Inspiration time on 'Contender'

October, 24, 2007
10/24/07
11:02
AM ET
When my wife, Jenn, told me she had something to do Tuesday night after work, my first question was: Will you be home by 10 p.m.? That, of course, is when we religiously watch "The Contender" each week on ESPN. She said she would be, so I was concerned when it was 9:55 and she wasn't home yet. But she walked in the door just as the show was starting. Whew! She took her place on the reclining couch as Sugar Ray Leonard recapped the first round of the 10-man tournament. Cue the omnipresent theme music and we were in business. A look at Episode 8:



From the beginning, my wife's favorite fighter in the tournament has been Sam Soliman, who faces Sakio Bika in next week's second semifinal. When Soliman's picture flashed during the opening credits, she clapped and proclaimed herself president of his fan club.



With the field whittled to the final four, it was time for the first semifinal between Jaidon Codrington and Wayne Johnsen. To refresh: Codrington advanced thanks to a second-round knockout of Brian Vera back in the second episode. Johnsen advanced with a decision win against Miguel Hernandez in the fourth episode. Codrington is easy to root for. During the season, his father died. So committed to the tournament, Codrington elected to stay in Los Angeles to compete rather than head home to be with his family and attend the funeral. Codrington's reflections on his decision were touching and gave viewers a reason to cheer him on. We also got to see the more human side of trainers Buddy McGirt and Pepe Correa, who both admitted to growing close to the fighters during their time together. It was pretty obvious that McGirt, who has trained Codrington during the tournament, and Codrington have bonded. Same goes for Correa and Johnsen.



One of the interesting things about "The Contender" is how the fighters live and train together even though they will have to fight each other. That doesn't happen in "real" boxing, so I found it fascinating to see Codrington running the treadmill while watching Johnsen sparring in preparation for the bout. Likewise, Johnsen later watched Codrington spar.



The four remaining fighters got a chance to break camp for an inspirational tour of Sugar Ray's beautiful home, an obviously multimillion-dollar compound built with his considerable ring earnings. Leonard explained that showing them his home was a way of showing them what could materialize from ring success. The fighters, who would love to make the kind of purses he did, were clearly impressed. How giddy was Soliman by the first-hand view of SRL's wealth? He said he wanted the ring legend to adopt him. Not a bad idea. It was cool to see Leonard show them his gym, the walls of which are covered with photos and memorabilia from his career. Even Paul Smith, eliminated last week despite winning because he was medically ineligible after being cut and because he was in last place among the winners on the ubiquitous power rankings board, was invited to join the tour.



Now it was time for the fight of the night. After Johnsen received the obligatory family visit in the dressing room and Codrington was reunited with the brothers he hadn't seen since their father's death, they marched to the ring. In his final pre-fight comments, Codrington promised, "I will dominate Wayne." That's exactly what he did, stopping him at 1:17 of the first round in the quickest fight of the tournament. Codrington landed a nice right hand to the side of Johnsen's head, a punch Johnsen admitted he never saw, and knocked him down. Johnsen struggled to his feet at nine, but he was wobbly and referee Jack Reiss properly stopped it. After so much buildup to the fight during the episode, it was a big disappointment to my wife to see it end so quickly. I, of course, have known the result since it happened more than a month ago. Johnsen was stunned and disappointed to be blown out so quickly. He thought he could have continued. Correa showed honesty by telling him it was a good stoppage.



With the fight over so quickly, the last segment of the episode was devoted to the buildup to next week's Soliman-Bika fight, which is rematch of Soliman's 12-round majority decision from Oct. 15, 2002, in Australia. Bika claims he was robbed and is looking forward to fighting him again. With Johnsen eliminated (and again, could somebody please give him a ride after he hangs up the gloves and walks out of the gym seemingly to nowhere?) and Codrington headed home to see his family, Soliman and Bika were the only ones left in the house the fighters have shared all season. It has to be uneasy for them to live together knowing they are going to fight again. Bika admitted so and didn't have much to say to Soliman, who always seems to be smiling no matter what. Next week, they'll fight and the following week in Boston (a live ESPN fight) Codrington will fight the winner for the $750,000 grand prize in the culmination of an entertaining season.



The premise of "The Contender" is not too complicated but did you ever notice at the end of each episode when the credits roll that the series has 11 -- yes, 11 -- executive or co-executive producers? What do they all do? Sort of like all the sanctioning organizations in boxing, it seems like overkill, doesn't it? To paraphrase Leonard, I guess every executive producer counts.

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