The third season of the fight-game reality show The Contender kicked off on ESPN on Tuesday evening and we got our first look at the super middleweights wannabees, once-were's and probably-never-will bees that are looking for their 15 minutes of fame and juicier paydays.
Sugar Ray Leonard returned to the fold for his second shot as overseer of the latest production, and was joined by two new trainers, Buddy McGirt and Pepe Correa. Trainer Tommy Gallagher was told that his services were no longer needed, FYI, and cohort Jeremy Williams has headed back to the ring as an active participant.
The third season of the show, which kicked off, with much fanfare as the latest Mark Burnett (the Survivor creator) concoction, on NBC, got off to a less than stellar start, from an integrity standpoint, when Sugar Ray stood before the gang and said, “They say you guys are the best super middleweight fighters in the world.”
Sure, there are some quite solid hitters in this pack, but this isn't a compilation of the best 168-pounders in the world.
But, let's allow for some artistic license, shall we, and get lost in the sea of cliches, which still are able to elicit goosebumps in my semi-cynical system.
The cast of super middleweights (season one featured middleweights, while the second installment spotlighted welters) began day one looking like this:
• Max Alexander (26, Camden, N.J., 14-1, 2 KOs)
• David Banks (24, Portland, Ore., 14-2-1, 2 KOs)
• Sakio Bika (28, Sydney, Australia, via Cameroon, 22-3-2, 14 KOs)
• Henry Buchanan (28, Capital Heights, Md., 14-1, 11 KOs)
• La Farrell Bunting (27, Las Vegas, 16-3-1, 16 KOs)
• Jaidon Codrington (23, New York, 16-1, 12 KOs)
• Miguel Hernandez (32, Chicago, 20-5, 10 KOs)
• Wayne Johnson (29, Lyndhurst, N.J., 16-1, 9 KOs)
• Donny McCrary (24, St. Joseph, Mo., 23-5-2, 13 KOs)
• Les Ralston (25, Buffalo, N.Y., 16-2, 9 KOs)
• Danny Santiago (34, Ocala, Fla., 29-3-1, 19 KOs)
• Paul Smith (24, Liverpool, England, 20-0, 12 KOs)
• Sam Soliman (33, Melbourne, Australia, 33-9, 13 KOs)
• Brian Vera (26, Austin, Texas, 14-0, 9 KOs)
• Rhoshii Wells (30, Las Vegas, 18-2-2, 10 KOs)
• Rubin Williams (31, Detroit, 29-2-1, 16 KOs)
We got into gear with a fitness test, which gave me a flashback to the product placement orgy from season one. The cast went through a series of tests put together by a company called SPARQ, and while I can't say that any money changed hands to feature this on the show, it did seem like a curious choice to begin the series.
That choice became clearer, though, when SRL announced that two fighters, off their SPARQ showing, would be booted off the show. Wayne Johnson came in first, while Codrington took second. Wells, in particular, bombed out, because he scored so poorly on the reaction portion of the test.
SRL gathered the gang together, and after consultation with McGirt and Pepe, he asked five fighters to step forward. Johnson got a t-shirt indicating he made the grade, as did Codrington, and Alexander. The two who were told to scram: Les Ralston, and Rubin Williams. Was it the right move tossing them off the island before the boxing began? Debatable…but the drama quotient did kick a notch higher as a result.
Next, the gang came to the gym after a night of rest. The trainers watched the crew in sparring, trying to size up who'll be the ones to beat. Adam Corolla was brought in to provide some levity, and that move wasn't as bizarro as you'd think. The comedian entered the Golden Gloves back in the day so it wasn't a pure product placement move.
The sparring for the most part was half speed, and SRL asked Corolla for his take on each guy. SRL gave a thumbs down to Wells, saying he looked two steps behind everyone else. Hernandez got a thumbs down for a lack of aggressiveness, while Bika got high marks for his strength. Bunting got a cut over his left eye, not an auspicious beginning on day two of the proceedings. Santiago got eyeballed for being heavy, and SRL brought him in for a weigh-in after his sesh. He was at 198, the cruiserweight territory, so Leonard asked him if he wanted to cut off his right leg to make weight, if he wanted to stay. Just kidding…
Corolla jetted and SRL got down to cutting more refuse. Wells, the ex Olympian who hadn't fought since May 2005 (and that was at 154) got the hook, as did Hernandez, for being too short (5-7). Corolla heckled them from the parking lot in a new segment called “The Brutal Bye Bye.” Just kidding, that isn't a real segment.
The next day, SRL sliced another couple of fighters from the cast. Sergio Mora, Alfonso Gomez and Peter Manfredo showed up to add to the mix. Gomez opted out of sparring with the larger hitters–he fights at 147–so Fredo and Mora put the boys thru their paces. Correa said he thought Smith could win the whole schmear. McCrary and Mora mixed it up pretty good, and Mora suggested he move his head more. Santiago looked too big to be in with the 168ers, and he had to weigh in again. He came in at 191 and SRL pondered booting his beefy butt for being a hefty. He promptly went into the bathroom and stuck a plunger down his throat to upchuck. Kidding, kidding…
Fredo and Mora tossed out their takes on the fellows they scrimmaged, as the trainers and SRL took it in.
The last round of cuts then took place.
The trainers made draft choices, picking fighters for their respective squad. Correa chose Alexander, Buddy took Codrington, Correa tapped Bika, Buddy tapped Sugar Poo Buchanan, Correa chose Johnson, Buddy added Solimon, Correa went with Smith, Buddy took McCrary, Correa added Vera and Buddy chose last: he added Banks. That meant Bunting, the cut victim, and Santiago, the eating victim, were shown the door.
The first-epsiode cuts made for a compelling first outing, so this ep gets a solid B out of the gate. I missed Gallagher, but the Corolla walk-on added a spot of humor, so that helped.
Next time: Oscar De la Hoya shows up. Hey, didn't he have his own boxing reality show back in the day. Hey, if you can't beat 'em…