15.10.05 – By Christine Maynard: Over ten thousand people turned out for The Contender Re-match, staged in Staples Center, Los Angeles, on Saturday night, October 15th. The bright, Fall L.A. day segued into an even brighter evening, with luminaries such as Sly, Vinny Paz, the CEO of Everlast, stars from Entourage, and Joe Francis of Girls Gone Wild. Mark Taffett with HBO PPV was also on hand for this event, which aired on ESPN. Sugar Ray was not in attendance, as he is in Europe.
Mark Burnett spoke passionately about the show at weigh-in, stating that “These guys you see seated here were the first astronauts. None of us knew exactly what was going to happen. We allowed you, the viewers, to see their families, to get to know them.” When asked what concepts he wanted to keep from the previous season, Burnett responded,“ We will focus less on the challengers, retain the “Adrianne” element, the key to caring, and feature more boxing. Contender II will be based in L.A., and, yes, Rocky VI and Contender will cross promote.”
Burnett is incredibly enthusiastic about his creation, The Contenders, which gleaned a viewing audience last season of over ten million. And it is more than the numbers making him beam like a proud father. It is the boys, their lives, which were broadcast into living rooms around the world, and the synergy created from a concoction which is anything but formulaic. He delights in the midst of the contenders, particularly with Sergio, who reminds him of Steve McQueen. He compares the fighters to the Dirty Dozen. Upon hearing that remark, Sergio questioned “Who’s Steve McQueen.”?
Staples provides a beautiful venue, a Hemingwayesque well lit space in which to view the Sweet Science.The ring, however, was so small that Peter Manfredo described it as a phone booth.
Fighting in the middleweight division, Miguel Espino faced Jonathan “Reid Dog” Reid. Young Miguel’s dream is to make enough money to buy his family a home and get them out of the ghetto. Jonathan, a conservative, bespectacled black man, with many years on Miguel, has enviable musculature- great genetics- and he fought hard until the stop, 2:48 into the fifth round.
It was an interesting fight, with many twists and turns. In the first round, Reid landed numerous hits to Espino’s face and body. He got in Miguel’s space, and fought hard. Espino hit the ground, one knee, then on all fours, by the ropes, in the first round. Intense fighting ensued, which resulted in the ref being hit in the face while breaking them up.
In the next round, Reid nearly hit the mat after missing with a flying fist that his body followed like a boomerang. “He’s too tense” onlookers remarked, about Reid. “He’s not listening, and he seems to be showing a lot of anger… he could get knocked out.” was overheard. Reid doesn’t move around enough, which allowed Espino to get in six hard hits.
The fight momentum picks up, and it isn’t long before Reid looks either tired or vision impaired, in need of his glasses. Espino is advancing, blocking all of his shots and getting him on the ropes, working him over, again and again. Espino throws combos that connect; three, then three again, followed by one walloping, resounding thud. Jonathan is reduced to making wild swings, when he can, in response.
In the fourth round, Reid continues to be battered with 10-12 hits, but he does answer back and makes some impact. The battering continues into the fifth, with Reid taking serious blows to the face, until the ref jumps in and calls it. Espino is ecstatic with his victory.
Two Texans squared off- Jesse Orta faced Juan de la Rosa, the “Gallo Negro.” Jesse was off balance a bit in the opening round. Juan uses his jabs and combos. Orta has a surprise for Jesse, a killer right which he readily deploys. Juan looks momentarily stunned from its effect. Jesse continues with vicious upper cuts and hooks; there is a wild look in his eyes. He has a very unorthodox style, which Juan isn’t in sync with- he isn’t moving his head out of harm’s way. Jesse becomes more confident, and Juan reacts with a three hit to the body combo he will use time and again, successfully, in this fight. Jesse answers with 3 in a row, that count.
Jesse’s left eye is swelling. The two lock up and spend time focusing on body shots. Jesse looks at the ref and sometimes seems distracted. They miss simultaneously and lock up again; more blows to the body ensue.
In the final round, Juan catches Jesse in the face with a damaging blow. Juan advances to 14-0 with this victory in a unanimous decision.
Ishe Smith remarked ”I thought Juan de la Rosa could have edged it out 48 -47 but one judge scoring it 50-45, Wow…. not giving one round to Orta? 3-2 either way, that’s how I saw it. A much closer fight than how the judges saw it.”
. In the Welterweight division, Alfonso Gomez of Guadalajara, Mexico, fought Luciano Perez, from Michoacan, Mexico. Perez has a huge tattoo of hands folded in prayer on his shoulder. Gomez is ebullient, eminently likeable. He has very clear, focused eyes and an easy smile, which he flashes as he enters the ring.
