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Peter Manfredo cuts and ousts Joey Gilbert in NBC's eleventh 'Contender' episode


By Wade Paulsen, 05/02/2005 

On the eleventh episode of NBC's reality-competition boxing show The Contender, the "Italian Clan" coalition (aka the "Gutless Four" for their penchant to fight easy fights, unlike the rest of the boxers) were forced to begin fighting each other, with two spots in the semifinals at stake. In the first such fight, lawyer, former NCAA boxing champion and Sylvester Stallone nutrition endorser Joey Gilbert (now 9-1, 7 KOs) was defeated by Peter Manfredo (now 23-1, 10 KOs) in a split decision after the bout was stopped early due to a severe cut suffered by Joey as a result of an accidental head butt.

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The bout was stopped at 2:34 of the last (fifth) round after Peter popped Joey with a solid right, and Joey responded by dropping his head ... with the eye ridge above his right eye plowing into Peter's cheekbone. The collision opened a deep, ragged cut above Joey's eye and forced a stoppage of the fight several seconds later.

Under California boxing rules, a bout stopped early due to an accidental head butt is decided based on the judge's scorecards up to the point of the injury. One of the judges had huge underdog Joey ahead at that point -- but the other two gave the edge to Peter, creating the second split decision in three fights. Surprisingly, unlike the previous split decision, this one was acknowledged by the show -- perhaps in an effort to create a positive image for the outclassed Joey in his new role as spokeman for fellow Italian and show co-host Stallone.

Peter thus moves into the semifinals along with still-underfeated Sergio "The Latin Snake" Mora and Peter's first-round conquerer Alfonso Gomez Jr.. The last spot in the semifinals will be taken by the winner of next week's fight between the remaining two members of the "Gutless 4": Jesse Brinkley and the injured Anthony Bonsante, who suffered a hamstring tear last week.

At the start of the episode, Alfonso was given the choice of taking one of the other boxers with him for a reward after his victory over Ahmed Kaddour in the last episode. Alfonso chose Sergio, in clear recognition of Sergio's choice of Alfonso to share last show's reward of golf with Sly and Sugar Ray Leonard -- and also served as an acknowledgement of the fact that they are the only boxers left who are not members of the Italian Clan.

The reward involved a shopping spree with "den mother" Jackie Kallen for new clothes along Rodeo Drive, with stops at Salvatore Ferragamo and Ermenegildo Zegna. Sergio reveled in the stylish but expensive clothes (e.g., a $460 shirt), while Alfonso contrasted the outing with his "normal shopping day at Target."

Prior to the challenge, Joey told his buddy Jesse that, if Joey won the challenge, he was going to choose to fight the injured Anthony, leaving Jesse with a much more difficult fight against Peter. Jesse, who has spent the entire show ducking fights and then trashing others who wanted to do the same, was determined to win the challenge and fight the easy fight against Anthony himself.

The weekly challenge involved a race on a baseball diamond to grab speed bags that were identified by number and color. In each round, there was one fewer speed bag than the number of competitiors, and the person left without a bag had to pick one of the others for a head-to-head challenge, with the loser eliminated. Anthony was permitted to sit out the challenge to rest his torn hamstring.

In each of the first three rounds, the person ending up without a speedbag was Sergio. However, he took out Alfonso and Peter in head-to-head battles before narrowly losing to Jesse -- setting up a Jesse-Joey best-of-three final. After Jesse won the first race, Joey grabbed him and managed to steal the second bag away (even though Jesse reached it first). In the final round, the two wrestled more than ran ... until Jesse threw Joey aside and ran unmolested to get the last bag and control of the final two matchups.

As usual for "ChickenMan" Jesse, he claimed an injury of his own - a tweak of the hamstring - in justifying his choice of Anthony (who even before his injury had chickened out of fighting Jimmy Lange, a boxer that even Joey could beat) for his own bout. For next week, the dominant color for both Anthony and Jesse should be "yellow."

Peter came out for the bout with Joey dressed in a robe with Italian flag colors on the front and a U.S. flag logo on the back -- and he wore a kilt with the Italian flag on the front and the U.S. flag on the back over his shorts, perhaps a measure of how confident he felt against Joey. However, the fight turned into a slugfest, with Joey whining about a hurt rib but still fighting (despite taking a lot of punishment) until the head collision.

As with the previous split decision, the bizarre and misleading editing employed by executive producer Mark Burnett made it impossible for people who weren't actually at the fight to have any idea how it actually went. For example, the edited second round was shown on TV as being dominated by Peter, yet on the Contender web site, Tommy Gallagher writes that he would have given the round to Joey had he been scoring it. Is that an example of producers' bias or an accurate assessment of the round? Who can tell, thanks to the unavailability of an unedited version of the fight? No wonder the combination of hidden fights and undisclosed judging has created controversy -- the opposite of the result that Mark Burnett and his partners planned to bring to boxing.

After the fight, "Italian Stallion" Stallone told his paisan Joey that he was "absolutely the heart and soul of this competition," as Joey walked to a waiting ambulance to be whisked to the hospital and get "60 stitches" (per Joey) to close the cut. In his final words, Joey -- who whined relentlessly about not being able to fight Jeff Fraza or Brent Cooper -- claimed that he was "never at any time afraid to fight anybody here." Perhaps this claim should be put to the test with a "challenge bout" between Joey and the other quarterfinal split-decision loser, Ishe "Sugar Shay" Smith (who would have no incentive to take it easy on Joey, since -- unlike Peter -- Joey didn't give him a $40,000 car), on the championship undercard.

The previews for next week's show featured much footage of the bout between Anthony and Jesse, ending with a picture of Anthony hitting Jesse and the claim that this would have the "most shocking ending ever." Since the preview tries to create the appearance that the severely injured Anthony wins, look for the standard "Mark Burnett misdirection" -- and for Jesse joining his "Italian Clan" buddy Peter and the two Latinos, Sergio and Alfonso, in the final four.

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