Is boxing back in the mainstream?
“I don’t think it ever left, it’s cyclical like every sport, when there are big fights the stars come out, and right now there are lots of efforts being put in to make the sport relevant more regularly on a big stage, and that’s great.” So said retired undefeated champion and Olympic gold medalist Andre Ward, in the midst of an extensive media run in New York this week to promote the rebirth of “The Contender,” the Mark Burnett reality series that started the genre that has brought us great series like HBO’s “24/7” and “The Ultimate Fighter.”
Ward, who has not stopped moving since he left the ring, will serve as the coach for the 16 fighters in this version, which debits Friday night at 9 on premium service EPIX, a departure from when the original show migrated from NBC to ESPN and then Spike TV. Ward, who stopped at New York’s popular spot Foley’s NYC for an extensive media session Tuesday, said this version will be different from past shows, with full fights for the first time, lots of behind the scenes unvarnished storytelling, and a live finale in November. “I learned a great deal about these guys, who all are great stories and fighters, and I think fans will as well.”
In addition to some familiar surnames, one being Shane Mosley Jr., the show will feature two local talents, John Thompson (18-3, 6 KOs), 29, of Newark, New Jersey, who won the 2015 ESPN Boxcino junior middleweight tournament, and does a great deal of community work in and around The Brick City, and Devaun Lee (10-3-1, 5 KOs), 30, of Queens, who turned to boxing and away from the streets when he was 16 and a friend was shot and killed.
The show will kick off what is to be an intriguing fall for the sport, which will include September’s Triple G-Alvarez rematch, the launch of pay service DAZN, scores of elite cards with HBO and Showtime, and an expanded new partnership for boxing with ESPN that Ward will be part of.
Oh, and then Thanksgiving week is the premier of CREED II, which has gotten tremendous buzz along with rumors that we may see a Drago appearance back into the series. Ward reprises his role as Danny “Stuntman” Wheeler.
“Being around the starpower of the production was another learning experience, and I know fans are going to be both impressed and intrigued by the story when it comes out,” Ward added.
Live fights, great stories, big investment, large scale media interest all sound great. Boxing however is a sport of results, so we shall see where this all goes. However having a telegenic voice like Ward, along with some other great stars in and out of the ring is a huge lift for the sport, one which has needed a consistent shot in the arm for a long time.
Is boxing back? At least now, it’s hard to argue with the champ.