Andre Ward Talks Hosting “Contender” Redux
By: Sean Crose
From 2005-2009, “The Contender” showed television viewers the struggles and triumphs of struggling boxers determined to crack through to the big time. With heavyweight star power like Sugar Ray Leonard and Sylvester Stallone, The Contender would offer viewers highlights of the contestant’s plights along with highlights of the contestant’s ring battles with one another. Now, The Contender is coming back. On August 24th, EPIX will run a new, revived Contender, which will feature 16 new contestants and the talents of host and mentor Andre Ward.
“It excited me for various reasons,” Ward said of The Contender’s comeback during a Tuesday conference call. Upon learning the show would be revived the recently retired great sprang into action. “I immediately called my lawyer,” Ward stated, referring to his plan to get in on The Contender’s return. For Ward, there’s more to the show than simple production values and ratings. “It’s about human interest stories,” he said. “It talks about human beings…you can relate to a human interest story.”
I asked Ward if he felt his personality, which is far from the showy personas many fighters like to showcase, made him a natural fit for a show which focuses primarily on people’s struggles, issues and dreams. “I genuinely love the sport,” he said. “I care about the fighters because I was a fighter.” The show’s executive producer, Eric Van Wagenen, had nothing put praise for The Contender’s new host, claiming that after “about a fifteen minute conversation with Andre, I felt the franchise was in safe hands.” A fight fan, Wagenen was impressed with what he saw in Ward outside of the ring.
“I gained a new respect for him,” he said of the new host, “how smart he is, how much he cares for the young fighters.” Ward, whose last fight was a second win over light heavyweight terror Sergey Kovalev in June of 2017, had not made specific plans for the future after his retirement. “At the time of my retirement, I didn’t know about Creed 2,” Ward stated, in reference to the upcoming film he’ll be acting in (he was in the first Creed film). According to Ward, it was important “to be a guy who left (the ring) on time.” It looks to have been a wise choice.“Sometimes,” he added, “you’ve got to take the leap of faith before these other opportunities come on board.”
Van Wagenen, a close associate of original (and current) creator Mark Burnett, promises a Contender that will be in tune with the times. “I was involved with The Contender in its original form,” he said, adding that, with better production values, the new Contender has “all the things that make a show successful now.” One of those things will be a social media presence, and also full footage from the fights, rather than just highlights.
Ward was asked if working on the show made him want to make a comeback to the ring. “Yeah,” he said, “but as soon as I got hit (in sparing)…that desire just disappears.”
Epix Sets Premier Date for The Contender, Reveals 16 Fighters Vying for Championship Belt
Premium pay television network EPIX® has announced the 16 fighters who will be facing off with one another for the championship belt on the revival of boxing franchise series The Contender this fall. The highly anticipated 12-episode season, from MGM Television and Paramount Television, will premiere on EPIX on Aug. 24, 2018 at 10 PM ET/PT.
Hosted by undefeated boxing champion Andre “Son of God” Ward, the first-of-its-kind competitive documentary series for the network will feature 16 fighters pushing their limits in grueling elimination-style fights and testing their grit and determination to achieve their boxing dreams. The fighters will be overseen by legendary boxing coach Freddie Roach, and renowned Philadelphia trainer Naazim Richardson.
“The Contender takes unscripted TV to its grittiest. It has incredible professional fighters and real professional fights. The edge of your seat drama and true stories sets a tone that our audiences will be expecting and I love it,” said Mark Burnett, President of MGM Television.
“With this new iteration of The Contender, the focus is on the gritty, personal stories of the fighters battling for boxing glory,” said Michael Wright, President, EPIX. “It was important for us to find individuals who not only displayed the boxing chops and resilience in the ring, but who also showed a depth of heart and humor outside of it. Our 16 fighters are vivacious, tough, funny, sensitive, driven and inspiring, and we are excited for our fans to get to know their stories and root for them inside the ring and out.”
The 16 Contenders come from a wide variety of professional boxing backgrounds and stations in life, bringing their unique stories, personalities, strengths and motivations to the series.
