ESPN renews 'Contender,' reveals cast, series to debut September 4
By Christopher Rocchio, 08/07/2007
ESPN has announced it has ordered a third season of The Contender and revealed the identities of the 16 super middleweights who will compete in the boxing reality competition series, which will premiere Tuesday, September 4 at 10PM ET/PT.
The Contender 3's 16 fighters range in age from 23- to 33-years-old, representing a mix of veteran and amateur super middleweights that includes two former Olympians as well as a handful who have previously fought for world titles. They'll be competing for The Contender 3 crown as well as the new $750,000 grand prize (the purse had previously been $1 million in Season 1 and $500,000 in Season 2).
"I think what we've got this year is a combination of experienced guys who have fought for world championships and very good prospects who will wind up fighting for world championships," The Contender executive producer Jeff Wald told ESPN.com.
Production on The Contender's 10-episode third season began last week in Los Angeles, with the fighters participating in interviews, background checks, as well as physical fitness and psychological tests.
The show's five-round bouts begin filming this week, with ESPN planning to appease The Contender's critics by broadcasting more fight footage than in previous seasons. In addition, ESPN plans to air every bout in its entirety on ESPN2.
"The good news for the hard-core boxing fan is that the fights will be available on one of our network platforms," ESPN vice president of scripted content, Ron Wechsler, told ESPN.com. "We want to continue providing Contender fans with the show that they love and we also want to give hard-core fans what they want."
The Contender 3 will also include what ESPN.com described as a "vastly improved" training staff for the fighters, with The Contender's second-season trainers Tommy Gallagher and Jeremy Williams being replaced by James "Buddy" McGirt and Jose "Pepe" Correa for the show's upcoming third installment.
McGirt is widely considered to one of the best boxing trainers around, according to ESPN.com, while Correa has trained the likes of professional female boxer and former Dancing with the Stars 4celebrity participant Laila Ali; former heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis; as well as returning The Contender host, mentor and boxing Hall of Famer Sugar Ray Leonard.
"We've upgraded the trainers. Buddy is as good as they can possibly get and a good guy and great television, and Pepe is a guy who is collaborative, calm and experienced," Wald told ESPN.com. "The balance of personalities between Buddy and Pepe is incredible. It's a real upgrade."
In addition, The Contender 3 will include guest appearances by comedian Adam Corolla as well as Olympic gold-medalist and boxing great Oscar De Lay Hoya -- the former host of Fox's short-lived 2005 The Contender knock-off The Next Great Champ.
The Contender 3 will be the second The Contender edition to air on ESPN. The show's first season in 2005 aired on NBC, however after drawing poor ratings, the network declined to renew the show for a second season and it moved to ESPN. Mark Burnett -- who createdThe Contender and has stuck with it through its ups and downs -- will continue to serve as its executive producer.
"The Contender has found a terrific home on ESPN and we're proud of the fact that we are able to give a new group of boxers the chance for world-wide exposure," said Burnett.
Six of The Contender 3's 16 fighters will be eliminated at the conclusion of the premiere broadcast, with the show's finale scheduled to air live on November 6 from Boston's TD Banknorth Garden.
The 16 super middleweights competing on The Contender 3 -- as well as their ESPN-supplied bios -- are:
- Max Alexander, a 26-year-old from Camden, NJ who has a 14-1 pro record with 2 KOs
As the self proclaimed most competitive guy of the group, Alexander amassed an impressive 47-3 amateur record and maintains an undefeated record as a professional. Alexander is not only accomplished in the ring, he recently obtained a degree in criminal justice from Montclair State University.
- David Banks, a 24-year-old from Portland, OR who has a 14-2-1 pro record with 2 KOs
Born and raised in Portland, Oregon Banks has been fighting professionally for only three years. Banks considers himself an upset specialist and likes coming in as the underdog.
- Sakio Bika, a 28-year-old from Sydney, Australia via Cameroon who has a 22-3-2 pro record with 14 KOs
Bika represented his native country of Cameroon at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, while there loved it so much he has since decided to live and train in Sydney. This accomplished fighter has several title bouts on his resume including the Australian Middleweight Title and New South Wales State Middleweight Title.
