Book Review: The Fight by Norman Mailer
By: Stephanie Kent
In The Fight, we follow Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Norman Mailer during the suspenseful weeks leading up to 1974’s “Rumble in the Jungle” matchup between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. Even the most casual of fight fans are familiar with the historic bout, but Mailer unveils a behind-the-scenes story that’ll have readers convinced the fight could go either way by the time the heavyweights step into the ring.
The Fight begins with an ode-like chapter on Muhammad Ali, and what it’s like to behold him in person as he trains. From the start, the book paints a picture of a frustrated Ali, bored with training, lacking his usual luster. Held up beside 25-year-old champion George Foreman’s camp, the Louisville Lip immediately assumes the role of underdog in this telling.
Mailer writes about himself as a central figure in The Fight. The character Norman is respected by both fighters; by Ali who fancies himself a poet, and Foreman, who’s rumored to be working on a debut book himself. As a member of the press corps, he gains incredible access to the athletes. In one epic chapter, Mailer joins Ali for a run, surprised at the easy pace and short length of the roadwork (the ageing, hungover Mailer even manages to keep up for the first half!). Mailer uses this insider access to look at the fighters — their sparring sessions, their apparent strategies, even their confidence levels — side by side. All signs point to defeat for Ali.
The play-by-play of the fight is the most exciting chapter in the book. After a hundred pages detailing sparring, mindset, and training regimens, Mailer watches in awe Ali’s audacity to throw lead right hands in the early rounds. He marvels at the rope-a-dope, and shares the crowd’s mania when Foreman hits the canvas in the eighth round. These pages are some of the best boxing writing in history.
Reading The Fight in 2019 (which was first published in 1975) is both joyful and challenging. In our era of too many belts, professional boxing is reckoning with itself; it’s thrilling to read of a time when the whole world would stop to watch a boxing match. On the contrary, much of the prose feels dated in 2019. It’s impossible to write of 1970’s Kinasha an the fight itself without writing of race, but Mailer writes it in big, broad strokes that resonate naive at best and offensive at worst in the current social climate.
Most who pick up The Fight already know how that it ends with a victorious Muhammad Ali. The gain in reading it in the twenty-first century doesn’t come from the suspenseful telling, or the lesser-known encounters Norman Mailer had during his time in Zaire. The Rumble in the Jungle had all the makings of an incredible tale: a fallen hero, over-the-top sidekicks, adoring fans with a catchy war cry (Ali, bomaye!). As such, it’s worthwhile to revisit this myth-like boxing story, an enduring one that’s thrilling to consume forty years later and paints a picture of what boxing might once again become.
More Book Reviews
Josue Vargas: “I’m Just Going To Keep Knocking These Guys Out.”
By: Sean Crose
“It’s going great,” Josue “The Prodigy” Vargas (12-1) says of training camp in the leadup to his Saint Patrick’s Day clash with Adriano Ramirez (10-2) at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater. Vargas, a rising super lightweight, has now found himself sharing a card with the likes of Luis Collazo, and Michael Conlon. “I have a lot of fans in New York,” he says, “mainly in the Bronx.” Needless to say, the New Yorker expects to have his supporters on hand come the 17th. “A lot of people bought tickets,” he adds.
Vargas, who has eight KO’s on his record, has stopped all of his last four opponents within the distance. “I’m getting older,” he says, “so my power’s getting there.” Vargas says he’s now shooting for knockouts in the fourth or fifth rounds. “I’m just going to keep knocking these guys out,” he claims. Vargas can take inspiration from Mikey Garcia, who he’s helped train for Garcia’s upcoming superbout with welterweight star Errol Spence Jr. “It was great,actually,” says Vargas of the experience. “I sparred fifteen rounds with him. It was amazing.” Although he trains with the famed Robert Garcia, Vargas is also trained by his own father, which makes boxing a family affair for the Vargas’, just like it does for the Garcia family (Robert, a former champion himself, is Mikey’s brother).
Being part of Top Rank Promotions’ stable of fighters has certainly proved beneficial for the New Yorker, as well. “Everything’s going great,” Vargas says in reference to his relationship with his promoter. With an amateur pedigree that saw him face the likes of Shakur Stevenson, Vargas is being led through the pro ranks in a manner that allows him to steadily rise while appearing on attention getting cards. “I’m getting closer to the world title,” he says. All Vargas has to do is keep winning. Ramirez, who Vargas will be facing on the 17th, is a fighter Vargas has made sure to familiarize himself with. A short, affable seeming individual who fights in a crouched style and likes to hook his shots, Dominican Republic native Ramirez is undoubtedly looking to come back strong after suffering a loss to Matt Conway last December.
Vargas, however, is not only stepping into the ring with strong backing and a strong pedigree. He’s also stepping in with the knowledge that an impressive win can help him climb up the ranks at a rapid pace. After all, the man makes it clear he’s getting closer to a world title. The March 17th Hulu Center card will be aired live on the ESPN+ streaming service.
