Note that, if the finale actually matches up Sergio with Peter, the only two winners of split decisions will have advanced to the finals, as Peter defeated 'Italian Clan' cohortJoey Gilbert via split decision, after the bout was stopped when Joey suffered a serious cut after accidentally head-butting Peter. Both Ishe and Joey might be wondering about judging standards, considering the amount of money that either Peter or Sergio (if he defeats 'ChickenMan' Jesse, as seems likely) will be taking home -- especially since, as always, Contender excutive producer Mark Burnett continues to block the release of full-length, unedited versions of the show's fights, placing these fights among the very few from recent years that are completely unavailable for independent review.
The episode began with a meeting among the boxers in co-host Sylvester Stallone's on-show "office." Sly asked the boxers, two of whom (Peter and Jesse) had been part of the dominant but cowardly coalition, to pick who they were going to fight in the semifinals. Thus, in another change of rules, the matchups now would be set without any sort of a challenge. Sergio, who had to be salivating at the chance to fight Jesse, immediately volunteered that Peter and Alfonso had agreed to a rematch. Since no one disagreed about that, both semifinal matches were quickly declared finalized ... meaning that the show would have three straight episodes without any kind of a challenge prior to the fights.
In the long, snooze-inducing buildup to the semifinal bout, the families of both Alfonso and Peter were featured. Although much of the discussion centered around Peter's relationship with his father (also a pro boxer, who started training Peter when he was 5) and Alfonso's relationship with his brothers, many younger viewers may have wished for more scenes with Peter's toddler daughter Alexis (who will be 3 on May 23, and who was described by one "tween" viewer as "the cutest kid on TV").
In the seven-round fight itself (up from five rounds in the first round and quarterfinals), it was, as always on The Contender, impossible to tell who was winning due to the heavy editing. Alfonso was edited to appear to be leading after five rounds. However, the edited footage showed Peter landing the heavier blows in rounds six and seven. Ultimately, all three judges awarded the fight to Peter, and Alfonso left the ring holding an icepack to his jaw.
The finale will also feature a match-up between the semifinal losers, as well as a "fan favorite" match chosen by the viewers. Although there has been some sentiment for the logical match between split-decision quarterfinal losers Ishe and Joey, voting on the show's Yahoo! web site currently favors a bout between two first-round losers who were left out by the 'Italian Stallion'/'Italian Clan' advocacy for Ahmed Khaddour to return to the show: Tarick Salmaci and Jimmy Lange. However, voting was still taking place as the deadline of midnight yesterday approached, and the relative percentage of both Ishe Smith and Brent Cooper were increasing as the deadline approached. NBC has yet to announce the two participants in the "fan favorite fight," so there is still hope for everyone -- although a fight that matched up members of the 'Gutless Four' coalition would have little interest to anyone outside of their immediate families.
Meanwhile, ratings for the show in its Sunday-night slot opposite ABC's top-ten reality hit Extreme Makeover: Home Edition continue to suffer. Average viewership so far has been about 6.3 million -- comparable to NBC's fall flopLast Comic Standing 3. As a result, The Contender is not included in the NBC fall schedules being unveiled at today's NBC "upfront" ad sales meetings, although it has yet to be formally canceled. Its audience levels are considered great by the standards of boxing shows but are far from great by the standards of reality-competition shows ... especially when taking into account the reported $2 million per episode fee that NBC paid for the show, the highest ever for a reality-competition show.
If The Contender were to return as a mid-season replacement, the per-episode fee would have to take a huge hit ... probably sufficient to preclude the return of high-priced talent such as co-host and co-executive producer Stallone. On the other hand, considering the appearance of favoritism from 'Italian Stallion' Stallone with regard to the 'Italian Clan' (who received endorsement deals and favorable edits), Sly's departure might produce an improved on-air product.