Review: “The Contender” Goes Overseas

By Tom Donelson
Updated: April 20, 2007

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Negative publicity has hit the Contender series with Sergio Mora opting out of fighting Jermaine Taylor and Peter Manfredo, Jr. losing in quick order to Joe Calzaghe.

The one refrain that boxing pundits keep pushing, reality meets reality stars. It is as if Manfredo was merely a creation of television and not legitimate challenger.

The Contender series has been a plus for boxing for it has shown us the human side of the fighters. The families added to the drama as we could see how every punch landed on the fighters’ face affected the families.

The show, slickly produced, hit all the emotions and each show ended dramatically as the loser walked out of the gym alone. This showed the individual aspect of the sport, for there is no hiding in the ring as Joe Louis once observed.

What irritates most pundits is that many of these fighters became household names and more popular than many champions. It is as if these guys took a short cut to fame.

Life is not fair and boxing fan or writers should know that better than anyone. Boxing is one of those sports where disappointments and corruption go hand in hand with glory.

What The Contender did was give young fighters and aging veterans one more shot at glory. We know the fighters name but the one thing the show featured was competitive fights. It forced young fighters to grow up quickly and allowed veterans even shot at upsetting the prospect.

Now the Contender is going overseas with an international flavor with young British fighters challenging the Contenders team of fighters. And the Contender producers put the events in Great Britain which makes for interesting events as some of the American contenders find themselves fighting overseas for the first time.

In the first bout, Walter “Two Gun” Wright took on the slick boxing prospect Anthony Small. Small biggest asset was his fast hand and even faster feet. Small moved and moved while occasionally throwing punches.

The fight was fought at his pace and Small quickness kept Wright at bay. Wright, normally a slick boxer himself, found himself the pursuer and often seemed a step slow, at least until the last round.

Then in the final stanza, Wright finally shook Small. Suddenly, a Wright’s right hand turned the fight around and Wright went for broke. Wright tried to end the fight and Small retreated to stay on his feet.

In a fight that lacked drama for the first seven rounds saw desperation from both fighters in the final three minutes. Small fought for survival and Wright for a knockout victory. Small stayed upright for the final stanza and won the decision and the Brits took a one fight lead with five more fights left.

Ross Minter, the son of former Middleweight champion Alan Minter, came out gunning for the slick boxing Freddy Curiel. Minter was the bigger fighter, having been a welterweight and junior Middleweight all of his career. Curiel started as a junior lightweight and was now fighting as a welterweight.

Minter took advantage of his weight and strength as he went to the body to slow down Curiel. It appeared to work as Curiel exchanged punches with the bigger Minter. His major weakness was his ability to cut, something that he picked up from his father.

Minter dominated most of the action but as the fight progressed, ESPN’s Teddy Atlas noted that Curiel had one shot at winning; catching Minter with one of his straighter punches shot between Minter wider punches.

Going into the last round, Curiel needed a knock out. There was nothing in his record to indicate he had that knockout punch.

Sugar Ray Leonard, the captain of the American team, admitted that it looked bleak for the Americans and were one round of being down two fights. Then a Curiel’s right slipped through Minter’s wider punches. Minter looked to throw his right but a Curie’s right nailed Minter first.

Minter staggered back and hit the canvas. The referee stopped the fight. Just as Wright produced drama in the final round of a fight that he was losing, Curiel’s fight produced last minute heroics.

The difference was that Curiel ended the fight with Minter staying down. He did not allow it to go to the scorecard and the knock out even up the competition.

Just like the Contender series, Leonard’s match making skills as each fight so far has been competitive. With both countries with one victory apiece, the remaining four fights promises to produce some exciting matches and great boxing.