2018 Fighter of the Year: Oleksandr Usyk
By: Jake Donovan
For the past 30 years, there has been no debate that Evander Holyfield is the greatest cruiserweight of all time.
That was until Oleksandr Usyk wrapped up his 2018 in-ring campaign.
The 31-year old southpaw from Ukraine hasn’t enjoyed the benefit of fighting at home since his final fight as a contender in Dec. ‘15. Each of his last eight starts have taken place on the road, all but one being staged in the home country of his opponent beginning with his title-lifting effort over then-unbeaten champ Krzysztof Glowacki in Sept. ’16 in Poland.
Fighting on the road is hardly a new experience for the gifted cruiserweight, who spent a healthy portion of his 350-fight amateur career away from his native Ukraine. Included among the lot were two Olympic tours, advancing to the quarterfinals of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and capturing a Gold medal during the 2012 London festivities.
It’s only fitting that every championship he’s won as a pro has come against the backdrop of a partisan crowd.
In 2018, Usyk (16-0, 12KOs) entered the lion’s den three times—twice in unification bouts and wrapping up the year with a defense versus a former champ, all taking place in sold-out arenas in packed with his opponent’s fans rooting hard for a hometown win.
His journey began with a trip to Riga, Latvia last January to face then-unbeaten titlist and local hero Mairis Briedis. It was already his third time facing an undefeated opponent in their home country, as he was the first to beat Glowacki (in Poland) and American contender Michael Hunter in the United States.
In Briedis, Usyk would receive his stiffest test as a pro, certainly a far more difficult challenge than having stopped former titlist Marco Huck in Germany the prior September in the opening round of the World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight tournament.
The first five rounds were anything but a clear-cut indicator that Usyk would even win, much less go on to enjoy a Fighter of the Year-worthy campaign. He first had to adapt to the brisk pace forced by the house favorite, then contend with a clash of heads in the 5th round which left him briefly wobbled and with reddening around his left eye.
It ultimately served as a wake-up call.
Usyk took over the fight once the second half began, his second-to-none conditioning carrying him to victory. Save for a minor scare in round nine and a final round last-ditch rally by Briedis, the second half surge was enough for the visiting Ukrainian to advance to the WBSS finals.
That led to his twice traveling to Russia: first to take in the other semifinals bout between Murat Gassiev and Yunier Dorticos one week later; then in July, for his finals meet with Gassiev in a bout that would leave the winner as the first truly undisputed cruiserweight champion in the four-belt era.
As it turned out, the hardest part in making history was getting to fight night. The unification clash itself was delayed by more than two months due to Usyk requiring elbow surgery, thus killing plans for a May clash in Saudi Arabia. The postponement worked out in Gassiev’s favor, in that the fight was relocated to his native Russia.
Home country advantage was the only edge he’d enjoy that night.
Usyk quickly took the crowd out of the equation, somehow reducing an undisputed cruiserweight championship contest into a one-sided sparring session in pitching a virtual shutout. Even before the final decision was announced, the immediate question was what the newly crowned World cruiserweight king would do for an encore.
The answer? A third road trip on the year, of course.
For months, the idea was floated of Tony Bellew challenging the WBSS winner—particularly if it was Usyk, who even entered a co-promotional pact with the Brit’s promoter Eddie Hearn. The union led to the finalization of plans for a November 11 clash in what would be a sold-out Manchester Arena in Manchester, England.
Even if Usyk opted to sit out the rest of 2018 following his win over Gassiev, he’d still serve as a leading Fighter of the Year contender. For much of the first half of his clash with Bellew, the risk of a third fight in an optional defense seemed to outweigh the reward.
That was, until the defending champ was ready to take over.
Once again displaying his superior ring smarts and conditioning, Usyk overcame a rocky start—and surprising scorecard deficit—to emphatically knock out Bellew in round eight. A textbook left hand landed flush, putting the former cruiserweight titlist down and out, a knockout loser in what would be the final fight of his celebrated career.
As for Usyk, it was merely the final moment of an unrivaled 2018 in-ring campaign. He entered the year at least a distant second in discussions of the best active cruiserweight of all time (Holyfield) and the best active boxer from Ukraine (Vasiliy Lomachenko).
Answers that were once foregone conclusions now warrant considerable discussion. Everything about the year that was for Usyk changed that mindset—while fittingly also ending any debate as to whether anyone else deserved the honor of being named the BoxingInsider.com 2018 Fighter of the Year.
2018 Knockout of the Year – Naoya Inoue KO1 Juan Carlos Payano
By Jake Donovan
Naoya Inoue’s 2018 ring campaign was the model of efficiency. In two fights, the unbeaten 25-year old from Japan needed just three total minutes of ring time and barely two dozen landed punches to stake his claim as arguably the best bantamweight in the world.
Two of those punches helped create the 2018 Knockout of the Year.
The boxing world was thrilled to learn of “The Monster” offering his services in the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight bracket. His entry was contingent upon his getting past 118-pound secondary titlist Jamie McDonnell, needing less than two minutes to accomplish the feat and claiming a title in his third weight class in the process.
