002. Before the weigh in the boxer known as “Two Pounds” was seen scarfing down pasta and sandwiches. He failed to make the required 130 pounds.

Now Forbes is fighting two weight divisions heavier at 150 pounds and has surprisingly fought and looked like a natural welterweight. He beat little Freddie Curiel, slick Nick Acevedo and the muscular Cornelius Brundage in some heated fights.

Because of his record Brewer was expected to lose in his first fight. But the cagey prizefighter has weathered knockout punchers in the past despite lack of preparation.

Brewer, 35, outboxed the young Vinroy Barrett, rugged Michael Stewart and the pressure fighting of Norberto Bravo to make the final. It was truly an impressive effort.

“Grady Brewer is an excellent boxer,” said Shane Mosley who attended some of the practice sessions and fights of the Contender series. “He surprised a lot of people who thought he was too old.”

Fans forget it was Brewer who surprised a young undefeated fighter named Anthony “The Messenger” Thompson with a third round knockout in 2004. He also lost a slugfest with Mira Loma’s Carlos Bojorquez. But he’s still around and within one fight of reaching that big payday.

“This particular season the guys are in their 30s like Grady Brewer. One is Steve Forbes, a former world champion. He’s fighting welter and he knows this is the last hurrah,” said Leonard. “But they get a lot of exposure and it feels good. These guys here, more people know the contender guys then the world champions of the world.”

Other bouts

Cornelius Brundage (23-2) meets Norberto Bravo (22-11-3) in a battle between semi-finalists. Vinroy Barrett (21-5) faces Walter Wright (11-2) in a contest pitting to tall and rangy fighters with similar styles. And veteran Michael Clark (35-4), who was the first to lose on the show, faces Freddy Curiel (15-6-2) in a battle of small welterweights.

Fights on television

Tues. ESPN, 7 p.m., Steve Forbes (32-3) vs. Grady Brewer (21-11).

Thurs. OLN, 6 p.m., Carlos Hernandez (42-6-1) vs. Kevin Kelley (58-7-2).