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Najai Turpin and Jeff Fraza depart 'The Contender', as Peter Manfredo Jr returns


By Wade Paulsen, 03/21/2005 

In the fourth episode of NBC's reality-competition boxing show The Contender, chicken pox ended up giving one boxer a second chance, while two other boxers left without the $1 million first prize.

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In the featured fight, the East's Najai "Nitro" Turpin (now 11-2, 8 KOs) lost a five-round unanimous decision to undefeated West middleweight Sergio "The Latin Snake" Mora (now 13-0, 3 KOs), Meanwhile, the East's Jeff Fraza (16-2, 10 KOs) came down with chicken pox and had to leave the show because he was contagious. The fighters were given a vote to bring back a boxer to replace him and selected Peter Manfredo, Jr. (21-1, 10 KOs), who had been defeated in The Contender's first episode -- and the show's closest fight so far.

The Contender's fourth episode began with Jeff, the lightest fighter in the competition, not feeling well. After ailing for a couple of days, he told show manager Jackie Kallen about his illness and a rash on several parts of his body, including his thighs. A doctor quickly diagnosed Jeff with chicken pox, a childhood illness which can be serious in adults. Since Jeff was contagious, he would be unable to have contact with the other boxers or their families for several days -- and so he had no choice but to leave the show.

As a result, the 12 remaining boxers were given a night to debate which of the three defeated boxers they wanted to bring back. By an 8-4 vote, Peter prevailed over Jonathan Reid, in a move that had been widely rumored.

After Peter's return (and his reclaiming of his gloves from the wall of banished contenders), the remaining contestants who had not yet fought competed in a truck pull down the dry concrete bed of the Los Angeles River. With enocuragement from Sugar Ray Leonard, the East won a close battle and was able to make the match for the next night.

Consistent with the "take the toughest fight possible" theme of the show so far, Najai chose to fight the heaviest, strongest, tallest fighter remaining on the West, Sergio. Although Najai landed a flurry of blows in the second round and continued his pummeling of Sergio through most of the third round, Sergio may have pulled the third round out with a late flurry, and he clearly dominated the other rounds en route to victory.

With his win, Sergio joins fellow West boxers Alfonso Gomez (who defeated Peter in week 1), Jesse Brinkley and Ishe Smith in the quarterfinals. Will an East boxer ever win?

With his loss, Najai (whom we learned slept in the closet because of his fear of being shot and kept no one close to him except his charming 2-year-old daughter Anyae) exited The Contender with little hint that six months after this fight, he would end his life in an apparent custody dispute with his girlfriend over Anyae. At the end of the show, NBC broadcast an appeal for a trust fund for Anyae.

In extra footage on The Contender's Yahoo! web site, there is a dispute on the West squad between Ishe and Miguel Espino, who wants to break from the boxers' strategy to date and take the easiest fight available to him in the first round (which would have been Jeff prior to his illness). However, the editing of the show pointed instead toward an upcoming "rematch" between Peter and the West's Anthony Bonsante. The two had fought each other in a 12-round light middleweight fight in Rhode Island just three months prior to the beginning of The Contender, with Manfredo winning a unanimous but "grueling" decision.


(Photo credit NBC)


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