Inoue’s inclusion in season two of the WBSS meant a jam-packed bantamweight bracket loaded with competitive matchups as opposed to most of the first-round serving as a foregone conclusion—at least on paper.
Juan Carlos Payano was three fights removed from his title-losing rematch to Rau’Shee Warren by the time he rolled up for his WBSS quarterfinals match versus Inoue on October 7. The two-time Olympian for his native Dominican Republic and former bantamweight titlist believed he faced enough world class competition in his boxing life to where he knew what he was getting himself into in drawing the first-round assignment versus Inoue.
He even considered it a blessing that he and his team arrives safely from his adopted hometown of Miami into Tokyo, despite the presence of Typhoon Trami which wreaked havoc in Japan, causing nearly $100 million in damage.
As it turned out, Payano wasn’t at all prepared for the level of damage that Inoue would inflict on that Sunday afternoon in Japan.
Only because he normally takes the first 0:30 or so of every bout to feel out his opponent did either of Inoue’s two bantamweight bouts last as long as they did. Payano pawed at Inoue’s parrying tactics before attempting to fire off jabs and looping left hands to the body.
Inoue never took the bait, nor did he bother to change his strategy. Circling his left hand around Payano’s extended right hand, the prodigious pound-for-pound entrant found just enough of a leak in his opponent’s defense to connect on a one-two.
The “two” was a thing of beauty.
A quick jab from Inoue caught Payano on the chin, freezing him just long enough follow up with a straight right hand. It was a shot that the Dominican southpaw never saw coming, pitching at the waist upon impact before falling back and crashing to the canvas.
Inoue strolled to a neutral corner before turning around to see that the fight was already done for the night. Payano’s legs quivered upon impact, before somehow peeling his upper body off the canvas as if he were prepared to continue. The effort was in vain, as the lack of feeling in his lower body disallowed him to do more than roll over, requiring assistance from the referee and ringside physician in being seated on a ring stool.
Not since a stoppage loss to Rey Vargas in the 2009 Pan Am semifinals had Payano even failed to hear the final bell in a given fight. He entered the pro ranks as one of the most decorated amateur boxers to ever come out of Dominican Republic, claiming two Olympic tours and more than 420 wins. Even in his rematch loss to Warren—a three-time Olympian for the United States—the margin of defeat was a single round.
Inoue needed just a single right hand to stake his claim as the man to beat in the WBSS bantamweight bracket—and to earn the BoxingInsider.com 2018 Knockout of the Year.
2018 Fight of the Year – Kosei Tanaka MD12 Sho Kimura
By: Jake Donovan
From early in his career, Japan’s Kosei Tanaka was mentioned in the same breath as countrymen Kazuto Ioka and Naoya Inoue as the type of prodigious talent who warrants your undivided attention whenever he steps into the ring.
A mere 12 fights and three division titles into his career, the 23-year old from Nagoya has not only lived up to the billing but doing so while twice entering the record books. The latter entry—a 12-round majority decision victory over Sho Kimura to win the flyweight title last September—gets to make the rounds as the BoxingInsider.com 2018 Fight of the Year.
Tanaka (12-0, 7KOs) knew better than to expect a clear and easy path to his third major title in as many weight classes. A war with then unbeaten 18-0 Ryuji Hara in just his 4th pro fight was designed to brace the Nagoya-bred boxer for a historic run. His very next fight was a 12-round win over Julian Yedras to win the strawweight title in just his 5th pro fight, surpassing Inoue (six fights) and Ioka (seven) as the quickest in Japan’s history.
By the time he was lined up to face Kimura, he’d already claimed titles in two weight classes and survived the scariest moments of his career. Tanaka—just four months removed from turning back the challenge of then-unbeaten Angel Acosta—twice came off the deck to eventually stop Thailand’s Palangpol CP Freshmart in the 9th round of their Sept. ’17 war, vacating his junior flyweight title soon thereafter.
A win over countryman Kimura would give Tanaka yet another record-breaking achievement, joining Vasiliy Lomachenko in becoming the quickest in boxing history to win titles in three weight divisions. Lomachenko’s off-the-canvas stoppage win of Jorge Linares last May put the Ukrainian wunderkind in the annals of boxing history.
On the surface, Tanaka’s task seemed slightly less daunting. In countryman Kimura, he faced a defending flyweight titlist who was knocked out barely a minute into his pro debut before going unbeaten in his next 20 starts.
Among the lot was a rousing 10th round stoppage of Shiming Zou, a three-time Olympic medalist from China who was also fast tracked to the title stage. Kimura’s win at the time was considered a major upset, although his title reign has proven that the feat was no fluke.
Ironically, no greater proof came than in the 12 rounds of war he was willing to storm through versus Tanaka in his damnest effort to retain his title. The bout was Kimura’s third attempted title defense, having scored stoppage wins over former lineal champ Toshiyuki Igarashi and formidable contender Froilan Saludar leading into the September affair.
Tanaka initiated a slugfest from the start, scoring a barrage of body shots and right uppercuts in hopes of wearing down the defending titlist. There would be no such luck, as Kimura came roaring back after the first two rounds to launch a body attack of his own.
