Last week on The Contender, 16 top middleweight boxers arrived in Los Angeles to begin training for their chance at a $1 million prize fight in Las Vegas.
Divided into two teams by hometown (the East and the West), the West triumphed in the first physical challenge. Alfonso Gomez from the West offered to fight in the first bout and chose Peter Manfredo, Jr., an experienced, hard-hitting fighter. Gomez was considered an underdog going into the fight.
At the end of a surprising, exciting bout, Gomez's endurance and solid glove work overcame Manfredo's notorious strength, giving the West a victory by decision.
After the decision, Team West rushed into the ring and celebrated as a team, soaking up the wild cheers of the crowd. Gomez's family joined him in the ring. Gomez's mother clinched him as hard if not harder than Manfredo, beaming with pride at her son, the underdog who beat a worthwhile opponent in Manfredo.
Gomez takes a well-deserved shower in the locker room, a small smile on his face as he thinks back to his fight.
"Today was my day," he tells the audience.
East Side and West Side Meet Somewhere in the Middle
Meanwhile, back at stately Contender Gymnasium, Teams East and West arrive back in the loft together. Ishe Smith asks if the members of East would like to sit down with the members of West to discuss the night's events. Gomez does not appear to be present. Manfredo is gone.
As the two teams agree to sit down, Ishe begins the discussion by telling the other fighters how much it hurt to see Manfredo lose, especially in front of his wife and daughter.
"Peter's done," Smith says.
Jonathan Reid agrees with Smith and says that watching Manfredo's family almost brought tears to his eyes.
Trainer Tommy gives the fighters a collective slap to the backs of their heads and promises that Manfredo is not as despondent as they are.
After his loss, Tommy says, Manfredo asked him (Tommy) for another shot.
"That's what I like to hear," the trainer says. He tells the boxers a story about a fighter who was beaten so badly he needed to be carried out of the ring. As he lay in the stretcher, he looked up at Tommy and asked for a rematch.
All the boxers laugh at Tommy's anecdote. Ah, good times, good times.
The Reid Family
Meanwhile, the viewers get a glimpse into Jonathan Reid's (Team East) family life. If this second episode follows the format of the first, by having his family spotlighted, poor Jonathan's chances in The Contender just got cut in half.
Reid and his wife have four children with another on the way. Poor Mrs. Reid looks like she could go into labor at any moment, maybe even during Jonathan's fight. Luckily, The Contender is not a Fox production, or else that may happen.
As Reid says goodnight to the children, he finds one of his sons hiding under the covers in his bed and plays with him for a few minutes. Enjoy it while you can, kid, because if there's one thing I've learned, people don't appreciate it when you hide in their beds and wait in surprise especially women you barely know.
Jonathan thoughtfully asks after his wife and suggests that she should rest more often at this late stage in her pregnancy. Of course, if there's another thing I've learned it's that this sort of statement has women seeing red and men confused why.
(One could argue that although Jonathan has a full-time career to worry about and a family to provide for, if he wanted to make sure his wife had the proper rest, he should be at home lending a hand more often. But I digress.)
Training Day - Man Up!
From domestic tranquility to the gym, the viewers see the boxers training once again under the watchful eyes of Trainer Tommy, Sylvester Stallone and Sugar Ray Leonard.
The latter says that he loves imparting his knowledge and experience to younger fighters.
Team West's Jesse Brinkley is sparring with a partner. Brinkley is fast and displays a killer uppercut.
Jonathan Reid tells the audience that with the competition on hand, they're "not going to play any cotton-pickin' games."
"Cotton-pickin'" seems to be one of Jonathan's favorite phrases, which tickles me to no end because I thought the phrase had gone the way of hand-cranked telephones.
Jesse and Ishe Smith watch Jonathan Reid spar, and Jesse tells Ishe what a talented fighter Reid makes.
"I know," Ishe replies quietly.
"Pretty Boy" Ahmed struts into the gym and settles in to watch the others train.
He's keeping a book on the boxers, he says, but Ishe Smith is "too ugly" to grace his magnum opus.
Smith says that he's sending a message to the East team to come and get him if they want him.
"But you better bring it," he growls.
You Give Me Fever
If Ahmed Kaddour were a fish, there's not a bait in the water he wouldn't take.
"Don't talk to my friends," he orders Smith. "Talk to me."
"I'm serious, man. I beat your ass," he threatens Smith.
Taking a page from Ishe's book Ahmed continues the stream of verbal abuse.
"You're a chicken," Ahmed spits at Smith.
