Much of the criticism surrounding the Contender reality series has been pointed at the participants of the show themselves. Far from world beaters, the fighters showcased on the show typically were little more than regionally popular club fighters. Now for me that wasn’t an issue but for others, it was a subject of much debate. The oft repeated, “Why showcase fighters who have no future?” argument may have been warranted but part of the charm, as I saw it, was that here we have fighters who may never make it but continue to toil in the worlds hardest sport. You have to be moved by such commitment and given that the brass behind the show sought out to tug at people’s heartstrings, the selection of fighters seemed to fit.
Now that is not to say there wasn’t some legitimate talent in the previous three seasons of the show. In each season the cream defiantly rose to the top as the limited fighters were quickly eliminated by fighters who possessed respectable boxing acumen. As a bit of a recap for those who have not followed the show I have broken down the three most accomplished fighters from each of the previous three seasons:
Sergio Mora – The million dollar winner of the inaugural season Mora was already a well respected fixture in the super competitive SoCal gym scene. Since his fortunes have improved by way of his winnings, we have seen Mora balk at a shot at the middleweight title, look horrible in some outings against lesser foes, only to capture a title by beating Vernon Forrest. He would lose the junior middleweight strap three months later.
Peter Manfredo Jr. – Manfredo was already a known commodity among the boxing die-hards in the New England area. Since losing to Mora in the season finale, Manfredo has gone on to lose every fight that represented a step up in competition. While losses to Joe Calzaghe and Jeff Lacey are nothing to be ashamed of, the manner in which he was destroyed by fellow Contender alum Sakio Bika should serve as wake up call for the young Rhode Island native. Either move down in weight, of seek a less brutal job.
Alfonso Gomez – Clearly a fan favorite due to his ever present smile and never-say-die mentality, Gomez probably gained the most from participating on the first season of the Contender. Without the show bringing to light Gomez’ great personality the young Mexican brawler would have more than likely been forced to toil as regular on California club shows. Miguel Cotto’s bludgeoning of Gomez last year should serve as a reminder as to where the amiable fighter stands on the pugilistic pecking order.
Steve Forbes – Arguably the most accomplished fighter to ever fight on the Contender having won a title at 130 pounds, Forbes fell short in the season finale, dropping a decision to the much larger Grady Brewer. Since than Forbes has served as a stern test for up and coming fighters, being robbed of a win against Demetrius Hopkins, serving as cannon fodder (though standing his ground) against Oscar De La Hoya, and then giving Andre Berto a valiant effort in defeat.
Grady Brewer – The season two winner, Brewer was a serviceable journeyman prior to his involvement on the show. After winning the season finale, Brewer has been on the injured list for over two years, recently returning this year to beat Cornelius Bundrage in what may have been the worst fight of the year so far.
Cornelius Bundrage – Season two’s Alfonso Gomez, Bundrage was one of the shows more popular fighters given his hard knock life and desire to better himself (though the barking was annoying). Since the show, Bundrage has been blown out by Joel Julio but rebounded to beat Kassim Ouma. His stock has dropped considerably due in large part to his “hit and hold” technique and should he ever fight Grady Brewer again, I may vomit.
Sakio Bika – Once considered to be nothing short of a crude, unorthodox banger perceptions have changed greatly following Bika’s scintillating performance in stopping Jaidon Codrington in the season’s finale. The fight was a runner up for Fight of the Year honors which added an air of legitimacy to the Contender. Since that fateful fight, Bika has looked noticeably more polished in his last couple of outings. Sure he’s no pure boxer but with this size and strength Bika has to be considered a legitimate contender in the deep super middleweight division.
Jaidon Codrington – Before joining the Contender, Codrington was a much hyped New York City prospect. As one half of the popular “Chin Checkers” – the other half was Curtis Stevens – Codrington had a region fan base and noted power. During the show Codrington looked like a decent prospect and engaged in a hell of a fight with the above mentioned Bika to close out the season. Since that fight Codrington has looked worse for wear and it’s not clear on how his future will play out as he may be damaged goods.
Sam Soliman – The Aussie boxer was perhaps best known for his three losses to WBA super middleweight titlist Anthony Mundine and giving Winky Wright hell for 12 rounds a couple of years ago. Soliman placed third in his season of the Contender but has yet to fight this year.
All of this brings me to the fourth installment of the Contender series premiering this Wednesday. This season the show will feature fighters in the cruiserweight division and while you may recognize some of the names, it seems that the Contender brass have gone down a peg in terms of talent this go around. Whether that has to do with fighters not being interested in being tied down to a promotional pact with Tournament of Contenders – the shows promotional branch – of if it has to do more with the always shallow waters of the 200 pound division is unclear.
