By Vishare Mooney
There is no other sport that produces more profound imagery than boxing. Something about boxing that makes it immune from the staged scenes and story arcs forced upon athletes by reality tv show producers. A fight in a ring is its own unpredictable melodrama. Anything can happen: an upset, a beatdown, a comeuppance. The producers of the revamped “The Contender”, airing tonight on EPIX, understand this well. And in the 12 episodes of the competitive documentary series which feature 16 welterweight fighters in a tournament setting, all the fights will be shown, in full length, with no interruptions. Some episodes will even feature two full length fights. These gorgeously shot bouts are worth tuning into.
The Contender is hosted by the revered boxing champ Andre “Son of God” Ward and fighters coached by the legendary Freddie Roach and acclaimed Philly trainer Naziim Richardson. The show was filmed in an enclosed facility in South Central Los Angeles where all the athletes were housed and all the training and the fights were held. Boxing fans will appreciate the details of the training scenes. The coaches on both sides remind the fighters ad nauseam to “remember the jab! Jab! Jab!” And as the coaches instruct, the fighters take stock of other fighters habits in the ring. They note for future reference who has a high guard or weak chin and legs.
Ward spars with the contenders and one can clearly see as he sports a black eye from a recent sparring session that the guy is into it and he may be more than slightly tempted to make his own comeback.
There is a touching scene where Naziim Richardson, former trainer to Shane Mosely, takes Shane Mosely. Jr. aside on the first day and warns him. “Just by you being a Mosely makes you a target..they all gonna underestimate you. You dig down and give them something different than they weren’t expecting. You whoop their ass.” It’s a storyline worth following.
Freddie Roach, points to Eric “Babyface Assassin” Walker, a fighter from Louisiana, who having spent 14 years in prison, learned to box there. Roach says Walker reminds him of Manny Pacquiao. A look at Walker’s interview reel as he discusses his childhood, he sounds more like Tyson. The media were given only two episodes to preview and it’s already clear Walker is the most exciting fighter in this group.
The show is not without faults. There are still the staged events like family gatherings, that feel awkward. Some of the story lines feel forced. During the fights, the camera cuts to audience expressions that should really be on split screen. All tolerable. The best parts of The Contender, the boxers, trainers and fights, are still the there, even better.