The tactic prompted Tanaka to slightly switch gears, doing his best to create some distance between the two whereas Kimura was determined to force an inside brawl. Both would ultimately have their way, with momentum swaying almost as often as punches were flying.
By the time the epic title fight reached the championship rounds, Kimura’s eyes were nearly swollen shut while Tanaka supported a mouse under his right eye. One last blitz from the challenger seemingly put the fight out of reach, but Kimura wasn’t quite ready to concede his crown.
The 12th round was nothing short of breathtaking, a slam dunk choice for Round of the Year up until Tyson Fury’s inexplicable rise from the canvas after what should’ve been a knockout blow delivered by Deontay Wilder in their heavyweight battle last December in Los Angeles.
Equally as stunning was Kimura’s ability to punch non-stop in the final round of his last fight as a defending titlist. Both boxers were dog tired by the time they touched gloves to start the 12th, but it was Kimura who initiated the action throughout the stanza. Tanaka seemed reserve to return fire only when necessary, but was forced to dig deep to find his own second wind when it was clear that the champ wasn’t about to ease off the gas.
Kimura was fighting on pure will, at one point even punching himself into a circle following a wild swing and a miss. Embodying their spirited affair was a sequence where the two simultaneously threw and landed right hand shots on three straight exchanges.
The final bell came with a two-way sigh of relief and a hearty embrace between the two warriors at ring’s center, where nearly all of the action took place with barely a clinch along the way. Judge Don Trella was stumped to declare a winner, his 114-114 card trumped by that of scores of 116-112 and 115-113 in favor of Tanaka.
With the win, Tanaka joined Lomachenko as the quickest in history to become a three-division champion. At 23 years of age, he was the third youngest ever to do so, right behind Tony Canzoneri and Wilfred Benitez.
Lomachenko led arguably the greatest amateur career ever while considered by many as pound-for-pound the best boxer in the world today. Canzoneri and Benitez have long ago gained enshrinement in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
That’s already some incredible company for Tanaka to serve alongside, in addition to career-long comparisons to countrymen Inoue and Ioka, both of whom became three-division titlists a little bit deeper into their respective careers.
On September 24, he enjoyed some incredible in-ring company with Kimura—a historic night properly recognized by BoxingInsider.com as 2018 Fight of the Year.
Six of the Best – Unofficial FOTY 2018 Candidates
By: Ste Rowen
Isn’t it funny how quick the year goes when it’s packed with fights the fans want to see? Though with a few exceptions, the best have fought the best, therefore 2018 is wide open for fight of the year. Here we run through just six of the potential winners, starting with…
1. Murat Gassiev vs. Yunier Dorticos – February
It was arguably the most exciting World Boxing Super Series semi-final to call. Gassiev had cut down veteran, Wlodarczyk whilst Dorticos had vanquished the much feared, Kudryashov in the quarters.
The Cuban boxed brilliantly through the first half of the fight, testing the iron chin of Murat multiple times, but Gassiev remained stable where his fellow Russian, Kudryashov, had come apart. Having regained earlier lost rounds, the Russian began to overcome Dorticos’ best moves, which forced Yunier to put it all on the line in search of a knockout, which in turn led to the openings.
In the final round the IBF champ proved his quality, firstly with a perfect left-hook counter that sent Yunier down; then the second knock down with 60 seconds to go and finishing him off with a final 30-second assault that sent the Cuban through the ropes, and Gassiev into the WBSS final.
2. Sor Rungvisai vs. Juan Estrada – February
February gave us another FOTY candidate as WBC super-flyweight champion, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai took on Juan Francisco Estrada on ‘Superfly 2’ in Inglewood, California. In his first fight after dispatching of legend, Roman Gonzalez for the second time, Thailand native, Srisaket came out swinging in his usual rough and ready style whilst Mexican, Estrada went in search of neat openings. Within two minutes of the 12 rounds, a brawl had broken out in the ring.
The action was uncompromising as the two superfly warriors failed to let up for almost all of the 36 minutes they were in the ring. Much like GGG/Canelo 2 (we’ll get to that), Rungvisai and Juan Francisco were at times, able to punish the other, but unable to drop their foe. The action was non-stop throughout, but the Mexican threw much more than he landed in the final three rounds, although the final 60 seconds of the 12th is awards worthy on its own.
It all led to a majority decision in favour of champion, Sor Rungvisai. It’s probably a result of this bout that both boxers have taken two relative walk-over fights to end the year and hopefully setup a rematch for 2019.
3. Deontay Wilder vs. Luis Ortiz – March
One of the biggest criticisms labelled at WBC champion, Deontay Wilder is that his reign as champion has lacked named fighters, or dangerous opposition, then along came Luis, the supposed bogeyman of the heavyweight division, and the ‘Bronze Bomber’ showed the world his best to let everyone know he wasn’t just here to take part.
