Random Thoughts: "Contender" is getting better

Updated: September 13, 2007, 9:33 AM ET
By Dan Rafael
Your weekly random thoughts …

• The Fight Freaks out there who have chatted with me each week for the past couple of years know that I have not been a fan of "The Contender" in seasons past. I despised the first season on NBC, which came across as way too contrived for a supposed reality series. Didn't like the challenges. Didn't like the press conferences. Didn't really dig the overall lineup of fighters, although the emergence of Sergio Mora, Peter Manfredo and Alfonso Gomez certainly has injected some new faces onto the fight scene. I was slightly warmer to the second season, which involved feel-good winner Grady Brewer and former titlist Steve Forbes, but I still wasn't a fan even though the show had moved to ESPN, which pays my bills. The overall lineup of fighters was still kind of weak. Still couldn't stand trainers Tommy Gallagher and Jeremy Williams and stopped watching after about three episodes except for the live finale. But, finally, in the third season, they seem to have gotten it right. I watched the fast-paced season debut Tuesday night on ESPN and thoroughly enjoyed the opening hour. New trainers Buddy McGirt and Pepe Correa are more believable and a huge improvement. Even though I already knew which six fighters were being eliminated and which 10 were moving on to compete in the season-long tournament, I still found it to be an entertaining hour. I especially liked the SPARQ training segments and the sparring action. More important, I think Sugar Ray Leonard and the rest of "The Contender" brass have a very solid mix of fighters, from former world title challengers Sam Soliman and Sakio Bika to prospects Jaidon Codrington and Wayne Johnsen to the likeable David Banks and Donnie McCrary. Next week the elimination fights start and I am also giving the season more of a chance than in years past because I know that I will be able to see the unedited fights on ESPN2 instead of the heavily cut bout at the end of each episode.