New York, N.Y. (September 30, 2008)—VERSUS, the network that celebrates real competition, announced a deal to bring the fourth season of THE CONTENDER to the network and that they have signed television icon Tony Danza to host. THE CONTENDER, which includes 11 one-hour episodes and a two-hour season finale, is currently slated to premiere in December 2008. THE CONTENDER is produced by Mark Burnett Productions and DreamWorks Television and the series will be produced in Singapore in cooperation with Mark Burnett Productions Asia who is providing production and logistical support.
“We are thrilled to announce our alliance with Mark Burnett, DreamWorks Television and THE CONTENDER brand. As VERSUS continues to build upon its ratings momentum, THE CONTENDER is a perfect complement to our ever-growing portfolio of programming in the genre such as WEC, TapouT and Fight Night,” said Marc Fein, Executive Vice President of Programming, Production and Business Operations for VERSUS. “When you have the opportunity to bring a top brand with an established following to the network, and the ability to work with someone with a proven track record such as Mark Burnett and DreamWorks, you jump at it.”
The fourth season of THE CONTENDER features 16 Cruiserweights from around the world who will face each other in a 12-episode competition. With former boxer and television star Tony Danza serving as host and mentor and veteran Tommy Brooks & John Bray serving as trainers, these fighters will go through the most intense training of their lives and battle in the most challenging fights of their careers. In the end, the two left standing will get into the ring to fight for the coveted title of Contender Champion. The 16 fighter’s biographies and two trainers biographies are attached with this release.
“The gang at DreamWorks and I are really excited to be partnering with VERSUS on the fourth season of THE CONTENDER,” said Mark Burnett. “If the work they've done with the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs and Tour de France is any indication, we are confident that THE CONTENDER will be a successful franchise for the channel.”
The series is executive produced by Mark Burnett and Jeffrey Katzenberg. Jeff Wald, Darryl Frank, Justin Falvey, Eric Van Wagenen and Page Feldman are co-executive producers.
“Versus has shown that they intend to be a factor in the boxing business and we are looking forward to a long and successful relationship,” said Jeff Wald. “Overall this is the best group of fighters we have had.”
Tony Danza was discovered at a boxing gym in his native New York and was cast in the critically acclaimed “Taxi” which earned him a place in television history. He then went on to star in the long-running popular television series “Who’s The Boss?” cementing his status as a television icon. In addition, Tony hosted his own daytime series “The Tony Danza Show” as well as numerous other television series and specials.
“I couldn’t be more excited to be hosting “The Contender” this season,” said Tony Danza. “Not only is it one of the best shows on television but one of the wildest shows ever dreamed up. I feel right back at home in this great boxing environment and I am looking forward to seeing this great group of fighters contend for the title.”
The Contender fighters, represented by Tournament of Contenders, have gone on to fight Joe Calzaghe, Arturo Gatti, Miguel Cotto, and Oscar de La Hoya. In June 2008 Sergio Mora, the contender season 1 champion went on to become the first Contender World Champion by winning the WBC title.
“The Contender 4” Bios
Fighter and Trainer Bios
Hometown: Sydney, Australia via Samoa
Professional Record (W-L-D): 30-5-1, 17 KO’s
If boxing fans examined Tauasa’s life outside of the sport, they would never guess that he maintains a terrifying presence in the ring. To earn a living while he’s not boxing, Tauasa works as a home care nurse, spending his days rehabilitating the disabled and the elderly. He loves his job but is fully committed to becoming a renowned boxer.
Tauasa has been boxing since he was eight years old. He turned pro ten years later at age 18. Tauasa has fought the way to the top of the junior heavyweight division, and he is currently ranked sixth by the World Boxing Organization. Though he’s known for his great footwork and angles, Tauasa says that his greatest strength in the ring is his ability to break his opponents down mentally. He says the competition on “The Contender” this season is tough but that he is ready for the challenge.
Felix Cora Jr.
Hometown: Galveston, TX
Professional Record: 18-2-9, 9 KO’s
Hailing from Galveston, TX, this boxer proudly proclaims that he wants to make a name for his hometown. Cora has trained to be a boxer his whole life, and he hopes to follow in the successful footsteps of Jack Johnson, the first black Heavyweight Champion of the World who was also born and raised in Galveston.
