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The Contender ready to explode (again)!

November 13th, 2008

By: David Finger
Photography by Emily Harney

To say that Jeff Wald has a tendency of exploding on the scene would certainly be an understatement.

After working in the music industry he decided to try his hand at boxing promotions, and in 1997 his first ever event was the George Foreman vs. Lou Savarese fight for the linear heavyweight championship.

Within a few years he had Shannon Briggs vs. George Foreman under his belt as well as numerous other highly regarded fights.

Not bad for a rookie of sorts.

So it shouldn’t have come as much of a shock when Wald helped spearhead boxing back on network TV with the reality show “The Contender” on NBC.  “The Contender” would feature young, upcoming prospects fighting for the chance at a million dollar purse and the right to call themselves more than just a prospect. 

But oddly enough boxing was indifferent at first.

The fighters weren’t that good, the conventional wisdom said.

Boxing can’t work as a reality show, others said.

Who would find the personal stories of a bunch of fighters all that interesting? 

Wald is not one to gloat, but after several world title fights and a world champion in Sergio Mora, he certainly has the right to tell us once again that he “told us so!” 

Wald is looking to pull another explosion tonight with “Tough & Tested” featuring two of the Contender’s most talented and popular fighters as Peter Manfredo and Sakio Bika duke it out for the vacant IBO super middleweight title.  On the undercard Cornelius Bundrage, the runner up in season four, takes on the dangerous season three winner Grady Brewer in an eliminator. 

“The one thing we drilled to our fighters is that boxing is entertainment,” commented Wald on the alumni from his show, “and these guys really took that to heart.  They have used their opportunities from The Contender to really establish themselves as exciting fighters.”

For Manfredo, who has yet to lose to a fighter who has not won a world title, a win over Bika can put him in line for one more major world title fight, something that is not lost on Manfredo or Wald.  Bika, who lost two title fights by decision prior to The Contender, sees this as a golden opportunity as well. 

“Both of these guys have something to prove,” commented Wald, “that they are going to be a world champion.”

It’s a strange development for Manfredo and Bika. 

Both were seen as heavy favorites going into their respective season of the Contender.

Manfredo, who was undefeated with over twenty fights, seemed to be the odds on favorite to win season one of The Contender, and many boxing insiders were predicting that it could turn into the Peter Manfredo show.

Bika was also seen as a fighter who possessed such an edge in experience and skill in season three of The Contender that many wondered if the season would be competitive. 

Well, it is a testament to the matchmaking of The Contender that neither fighter had an easy road in The Contender.  Manfredo lost in the first fight of season one to Alfonso Gomez before coming back to fight in the finals.  Bika engaged in an absolute war with Codrington in the finals that saw him come off the deck to win.

“The show did exactly what it was suppose to do,” commented Wald, “I think satisfaction is a better word than redemption in describing the feeling after each season.”

Bundrage will take on his toughest opponent since he stunned Kassim Ouma in March of this year when he takes on the season three winner Grady Brewer.  Brewer has been sidelined due to four knee surgeries, but is looking to establish himself as a world class contender now that his injuries have healed, and considering his wins over such fighters as Steve Forbes and Anthony Thompson, that is hardly an unrealistic goal for the popular brawler from Oklahoma. 

With tickets starting at $22, this promises to be another legendary night in The Contender history, a great way to introduce boxing to season four which will premiere on Versus during early December. 

“The Contender was designed to give some guys a second chance, and some guys a first chance.  But all of them a chance,” commented Wald, “it’s really about giving people an opportunity.”

There is little doubt that boxing fans and insiders alike will be watching religiously when season four of The Contender  -  which will feature talented cruiserweights  -  hits the air. 

“At first we were dismissed by boxing,” added Wald, “but now we are embraced and we embrace them back.  December 4th is the first episode of season four and I think this is going to be the most exciting season yet.”

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