Ortiz proved he wasn’t all hype in the early rounds as he landed numerous counters and not even a slip could deter him from attacking. At the end of the 5th, despite being on the back-foot, Deontay wobbled and eventually dropped his Cuban foe with a pin-point right hook, that halted the momentum Ortiz had built up. Towards the end of seven, Ortiz landed simultaneous shots that forced the American to lean heavily and nullify his opponent’s onslaught, rather than execute his own.
The WBC champ somehow survived Luis’ blitz for another two rounds before a knockdown and finish in the 10th. The first was sloppy, and more of a push, but the conclusion was conclusive as the ‘Bomber’ just unleashed hook after unanswered hook before the Cuban eventually fell.
4. Jorge Linares vs. Vasyl Lomachenko – May
It started beautifully and ended brutally. With the WBA & Ring Magazine titles on the line, in his first fight at lightweight, Lomachenko looked to dethrone the Venezuelan in Jorge’s 5th defence of the title.
The Ukrainian enigma in Vasyl undoubtedly overtook the early to middle rounds of the fight. Linares was probably coming up against the only boxer who could outdo him for style. The sheer speed of the fight proved difficult even for the most hardened of boxing fans to keep up with.
Though Loma was on top, in the 6th Jorge hit his opponent with a flash knockdown that briefly turned the tied of the bout. Vasyl regained his momentum and eventually got the champion out there, before the final bell with a cruel body shot in round 10, to finish an early candidate for fight of the year.
5. Alex Saucedo vs. Lenny Zappavigna – June
A world title eliminator that became a classic. Alex Saucedo and Lenny Zappavigna went to war immediately. ‘Zappa’ seemed to have the speed whilst Saucedo of Mexico had the thudding accuracy. Not even the greatest boxing writers can do the action justice from round 2 to 5.
Whilst on the offense in the third, Lenny was dropped by a swift hook to hit the canvas for the first time. Testament to the Australian for not only surviving the round but also firing back with fearsome intent.
And then the 4th happened, a full two minutes where it felt like Lenny started and didn’t stop throwing up until the bell rang for the end of the round. It was Saucedo surviving this time, but survive he did, flicking a switch to steadily dominant proceedings into the 7th where the opposition corner threw in the towel to end their fighter’s ordeal.
6. Gennady Golovkin vs. Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez 2 – September
What more can be said about the repeat of Golovkin and Canelo’s 2017 Fight of the Year contender, this time with added needle – not that it needed it – due to Alvarez’s failed drug test at the end of last year.
It was a sensational 12-round back and forth. Both fighters pushed themselves forward and both were forced back. The magnitude of the event was matched with the relentlessness of the action.
Who won? Well, unlike the first fight where it seemed most picked GGG, this time round it was a lot closer, but it was the Mexican who took the split decision in a fight that had almost everything.
So there is, this writer’s, top six fights of the year. Special shout outs to Sho Kimura vs. Konsei Tanaka and Dereck Chisora vs. Carlos Takam that just missed out on this list, but don’t worry, FOTY is essentially meaningless in the grand scheme of things.
Just go watch them again to really appreciate your favorite fights of 2018.
Brandon Adams Walks Away As The Top “Contender”
By: Sean Crose
“The Contender” Season Five on Epix concluded on Friday night at the Forum in Inglewood, California. Things started off with a scheduled 8 round middleweight affair between 17-2 Michael Moore and 17-2 Eric Walker. The first round was close, but Walker’s wide stance looked as if it might become problematic. The second round saw Moore seeming unwilling to pull the trigger, his hesitation giving Walker the round. Walker went on to showcase some strong body work in the third.
“I’m really concerned,” said ringside commentator Andre Ward in the fourth, “that Michael Moore has accepted defeat right now.” Ward was right to voice his concern, for Moore’s performance had become listless. Moore landed hard and effectively in the 6th. Walker, however, came on strong at the end of the round. The bell sounded with the two men firing bombs. The truth, though, was that Moore never employed an effective enough attack to earn the victory. Therefore, the UD win ultimately went to Walker after eight.
It was time for the main event. Shane Mosley Jr., the 13-2 son of a legend, faced off in a scheduled ten round middleweight bout against the 13-2 Brandon Adams. The first round was rather cautious and uneventful. Adams landed a sharp left in the second that changed the tempo. Adams continued to control the tempo in the third. By the fourth it was clear that Mosley simply wasn’t being aggressive enough. Adams, on the other hand, was starting to aggressively apply pressure.
The fifth and sixth made it obvious that Adams was the more dominant of the two fighters. In fact, by the halfway point of the sixth, Mosley began to get in trouble as a result of Adam’s blows. At the bell to end the round, Mosley seemed to be in serious danger of being stopped, or – worse yet – getting hurt. In the seventh, Adams was landing hard, accurately, and effectively on Mosley’s head. “I don’t think Mosley wants any more,” said Ward after the round had ended. The look on Mosley’s face said Ward was correct.
To his credit, Mosley tried to get back into the fight in the eighth, but it looked to be too little, too late.
