A sequence of explosive lefts and rights from cruiserweight Troy Ross in the 4th left Ehinomen Ehikhamenor (“Hino”) with his back turned and his chin draped over the top rope like it was his security blanket and he was going to sleep. When the referee stopped the fight, Ross became the champion of “The Contender” boxing reality show tournament Wednesday evening.
Versus boxing analyst Wallace Matthews spent some time dissing the show, saying things like, “the problem with ‘The Contender’ is,” while show host Tony Danza screwed up Troy Ross’ nickname, “The Boss,” ironic given how Danza got famous in a show called “Who’s the Boss?”
In the “bronze medal” fight, Rico Hoye overcame a shaky start and poor finish to control every other round of his bout with Akinyemi Laleye. The judges only saw Laleye winning one of the eight rounds. Presumably that was the first one. Laleye pushed Hoye, who looked a little bit jiggly about the man breasts, back on his heels and rocked him with combinations. Hoye began to establish his own inside game in the 2nd, but it still looked like Laleye’s kind of fight — the shorter man was getting on the inside and suffocating the taller man’s ability to get full extension and power on his shots. In the 3rd, everything turned after Hoye landed a hook to the middle of Laleye’s gut, taking most of the fight out of him. From then on, it was Hoye pushing Laleye backwards and rocking him from time to time. Some of it was just harder work, as Hoye worked in about a hundred punches a round. Laleye rallied a bit in the 10th, but considering he needed a knockout, it wasn’t enough.
The main event between the last two men standing on the show, Hino and Ross, did develop into the awkward style clash I feared. Both started the 1st nervous and tight. Ross was trying to find the jab, but couldn’t land it as Hino tilted backwards. Hino couldn’t land his strangely-thrown right hand. The remainder of what connected was Hino’s. In the 2nd, Ross, after getting tagged a few times, went beserk, winging knockout haymakers at Hino and landing a couple. The next round continued the trend of both men missing more often than hitting, tying up and hooking elbows more than hooking faces. Even though I had Hino up two rounds to one, toward the end of the 3rd, Ross began to dial in with his left, a trend that continued into the 4th. A good one landed, then a good right, and suddenly Hino was hurt. Ross chased the covering Hino into the corner, dropping a hailstorm of blows on his noggin. When Hino tucked his head over the rope, it looked bad. Usually slow-to-stop ref Steve Smoger stepped in and stopped it. Hino looked a little dazed when he looked up, but began to protest. I thought Smoger made the right call.
In a taped bout from earlier in the evening that aired after Ross-Hino finished before the alloted 10 rounds, Felix Cora, Jr. and Tim Flamos, the two most sympathetic figures from this season of the show, waged a spirited fight for three rounds before the younger, more athletic Cora put together a barrage of punches that not even the tough Flamos could withstand.
Despite the awkward action in his fight, Ross still looks like he’s good enough to beat some top-10 cruiserweights. His power and overall skill level make him a threat in the division. To varying degrees, I wouldn’t count out Hoye, Cora, Hino, Darnell Wilson and a couple other grads against some top-10 cruisers, either. And Flamos, Laleye and perhaps some others, largely on the basis of their marketable personalities, could become either A. regional attractions who have profitable careers or B. recognizable names against which young fighters could test their mettle and enhance their own names. Or both.
But it’s fuzzy what happens next. It’s not clear, for instance, whether Ross gets more than “The Contender” belt Danza handed him at the end of the evening — past contestants have gotten big cash awards, but in a number of ways, this fourth season looked like it was done a little bit on the cheap. It’s not clear how much of a boost this will be to Ross’ career — I’ve got no idea whether the ratings this year were very good, by Versus standards or any other standard. Those questions feed into the major question going forward: After a pretty good season from the standpoint of drama and quality bouts, but with a fair amount of uncertainty, will “The Contender” continue for a fifth season, or is this where it ends?