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Miguel Espino edged by resurgent Peter Manfredo in NBC's fifth 'The Contender' episode


By Wade Paulsen, 03/28/2005 

The "angel on his shoulder" -- his wife Yamilka -- propelled the East's Peter Manfredo Jr. (now 22-1, 10 KOs) to a stunning come-from-behind win over the West's Miguel Espino (now 9-2-1, 3 KOs) in his "second chance" on the fifth episode of NBC's The Contender. All three judges scored the five-round bout 48-47 (3 rounds for Peter, 2 for Miguel), giving the East its first win in the series.

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NBC's Easter Sunday Contender broadcast began with a one-hour recap of the first four bouts, all won by the West -- including Peter's stunning elimination in the first episode. However, Peter returned to the ranks of the contenders when East boxer Jeff "Hell Raza" Fraza came down with chicken pox in Episode 4.

In the early part of Episode 5, both Peter and the West team noted that Peter was severely out-of-sync after his return. Miguel informed Peter that, if the West won the week's challenge, the two of them would meet in the ring the next night. While the West played poker with world light heavyweight boxing champion Antonio Tarver (and Episode 4 victor Sergio Mora was given two free tickets to fly anywhere in the world), Peter confessed his worries to his wife and toddler daughter Alexis, who both tried to encourage him without much success.

The week's challenge was an "urban obstacle course" (a combination of hurdles, sprint, tire tossing, dumpster pushing, key retrieval, lock unlocking, and ladder building) down L.A.'s Grant Street, with only the four boxers on each team that hadn't won participating in the competition. Unfortunately for Peter's hopes for an extra three days of rest, the West took the lead early and stretched it all the way, thus setting up a Miguel-Peter match the next day.

Prior to the fight, show host Sugar Ray Leonard compared Peter's mental state to his own after he had lost to Roberto Duran in the first of a three-fight series. Perhaps that inspired Peter to rally in the first round after being hit early by Miguel and to take the round away with a late flurry of activity. However, round two was all Miguel, who seemed to have demoralized Peter with his attack, blasting Peter's chin almost at will. Although Peter made a rally near the end of round three, Miguel's family and the West team thought Peter was "dead" -- and apparently so did Yamilka Manfredo, because (in a series first for a wife or girlfriend) she came right up to Peter's corner to encourage him to work more combinations in the final two rounds.

In the fourth round, Miguel's dominance suddenly came to an end when Peter, who clearly had the support of the crowd, blasted Miguel with a solid right hand to the chin, badly hurting Miguel, followed by series of hard punches. Miguel seemed lucky to still be on his feet when the bell rang. Yamilka again came up to encourage Peter before the decisive fifth round, and, although Miguel tried to rally, Peter had regained his confidence and landed several clean shots.

The relief on Yamilka's face at the end of the fight was obvious. After the narrow but clear decision was announced, Miguel left the ring in tears, disappointed for letting his parents and his sister down, while Peter had experienced the full gamut of emotions -- from crushed loser in Episode 1 to relieved winner in Episode 5 ... and member of the final eight. (Note to series executive producer Mark Burnett: it would really be a good idea to put a full, unedited version of the fights up on the Web, because boxing insiders are spreading sleazy rumors about the judging, trying to discredit your integrity. No doubt the rumors will intensify after the first really close decision of the series.)

After Peter's victory, West boxer and Episode 2 winner Jesse Brinkley expressed the shock of the West team at the sudden reversal of fortune, observing, "We let a lion back in, dude." In the post-fight commentary, show co-host Sylvester Stallone says that he now thinks that this is Peter's tournament to lose, despite Peter's opening loss to the West's Alfonso Gomez Jr. -- while show trainer Tommy Gallagher sides with the West's Ishe Smith, despite the fact that Ishe moved up from welterweight (147 lb.) to middleweight (158 lb.) for this competition.

Each team is now left with three boxers needing to fight first-round matches: Jimmy Lange, Juan de la Rosa and Brent Cooper from the East, and Anthony Bonsante, Tarick Salmaci and Joey Gilbert for the West. According to the preview, the next fight becomes the first one to be stopped early; the clip showed Ishe screaming, "Stop the fight! Stop the fight!" Whether Ishe wanted the fight stopped because the West boxer was winning decisively or because he was trying to throw in the towel for a defeated teammate was not revealed, however.

(Photo credit NBC)


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