The crowd is appreciative of the fighters- applause is loud, studded by the squeals of girls, reminiscent of Beatles fans. 80% of the tickets sold to Contender in Vegas were to women. The Contender venue brings a new demographic to boxing. These fans are responsive, interactive, and high pitched.
Perez plunges himself, not just a jab or a right, toward Gomez, who answers with jabs. Gomez lands hard hits. They fight closely, with lots of twisting, and barely visible punches due to the proximity of torsos blocking the view.
Perez gets Gomez on the ropes in the second, yet he misses three shots. Perez is very aggressive and serious in his attack. Gomez hits Perez in the face and knocks him back, reeling. In the next round, Perez is knocked down. He gets up, only to receive more hits to the face, with Gomez now chasing him all over the ring. The punishment continues until Gomez plasters Perez with a big upper cut, knocking him backwards a few steps. The ref stops the fight in the fourth, at two minutes twenty seconds into the round. The crowd boos the stoppage.
Later, in the press conference, Perez, speaking through a translator, stated that the stoppage was unfortunate but that considering the tragedies in recent times it was understandable that extra caution would be observed. Victory to Gomez by TKO.
Jesse Brinkley fought Anthony Bonsante, the oldest contender, in the super middleweight division. Brinkley stated in his bio that he would be happy to hunt, fish and drink beer for the rest of his life. Bonsante works hard, holding down a job as the night manager of a K-Mart.
The fans were on the look out for Brinkley’s bold uppercut, and so was Bonsante. Brinkley’s big arms sail around the ring. He catches Bonsante twice in the face. Good fighting ensues with Brinkley’s resounding blows and Bonsante’s responses. They make faces at each other, jeering, taunting. They both take blows to the face. At one point, Bonsante gestures that Brinkley didn’t hurt him. Brinkley retorts, implying, “I’m going to hurt you now.” Brinkley rums to the ropes and leans into them, facing Bonsante, saying “Come and get it.”
After this, Bonsante, was a cyclone of activity, landing many hits to Brinkley’s face. Jesse slapped the air, like a cat playing with a ball of yarn, before attacking. Bonsante’s previous trainer, (some say it was his grandfather,) was lifted onto the skirt, to instruct between rounds, and then returned to his walker. He shouted with as much of a voice as he could muster, desperately wanting to convey a message to Bonsante. The judges gave the win to Brinkley in a unanimous decision.
The fans booed, echoes of boos crashing into fresh boos, and the auditorium was awash with waves of angry disbelief. It grew louder. Stronger. Brinkley was booed, energetically, during his entire victory walk to the dressing room. The camera swept to the elderly gentleman making his way, perilously, from the ring on the walker; he was a Life magazine photo op- dejection, all hope vanquished. A promoter shook as he denounced the officials. Jackie Callan teared up. And Sly verbally accosted the California inspector of boxing. Matters worsened when it was whispered row to row that Teddy Atlas had it 5-0 for Bonsante.
Ishe Smith, previously with The Contenders, stated “Bonsante was totally robbed; judges, they see things we can’t see, but everyone pretty much thought he won and I don’t see how you could possibly score that fight for Brinkley.
Julie is a very respected judge, and so is her father- however, Anthony won that fight. And he surprised me. From the time I fought Bonsante in May, until now, I didn’t think he could do much. In my fifth round he was nearly knocked out. To come back from his two losses and compete and win the fight in many people’s eyes was just tremendous.
He performed well, he adjusted, and that is key.
Sergio has one style. He plays to the crowd. Those guys are good athletes and good sportsmen and they put on a great fight.”
At the press conference, they laughed together, displaying camaraderie , as they leaned respective chairs back to reach each other in a hand shake.
Mora has honored his promise by giving Manfredo Jr. a rematch before looking to take his career in another direction. “After I beat Peter Manfredo, I’m coming after the best in the sport. I’d love to fight the Jermain Taylors and the Bernard Hopkins of this division…you name him, I’ll fight him,” says a confident Mora. “Ideally, I’d first like to take out Oscar De La Hoya and show East LA that it’s out-with-the-old and in-with-the-new,” exclaimed Mora The only thing that has been on his mind these past five months is avenging his loss to Mora, and tonight, he is certain he will do just that. “I’ve trained harder than I’ve ever trained before for this fight,” says Manfredo Jr. He adds, “I’ve studied tape, I’ve brought in the best sparring and I’ve eliminated the distractions that I believe caused me to lose our first bout. I believe this is make-or-break for me and I’m going to do what it takes to win”.
