It appears ESPN has made the right decision in hosting The Contender series this year as the first real boxing episode jumped off. The joint project between Sugar Ray Leonard and Sylvester Stallone is in its third year. My own prediction is that this year will be the best one. One of the reasons for thinking so is that the producers (Stallone and Leonard) made a definite curtsy toward the regular fight crowd. Many boxing fans were a little turned off by the fact that the actual boxing was severely edited to appeal to the type of fight fan more accustomed to watching “Rocky” movies or films like “Million Dollar Baby” or “Cinderella Man.” I understand that the network carrying the show previously wanted to broaden the audience for The Contender. But ESPN’s sponsoring of the show was a move in the right direction. Die-hard boxing fans like to see things with their own eyes, not through editorial filters. As a boxing coach at the Jesse Harris Boxing Gym in Pennsylvania, I count myself among the latter.
The Contender III series last night launched its first match between Jaidon “The Don” Codrington (16-1-0) and Brian Vera (14-1-0) from Houston Texas. The two had fought in the amateurs and Vera was out to avenge his loss. Short story of the boxing match: Brian Vera chose to fight Codrington in a show of bravado. The consequence was that he went down hard for the second time in the second round of the fight and the referee stopped it.
My Sicilian ancestors have a saying: “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” Don’t let your competitive feelings get in the way of your objectives, in other words. Where Brian Vera was concerned, it was a big mistake for him to let his emotions get in the way of his goals. Vera should have left it to someone else to knock off Codrington.
One of the key “hooks” about the Contender series is that boxers get to choose their opponents. The “contenders” from one team select their opponents on the other team. The losers of each bout are eliminated and sent home without prize money. The winning team gets to select the next opponent. Common sense would tell a boxer to select an opponent he is confident of beating. That’s not the way boxers are built, however. You can’t be a winning boxer unless you have supreme confidence, the type of confidence that makes other people believe in you.
At bottom, everyone has a fear of fighting and conflict. Muhammad Ali was once nearly disqualified from his first title shot because fear had driven his blood pressure up so high that the ringside physician would not let him enter the ring in that condition. His manager, Angelo Dundee, brought Ali back to the training room and had him lie down and spoke with him soothingly until he calmed down. Boxing is triumph over fear. It takes great courage just to climb the steps into a boxing ring. Think about it. You’re going into the ring to meet an opponent whom you don’t know and who wants to use all legal means to make you quit fighting. These are not street fighters; these are people trained to slip, feint, jab, glide and punch at a level the schoolyard bully never dreamed of.
As things stood in this first Contender Series fight, Brian Vera was drawn into a talking war with Jaidon Codrington and that’s something one can’t easily win against boys from the streets of New York. I’m sure it’s just as tough and nasty in the back neighborhoods of Houston, but the quality of trash talk is perhaps not so much perfected as it is, perhaps, in Starett City, Bushwick, Brownsville, or Bed-Sty-Do-Or-Die, New York.
I was glad for Codrington. The “1” on his 14-1 record was the result of one of the most devastating knockouts in boxing history. Knockouts occur often enough in boxing, but not like the one Codrington sustained against Al Green. It was a good sign that Codrington was able to speak of the KO he sustained in the pre-fight interview segment of the ESPN show. Codrington knew that his opponent was counting on the post-KO mental weakness which afflicts some fighters after being knocked out in the ring. The only way to deal with demons like that is to face them and fight them off. Easier said than done, but there was a steely ring of truth in his voice when Codrington said: “That ain’t going to happen again…ever.” It sure didn’t happen for Brian Vera who now must be sent home in accordance with the rules of the ESPN series.
The Contender airs on ESPN at 10:00 P.M. on Tuesday nights. Not only is it a chance to get an intimate look into the world of boxing, it also provides an opportunity to see how the boxing life affects wives, girls, family, friends, and children. One may prefer the polite applause of golf or tennis, but those sports are most often an outlet for the arriviste, for those who have already made inroads into the society.
Boxing is about struggle. Boxing is about hope. Boxing is very often about some kid who turns toward the boxing gym in the hope of making something good come out of those American streets where only the strong survive.