“The Contender”: Pros And Cons
26.03.05 - By Wray Edwards: Let’s be clear right from the get-go; “reality” television attempts to do the impossible. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle states, roughly, that one may not attempt to study something without changing it. Close and public scrutiny of the sport of boxing in this venue will inevitably affect it; hopefully for the better. Though “The Contender” is most likely a great vehicle for bringing many new fans to the land of boxing, it is not without serious flaws which should be addressed by its producers..
Article posted on 26.03.2005
The comments below are the result of this writer’s opinions as well as unscientific, yet diligent, attempts to canvass friends, neighbors and business associates regarding their impressions of the show. Our Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld recently said: “That which is studied, improves.” Let’s hope so.
PRO: The screening auditions conducted by the show’s producers have gathered together a pretty fair bunch of guys as far as their boxing potentials and personal stories are concerned. Coverage of their home-life, relationships and personal attitudes are reasonably interesting if a bit drawn out.
CON: The “Rockyesque” editing of the boxing matches does not portray the actual time signatures of a real boxing match. During a round in a real-time bout, for instance, slow-mo sequences cannot be shown except after the round as instant-replays. Also the boxing sequences seem to be edited to cut out tactical maneuvering, which is common in almost every match, thus not presenting the natural ebb-and-flow of a live contest.
PRO: Camera coverage is a cut above that which Showtime, HBO and ESPN are presently providing. The reactions of family, friends and celebrities, adds to the human interest of those outside the ring during the fight.
CON: One might be rightly suspicious of the impact sounds of the gloves, as they seem to be the product of Foley art (sound effects added in post production) and seem “mixed” with the sound of the screaming fans. To a casual boxing fan or to those who are wholly new to the sport, this boxing movie treatment might appear authentic, but this sonic dramatization seems contrived.
PRO: The “World’s Strongest Man” style team competitions between the east and the west help to bond the teammates, and develop a good peer support group. Stallone and Leonard add to this camaraderie by their even-handed encouragement and professional attitudes.
CON: On the other hand, these competitions have little to do with the sport of boxing and cause some respondents to become a bit anxious, feeling that they would like to get on with the fights asap. Perhaps some of these “competitions” might better be conducted requiring relative skills such as roadwork, bag-work, rope, weight training and fitness attributes such as strength, punching power, stress testing and the like.
PRO: Boxer stipends, reported to be $1,500.00 per week, for the duration of training, fighting and waiting to possibly be chosen to participate on the under-card of the final, one million dollar “championship fight” in Las Vegas seem adequate. The selection of the Middleweight division for the boxer pool is excellent as this brings a balance of size and speed to the ring.
CON: The emphasis on the lonely walk of the losers out the front door of the Contender building and up the darkened street is a bit much. At least when The Donald fires somebody on “The Apprentice” they get a taxi ride away from the corporate arena. These poor guys have to hoof it away into the dark night like lost and defeated souls; More about that later.
So much for general highlights; now to a specific case. The third episode of the show featured a boxing match between Sergio “The Latin Snake” Mora (13-0, 3KO’s) and Najai “Nitro” Turpin (11-2, 8 KO’s). Sergio, who portrays himself as a bookish, intellectual devoted to his mother, is a tallish, completely ripped specimen who probably has a body-mass to fat ratio of about .001%. Najai entered the match as a cuddly, bunchy-muscled slugger devoted to his little girl.
Sergio won by unanimous decision thus qualifying to continue in the hunt for the million dollars. Najai, crestfallen, sat alone to tearfully lament his loss, as he wondered what he had done wrong having “left it all in the ring”. His girlfriend joined him and attempted to give support. We last see Turpin as he chases with his little girl in the dressing room and then takes the solitary walk into the dark and lonely night.
At one point in the showing of the third episode there is a brief and ironic glimpse of the platitude “What doesn’t kill us, only makes us stronger”. Unfortunately for Najai, who was reported on Reality TV World’s website to have “slept in a closet because of his fear of being shot…” something did kill him. It was a gun in his own hand which ended the life of this young man as he sat in a car reportedly arguing with his girlfriend. Some claim his depression at losing out on his bid for fame and fortune in the boxing ring may have contributed to this tragedy.
Others have insisted that his participation in “The Contender” in no way contributed to his Valentine’s Day suicide. His family states that his final act was precipitated by a custody dispute with his girlfriend over his daughter. Perhaps the $39,000.00 he had received during the intervening six months had left him with too much time on his hands and too much time to mull things over.
Towards the end of the third show, Sugar Ray Leonard came on the screen to announce Turpin’s death by stating that he had “passed away”, and making an appeal for a trust fund set up by the show’s producers for his little girl’s future. Some would have preferred that Leonard would not have soft-peddled this announcement. He could have avoided the use of the “s” word by saying something like “took his own life due to domestic problems” or some such thing. This would have been more honest and in keeping with “reality” which, ostensibly, the show is all about.
The six-month time period between his fight loss and the suicide gets this writer’s vote as pretty strong evidence that the death of Najai was more a product of domestic stress than boxing failure. It is, however, true that humiliations and great losses stay very close to a person’s immediate consciousness from day-to-day for the rest of their lives. It still might be a good idea for the show’s producers to do some follow-up with their guys until the show completes its full cycle.
Another thing that respondents complained about was how Jeff Fraza was treated by the doctor and the producers due to his outbreak of chicken pox. The summary dismissal from the contest seemed rather heartless in the way it was handled and portrayed. We feel that he should have been told that he would be brought back for the second season. Also, by the time the lesions of this herpes virus show, the carrier has already been contagious for quite some time.
Additionally, many in the medical profession hold that it is possible to have a chicken pox relapse in later life, due to stress, which is not the shingles – a secondary or tertiary form of the disease which inoculates for the pox, but leaves the virus dormant in neural ganglia. Great stress in later life or geriatric complications often cause the shingles. This unfortunate health problem should have been dealt with more fairly by the staff of the contender.
This would have been an ideal moment to bring in the boxing show’s “den mother” Jackie Kallen to guide Fraza through the incident. The show’s producer Mark Burnett brought the one-time lady manager (to the likes of James Toney) as an aid to dealing with the boxer’s various problems. She could have been used here to great and laudable effect. The movie “Against The Ropes” starring Meg Ryan was loosely based on her career. The boxing game is tough enough without adding clumsy human relations to the mix. They decided, instead, to have the doctor unceremoniously TKO the guy off the show.
One really positive note recently was Kallen’s response on an interview show when asked what she thought might be a way to improve professional boxing’s prospects. She answered that a national commission would greatly increase the equity, safety and authenticity of the sport. Good for her. Burnett reportedly wants to go a lot further with the concept, leading to a national boxing association to improve the ethics of, and compete with the current status quo provided by such as King and Arum…iffy guys, to say the least.
“The Contender” will most likely have a pretty good run in TV land. Its presentation on NBC (Sundays) and then on CNBC and finally on MSNBC gives everybody with a set a chance to view the show. There are team and interpersonal rivalries which will keep interest high and new boxing fans entertained. The heavyweight production and executive production staff will certainly have a better shot at success than De La Hoya’s ill-fated copy-cat effort. Yours truly will watch it from time-to-time despite its sometimes hokey and clumsy approach. And best wishes to all the young boxers who are involved, for they are the true heart and soul of the effort.
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