Barring a knockout, it appeared as if Mosley was on the road to losing. Mosley tried to assert himself again in the ninth, but he was simply outgunned. Adams continued to land solidly on his man in the 10th and final round. Needless to say, Adams walked out with a well deserved win, “The Contender” title, a ranking in the top ten, and a cool two hundred fifty thousand dollars.
Final Fight Of “The Contender” To Be Live On EPIX From Los Angeles November 9
On Friday, November 9 at 10pm ET/7pm PT, premium pay television network EPIX® will air the finale of The Contender live from the “Fabulous” Forum in Los Angeles. In the two-hour special episode, the final fight will showcase the end of a long journey for two fighters, one of whom will be crowned the new 160-pound middleweight champion of The Contender and awarded a $250,000 prize during the live finale.
Tickets will be available for purchase to the general public at ticketmaster.com beginning Friday, October 12 at 12pm PT.
The two finalists will be revealed in the series’ last pre-taped episode, airing Friday, November 2 @ 9pm.
The 12-episode boxing competition series premiered Aug. 24, 2018 at 9 pm ET/PT and is hosted by undefeated boxing champion Andre “Son of God” Ward. The Contender is the first-of-its-kind documentary series on EPIX®, with the fights in each episode airing unedited and in their entirety throughout the season.
“Boxing goes hand-in-hand with premium television, and there’s no better way to experience the sport than by watching the drama unfold in real-time,” said Michael Wright, President, EPIX. “The Forum in Los Angeles has been home to some of boxing’s most preeminent fights. This opportunity gives the contenders the platform they deserve, and fight fans an adrenaline-filled, live experience they weren’t expecting.”
“There is nothing like live television when it comes to a boxing match and to have The Contender LIVE from the Forum is the perfect ending for this series.” said Burnett, Chairman of Worldwide Television Group, MGM.
The series highlights 16 fighters, divided into two teams that live and train together under the guidance of legendary boxing coach Freddie Roach and renowned Philadelphia trainer Naazim Richardson. Each week sees the fighters pushing their skills, strength and endurance as they prepare for their weekly elimination fights and the hopes of living out their boxing dreams.
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.
The Contender Preview: A Look at the Competitors
By: Jeandra Lebeauf
The fifth season of television’s boxing tournament/reality series The Contender premieres Friday night on EPIX with an updated look, new trainers and a new host.
Hosted by former super middleweight and light heavyweight champion Andre Ward, the Contender examines the lives of 16 boxing hopefuls competing for the chance to win a six-figure purse and the title of ultimate Contender. Divided into two teams of 8, the fighters will live together in close quarters while being guided by world-renowned trainers Bro. Naazim Richardson (trainer of former champions Bernard Hopkins, Sugar Shane Mosley)and Freddy Roach (trainer of Manny Pacquiao, Miguel Cotto)with Ward stopping in from time to time to impart wisdom.
This season, the participants will compete at the middleweight limit of 160 pounds, the weight class led by WBC/WBA/IBF champion Gennady Golovkin (fighting Canelo Alvarez September 15 in Las Vegas) and WBO champion Billy Joe Saunders (fighting Demetrius Andrade October 20 in Boston). While a Contender win doesn’t guarantee a title shot once the outcome is determined, it could prove to be decent sized bargaining chip to entice other fighters into the ring.
Here’s a look at who will be competing this season via TV Insider:
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
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.
Previous winners of The Contender include: Sergio Mora (ex-WBC super welterweight champion), Grady Brewer, Sakio Bika (ex-WBC super middleweight champion), and Troy Ross.
The Contender Airs on EPIX at 9/8c.
Frank Warren’s ‘The Time is Now’ Breakdown
By: Oliver McManus
FRANK WARREN announced his first show of the new season for October 6th. Taking place at the Leicester Arena, “The Time is Now” has had five fighters confirmed for the bill – with more to come – and seeing as we’re still two months out from fight night this isn’t as much of a preview as it is my, personal, thoughts on the fighters / fights confirmed;
Nicola Adams OBE
The Lioness from Leeds, Nicola Adams will be one of the main attractions of this fight night with the super flyweight set to challenge for either an interim or full world title in only her fifth professional fight. A history maker and a trailblazer for women’s boxing, the two-time Olympic Champion has looked calm and composed throughout her four fights thus far and, though she didn’t appear as frequently as she would have hoped in 2017, this year is all about establishing herself at the top of the division.
Last time out in May she fought, former world title challenger, Soledad del Valle Frias who is an opponent far better than her, 13-11-4, record at the time suggests. Even though there was some mild controversy with the timekeeper believing the bout was set for three minute rounds as opposed to two minutes, Adams showed blistering hand speed and power to catapult her Argentine opponent out of the ring within the first round. A supreme performance.
Looking at the structure of the women’s super-fly division I find it hard to see world champions who Adams wouldn’t have, AT LEAST, a 50-50 chance of winning going into the fight which is a strong testament to her amateur pedigree and certainly with, the two likeliest contenders for October, Raja Amasheh or Maribel Ramirez there’s a distinct potential that we could witness the crowning of a new British world champion.
