Daily Variety reports that Fox and Endemol USA quietly wrapped production on their copycat boxing-reality show, The Next Great Champ, over the weekend of July 24-25. To keep the audience at the championship bout from being able to "spoil" the identity of the show's ultimate winner, Endemol filmed several different "title fights" without telling the audience which one was the real wrap-up.

In addition, after some bouts, more than one winner was announced. No word whether the audience booed any of the questionable announced outcomes ... as, for example, Champ host Oscar de la Hoya's narrow decision this June over lightly-regarded German middleweight Felix Sturm was booed.

Said one Fox insider about the fakery, "It's an extraordinarily competitive environment. The competition has proven they'll do anything. We're being very, very careful."

But why has the TV environment turned so "extraordinarily competitive"? Perhaps because Fox reality czar Mike Darnell has amassed a never-ending string of idea, concept and execution thefts for the network, including copycats (or planned copycats) of two NBC shows, The Contender and The Apprentice, both produced by superstar reality TV pioneer Mark Burnett, a CBS show, Rock Star, also produced by Burnett, and two British imports purchased by ABC, Wife Swap and Supernanny, that have made the other networks furious. As NBC Universal Television President Jeff Zucker said earlier this month, "Quite frankly, [Fox] used to be innovators and now they're imitators."

Daily Variety had previously reported that Fox had scheduled Champ to air in September, so that it could reach the airwaves substantially ahead of the show that Fox had first tried to land -- The Contender, which is still in pre-production but will debut in November. However, Fox personnel, who have not officially announced a date for Champ, challenged the prior Variety report, and Variety's new story notes that Fox's only confirmed date is that the show will begin airing on Fridays in October (which still would precede The Contender) -- but also notes that the date could be moved up in the current poisoned environment between Fox and NBC.

Although we have no inside sources within Fox, we note that a September launch date (perhaps some time shortly after The Complex's premiere) would enable Fox to get its ripoff on the air two months ahead of the original -- the same strategy that Fox employed for another copycat show, Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy, with great success so far. We also note that one reason Fox may be clamming up (for now) is that NBC has rumored that it might air a "preview special" of The Contender in September, right after the Olympics -- which, if true, would deprive Fox of its "first-to-air" position.

In addition to denying the earlier premiere date, Fox also continues to refute allegations that The Next Great Champ is a copycat, claiming instead that it was a concept developed independently of The Contender. We'll let our readers draw their own conclusions about Fox's veracity after examining Oscar de la Hoya's revised story about the show's origins.