Cora has been boxing professionally for 11 years but has been in and around the ring ever since he was young. Cora’s father, a boxer who once won the Golden Gloves amateur tournament, used to bring him to the gym during practice hours. Cora said that his natural boxing abilities coupled with intense tactical training and hard work allowed him to develop into the fighter he is today. Cora understands that he is in the midst of an elite group of fighters and is excited for the opportunity to be on the show.
Hometown: Toronto, Ontario via Guyana, South America
Professional Record: 17-1-0, 12 KO’s
Troy Ross is one of Canada’s most renowned athletes. This aggressive fighter has proudly worn Team Canada’s colors in the ring in two Olympic Games (he reached the quarter-finals in Atlanta in 1996 and participated in the Sydney games in 2000). He is currently known as one of the highest ranked boxers in Canada in the Light Heavyweight Division.
Boxing is in Ross’s blood. His father was a boxer who represented Guyana, South America, in the 1968 Olympics Games. Ross remembers training with his father in the gym since the age of seven. Boxing extends past Ross’s relationship with his father, though; his cousin, Edgerton Marcus, is also a prominent fighter. Marcus won the silver medal for Canada at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
As passionate as Ross is about boxing, he is also involved in plenty of work outside of the ring. Ross is known for his role as Light Heavyweight Champion John Henry Lewis in the movie “Cinderella Man.” He says that auditioning in front of director Ron Howard and fighting against actor Russell Crowe were two memorable moments of the filming process. Ross also designs sports clothing that he sells through his own fashion line, “Rosswear.” He is actively involved in Youth Assisting Youth, a Toronto-based organization focusing on aiding abused children and single parents in the area.
Ehinomen “Hino” Ehikhamenor
Hometown: Queens, NY via Benin, Nigeria
Professional Record: 12-3-0, 7 KO’s
Ehikhamenor cites his transition from Nigeria to New York as one of the most challenging times in his life. He moved to the United States when he was 13 to pursue a boxing career and although he experienced his share of disappointment and difficulty (specifically losing The Golden Globes in 1999), Ehikhamenor knows that his struggles have ultimately allowed him to become the boxer he is today. He says that though his move to the United States was taxing, it was the best thing that ever happened to him because he thinks that America is the land where people can make their dreams become realities.
Initially, Ehikhamenor played a variety of sports, which contributed to the athletic stamina and build he possesses. Though he’s a relatively new competitor, Ehikhamenor is excited to be in the ring and to pursue his new passion. Outside of boxing, he participates in a variety of activities, ranging from doing party promotions and modeling to acting and spending time with family and friends.
Akinyemi “AK” Laleye
Hometown: Las Vegas, NV via Lagos, Nigeria
Professional Record: 10-1-0, 5 KO’s
Laleye never thought he would get into boxing. Despite his aggressive nature and his service to the US Navy in Iraq and Afghanistan during two tours, Laleye simply never pictured himself in the ring. It wasn’t until he randomly met boxer Winky Wright at a mall in Florida that his perception of boxing changed and he decided to give the sport a chance. Wright encouraged him to pursue boxing and after some tactical training, Laleye became one of Wright’s favorite sparring partners.
Though Laleye has only been boxing for two years, he says that his strength as a fighter comes from his knowledge of combat. He finds it easy to adapt to a variety of situations, making him a versatile boxer. Laleye appropriately received the nickname “AK 47” after fans watched him rapidly throw punches at his opponents.
Alfredo Escalera Jr.
Hometown: Winter Springs, FL via San Juan, Puerto Rico
Professional Record: 15-1-1, 11 KO’s
Escalera is a confident boxer who wants to be on “The Contender” to prove that when he’s at his best, no one stands a chance at beating him. Escalera has been in the gym since he was eight and began competing as he got older, citing an amateur fight at age 20 as his first battle. Escalera’s father was a junior lightweight champion. Though boxing is in his blood, Escalera did not have a close relationship with his father and pursued the sport because of his own passion.
Escalera’s patience in the ring greatly contributes to the success of his fighting tactics. He is a great counter-puncher and is a versatile athlete who is always able to alter his game to surprise opponents. He knows the competition on the show is tough but believes that he is in the running to win it all.
