I Saw That!

One woman's opinions about popular entertainment.

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Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

Amateur boxing coach, Christian (but not so heavenly-minded that I'm no earthly good) singer, writer, self-defense advocate, childfree. feminist www.smartwomenboxingtraining.org

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

"The Contender" (2005-2007)

I grew up during the heyday of Muhammad Ali, "Smokin" Joe Frazier, George Foreman, and Sonny Liston. Boxing matches were as regular on TV then as were the big three sports of baseball, football and basketball. Unfortunately these days, boxing has been banished to cable, and is seldom covered in the newspapers and major sports magazines. Sylvester Stallone (Rocky) and former champ Sugar Ray Leonard attempted to change that scenario with their reality/competition show which began its life on NBC. Stallone is an actor, but had much respect because of his Rocky Balboa character, and the boxers idolized him and Sugar Ray.

Sixteen welterweight boxers competed for a chance to win a champion match during the last episode and a boxing contract. The boxers were divided into two camps, a blue team and a yellow team, and during the first season, the teams competed against each other during challenges that gave them one up on each other in terms of priviledges. They also did regular training in a spacious gym, under the eye of several trainers including Tommy, an old school trainer straight out of a 1940's boxing movie. Jackie Kallen, one of the first female boxing managers, was also on hand, but her role in the series was limited. She appeared to be more of a house mother, someone the guys could whine to when things weren't going their way.

While the competitions, which some said had nothing to do with actual boxing were cut out after the first season, the backstories about the boxers and their families remained. Scenes featuring family members encouraging their boxers, along with their tears, fears, and hopes were a staple of the show.

Each episode ended with a match. The matches were cut in an quick, music video fashion that made them more intense and exciting. The winner advanced further towards the big championship bout. The loser hung up his gloves up in the darkened gym, and takes a long walk into the night on his way home and out of the show. It's was a sad moment, especially when the boxer has previously expressed that the show may be his last chance to get a shot at becoming popular, and being able to make life better for his family.

Even though the show brought in decent ratings for NBC, the network canceled it. ESPN picked it up for the second season. Stallone no longer appeared on the show, but he remained an executive producer. Jackie Kallen left the show, but Sugar Ray and Tommy remained on board.  In later seasons, the series jumped to yet another network, Versus (now Spike TV).  Tony Danza ("Taxi"), a former boxer himself, took over as host.  The final season featured MMA fighters instead of boxers.

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