What I find interesting is the producers continued indulgence of New Englander’s and East Coast fighters. I have a theory on this. It is my belief that the brass behind the Contender series like to use blue collar East Coaster’s because often times their back stories, accents, mannerisms, and look is like something you would see out of Central Casting. When all is said and done, the main objective is to get ratings so in that respect, one can totally see why you would want to have a fighter who conjures up the beloved image of “Rocky” to truly resonate with a broader audience.
But East Coast preference aside, this season’s cast of fighters are mostly relative unknowns so we here at the Queensberry Rules offer you a list of the fighters and interesting tidbits so that you know going in a little something, something about the participants.
Record: 9-1-0, 4 KOs
Hometown: St. Petersburg, FL via Lagos, Nigeria
Tidbit: Served in the US Navy and got into boxing after meeting Winky Wright at a local mall. Laleye has served as a sparring partner for Winky Wright, Antonio Tarver, Jeff Lacy, and Roy Jones Jr.
Record: 9-0-0, 5 KOs
Hometown: Van Nuys, CA
Tidbit: Elam is co-managed by Philadelphia 76ers power forward Elton Brand who met Elam while playing for the Los Angeles Clippers.
Record: 12-3-0, 7 KOs
Hometown: Queens, NY via Benin, Nigeria
Tidbit: Ehikhamenor is a businessman distributing his own line of African clothing and jewelry.
Record: 9-0-1, 5 KOs
Hometown: East St. Louis, IL
Tidbit: Not much is really known about Godfrey, but to listen to his manager tell it, he’s got a flair for talking. Expect him to be a drama starter.
Record: 7-2-1, 5 KOs
Hometown: Yonkers, NY
Tidbit: Served in the US Marine Corps from 1998-2002 and as a result in nicknamed “The Fighting Marine”.
Record: 20-2-0, 15 KOs
Hometown: Detroit, MI
Tidbit: Hoye once held the WBO NABO light heavyweight title, the WBC Continental Amricas light heavyweight title and the IBA Continental light heavyweight titles (if you are into that sort of thing). Both Hoye’ father and grandfather were professional fighters.
Record: 20-4-1, 8 KOs
Hometown: Brockton, MA
Tidbit: A carpenter by trade, Flamos fights to support his two children, one of which is a dwarf. Flamos held the Massachusetts State Cruiserweight title.
Record: 17-1-0, 12 KOs
Hometown: Brampton, Ontario via Guyana, South America
Tidbit: Played John Henry Lewis in the 2005 movie “Cinderella Man”. Ross boxed for the Canadian Olympic team in 1996 and 2000.
Alfredo Escalera Jr.
Record: 15-1-1, 11 KOs
Hometown: Winter Springs, FL via San Juan, PR
Tidbit: The son of former super featherweight champion Alfredo Escalera. Escalera is a single father who works construction during the day to support his family.
Record: 23-7-3, 20 KOs
Hometown: Takoma Park, MD
Tidbit: Goes by the nickname “Ding-A-Ling Man” and is the owner of one of last years most devastating knockouts when he cold-cocked Emmanuel Nwodo on ESPNs Friday Night Fights.
Record: 8-2-1, 6 KOs
Hometown: Phoenix, AZ via El Paso, TX
Tidbit: Not much to report other than Vega was a respected amateur in El Paso, TX who unfortunately failed to qualify for the 2004 US Olympic team. An attempt to qualify for the Mexican Olympic team was also unsuccessful.
Felix Cora Jr.
Record: 18-2-2, 9 KOs
Hometown: Galveston, TX
Tidbit: Trained by his father, Cora does enjoy a victory over Darnell Wilson.
Record: 30-5-1, 17 KOs
Hometown: Sydney, Australia via Samoa
Tidbit: A former rugby champion, Tauasa held the Australian Cruiserweight title.
Record: 12-2-0, 8 KOs
Hometown: Columbus, OH
Tidbit: A former Golden Glove winner, Alexander wants to attend culinary school and become a chief.
Record: 8-1-0, 4 KOs
Hometown: Claremont, NH
Tidbit: Drives five hours a day to train with Peter Manfredo Sr. Won the New England Golden Gloves as well as a National Championship at the Ringside World Championship in Kansas City, MO.
Record: 8-0-0, 2 KOs
Hometown: St. Louis, MO
Tidbit: A standout high school football recruit who played Division I football for the University of Missouri until he was injured at which time Cone took up boxing.