Jack Catterall vs Ohara Davies
Now this, this is a fight and a half. Two contrasting personalities but, in equal measure, imperious boxers with exciting futures.
Catterall has looked rejuvenated since linking up with Jamie Moore, his new trainer, and the WBO Inter-Continental champion showed bags of heart and grit towards the back end of June when he fought Tyrone McKenna in a bruising encounter – Catterall dug deep, looked calm and dropped his man twice to secure a unanimous decision in a contest that showed he can adapt with relative ease to different fight plans.
Davies secured a highlight-reel knockout of Paul Kamanga on June 23rd with a right hand to the head of the Congolese fighter flooring him like a lightning bolt to an extra chilly penguin and his style is, to the eye, more explosive than Catterall with varied and continuous output to both body and head of his opponents, utilising strong flurries to really wear his man down.
Make no mistake, though, Catterall packs one hell of a punch and has a tendancy to target the body in a sickening fashion, one, two, three slammed into the region between rib and liver to punish and fatigue his counterpart into hiding.
Regardless of whether they win or lose there are huge futures ahead for both fighters with the winner probably being in pole position to face the WBO Champion – currently Maurice Hooker – whilst the loser, and there can be no shame in losing this fight, sets up some blockbuster domestic clashes ahead of a rebuild to world level.
I think the main thing for this is just to respect both guys for taking this fight, it’s going to be a cracker.
Daniel Dubois vs Kevin Johnson
I’m in two minds about this fight, I think it’s a good level of opponent to test Daniel Dubois in only his ninth professional contest but, having said that, if Johnson were to get bounced out within two-three rounds, would I be surprised? Not in the slightest.
And that’s not a slur on the American because he’s been a very good, durable, yardstick to measure up against with Dereck Chisora, Kubrat Pulev, Manuel Charr and Christian Hammer all going the distance with Kingpin. Although, then again, Sefer Seferi went the distance with Manuel Charr so now everything just seems confusing.
Anyway, back to being serious, there can be no disputing that Kevin Johnson is past his prime whether that be as a genuine contender – the bell probably rang on that in 2010 – or, indeed, as a gatekeeper which, feasibly, came to a conclusion after Anthony Joshua pummelled him to a second round knockout back in 2015.
Still, however, I’m in the mind-set that, yeah, it’s about time that Dubois got in the ring with someone of Johnson’s calibre and let’s not forget that he extended Andy Ruiz Jr to the full 10 rounds earlier this year so his chin is still in good nick and unquestionably this is the best opponent that Dubois has faced thus far.
20 years old with eight explosive knockouts on his record, I understand the want of some fans to fasten his development and get him in with even bigger names but we need to remember that Dubois is learning on the job and given that his own personal target was to be world champion in 2020 I don’t think we can judge him too much until we hit the latter end of next year.
A knockout expected, this will definitely be a learning test for Dynamite but there’d be nothing surprising if he sent Johnson into retirement.
Lyon Woodstock Jr vs Archie Sharp
Again this is a fight that you need to sit back from, initially, and just applaud both guys for taking on the contest when they could have had far easier contests but there’s no messing around from either guy and the two will produce a sumptuous display for the fans on October 6th.
Several, seemingly, bitter exchanges between the pair on Twitter have set the tempo for this encounter with Woodstock promising a beat-down over his stablemate, looking to showcase the skills he’s put into place to considerable success over the course of his career thus far.
Woodstock, the local man, is two fights less experienced but has looked punch-perfect over the past 12-18 months with a strong performance against Paul Holt, taking to the centre of the ring and fighting from distance before claiming a shellacking knockout with ferocious hooks against the ropes. If ever there was a performance to mark yourself out as one to watch, this was it.
Nine years as an amateur, nine national junior titles, Frank Warren has called Archie Sharp the “best kept secret in British boxing” and the super featherweight has wasted no time in racking up the wins – 13 without defeat, so far – and whilst Lyon will provide the dynamite in this contest, Sharpe will focus on his fluid movement, controlling the ring from the outset and attempting to dictate the pace of the fight into a tempo more suitable for him and his puppy-like energy.
The winner of this contest will surely be in line for the British title, held by Sam Bowen, and from a neutral perspective this promises to be a really good fight, it’s got the ingredients – young, hungry, unbeaten, powerful, quick on the feet.
WHAT MORE COULD YOU ASK FOR? A great fight.
Talking of the British super featherweight champion, Sam Bowen will also feature on the October 6th card at the Leicester Arena with the 26 year old having signed a three year promotional deal with Frank Warren.
Heralded for a long time by Carl Greaves, Bowen is the epitome of silky smooth with a style that’s easy to watch. Without fail Sam will take to the centre of the ring and keep on bouncing around, causing problems, with a continuous left jab popping into the face of his opponent before, bam, the deceptive power comes into play with the knockout merchant stringing together punishing combinations.
Against a, good, Maxi Hughes earlier this year “Bullet” Bowen pieced together an emphatic display in which everything just seemed to click, dominant movement, rhythmic shot timing, stance switching, a true masterclass from Sam with big shots dropping his man on two occasions.