"Oh, I'm such a chicken," Ahmed replies.
"Who you fought?" Ahmed taunts Smith.
"Your mother, your brother, your sister," Smith teases.
"I'll kill you, man," Ahmed says.
"Do it then," Ishe replies.
The increasingly heated exchange catches Stallone's attention, and he pulls Ahmed aside for a few words.
In his office, Stallone tells Ahmed to calm down. "Instead of being 200 degrees, I want you to be 100 degrees, then normal," Sly cautions.
Isn't 100 degrees close to normal?
Stallone tells Ahmed he thinks the fighter has the talent to go far and doesn't want to see him cripple himself because of a temper he can't control.
Sly extracts a promise from Ahmed, and due to sloppy editing, it isn't clear what Ahmed promises Stallone. To stop eating all the Girl Scouts Thin Mints before the others have one? To stop peeing on the toilet seat in the bathroom in the gym?
Eight Is Enough
After the Sly-Ahmed heart-to-heart, Sugar Ray, Tommy and Sly gather everyone from Teams East and West for a few announcements.
Stallone singles out Alfonso for his accomplishments in the ring and gives Alfonso a gold boxing glove on a chain. Stallone introduces the concept of the Final Eight. Alfonso is now the first of the Final Eight, which means he won't have to fight again until seven other fighters win their bouts and become members of the Eight.
The last time Sly gave someone a gold glove on a chain was in Rocky V. Good thing this time it doesn't mean that Alfonso has to meet his mentor outside a bar in Philadelphia and engage in a bare-knuckled streetfight.
Since this is a Burnett production, it's no surprise that the participants are hostage to wacky rules that seem to be made up on the spot as they proceed in the game. Now, what's missing, other than a reward for the winning team?
Here comes big George Foreman to rectify that.
The legendary boxer-turned-grill shill asks the fighters to show him around their facility and wants to know who's the handiest with the speed bag.
Leave it to Jesse Brinkley to step up to that challenge. He's like the littlest member of the street gang, ready to jump out of the highest tree or steal candy from the corner store to prove his value to the team. Consider his behavior with Big George this week and his sucking-up to Stallone last week, and is there an ass in the Western Hemisphere Brinkley hasn't kissed?
As Foreman and Team West tour the gym, Jeff Fraza from the East watches pitifully from the second floor, like a kid with the cold peering out his living room window at the biggest snowball fight of the year.
Step into the (Wedding) Ring
Foreman invites Team West to dine with him, and the assemblage end up at a palatial estate the viewer can only assume belongs to Foreman.
As the boxers chat, two chefs prepare burgers on the grill, leading to two points:
No. 1: It takes two world-class chefs to fire up some ground round?
No. 2: Since the grill lacks a colorful Plexiglass cover and isn't tilted at an angle, the boxers are eating all that unhealthy fat. "Cut the fat!", Team West, "cut the fat!" ģ
Foreman asks if any of the boxers have children, and Jesse Brinkley replies that he has two babies and a girlfriend he's never married.
"Uh-oh..." Big George grins.
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," Brinkley declares, to silence around the table.
Foreman tells Brinkley that he's an ordained minister who's performed his share of weddings and offers to perform the ceremony for Brinkley and his girlfriend.
"I tie the knot so tight...!" Foreman laughs. Foreman doesn't finish the metaphor. Ties the knot so tight, "it's like a noose"?
At the prospect of being married, Brinkley seems to lose a bit of his appetite as he spits most of the burger back on his plate.
It seems like Mr. Brinkley is comfortable stepping into the ring but isn't so comfortable stepping into The Ring.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Reid calls Team East for a meeting, but he can't find "Pretty Boy" Ahmed. They proceed without him as the Hollywood wannabe enjoys a rubdown.
Reid discusses his feelings on why it's important to win the next challenge and encourages his team not to get lost in the Ishe/Ahmed "hype."
No "I" in "Team"...but There Is "Me" in "Team"
Foreman and Team West relax and continue to chat. The big boxer reminds them to "Plan their work, and work their plan." Without knowing it, he creates a monster in Ishe Smith, who loses the bigger meaning behind Foreman's advice and only hears the word your, making him wonder why he's caught up in team versus team politics when he should be looking out for his own interests.
ImmunityChoice Challenge takes place in the Pasadena Rose Bowl Stadium. At the top of the stadium are planted 14 flags, 7 for each team. The teams must run to the top of the stadium, retrieve one flag, bring it back on the field and plant it. After planting the flag, they leave a man behind.
