True reality television

By Jeffery Armstrong

For those of you who haven't watched the new reality television show 'The Contender,' you're missing a treat. It is the only reality TV show (besides Cheaters) that is truly steeped in reality.

The Contender airs on Sunday nights at 8 p.m. on NBC and it features boxers from around the country who have to fight each other until there is only one boxer left and that one winning boxer will net a cool $1 million. Former boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, actor Sylvester Stallone and Mark Burnett (who created Survivor) are the brains behind this show and it truly rocks.

The boxers are lumped into two groups - the East and the West - depending on their hometowns and they each have to do Survivor-like challenges every week. Whatever group wins the challenge has the power to set up the week's five-round boxing match. For example, if the West wins the challenge, they can pit their best fighter against the weakest fighter of the East team.

The boxer who wins his match gets his banner hung in the gym where they train, gets a gold chain with boxing gloves on it and eliminates the loser of the match, who has to go home. The winning boxer's team then gets rewarded after the fight - the West team won the first four fights so they got expensive suits, were treated to dinners at fancy restaurants and last week, they got to spend time playing poker with light heavyweight boxing champ Antonio Tarver. While the winning team is treated like royalty, the losing team has to sit in the Contender house by themselves with nothing to do.

What makes this show interesting is that the boxers' families are flown to California with them to give them moral support and love. Some of the boxers are married with kids; some are single guys with girlfriends and with families who are poverty stricken. The emotion of the show is unreal. One boxer named Sergio Mora is fighting to help his mother escape the neighborhood she currently lives in and he breaks down when talking about her. Other boxers want to win so they can provide better lives for their wives and children.

Two weeks ago, one of the West fighters contracted chicken pox and had to be sent home. So an East fighter who lost in one of the earlier shows had to be brought back in to get the numbers back to normal. That East boxer, Peter Manfredo Jr., came back tentative in the sparring matches and looked like he would be easy pickings for the West. So when the West team won last week's challenge, they picked Peter to fight the West boxer Miguel. Peter's wife and daughter came to visit him and they both gave him support, especially his wife. Well, what was supposed to be an easy fight for Miguel turned into a victory for Peter, who was supported by the crowd around the ring and his wife who was yelling and screaming throughout the match.

What was so great about the match was that Peter's wife kept going to his corner after each round to give him moral support, telling him he could win. Miguel's father and younger sister were also in the audience, and they went from happiness when Miguel was winning to utter disappointment when he started losing.

The emotion was gripping - I nearly broke down when Peter won because it was nice to see the East finally win a match and his wife was so excited for him. Miguel did break down, crying in front of Stallone and in front of his family. This is what television should be about - gripping emotion and energy. I can't wait for next Sunday's show.

Jeffery Armstrong is a sports writer for the Daily and his column appears on Thursdays. He can be reached at jarmstrong@news-daily.com .