The Contender: Sergio Mora Works The Room

By Tom Donelson
Updated: May 8, 2006

NEW YORK — Sergio Mora may not be the best fighter in the world and he may never succeed in winning a championship but against Archak TerMelikestian, he showed the heart that he demonstrated over several weeks in The Contender program.

Mora became a hero as millions of boxing fans as they followed his exploits throughout The Contender series. In some ways, Contender fighters such as Peter Manfredo, Jr. and Sergio Mora became even more celebrity than many of the champions.

I suspect the more casual sport fan or even boxing fans know more about Mora than they do the various Middleweight champions including Jermaine Taylor, the recognized Middleweight champion!

The Contender provided a forum for young fighters and older veterans looking for a little notoriety. The goal for these fighters was to receive the million-dollar prize but for some fighters, the extra bonus was television exposure. Peter Manfredo, Jr. landed a big fight against Scott Pemberton even after two losses to Mora.

This was a case where a couple of losses didn’t derail a prospect chances but instead, led to bigger fights and pay days. Against Pemberton, Manfredo shellacked the veteran fighter and now there are talk of Manfredo actually getting a championship shot at Joe Calzaghe.

As for Mora, he headlined a major ESPN show against “The Shark” Archak TerMelikestian. ESPN have found that The Contender fighters actually outdraw other fighters and that was one reason Mora became the featured fighter for this program.

Why does a prospect like Mora became a headliner when other more experience fighters fail to sell out even their own hometown? Floyd Mayweather, one of the best fighters, could not sell out his hometown arena but Mora does sell out.

The reason for Mora popularity is that many fans saw him up close and personal. The Contender featured these fighters not just as fighters, but more complete individuals using their fighting skills to provide for their family. The audience met the fighters’ families and the fighters themselves.

Rarely do fighters get portrayed as family men but The Contender did that and more. Showtime Al Bernstein once told me that what makes the sports are the warrior who occupy the ring. The Contender showed us a more complete side of fighters and fans of the program became invested in these fighters.

Mora was one of those fighters whose personality attracted the average fan. Raised by a single mom, Mora was your typical fighter who raised himself from poverty through his fist. When he won his million dollars, much of America rooted for him.

And going into this bout with the Shark, he was taking that next step against an tough opponent. After nearly a year of sharing the ring with his Contender opponents, Mora was now taking that step to show that he was more than a celebrity but a fighter who could contend.

After a cautious first round, Mora found himself on the canvas as a result of Melikestian left hook. Mora was in that first desperate spot that many prospects find themselves. Mora had to dust himself off against a big puncher and come back. Mora, whose aggressive style belies a lack of hard edge punching power, found that he had to get inside of a monster puncher.

After getting knocked down, Mora took control of the fight. With quicker hands, he consistently beat the Shark to the punch. While Mora power lacked the same punch as his opponent, the punches volume added up. In the seventh round, Mora landed a combination that included a big right that sent TerMelikestian to the rope.

While the referee Robert Byrd may have stopped the fight early, there was no doubt what the end results would be. Mora dominated the fight after the middle of the second round.

Mora did show two major weaknesses that need be addressed as he moves up. The first is that he does not use his jab to move inside. He throws power punches without setting them up. That is how he ended up on the canvas in the second round as he got nailed with a left hook as he moved forward.

It is not that Mora jab is bad but it is an under utilized aspect of his game. The second is the lack of power. With only four stoppages in 18 wins, Mora is not a big puncher. As he moves up the ladder, he will face more experienced fighters with more power and this could be his undoing.

What Mora does have is what other Contender fighters’ have- a boxer heart. What The Contender showed is the price that one pays to become a boxer. And the show featured the positive aspect of the sport- the fighters themselves.