By Alex Dombroff/Photos: Emily Harney
Click on the picture to go to the next
Season Four of the reality TV show The Contender produced it’s winner Wednesday night, culminating a season that began with sixteen cruiserweights living together in Singapore. But even after Troy Ross had knocked out Ehinomen Ehikhamenor to claim the Contender title, it was clear the impact of the experience went much deeper than the impact on their records.
The fighters, flanked by Tournament of Contenders promoter Jeff Wald, spoke glowingly of the time spent together and their new common bond.
“We knew going in there was only going to be one winner,” said Ross. “What we didn’t expect was to build such a good relationship between everyone of us. There are sixteen of us, and we have built such a bond between all of us, that it’s going to be for life.”
Wald, who has parlayed appearances on the Contender into bigger fights for the several contestants of the past seasons, praised the fighters for becoming more friends than foe during their time together.
“The guys on the contender really formed a bond,” said Wald. “They support each other, they go to each other’s fights. It’s a unique experience other fighters don’t have.”
Just as unique was the amount of face time the fighters got with the viewers watching the show.
The show made its season four debut in December, and since then both Ross and Ehikhamenor have fought in front of the cameras four times.
And even when they weren’t fighting, they got the chance to show different sides of themselves due to the Real World/Big Brother type living situation.
“These guys got twelve weeks of television.” said Wald. “To do that on HBO, that’s four years.”
None of the men who were showcased on the card were strangers to attention, either.
Ross is a former two time Olympian, representing Canada, while Ehikhamenor has long been featured as an up and coming prospect to cards put on by Lou DiBella.
Even undercard fighter Rico Hoye, who won the show’s bronze medal contest by winning a decision over Akinyemi Laleye, had been showcased on television several times before joining the cast of The Contender.
“I was fighting on Showtime, I was ranked number one in the world and fought for a light heavyweight championship,” said Hoye. “I don’t think I got as much attention and publicity. Being ranked number one, and then being on the show, the two don’t even compare. This is, hands down, the best.
“This,” said Ross. “Was my Olympic gold medal.”
Even the losers on the night felt like they had won something with the spotlight on them, and new found friends around them.
“A world champion doesn’t get this much exposure,” said Laleye. “They took 16 unknowns and turned them into household names.”
Looking towards the future, Wald believes he has found the perfect storm of division, fighters, and skill level to make legitimate contenders out of each fighter featured.
“This is a hot division,” said Wald. “There are two hot fighters, [Tomasz] Adamek and [Steve] Cunningham. These guys can hang with any of them. Of our four years, this was the best year. We had the most skill guys.”
Last December, Adamek topped Cunningham in one of the best fights of 2008, a testament to the current upswing in the division.
And in the current boxing climate, where each division houses several champions at once, Wald sees opportunities for more than one guy at a time.
“The good news is there are five belts out there,” said Wald. “The bad news is there are five belts out there. But it is what it is. The fact of the matter is, any of these guys can become a world champion.”