Recap: The Contender Season 4, Episode 1

Plenty of things are new about Season Four of The Contender. It's on a new channel (Versus instead of ESPN), in a new locale (Singapore) and it features a new weight class (cruiserweights). It's also got a new host, Tony Danza, and the first thing I have to say is that he's not nearly as annoying as I feared.

Some things have remained the same. The show still revolves around a 16-man tournament with the boxers initially split into two teams. This time out, the trainers are Tommy Brooks for the Blue team and John Bray - who once was trained by Brooks - for the Gold team.

The gym and the living quarters look as nice as ever, so no worries that the show would be done on the cheap now that it's changed channels. All of the usual Mark Burnett touches are still there. Dramatic music and slow-motion shots abound.

Once the fighters are moved in and split into their teams, the first rivalry quickly breaks out at the pool table between Erick Vega (Blue) and Joell Godfrey (Gold). They make no bones about the fact that they would love to fight each other first. A subplot focuses on Felix Cora Jr., who is in Singapore while his hometown of Galveston, Texas is getting hit by Hurricane Ike.

Danza tells the teams they get to conference and decide who will fight first. The catch is that they won't know who the other team has picked until they both reveal them simultaneously. That adds a bit of strategy to the deal, and the team that wins the first fight gets to pick both fighters for the second bout, which adds some more.

Team Gold is swayed pretty quickly by Godfrey's plea to let him lead off. Vega tries to do the same to Team Blue, but a second line of thinking emerges that they might be able to throw the other team a curve and give them someone unexpected: Cora, who everyone agrees has looked sharp in training.

Danza calls the teams out and Godfrey steps forward for the Gold. There's a brief moment of suspense before the Blue team reveals that they've picked... Cora. Vega doesn't look happy about it.

It's tough to score the actual fight because of the way the show is edited, but my impression is that Godfrey wins the first with his activity level. After that it's Cora for rounds two through four, as he's able to walk Godfrey down and punish him along the ropes. Brooks tells Godfrey he needs a knockout in the final round, but he can't pull it off and Cora wins a fairly easy unanimous decision.

After the fight, Godfrey laments that Brooks was giving him good advice but he couldn't execute it. He says he never got into a rhythm, though he says he's learned from his first loss - he was 9-0 coming in. Godfrey hangs up his gloves and pulls the big doors shut behind him.

Next week: Danza gets in the ring for some sparring. And an injury may knock someone out of the tournament.

Final thought: It's obviously a downgrade for The Contender going from ESPN to Versus. But if there's a silver lining, it's that Versus is pulling out all the stops to promote the show. There are adds on all the time, and the announcers during the WEC card right before the episode were plugging it too. ESPN always seemed to be grudgingly airing the show, so at least it's somewhere it's wanted.

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