The challenge continues until the team/last man retrieves the last flag and brings it back on the field. At that time, the teams will unwrap puzzle pieces found on the flagpoles and construct a puzzle-banner on the field bearing the inscription "No Pain, No Gain."
For the most part, it's a dull, lifeless challenge, and the Burnett team realizes it, which is why the viewers see the teams go suddenly from six down to two, cutting out the bulk of the challenge.
East took an early lead to the first flag, but West retook the lead, a lead they seemed to maintain until the last flag, when both East and West plant their final flags in the turf.
East and West begin to construct the puzzle.
(Six hours later.)
West wins Choice and are sent to the locker room to choose a fighter from their team and his opponent from the East.
Ishe's Mouth - 1, Ishe's Actions - 0
In the locker room, someone ventures, "Who's gonna fight is the question."
Most of the West-siders think it's a rhetorical question since Ishe has been itching for a fight with Ahmed and has been quite vocal about it.
When Ishe stays silent, Tarick asks, "We thought you were gonna fight...?"
"What's the point of them pushing it [the fight]?" Ishe asks the viewer (or "viewers," assuming there's more than one).
Jesse Brinkley has obviously never learned not to make an enemy if he can at all avoid making one.
"If there's one thing I don't appreciate--a man not of his word," Brinkley tells Ishe. "I want you to be a man, Ishe."
"Don't just single me out," Ishe replies, weakly.
Brinkley offers to fight since Ishe won't.
"I want the guy that suits me," he says. "I want Jonathan Reid."
Gomez tells Brinkley: "I think Reid could outbox you."
"Reid is 33-1. He's never lost to nobody but a champion," Ishe says, cautioning Brinkley against facing Reid.
In the gym, Stallone tells the West to put their boxer forward and for that boxer to call out a fighter from the East.
Jesse Brinkley steps forward and calls out Jonathan Reid.
To the viewers, Reid says, "I don't think it was a wise decision. Jonathan Reid"--yes, he refers to himself in the third person--"will be helping the East Side get even with the West Side."
Speaking of oneself in the third person is fun. I think I'll try it in the office on Monday: "After phat32 finishes this McGriddle, phat32 is going to get another cup of coffee. Then phat32 is walking down the hall to chat with the executive assistant in Sales, and phat32 is going to take a nap in his office after lunch."
My coworkers will be impressed by my determination and no doubt will wonder, "Who's phat32?"
Before the Fight
Reid and Brinkley go home to see their families ahead of the fight.
Brinkley's girlfriend commends Jesse for being an outstanding father to their children. She shaves his head in the kitchen as he wonders how their daughter will react to watching him fight for the first time. Only their son has seen Jesse box.
Reid lies on the bed and tries to rest. His wife chats with him, but the children interrupt him with their fighting.
Reid finds his children together in a room after they've had some kind of altercation and dresses them down for diverting his attention from the fight.
Jonathan appears to have a change-of-heart about the way he's talking to his children and asks one of his sons to come with him. They pray together before bed.
At the press conference the following day, Stallone asks Jonathan what his prediction will be for the outcome of the bout.
Reid thinks that the result from this fight will even the score between the West and the East.
Stallone asks Brinkley whether the decision to fight was a team decision.
Brinkley, unwise about the kinds of things he should reveal, says that he was "tired of the whole Ishe/Ahmed thing."
From the audience, Ishe barks, "Let's make this about you, not about me. You fightin' tonight."
Ishe gets up and gets in Jesse's face. They exchange a few words until Ishe walks away with "Gimme a break!" Again, never has a comeback, that Ishe.
Shaun Robinson from Access Hollywood tells Jonathan that he seems awfully quiet. It's not really a question, but keep in mind this is the woman whose "news" team goes into overdrive when they hear a celebrity is planning on having a baby.
Reid tells Robinson that he's saving his energy for the fight.
Stallone says that Alfonso Gomez set the bar high, and Brinkley and Reid will set the bar even higher.
As the crowd breaks up, Ishe grabs Jonathan. Jonathan leans in, and Ishe tells Jonathan that he doesn't care about the team, he would rather see Jonathan win.
Jonathan Reid (34-1) Vs. Jesse Brinkley (23-1)
(One hour before the fight)
Jonathan and Jesse are warming up in their respective locker rooms.
Jesse admits to being a little frightened.
"I'm just a young man...with a big heart," Brinkley tells the audience. Yeah, with a mouth to match.
Jonathan is praying.
As Jesse's hands get taped, he tells a story about how he shattered part of his hand in a fight.