Each fighter will be vying to be declared the new 160-pound middleweight champion of The Contender and take home the winner’s six-figure purse — a prize, which, for all the fighters, represents a better life for their families and loved ones who have been there with them through all the ups and downs of their journeys.
The 16 fighters on The Contender this season are:
◦Ievgen “The Ukranian Lion” Khytrov, Age: 29, Rank: 20, Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y.- A Ukrainian immigrant, Olympian, Ievgen Khytrov recently relocated to America to pursue his dream of becoming a world champion and to create a better life for his family. A dedicated, quiet, religious man. He’s also the one to beat.
◦Eric “Babyface Assassin” Walker, Age: 34, Rank: 68, Hometown: Plaquemine, La. – Incarcerated at 15 years old and spent 14 years behind bars for robbery and attempted murder, Eric “Babyface Assassin” Walker learned to box while in prison. He is now fighting for a second chance at life, living proof that it’s never too late to live out your dreams.
◦John “Apollo Kid” Thompson, Age: 29, Rank: 70, Hometown: Newark, N.J. – After losing his mother to AIDS at six years old, this married performing artist, painter and fighter, John “Apollo Kid” Thompson is here to prove to the world that he can’t be boxed into a single category despite holding impressive titles including the 2015 WBA-NABA Super Welterweight, WBO Inter-Continental Super Welterweight and Boxcino Tournaments.
◦Malcolm “The Punisher” McAllister, Age: 27, Rank: 172, Hometown: Long Beach, Calif. – Always at the center of schoolyard fights growing up, Malcolm “The Punisher” McAllister now channels his energy into helping others rebuild outside of foreclosure and his young, growing family. In boxing has built an impressive KO record and the 2014 Golden Gloves title on his journey to take the title of The Contender.
◦Brandon “The Cannon” Adams, Age: 28, Rank: Inactive, Hometown: Los Angeles, Calif. – A bold fighter in the ring, Brandon “The Cannon” Adams knows firsthand what it means to push through adversity and step up to care for his family when there’s no one else around to. Coming from a poverty stricken neighborhood, this larger than life father of two marks his return to boxing after a three year hiatus, initiated by a loss to fellow competitor, John Thompson.
◦Quatavious “Cash” Cash, Age: 26, Rank: 161, Hometown: Las Vegas, Nev. – This Atlanta native is the current record-holder for fastest KO in Georgia, a four0time Golden Gloves state champ and Bronze medalist. Quatavious Cash is fighting for his late mother and for the chance to prove that a life of fighting street gangs can be channeled for good.
◦Shane “Sugarman” Mosley, Jr., Age: 27, Rank: 149, Hometown: Santa Monica, Calif. – The lone single contender, son of legendary Hall of Fame boxer “Sugar” Shane Mosley, Shane “Sugarman” Mosley Jr. is fighting to step out of his father’s shadow and carve out his own legacy.
◦Daniel “El Chapulin” Valdivia, Age: 25, Rank: 116, Hometown: Tulare, Calif. – A natural salesman and real estate agent by day, nicknamed “El Chapulin” (“Grasshopper”) for his boundless energy, Mexican immigrant Daniel Valdivia was born to step into the ring. With several titles including the NABF Super Welterweight Champion as an underdog, he’s chasing fame to prove giving up college for boxing was the right move.
◦Michael “The Silverback” Moore, Age: 31, Rank: 252, Hometown:Cleveland, Oh. – Reformed from a hard life on the streets, fraught with drugs, death and family suicide, Michael Moore is a natural hustler and leader. Married with two kids, Moore is constantly moving from state to state with his family in tow in pursuit of the boxing dream.
◦Gerald “G5” Sherrell, Age: 24, Rank: 216, Hometown: Pittsburgh, Pa. – A fan of the original Contender series growing up, Gerald “G5” Sherrell is an undefeated and explosive fighter with a level of unrivaled and self-proclaimed swagger. Hailing from the projects, this multiple time Golden Gloves, Silver Gloves and Junior Olympic competitor, this local zoo security guard by day, and young father by night, is looking to bring boxing glory back to his hometown of Pittsburgh.