While Escalera’s competitive nature is obvious, he also has a softer side that is evident when he speaks of his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter. He says that she is the best thing that has ever happened to him because her presence in his life forced him to mature and realize what is truly important.
Erick “Dynamite” Vega
Hometown: Phoenix, AZ via El Paso, TX
Professional Record: 8-2-1, 6 KO’s
Vega always knew that he wanted to be a boxer, and even as a young boy, he was prepared to overcome obstacles to ensure that his dream became a reality. His mother would not allow him to box when he was young so he studied fighting tactics by watching every match he could on television. He finally persuaded her to allow him to wrestle and box in high school, and that’s when his career truly began.
Vega’s first amateur fight came in March of 2001 and he turned pro in 2006. He’s a well-rounded, smart fighter, and he has incredible punching strength. He participated in the Olympic trials in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, but narrowly missed the Olympic squad. The defeat didn’t disappoint Vega, however; instead, it inspired him to rise to the self-imposed challenge of becoming a world champion. His nickname is “Dynamite” because of his explosive personality and fighting style. He is thrilled to be on the show because he believes it will provide great exposure for his career.
Hometown: East St. Louis, IL
Professional Record: 9-0-1, 5 KO’s
Godfrey is an exciting young fighter who just began boxing three years ago. He cites Evander Holyfield, Roy Jones and Muhammad Ali as athletes whose careers inspired him to get involved in boxing. Godfrey thinks that his mental stamina contributes to his successful fighting career thus far.
While boxing is a priority for Godfrey, his family always comes first in his life. He uses his free time to be with his children and he says that finding his wife was the best thing that’s ever happened to him because she is so supportive.
Hometown: Phoenix, AZ via Detroit, MI
Professional Record: 20-2-0, 15 KO’s
Like many boxers, Hoye was born into the sport. Yet he has an edge over some because boxing extends through his family tree not just back to his father’s career but to his grandfather’s career as well. Hoye was introduced to boxing at age six by his grandfather, who was his first coach. Hoye fought in The Golden Glove amateur tournament at age nine. By age 21, he had turned pro.
Hoye is an all-around good fighter, and his right-handed jab is particularly noteworthy. He is an intelligent boxer who is constantly aware of his surroundings. He is always looking out for his next big break. He cracked the top 10 in the World Boxing Organization (WBO), and has won light heavyweight titles for both the North American Boxing Organization (NABO) and International Boxing Association (IBA).
When he’s not training, Hoye keeps himself busy with other activities. He spends as much free time with his family as he can while also juggling the responsibility of working as a personal trainer and teaching kickboxing and fitness classes.
Hometown: Columbus, OH
Professional Record: 12-2-0, 8 KO’s
Alexander began boxing in 1999. The very same year, he was the runner-up in at the Golden Gloves National Championship. Though he earned recognition from that fight, Alexander wants to be on the show to gain the exposure that his hometown of Columbus can’t offer him.
Alexander is a smart fighter who possesses great speed and power. He is a strong defender who can easily adapt to a variety of situations. Alexander’s toughest fight to date was against Chad Weatherspoon, a fight that aired on Showtime. He lost but says that the fight didn’t deter him from becoming a champion boxer. Alexander says that this opportunity to be on “The Contender” is the best thing that has ever happened to him.
Hometown: Brockton, MA
Professional Record: 20-4-1, 8 KO’s
Flamos was always an athletic, competitive young man growing up. He played high school football and still enjoys playing other sports, like golf and baseball. It wasn’t his athletic experiences that shaped his desire to box; rather, his passions were formed after engaging in a scholastic endeavor. After reading a book about Rocky Marciano, Flamos was inspired to box.
Flamos began fighting at age 21 and turned pro at age 28. He spends two to four hours in the gym, five days a week, to keep in shape. His toughest fight was one that lasted an incredible ten rounds. He calls the chance at being on the show the “opportunity of a lifetime.”
Hometown: Yonkers, NY
Professional Record: 7-2-1, 5 KO’s
While a member of the United States Marine Corp from 1998-2002, Schneider became a skilled wrestler. After four years of service, he decided to pursue a career in boxing. He says that his “Marine Corps mentality” forced him to become extremely disciplined and hardworking.