Jesse, quite boldly, proclaims that early in his career, he thought he would fight Oscar De La Hoya. (If De La Hoya accidentally bumped into him outside a bar, maybe.)
Jonathan Reid continues to warm up, repeating over and over, "Quick like a snake!"
A capacity crowd gets ready to enjoy the fight. In attendance is Tony Danza. So, Tone, how's that daytime talk show working out for you? Good?
Jonathan Reid is announced first, followed by Jesse Brinkley.
The two boxers meet in the center of the ring and test a few jabs.
Reid draws first blood by landing a haymaker, a hard left, at Brinkley after the fighter from the West drops his guard.
As the fight proceeds, Reid continues taking a few shots, but Brinkley answers with some fast glove work. At this stage, Brinkley appears to be trying to throw Reid off-balance.
Brinkley finds leather, coming up with a right that snaps Reid's head like a rubber band.
Reid manages to land a few blows but does no real damage to Brinkley.
Brinkley charges Reid but leaves himself open. Reid takes advantage of Brinkley and lands a powerful blow to Brinkley's chin.
Brinkley puts his head down as Reid continues to charge and goes head-hunting.
The round ends with Brinkley on the ropes and Reid hunting for another shot.
Neither fighter takes the initiative as the round starts.
Brinkley seems to have a better measure of Reid, giving the fighter some distance.
Reid lands a combo, and Brinkley answers with two shots to Reid's belly and a blow to the head.
As the boxers clinch, Brinkley gets in a fierce uppercut followed by some wicked rights and lefts to Reid's head.
Keep in mind Brinkley made a strong show of that uppercut during his sparring session. He's good with it in a real bout, as the fight will go on to show.
Like a Broadway musical, the middle round starts with some dancing by both boxers.
Brinkley fakes with a left to the body and quickly produces a right up high that draws an "ooh" from the crowd.
Brinkley seems to sense naturally what he's doing best against Reid as he comes up with the fake-left/big-right once more, in the most effective shot in the bout up to this point.
In the clinch again, Brinkley comes up with that big uppercut then goes after Reid aggressively. Brinkley puts his left on Reid, measuring him up for a big blow. Brinkley's right shoots forward with the force of a freight train, throwing Reid back. Hard. If it weren't for the ropes, Reid would be sitting in the front row with Sly and Sugar Ray, eating popcorn.
And again, Brinkley produces an uppercut, followed a hard right cross.*
(*Disclaimer: It's hard to tell because of the editing, but some of these shots could be the same, shown from different angles.)
At the beginning of the fourth round, Reid gets in a few body blows followed by a left jab to the face. Reid manages to drive Brinkley back with a few jabs.
In one of the best shots Reid takes during the bout, he lands a heavy left body blow, forcing Brinkley to limp back.
At this point, Reid should be pressing the advantage, but Brinkley has him in a clinch, lands a combo, has him in a clinch again and lands another combo.
The two fighters are showing signs of fatigue, as none of their shots really has anything solid behind them.
Brinkley lands a big uppercut at the bell.
Brinkley decides to take a big risk at the start of the round, going for a big right that finds air. He tries with his other glove, only to push air with that shot, as well.
Brinkley changes tack, and instead of trying for the one big shot, he puts together some effective combos. He does a left-left-left and then lands that big freight-train right. Again, he repeats it.
In the clinch, Reid takes a page from Brinkley's book and lands an uppercut. As the two men stay in the clinch, though, Brinkley manages to land more punches.
The two men exchange a few more blows, go into another clinch and suddenly Brinkley has Reid on the ropes when the final bell announces the end of the bout.
By unanimous decision, the bout goes to the fighter from the West, Jesse Brinkley. The two warriors embrace, and Tarick brings Brinkley's children into the ring to see their father, victorious.
Jonathan Reid takes the long, dark walk back to the locker room. He lies facedown on a table in the locker room as his children and wife come to see him.
Reid says that it hurts to lose in front of his family.
Reid asks his son how he thinks he did, and the little boy tells his father that he won.
Reid thanks his son and tells his wife to go ahead, "before it gets too late," in one of the most touching moments of the episode.
As Reid leaves a darkened gym, he contemplates his future in boxing.
"It wasn't my time or my season," Reid muses.
In Stallone's office, the actor, Sugar Ray, Trainer Tommy and Manager Jackie discuss the Reid vs. Brinkley matchup and conclude that it was a very close fight until the last round.
Next: If we see Ishe's family, does that spell the end for Mr. Smith?