◦Morgan “Big Chief” Fitch, Age: 34, Rank: 154, Hometown: Pittsburgh, Pa. – Injury-plagued throughout his career, the Native American hailing from Southern Louisiana is a married father of three. Knowing that he’s old for the sport, Morgan “Big Chief” Fitch has one last shot at making his boxing dreams come true.
◦Marcos “Mad Man” Hernandez, Age: 24, Rank: 104, Hometown: Fresno, Calif. – Having been bullied from a young age after an accident left him with burns on 30 percent of his body, Marcos “Mad Man” Hernandez is fighting for his young autistic son, in hopes that he won’t be bullied the same way he was. With Junior Olympics, 2012 Blue and Gold titles and “Mexican-go-forward” style fighting he may be overlooked and underestimated.
◦Tyrone “Young Gun” Brunson, Age: 33, Rank: 39, Hometown: Philadelphia, PA – At a time when he needed to sell drugs to support himself at the age of 13, a stepfather’s ultimatum: be grounded or go to the boxing gym was his saving grace. Now a humble father of two, and sitting with one of the best rankings in the competition, his 24 KO’s send a signal that he will not fight silently but his cocky attitude has beat him more than just once.
◦Lamar “Omega” Russ, Age: 31, Rank: 115, Hometown: Wilmington, N.C. – One of four kids raised by a single mom and the first person in his family to graduate college, Lamar “Omega” Russ takes pride in being the underdog, and beneath the loud exterior is a boxer that needs to prove he can put his money where his mouth is. HBO, ESPN and a first round KO on Showtime do all the talking.
◦John “The Rock” Jackson, Age: 29, Rank: 63, Hometown: St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands – A divorced father of two, this slick and agile boxer, Virgin Islander John “The Rock” Jackson started fighting at 12 years old, following in his world champion father Julian Jackson’s footsteps at the Pan American Games and 2008 Olympics. He comes from wealth but cares for the underprivileged and dreams of making his island proud bringing visibility to those struck by recent natural disasters.
◦Devaun “Unique” Lee, Age: 30, Rank: 82, Hometown: Jamaica Queens, N.Y.
When one of his friends was shot and killed at 16, Devaun “Unique” Lee knew he needed a way out from the mean streets of Queens. Boxing keeps him straight. So do long hours fueling airplanes and caring for his five year old daughter. The real love of his life. Fatherhood and the sport are the motivation to take his NY State Middleweight championship to the next level.
The original Contender series ran for four seasons (2005-2009) and launched multiple fighters into contention for world titles, including title winners Sergio Mora, Cornelius Bundrage, Sakio Bika, and Sam Soliman.
Eric Van Wagenen serves as executive producer and showrunner of the revived franchise alongside Mark Burnett. The format is owned by MGM Television and Paramount Television.
EPIX is available nationwide through cable, satellite, telco and streaming TV providers including Charter Spectrum, Cox, Verizon FiOS, AT&T U-verse, Dish Network, Sling, PlayStation Vue and, as of June 13, Comcast.
Andre Ward, Freddie Roach, and Naazim Richardson Join The Contender
Premium pay television network EPIX®, an MGM company, has announced that undefeated boxing champion Andre “Son of God” Ward will host the new version of the seminal The Contender boxing franchise. Legendary boxing trainers Freddie Roach and Naazim Richardson join as trainers in the iconic series that has launched multiple boxers into contention for world titles.
The all-new 12-episode season of the boxing competition series, the first of its kind to air on EPIX is produced by Mark Burnett and his longtime executive producer Eric Van Wagenen. MGM Television has joined forces with Paramount Television to produce, and filming will begin this Spring 2018 in Los Angeles.