- Henry Buchanan, a 28-year-old from Capital Heights, MD who has a 14-1 pro record with 11 KOs
The supremely confident Henry "Sugar Poo" Buchanan was born and raised in Capital Heights, Maryland. Buchanan has impressed boxing experts with his power, uppercut from the inside and ability to slip punches.
- La Farrell Bunting, a 27-year-old from Las Vegas, NV who has a 16-3-1 pro record with 16 KOs
Bunting's only focus once in the ring is winning and doing the best he can. His title bouts include vacant International Boxing Association (IBA) Americas Light Heavyweight Title and World Boxing Organization (WBO) NABO Super Middleweight Title.
- Jaidon Codrington, a 23-year-old from New York, NY who has a 16-1 pro record with 12 KOs
Former national Golden Gloves Champion, Codrington, possesses the perfect mix of speed, power and flash that has captivated audiences since his 2004 professional debut. With Sugar Ray Leonard as one of his idols, Codrington feels truly fortunate to be a part of the Contender.
- Miguel Hernandez, a 32-year-old from Chicago, IL who has a 20-5 pro record with 10 KOs
This popular fighter didn't start boxing until 27. Hernandez has earned the respect of many very quickly both inside and outside the ring. Touted as one of Chicago's favorite fighters, Hernandez is a straight forward fighter with a reputation of putting on a great show.
- Wayne Johnson, a 29-year-old from Lyndhurst NJ who has a 16-1 pro record with 9 KOs
Born and raised in Lyndhurst, New Jersey, Johnsen is a standout athlete in several sports. While on a football scholarship for the University of New Heaven, Johnsen blew out his knee and turned to boxing to stay in shape for football. Johnsen was soon recognized in the boxing community as a rising star.
- Donny McCrary, a 24-year-old from St. Joseph, MO who has a 23-5-2 pro record with 13 KOs
Born and raised in St. Joseph, Missouri, McCrary dreams of becoming a world boxing champion. With titles such as North American Boxing Association (NABA)and North American Boxing Council (NABC) Midwest Super Middleweight he is on his way to fulfilling his dream.
- Les Ralston, a 25-year-old from Buffalo, NY who has a 16-2 pro record with 9 KOs
Ralston is managed and trained by his father, Jimmy Ralston, who was a top 10 rated light heavyweight in the sixties. Ralston is more focused than ever and can hurt opponents with either hand.
- Danny Santiago, a 34-year-old from Ocala, FL who has a 29-3-1 pro record with 19 KOs
A native of New York, Santiago is a former New York City Golden Gloves Champion as well as competed for World Boxing Organization (WBO) Light Heavyweight Championship. He is an aggressive fighter who tries to knock his opponent's head off.
- Paul Smith, a 24-year-old from Liverpool, England who has a 20-0 record with 12 KOs
Born and raised in Liverpool, England, Smith comes from a boxing family; in fact he and his three brothers are the first brothers that have all won Amateur National Championships. The confident Smith welcomes the chance to show what makes him a true Contender.
- Sam Soliman, a 33-year-old from Melbourne, Australia who has a 33-9 pro record with 13 KOs
Soliman began his boxing career after studying several forms of martial arts including Tae Kwon Do, Karate and Kick-Boxing. The super fit Soliman's proudest moment as a fighter was winning the Commonwealth Title in 2001. Soliman also works as a motivational speaker in Australia.
- Brian Vera, a 26-year-old from Austin, TX who has a 14-0 pro record with 9 KOs
Brian Vera possesses the heart of a champion. Two-time International Boxing Association (IBA) Champ, Vera, comes from a long lineage of professional fighters. The heavy-handed Austin favorite puts on a great show in the ring.
- Rhoshii Wells, a 30-year-old from Las Vegas, NV who has a 18-2-2 pro record with 10 KOs
Inspired by Rocky movies as a kid, Rhoshii Wells, begged his father to take him to the gym and teach him to box. Nicknamed "The Great One" Wells began his professional career in 1997 after winning the bronze medal in the middleweight division at the 1996 Summer Olympics.
- Rubin Williams, a 31-year-old from Detroit, MI who has a 29-2-1 pro record with 16 KOs
Growing up in Detroit wasn't always easy according to Williams, the self described bully turned accomplished fighter. With title bouts such as International Boxing Federation (IBF) Super Middleweight and NBA Super Middleweight on his resume this confident fighter is ready for any challenge.