Now with the backing of a big-time promoter and TV coverage the hope is that Sam Bowen will be able to push on a lot quicker than beforehand with the additional money a big incentive to those who, otherwise, would likely have avoided him.
Scheduled for a British title defence but without an opponent, I’d like to see him in with Ryan Wheeler or Jordan McCorry for October before the youngster looks for even bigger things – a showdown with James Tennysson for the British, European and Commonwealth titles would be PHENOMENAL.
And there we have it that is the first show of the new season for Frank Warren and Queensbury Promotions and, boy, it’s shaping up to be a tasty one!
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.
The Real Fight of 2016
by B.A. Cass
The fight between Francisco Vargas and Orlando Salido, which seemed to be just about everyone’s pick for 2016 fight of the year, was certainly a good fight. But thirty seconds into Round One and the two men were already in their first clinch, something that turned into a bizarre twirl. A minute later, Vargas was walking Salido back as if they were partners in an intermediate ballroom dance class. Yes, there were moments of intense onslaught by both men, and yes, the majority of the fight was brutal and entertaining. However, it was nowhere near as thrilling as the best fights of the past.
Over the week I watched nineteen fights, both female and male, from 2016. I had originally intended to watch twenty-four, but five of the female fights were not available online. (Click this link to get the full list of the fights I watched: http://bit.ly/2x65wKk.) I had two criteria for judging these matches. The first was that the opponents had to be well matched, meaning no early round knockouts or clear domination. The second was that that the fight had to be thrilling from beginning to end. This, unfortunately, disqualified Amanda Serrano, who KO’d Olivia Gerula in the first round of their fight. And while it was a pleasure watch the skilled Jelena Mrdjenovic, she was the more talented fighter in both her fights that I watched. On the male side, I was impressed by all of what I saw except by the Dillian Whyte vs. Dereck Chisora fight, which seemed to me just like two really big guys punching each other in slow-motion.
And while I was deeply impressed by the Carl Frampton vs. Leo Santo Cruz bout (I gave it runner up), one fight stood out from all the rest. And that’s Heather Hardy vs. Shelly Vincent, my pick for “2016 Fight of the Year.”
The public animosity between these two fighters has been well-documented. Vincent spent years trying to secure a fight with Hardy, going so far as to show up at Hardy’s fights to taunt and ridicule her. Their fans exchanged vicious words. Hardy’s mother may have even been involved in a physical altercation with Vincent at The Roseland Ballroom, though that has not been confirmed. In other words, this was the real deal, an epic fight three years in the making.
But put aside all that, and put aside the historic nature of the fight. (It was the first female boxing match televised in the US in over 20 years.) In fact, put aside everything and anything that didn’t take place in the ring that night at Coney Island’s Ford Amphitheater because it was, from beginning to end, a spectacular fight. There was no clinching, not a single moment when either fighter tried to save energy. Hardy and Vincent simply gave everything they had from the first bell to the last.
The New York based Hardy won by split-decision, which didn’t surprise Vincent, who had traveled from Providence to take the fight. “It being in New York, I knew from the gate that unless I knocked her out, I wasn’t going to get a W over there,” Vincent recently told me. “I had it six rounds to four. And two rounds she beat me. I admit that. She beat me those two rounds. But clearly I dominated. I kept moving forward.”
Devon Cormack, Hardy’s trainer, obviously doesn’t agree with Vincent’s analysis: “At no point did I feel Heather was losing the fight,” he told me over the phone. “She made the adjustments as the fight went on, more than Shelly did.” Still, Cormack acknowledges that it was close. “It wasn’t a perfect thing having a split decision, but I didn’t think it was that far removed, which is why I thought it made for an excellent fight.”
Vincent’s trainer, Pete Manfredo Sr., can’t figure out why there hasn’t been a rematch. All he knows is that it should have been done already. “It was the fight of the night, and it even had Errol Spence on the card that night. I thought Vincent/Hardy was a much better fight for the crowd, even the television crowd.”
Let’s be honest, though: if a rivalry like this occurred between two male boxers and their much-anticipated, widely-viewed fight ended in a close, split-decision win, the rematch would have already happened.
Still, Hardy remains hopeful for the future of women’s boxing. “If you put Holly Holm with someone like a Katie Taylor, or one with Cecilia Brækhus, that would be a huge money fight—maybe not in America but it would be a huge money fight because so much of the country follows MMA. Even when I had my first MMA fight, I got tens of thousands of new followers. I was on the MMA radio show with Ariel Hawani and like a hundred people had tweeted it out. And so the more public demand, the more popular it gets, the easier it will be.”
Let’s hope Hardy is right. Let’s hope that the gods of the boxing world come together and align the stars to make this rematch happen. In the meantime, you can see Shelly Vincent fight in person at the Fox Theater at Foxwoods Resort Casino on September 15th. (Buy your tickets here: http://bit.ly/ShellyVincent). And, though her opponent has yet to be announced, Heather Hardy is set to return for her second Bellator fight on October 20th at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
Follow B.A. Cass on Twitter @WiththePunch