Not content to let NBC and producer Mark Burnett claim the reality boxing show sub-genre without a fight, FOX has announced that it has teamed with six-time World Champion Oscar De La Hoya and reality television powerhouse Endemol USA to launch a reality boxing competition series of its own.

Similar to NBC's previously announced The Contender series, FOX's The Next Great Champ will seek to discover young, raw boxers and train them for a possible title fight opportunity. However instead of aiming to launch its own new boxing federation, Fox's Champ will seek to secure a title fight for an existing title, with the winner also getting a professional contract with De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions and a large cash prize.

"It doesn't get any bigger than this," said Mike Darnell, Fox's Executive Vice President of Specials and Alternative Programming, in announcing the series. "So many unscripted series include contrived competitions where the participants 'figuratively' battle it out. But this time, the battle, and the punches are absolutely real and the winner could get a shot at a legitimate title holder."

Endemol USA's president, David Goldberg echoed Darnell's sentiments. "Oscar De La Hoya is a boxing legend whose story epitomizes the American dream. Now, he's giving a group of hungry and legitimate fighters a chance to follow in his footsteps and become a true champion."

"We're looking for talented, determined, courageous young boxers who want their chance at stardom," said De La Hoya. "Once we find them, we will push them to their limits to see which ones have the heart of a champion. And, for the first time, the audience will get to see the daily sacrifices and struggles, the joy and pain in the career of a young fighter. We'll show you how champions are made."

Approximately a dozen up-and-coming fighters selected from across the country will get their shot to truly become The Next Great Champ. Each will have a story... all will be qualified boxers who are either new to the sport, have had tough breaks or never had the right opportunity.

Much as Burnett's plans for The Contender, not all of Champ's focus will be on the boxing-related functions. Each boxer will have a "cornerman" -- a friend, family member, etc. who will join them for the competition -- and an Amazing Race-like exploration of the personal relationship between the two will also be a part of the program.

Additionally, much like Contender's plans to have George Foreman and Sugar Ray Leonard appear on the program, Champ's fighters will undergo a series of workout regimens crafted by legendary professional fighters and trainers -- many of whom will appear on the show, with De La Hoya also serving as a mentor, friend, and motivator to the contestants..

Over the course of the series, The Next Great Champ will advance from challenge to challenge, round to round, and fight to fight until only one boxer is left standing. The winning boxer will receive a large cash prize, a possible title fight and a boxing contract with Golden Boy Promotions, leading to the "chance to follow in the footsteps" of De La Hoya.

Despite the numerous similarities between the two program's Darnell, who expects FOX's series to air in Fall 2004 and therefore hit the airwaves months before NBC's Contender, which is planned for January 2005, claims his series will be superior to that of the Survivor and Apprentice producer. "Ours is the only boxing show where we have a real-life boxer, one who's working right now, rather than someone who portrayed a boxer," Darnall bragged to Daily Variety while apparently taking a shot at actor Sylvester Stallone's status as one of Contender's three executive producers.

For their part, Burnett, Stallone, and partner Jeffrey Katzenberg seemed upset over FOX's plans, with Burnett already making public comments regarding the possibility of taking legal action (something he's none too shy about, having already sued FOX over its Boot Camp series several years ago.) A significant cause of Burnett's frustration appears to be due to the fact that De La Hoya had been previously approached about participating in The Contender and that having lost out on the series during its heated bidding process, FOX also had been given significant inside knowledge of the series..

"If we feel they've stepped over the line, it's creatively outrageous... (and) not only will we take legal action, but it doesn't bode well for the future prospects (of Burnett and DreamWorks projects landing at Fox)," Burnett told Daily Variety. "Fox lost out (on The Contender) fair and square, and it's hard to believe they'd do something substantially similar."
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Endemol denies any infringement on Burnett's ideas. "We met with Oscar, developed a concept, and Fox picked it up," Goldberg told the paper. "Nobody said to us, 'We want you to develop a show for us.' Ours has to be unique because it's the only boxing format I know anything about."

Unlike Burnett, who's seen rival productions companies rip-off his ideas for several years now and has good reason to be exasperated with the behavior, Contender producer Katzenberg, who's pretty much breaking into reality programming after amassing a fortune developing scripted programming, seemed more reserved in his reaction -- although equally incredulous. "I'm very concerned about (the Fox series) and I hope that whatever it is that they're doing is original and their own," he told The Hollywood Reporter.

Darnell, who in the highly intertwined world of television is also working with Burnett on his upcoming The Casino series which premieres on FOX next month, didn't appear concerned by Burnett's comments. "It's an extraordinarily competitive TV landscape, and the hottest genre right now is reality," Darnell said. "We had heard half a dozen pitches for boxing projects before The Contender, and I did two (celebrity) boxing shows. So you're bound to have competing projects. May the best man win."