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The Contender

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

I used to be a boxing fan. Used to go to Vegas for the big fights. Followed the sweet science closely. Seems a lot of folks used to be boxing fans. But the days of grand personalities and marquis names are long gone. And even fighters are disillusioned by the fixes and the Don King shenanigans. Well, a television show that launched this week, need I say it-s reality show, just may give boxing the shot in the arm it so sorely needs these days.

Fox premiered a boxing reality show last fall. It was so abysmal that it was yanked off the air immediately. If you had asked me last week I would have predicted a similar fate for this one, called The Contender on NBC. I couldn-t imagine a prime-time audience taking any interest in boxing, when even weekend sports viewers barely tune in to the fights any more. And the reality show craze in general turns me off. Survivor isn-t about survival in remote places. It-s about young people bickering and back-biting in remote places. The Apprentice isn-t about cutting your business teeth in the board room. It-s about young people bickering and back-biting in the board room. So I am the first to admit that I was terribly surprised to find myself enthralled (yes, I-d go so far as to say I was enthralled) with The Contender on Monday night.

Like all reality shows, this one is contrived. It-s a set-up, not a documentary. Sixteen young men have been picked to gather in a Los Angeles training facility and duke it out, week by week, until the final two get to enter a ring at Caesar-s Palace in Las Vegas and jab their way to the million-dollar champion-s prize. Winner take all. We got to know all sixteen middleweights Monday. The second episode airs tonight. Then they go to their regular Sunday time slot. Pretty boy Ahmed, single dad Anthony, devout Catholic Jimmy, law school drop-out Jerry, Nevada farm boy Jesse. You met a lot of their families and quickly came to care how much time and heartache these kids had already put into this rigorous and often painful sport. Like voyeurs, we saw a scene of Peter with his wife and baby daughter that let us into the inner sanctum of their love triangle. Here is a young man who has a record of 21 and 0. He-s never been beaten and he-s currently ranked third in the world. He-s worked his butt off in dank gyms, he-s taken hard punches to his face, and now he-s determined to score this million-dollar prize to make life easy for his wife and daughter. Boxing is all he knows and he sees this show as his last chance. The scenes with Peter and his family were far more compelling than the up-close-and-personal profiles broadcast about boxers before HBO and ESPN telecasts.

The co-producers of The Contender are Sylvester Stallone and Sugar Ray Leonard. When these sixteen kids met the two stars for the first time, they stood staring in disbelief, jaws hanging. One of them gushed, -Are you kidding me? This is Rocky, man. I-ve seen every

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