Manfredo Jr. has been working with world renowned trainer Freddie Roach for the past several months to prepare for this bout. Though his father is typically his trainer, for tonight’s bout, Peter Manfredo Sr. will be in his son’s corner to lend his support. According to Manfredo Jr., “Freddie has done a tremendous job. He’s really helped sharpen the skills that my father’s instilled in me and he’s done his best to eliminate my weaknesses. Sergio Mora will see a different Peter Manfredo in this fight. I got someone like Freddie in my corner to teach me a couple of extra small things. I’m ready.”
Peter’s father was hostile and abusive following the announcement of his son’s loss, and, at the press conference, later. The level of vehemence he exhibited was revelatory; his behavior provided insight into what makes Peter the fighter he is.
Sergio did make inflammatory comments in the press conference; “If he didn’t beat me now, he never will. I’ve had the flu and he’s two pounds heavier. I’m at my weakest and he’s at his strongest. Yet, Manfredo didn’t hurt me ever.”
He did arrive last at the press conference, as he had numerous stitches in a wound above his eye, which Sergio insists was from a head butt. He bled profusely, and the injury, received in the first round, kept opening up. Peter’s white satin trunks were pink with Sergio’s blood, diluted with sweat. Sergio said that he felt, from the first round to the last, as if he had vaseline in his eye, and that he couldn’t see, then repeated, “If he couldn’t beat me now, he never will.”
Peter grabbed his mike and interrupted Sergio. He kept saying, “Will you kiss me. Will you kiss me, Sergio.”? When he had everyone’s attention and curiosity, he delivered the punch, “I like to be kissed while I’m being f*****, Sergio. I’m the true champion and everyone knows it.”
The stats certainly support the excellent job Peter did, but as experts pointed out, it is not an amateur match where punches are counted.
In the ring, Sergio did the more masterful job of working the crowd. He looked like a handsome, proud warrior. He exuded confidence. He shined.
Shortly after the opening bell, Sergio is bleeding from a visible gash of puckered flesh. He proceeds to gets Peter on the ropes and won’t let him off, hitting him in the face.
Peter takes his turn, negotiating Sergio toward the ropes, going for the head, for the wound, then hits him after the bell. (The writer next to me insists Sergio first hit Peter after the bell.) They both are giving it their all, the fighting is incredible. Both Peter and Sergio take a reprieve, resting on each other, appearing hurt, exhausted, or both. Everyone is intent on reading the fighters and watching what will next unfold.
In the third, Sergio gets Peter on the ropes and lands sharp hits to the body, repeatedly. Sergio obviously is having difficulties with his vision, and is protecting his face. He is clearly disadvantaged, but continues to fight valiantly. He gets knocked backwards into the ropes, but doesn’t fall.
In this round, Sergio has trouble getting past Peter’s defense, yet he is a solid tryer, never backing down. Freddie repeatedly yells “work the body” to Peter.
In the sixth, Sergio is ducking and slipping well enough to assure the ref that he can see and that he can defend himself. (Twice in the fight the ref calls time to inspect the cut.) Sergio’s strong right connects. Peter goes to the body. Sergio corners him on the ropes, but Peter escapes. Sergio lands power punches. Peter retorts with three or four of his own, to the body.
They both fight well, with heart, effort, skill. It is a great fight. After locking up, when both appeared exhausted, Sergio rallies, lifting one hand above Peter’s shoulder, in a circling motion. The crowd gets it, responding with the impetus Sergio needs to finish the battle. A roar of “Sergio” begins, and he rebounds fighting even harder.
The judges voted Sergio the winner, but the crowd was adamant that Peter was the true champion. Although Peter was booed upon entering the ring, he was cheered as he left the auditorium.
Sergio was asked if he feared that the fight would be stopped due to the severity of the cut. He related a story about going to his corner at the end of the first round, and hearing his trainer, normally understated, say “Oh my God!” and knowing it was bad. He went on to say that he’d like to fight someone else, outside of the Contender.
Peter was asked if he had regrets about putting his hands up in the air victoriously after having wobbled Sergio, instead of taking better advantage of the opportunity. Sergio stepped in to quickly deny that he was ever wobbled.
At the after party, at the Wilshire Grand, Bonsante got verbal with Julie Lederman regarding her scoring of his fight. Manfredo Sr. was still angry. And Vinny Paz was in his element, happy to be around boxers and boxing.
In August 2005, Mark Burnett Productions and DreamWorks Television announced that the second season of The Contender will begin airing on ESPN in April 2006. The new season promises to captivate audiences once again with compelling human stories and riveting boxing matches.
ABOUT TOURNAMENT OF CONTENDERS, LLC
Tournament of Contenders, LLC (TOC) is the boxing promotional entity for The Contender. TOC is very committed to making the boxers the primary beneficiaries of the sport.
TOC has also teamed up with ESPN to put on three boxing specials including “The Contender Rematch: Mora vs. Manfredo Jr.” at Staples Center and two other specials to be held in 2006.