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The Contender - A 'Reality' Boxing Competition Hosted by Sylvester Stallone on NBC

By Cliff Montgomery,
Reality show super-producer Mark Burnett presents a new reality show, "The Contender," with Sly Stallone and world champion boxer Sugar Ray Leonard as hosts. 'The Contender' follows a group of 16 aspiring boxers as they train, spar and live together in a specially constructed 'Contender' Gym in the center of Los Angeles. The boxers compete to be one of the final two boxers to fight live at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on May 24th for a one million dollar prize.

The 16 boxers are divided into two teams, the West against the East. Each week the two teams compete in various challenges. The winning team decides who the two boxers for the bout will be. The winning boxer receives a gold necklace with a gold boxing glove and their banner is hoisted in the gym. Also, the winning boxer's team all receive a special prize reward. The winning boxer does not fight again until all boxers have competed. After the first round there will be eight remaining boxers.

'The Contender' is said by many to be the perfect blend of high drama, heart-pounding competition and wonderful unplanned comedy, which is why 'The Contender' has a chance to become the most entertaining reality show of the season.

Here are a few reasons why you should give this show a shot:

The Reinvention of Boxing

In case you haven't seen the show, they edit the matches into a few action-packed minutes--giving the director the chance to add a pounding soundtrack, cuts to the crowd, reactions of family members and slow-motion punches--which means it essentially plays like a scene from a Stallone boxing movie.

And if nothing else, all the 'Rocky' movies--even the ones after 'Rocky II'--have a fine editing and level of suspense during the fight scenes.

Which must get one wondering: Could this show get ordinary fans truly fascinated about boxing again? I can still remember my father getting worked up into a terrible frenzy because a fighter named Jimmy Young, who if I remember was from Pittsburgh, PA (making him something of a 'local boy' to my family at the time) had lost to Ali in the waning days of The Greatest's career. Young had to most everyone's eyes won the fight that night, but the looming legend of Ali was of course too strong in the end. Ali won by decision.

The entire night my dad was totally beside himself because the local boy had apparently 'made good', only to see it taken away at the last moment.

It's almost impossible to imagine that kind of passion for boxing now. But perhaps a show like 'The Contender' can change some of that.

Which is not to say that everyone believes the show to be flawless. Take these comments from ESPN:

For one thing, the "challenges" are plodding and confusing--they always revolve around Sugar Ray awkwardly careening through the rules, followed by both teams running around and lugging stuff until somebody apparently wins. I'd settle for a game of "Simon Says" or a spelling bee over any of the mindless crap from the first four shows. [...] It would be nice to A) see the judges, and B) see the scorecards, just so it FEELS like a real boxing match (after all, it counts in the standings). And they should tone down the family stuff a little, if only because it's becoming a little cliched.

But the ESPN boys should keep in mind that this isn't meant to be true, unvarnished reality; it's repackaged 'reality'--the real brought to us through the filter and editing of Hollywood. It's hosted by Sly Stallone for Christ's sake, so of course it's going to have heavy editing, booming music at key moments, and cuts to family members. As their reviewer himself later seemed to realize:

Upon further review, I like it this way--with my boxing matches manipulated and massaged. It's like having someone cut your steak for you. [...] And if someone lost a decision that seemed fishy...that could single-handedly submarine the show.

Real People, Real Dreams

The elementary premise of this reality show is far better, and certainly less contrived, than most. The show picks 16 world-class middleweights, with two of them battling in a five-round match every episode until one remains. These guys ain't trying to parlay the show into 15 minutes of fame, or some Playgirl Centerfold. They're all honestly trying to become the middleweight champ some day, no joke, no bullshit. The earnestness and relative sincerity of those on the show is clear, and that's reflected in the fights themselves and in the final edit.

All too often the people who show up on 'reality' shows, from Paris Hilton on down, simply become harder and harder to like, and are only interesting when they're making total asses out of themselves...or starring in 'amateur' porn videos which 'somehow' make it onto the Net shortly before their show is to debut on national television.

This isn't an issue on "Contender," where all 16 boxers are literally fighting for the same break, and sharing some authentic hopes and dreams.

Genuine Conflict

The hidden goal of every reality show is conflict between the contestants--who actually wins is, for the viewers, immaterial.

Celebrity Cameos

Let's be honest: If you're a has-been celebrity from the '70s or '80s and you HAVEN'T been invited to sit ringside for a "Contender" episode, it's probably time to start working the dinner theater circuit.

Likable Hosts

Sly's presence never stops propelling things to another level, especially during the height of the show's fights, when he bobs and weaves in his seat like a real, 'old pro' fighter would.

But what Ray and Sly bring to the show is the perfect mix of celebrity, light entertainment and concern. Whether it's intentional or not, Sly and Sugar Ray don't hold anything back. And that's a good thing, since both of them seem to genuinely care about their contestants, unlike every other 'reality' show host.

In the end, the appeal of 'The Contender' is that it shows us the 'Good Side of Boxing' by reminding us about the best side of ourselves. It shows boxers with true feelings for life, family and friends. They are people trying to make an honest living out of perhaps the one thing they do wonderfully, the one thing which makes them exceptional.

As one viewer posted on a board discussing the show:

Boxers are not just people who want to beat up on someone else. In any profession there are good people and bad people. In summary the show brings out the good side of Boxing & Boxers. I know many of my family and friends look forward to 8:00 p.m. Sunday to watch "The Contender".

Note: On February 14th 'Contender' contestant Najai Turpin passed away. Najai was competing to provide a better life for his daughter Anyae. 'The Contender' has been kind enough set up a trust fund for little Anyae. If you wish to donate to the fund for Najai's daughter, please make all checks payable to the Anyae Chapple Trust and send to:

J.P. Morgan Trust Company, N.A.
1999 Avenue of the Stars, 26th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90067
Attn: Fiduciary Services Dept.

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