As host, Ward brings his undefeated record and undisputed boxing expertise to The Contender. Throughout his incredible 13-year undefeated career, he’s held multiple world titles in two weight classes including, unified WBA (Super), WBC, Ring magazine, and lineal super middleweight titles between 2009 and 2015 as well as the unified WBA (Undisputed), IBF, WBO, and Ring’s light heavyweight titles between 2016 and 2017. Ward also won the gold medal in the light heavyweight division in the 2004 Summer Olympics.
Said Ward, “I have faced the unique challenges of professional boxing firsthand and know the focus required to succeed at the highest level. Hosting a show that has enabled so many talented fighters reach their dreams is an honor and I look forward to giving the fans unique insight into the life of a fighter and leading the audience through the thrills of this competition.”
“It is so important for The Contender to have the best and most trusted boxing experts which is why we reached out to Andre, Freddy and Naazim,” said Burnett. “They are the very best and can help create an experience almost never seen before. Eric and I are really excited to exceed the fans’ expectations. We love The Contender and we love boxing.”
Esteemed coaches Roach and Richardson will each oversee a team of eight fighters, pushing their fighting skills, strength and endurance to the limit in preparation for elimination competitions. The coaches will also act as the fighters’ mentor, helping them to navigate their everyday life as the competitors live and train together and fight each other in the ring. Each fighter will be vying to become the ultimate Contender and take the winner’s six-figure purse.
Roach is widely regarded as one of the most successful boxing trainers of all time. His roster includes the eight-division world champion Manny Pacquiao, five-time and four-division World Champion Miguel Cotto, former WBC Middleweight Champion Julio César Chávez, Jr., defensive master and three-time world champion James Toney, former UFC Middleweight and three-time Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre, as well as top prospects Jose Benavidez, Peter Quillin, and Vanes Martirosyan, among many others.
One of the most respected trainers from the boxing hotbed of Philadelphia, Naazim Richardson has helped shape the careers of some of the biggest names in the sport over the past 30 years. From Bernard Hopkins to “Sugar” Shane Mosley, as well as others like Travis Kauffman, and prospect Khalib ‘Bigfoot’ Whitmore, Richardson’s work and his spirit continue to be part of boxing lore. The father and trainer of boxing twin brothers Rock Allen and Tiger Allen Richardson, Naazim is also known for discovering plaster hidden in Antonio Margarito’s wraps before the January 24, 2009 fight between Margarito and Mosley.
Eric Van Wagenen serves as executive producer and showrunner alongside Burnett. The format is owned by MGM Television and Paramount Television.
EPIX is available nationwide through cable, satellite, telco and streaming TV providers including Charter Spectrum, Cox, Verizon FiOS, AT&T U-verse, Dish Network, Sling, PlayStation Vue and, later this year, Comcast.
The Contender Returns
By: Oliver McManus
THE CONTENDER returns to our television screens later this year after being picked up by the premium cable and satellite network Epix – the iconic show has been off air for nine years since its original run between 2005 and 2009 but with the fresh backing of the Epix network and a renewed passion for the format from Mark Burnett, President of MGM Television and Digital, this fan-favourite is sure to pick up where it left off.
When announcing the relaunch of The Contender, Burnett declared “Boxing belongs on premium pay television and there is no better home for The Contender than EPIX” , before announcing his vision to “tell stories of the fighters, the families and their difficult journeys in the emotionally compelling Contender style, so that viewers get to vicariously ‘walk a mile’ in the boxers shoes”.
The series will showcase 16 fighters, in two TUF-style teams, trained by world class boxing coaches as they live together, sleep together, train together over the course of the season in the bid to be crowned the Ultimate Contender, taking a home a six-figure purse, in an elimination competition designed to test them both in the ring and out of it.
Although no official weight class has been announced for the revival, it is understood that the show will focus on the middleweight division – where Gennady Golovkin, Billy Joe Saunders and Ryota Murata currently rule the roost.
For the boxers involved there is no better platform to launch their career into the big time than via The Contender, a proven format that has seen 11 of its competitors go on to fight for world titles with Sergio “The Latin Snake” Mora being the most notable to come through the challenging 15-week process. Having reached 180 million cumulative viewers over its first four seasons, according to Nielsen Media Research, the format is a marketable hit with audiences both domestic and international – but in a bid to enhance viewership it is understood the Epix will air each week’s elimination fight in its entirety as opposed to the heavily edited versions that drew criticism from many boxing fans previously.
