Review: “The Contender” Is Roaring

By Tom Donelson
Updated: July 29, 2006

The ContenderNEW YORK — ESPN has taken over the “The Contender” franchise and this version is even better than last year. There are compelling stories being told and we are witnessing the development of new stars and we may be witnessing the end of other fighters’ career.

Take the first episode when Michael Clark challenged Cornelius Bundrage. Clark viewed Bundrage as the easiest foe and even mocked his techniques during the initial training.

The bout was between an wily veteran who was moving up in weight and a youngster, who was moving down. Cornelius Bundrage biggest opportunity in the past came when he faced fellow prospect Sechew Powell.

That bout ended in 22 seconds with Bundrage sprawled along the canvas. Which may explain why Powell is facing Kassim Ouma and Bundrage is doing the “The Contender” gig.

What makes this show so appealing is that the audience doesn’t just see the fighters but also the fighters’ families and friends.

Boxing fans see the human side of the sport and the price to be paid not just by the fighter but their families as well.

Clark viewed this as one more opportunity to gain a foothold in the upper elites of the boxing world and Bundrage viewed this as a chance for redemption after his previous bout. All of these fighters saw how the first year series enhance many of the previous contenders pugilistic career and made them viable contenders for real.

Sergio Mora is now considered a possible opponent for the Middleweight champion Jermain Taylor. “The Contender” made this possible by not just highlighting Mora’s skills but his story as well.

This was the traditional rag to riches story as Mora fought to provide for his family and after last season, Mora had enough money to buy his mom a house. For these new set of contenders, it is not just the money that matters but also the opportunities for big money fights when the show’s over.

The second aspect of the show is the editing. Boxing fans are not treated to the actual three-minute rounds but the editing of each rounds. The editing allows the viewer to feel every punch and see close up the key punches in each round.

In the Clark-Bundrage fight, Clark found out quickly that his speed could not match Bundrage’s strength. Bundrage captured the first two rounds and Clark found himself depending up his years of expertise in the ring.

The master boxer took chances over the next two rounds and going into the key fifth round, the fight appeared even.

The fight was decided when a Bundrage right sent Clark down. Bleeding and dazed, Clark got up from the count but the fight was essentially over.

In the locker room afterwards, Clark talked of possible retirement and came to a realization that he might just be at the end of his career.

The lone walk out of the gym only heightens the feeling of defeat as the fighter hangs up his glove and strolls into the night.

For Bundrage, there will be another fight and another opportunity. For Clark, the dream was over.

This series matches up veterans and youngsters but so far, each of the bouts has been close down to the wire affairs.

The five round limit forces each fighter to pick up the pace quickly for every round count. These are bouts that every punch counts and any lapses are costly.

Sugar Ray Leonard has done an excellent job of match making for he has put together a group of fighters whose skills appeared to be close to one another.

And setting this contest at welterweight, he has forced some intriguing match ups as many of the veterans just as Michael Clark, Steve Forbes and Ebo Elder are forced to move up in weight.

This neutralized Clark experience factor in the first fight and could be decisive in determining the fate of either Elder or Forbes.

“The Contender” is a perfect vehicle to triumph the good about boxing, namely the fighters’ themselves. The fighters are the stars of the show and every week, boxing fans will see careers enhanced and careers ended.

That is drama and that is reality.