Schneider says that being on “The Contender” is a great opportunity, and that by participating in the competition, all of his dreams are coming true. He is confident that he can crush the competition, saying that the other athletes appear to be “very beatable.”
Hometown: St. Louis, MO
Professional Record: 9-0, 3 KO’s
Coyne originally had every intention of pursuing a career in football. After being heavily recruited, he attended the University of Missouri. Coyne’s calling was cut short when he suffered from numerous painful shoulder separations. After graduating, Coyne found himself wandering into a boxing club to try something new. While there, he realized that boxing could be a new way to accomplish his dreams of becoming a successful athlete. Coyne dedicated his life to becoming a champion boxer.
Coyne’s newness to the scene doesn’t deter him from stepping up to the challenge of becoming a renowned boxer. He says that he wants to be the best, and his motivation and determination will surely aid him in achieving his goal of becoming a talented fighter. Coyne says that his family has played an instrumental role in his life, claiming that the support from his mother and fiancé have especially meant a lot to him.
Hometown: Van Nuys, CA
Professional Record: 9-0-0, 5 KO’s
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Elam is excited to step out of his comfort zone and travel to Singapore to participate in “The Contender.” Though he’s a relatively new boxer, Elam has the potential to develop into a great fighter. This talented all-around athlete picked up boxing as a means of socializing, seeing as he and his boxer friend used to spar with one another when they were 17. From there, boxing became a passion that Elam wanted to pursue. That very same year, Elam fought in the Olympic trials. Though he didn’t make the squad, Elam remained dedicated and motivated.
Just one year later, in 2005, Elam boxed in his first professional fight. Since then, Elam has participated in a variety of fights, continually discovering new ways to bolster his career. He says that his defensive abilities are amongst his biggest strengths. Elam’s career is noteworthy enough that Elton Brand, professional basketball player and boxing fan, decided to be his co-manager. While boxing is an integral part of who he is, Elam also says his family plays a huge role in defining his character and his priorities. He says that having his son, who is now 12, changed his life for the better.
Hometown: Claremont, NH
Professional Record: 9-1-0, 5 KO’s
Gingras attributes his boxing successes to his troubled past. Growing up, he fought a lot and suffered personal losses, including the death of his father. The struggles he endured caused him to develop a rebellious personality. Gingras decided to turn his life around by enrolling in college to become a personal trainer. While in school, Gingras picked up boxing and shortly thereafter, his career took off.
Within six months, Gingras had won the New England Gold Gloves. Soon after, he won a National Championship in Kansas City, MO. He has an intense training schedule and hopes that competing on “The Contender” will provide him with the exposure he needs to become a high-profile boxer. Gingras cites his son as one of the most inspirational people in his life. His 10-year-old son was born with a disability that impaired his ability to walk; doctors told Gingras that his son would forever be restricted to life in a wheelchair. Seven surgeries and a lot of perseverance later, Gingras’ son is now able to walk. His ability to overcome obstacles motivates Gingras in his boxing career.
Hometown: Takoma Park, MD via Cleveland, OH
Professional Record: 23-7-3, 20 KO’s
When Wilson was asked to explain his nickname, “Ding-a-Ling Man,” he responded, “I’m just the Ding-a-Ling Man. I hit you. I’ll ring your bell. I’ll knock you out.” True to his nickname, Wilson has been knocking out the competition for10 years. He is an incredibly hard hitter who is adept at punching with both hands.
Wilson says that he has had trouble securing fights recently because, in his opinion, the competition fears him so much. He wants to be on “The Contender” to ensure fights against strong opponents. Though there are some undefeated athletes on the show, Wilson says that he’s most likely the most popular fighter who won’t be challenged first to prove his talent.
Bray recently started his own boxing club, the John Bray Boxing Club, as a way to establish his legacy. Bray started boxing when he was seven and his amateur career didn’t end until the mid-90s. He works long days in his boxing club but says that the hours fly by because it never feels like work.
Brooks is a 54-year-old trainer who’s worked with a number of impressive boxers, including Mike Tyson, Oscar Diaz and Shaun George. He was a successful amateur boxer who won the National AAU Middleweight championships twice. Brooks began training boxers in the early 80s.