The first winner of the franchise, Mora challenged for the WBC World Super Welterweight title against Vernon Forest in 2008 – winning a Unanimous Decision – before a failed defence against the same opponent, a split decision draw against Shane Mosley and two challenges for Daniel Jacobs WBA Middleweight title in 2015 and 2016.
Marking a welcome return of boxing on Epix this will be the network’s first venture into boxing since Vitali Klitschko vs Odlanier Solis back in 2011 and compliments their current sporting portfolio that features the Bellator Fighting Championship as their lead programming.
Hold on to your seats because THE CONTENDER is back and it’s bigger and better than ever before.
Out of the Slums of Haiti Evens Pierre is the No. 1 WBA Contender
By: Ken Hissner
Sun City is one of the world’s poorest, crime and disease ridden places in the world. It’s a sprawling shanty town on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Hope seems to have no place in this wretched, forbidden area of the Earth. Out of this comes Evens Pierre who has worked his way up to the No. 1 contender for the title WBA champion Jorge Linares now holds at lightweight.
Pierre is 29-1 (19), at 33 years of age. He goes by the nickname “The Sun City Kid”. He is promoted by Jacques Deschamps a businessman of French extraction who has put time and money into the career of Pierre because Pierre is a role model. His hope is to have Pierre fight Linares for the title.
Pierre goes to Evangelical groups to speak against drugs and crime. He buys food that he sends to Sun City. He plans to open a boxing school. If Deschamps is able to have Pierre fight in Haiti, it will be a momentous event probably held at the national soccer stadium that can probably hold 20,000 people. The poor people in Haiti have very little to cheer about and having Pierre fight for a world title would make that unlucky country proud. “Even if I make a lot of money I will never leave Sun City,” said Pierre.
Pierre holds the WBA Fedelatin Lightweight title that he won stopping Nicaraguan Rene Gonzalez, 31-6-1, back in November of 2014 for the second time. In his lone fight in May of 2015 he defended that title defeating Jesus Cruz Biblano, 15-9, of Mexico, by an 11 round decision. In 2016 he defended that title twice. In April he defeated Tomas Mendez, 21-6, of the Dominican Republic and in November in his biggest win he defeated former WBA & IBF champion Juan Carlos Salgado, 26-6-1, of Mexico. In March of 2017 he stopped Alfonso Perez, 12-8, of Venezuela, in 8 rounds in a non-title bout. In his most recent fight in October he defended the title and knocked out Jesus Laguna, 21-10-2, of Mexico in five rounds.
Pierre’s first twenty-four fights were in Panama up until the Gonzalez fight at the Caribe Convention Center in Petionville, Port-au-Prince, where his last six fights have taken place.
Linares, 43-3 (27) is from Venezuela but resides in Japan and has defended his WBA title he won in September of 2016 twice. He lost in his first attempt in 2011 for the WBC title but won that vacant title in 2014 in his last appearance in Japan. He defended it twice and gave it up to win the WBA title. Three of his title fight have been in the UK, one in Venezuela and the last at the Forum in Inglewood, CA, defeating the now No. 3 contender Luke Campbell of the UK. Linares held the same title that Pierre now holds when he fought for the world title.
Pierre’s only loss was in his thirteenth fight losing to Rosano Lawrence, 12-9-1, of Panama, in April of 2010, due to the fact the referee penalized him three points. He reversed that loss three fights later stopping Lawrence in six rounds. He is on a seventeen fight win streak since his only loss. He won the WBA Fedelatin title back in July of 2010 just prior to the re-match with Lawrence defeating Augusto Pinilla, 14-3-1.
Pierre is not only a No. 1 contender but an example how someone from one of the poorest countries in the world can make something out of himself and be a role model on top of it. With his promoter Deschamps backing him he should be fighting for the WBA world title in 2018. The only question is “where?”