The Contender is undeniably an example of that miserable genre known as reality TV. But the series, which reached its finale this week (ITV1, Wednesday), bears as much relation to X-Factor or Strictly Come Dancing as Muhammad Ali does to Audley Harrison, or The Supremes to The Cheeky Girls, or George Bush to Beelzebub.
It's a serious business, a genuine welterweight competition with a first prize consisting of $500,000 (£269,000) and an SUV the size of Iceland. And instead of shopgirls who think they can sing or cricketers who think they can tango, the participants are all pukka pugilists, the pre-series favourite, Steve Forbes, a former world junior-lightweight champion. His striking resemblance to Craig David on Bo Selecta! is, I admit, entirely irrelevant.
His opponent in the final, Grady Brewer, had a backstory for which the producers must have given thanks to the great scheduler in the sky. A year ago he was a washed-up journeyman with a gammy shoulder, best known for taking fights at short notice and generally losing them. Two operations last autumn meant that he spent most of The Contender unable to raise his arm above shoulder level. He works 12-hour shifts at a Goodyear tyre plant, has four kids to support and although he calls himself "Bad Boy", other people call him "The Cinderella Man". Having reached the final thanks to a run of inspired upsets he was the clear underdog. But Teddy Atlas wasn't so sure.
Though the series has had Sugar Ray Leonard as its figurehead, Atlas - who trained Barry McGuigan and has forged a reputation as king of the pundits - has been the star. An early member of Team Tyson, he formed the view that Iron Mike's character flaws would prevent him from ever being a great champion. Not a bad call. He even predicted, a week before the now legendary Holyfield re-match, that Tyson would be disqualified - though not even Atlas could have predicted the exact circumstances.
Though Forbes was a better boxer, Atlas reckoned the bigger Brewer should take a few hits to the body in order to get to Forbes' head. And that's pretty much what happened, over 10 rounds and a split decision at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, even if early on, Forbes was outboxing the underdog.
"His punches are a little shorter, a little sweeter, a little purer, and they're getting there a little faster," Atlas observed. "Who says a smaller dog can't chase a bigger dog?" The bigger dog, though, was sticking to the Atlas plan. Forbes' wife, Valerie, prayed at ringside. Brandi Brewer gathered the kids around her. As the end approached, Atlas had her husband just ahead, and two of the judges agreed with him.
Sugar Ray put the belt on him. "You showed that to be a champion takes heart and soul and spirit and blood," he told him. High praise from a man who knows all about such things. For Brewer, the great scheduler in the sky had finally delivered. He'd won "by the grace of the God - that's all I can say". From Cinderella Man to Bad Boy in one short TV series.Reuse content