3/13: The Brawl to Settle It All
Recappers are not immune to the whims of fortune. Take, for example, the airing of The Contender from Mar. 13. The tardiness of this recap resulted from the cancellation of this broadcast in my area because of--wait for it--a tornado weather report.
Instead of recapping this episode, I nearly had to recap a weather forecast. And while a tornado's warpath is certainly exciting, I'm sure the majority of you would prefer to read about the thrilling boxing match that took place between arch-rivals Ishe Smith from the West and Ahmed Kaddour from the East, a fight that has been brewing since the first episode.
As the East looks dejected following the defeat of Jonathan Reid, Jesse Brinkley celebrates his victory.
Brinkley tells the audience he thought Reid was a worthy opponent and now he's glad Ishe Smith didn't fight after all. Ishe's refusal to fight gave him the chance to fight Reid.
Ishe Smith confesses he would have preferred to see Brinkley go home, even though they're both members of Team West.
After the bout, Jesse, his girlfriend and their children head home to their Contender family residence.
Jesse prepares a sandwich for dinner. The fight and all the training leading up to it has apparently awakened his appetite. As he eats, Jesse's girlfriend discusses the bout and what it means for their family. The topic of Ishe Smith pops up.
"Now they know you're not afraid to step up," she muses.
Jesse responds that he's happy with the outcome.
Jesse's girlfriend asks him who he thinks Ishe Smith will fight.
Brinkley replies that he doesn't know but thinks that Smith needs more confidence.
During training the next day, Ahmed loses no time telling the other fighters what he thinks of Ishe Smith.
"He didn't show he was a man," Ahmed says.
He watches the fighters spar from the second floor and comments, "Let's get it over."
Alfonso Gomez, who was first to fight (and first to win), smirks and replies, "I guess time will tell."
Tarick gently cautions Ahmed from boasting he's the best. He tells the viewers that he understands Ahmed's thinking because they're both Lebanese men.
In his culture, Tarick says, "You back down, you'll never hear the end of it." He knows Ahmed will not let the matter between him and Ishe go until it's settled, one way or another.
Suits You, Sir
Stallone convenes the remaining fighters to award Jesse Brinkley his glove-on-a-chain. The glove signifies Jesse's place among "The Eight," who, having won their bouts, will not have to fight again until eight boxers remain. Alfonso is the first of the eight, and Jesse is the second.
Jesse's victory over Jonathan Reid (and, therefore, Team East) earns Team West a reward. Trainer Tommy brings the boxers outside where a Hummer limousine whisks them to an L.A. men's clothing store.
Tommy tells the men their reward is a new suit and all the accoutrements--shoes, tie, dress shirt, pocket square, even socks.
Some of the boxers, like Ishe and Sergio, confess they've never owned a suit and don't know how to begin assembling an outfit.
Tommy squares his jaw and offers his assistance. When some of the boxers admit they don't even know their size, Tommy takes their measurements...by wrapping a tie around their fists. No doubt this is a method of haberdashery taught to only the very finest East Coast boxing trainers.
By glancing at Sergio "The Latin Snake" Mora, Tommy tells the boxer he's a 44 long and drapes a suit on him. The suit is big enough to fit both Sergio and Juan De La Rosa. Corner man? Yes. Tailor? No.
Keep in mind the boxers are taking fashion advice from a man whose hat makes him look like Super Mario.
In Tommy's on-camera account of the reward, he says, "Don't want to get corny, but it (watching the men buy suits) was real emotional."
Ahmed Kaddour Battles Sugar Ray, Ishe Smith Battles Himself
Meanwhile, Ahmed "Babyface" Kaddour is sparring with Sugar Ray Leonard.
"Babyface" never does anything half-assed, whether it's making an enemy or beating the hell out of a boxing icon.
"He became...a little aggressive," Sugar Ray confesses.
Juan pegged Ahmed as "trying to show off," "stupid," and "not showing any respect" for Sugar Ray.
Ahmed says that he was "play[ing] him. Mak[ing] him look bad. That's the best."
"Joey, I'm fighting you next," Ahmed says from the ring.
Joey Gilbert looks none-too-pleased at the prospect.
Gilbert tells another boxer at ringside that he'll speak up and tell Ishe that the only way Ishe is going to fight is to fight Ahmed.
Ishe Smith is at home with his wife and son. Smith appears dejected, tired and a touch maudlin, nothing like the brash persona he's portrayed in Contender Gym.
Latoya Smith senses something wrong with her husband and encourages him to tell her what it is.
Smith admits he felt ready to throw in the towel. "It's just hard," he whines.
"I'm in strategy mode. And I'm just tired," he says.
Latoya does what she can to reassure her husband.
"I would rather have him cry with me than have nobody to talk to," she weeps.
Ishe returns to the gym and gathers his teammates from the West for a meeting.
First, he apologizes for his behavior. Next, he promises he'll fight Ahmed Kaddour.
Alfonso Gomez approves of the way Ishe handles himself in the meeting. He says, "(Ishe) was like a new man."
All by Myself: The Dodgeball Challenge
This week's challenge is a variation on the playground classic dodgeball. East and West square off on opposite sides of a tennis court. Each team of six will attempt to eliminate all the members of the other team by hurling a rubber ball at them. If the ball strikes an opponent and falls to the ground, the boxer will sit out on the sideline. The boxer can try to avoid elimination by catching the ball.
In a twist on classic dodgeball, players can bring back a teammate from the sideline by landing the ball in a garbage can on the opponent's side of the net.
In the next two weeks, remember to look for the Duck Duck Goose and tetherball challenges in upcoming episodes of The Contender.
The first few minutes of play pass quickly as Sergio (West), Najai (East) and Tarick (West) are eliminated.
"We're getting a spanking from Spanky," Jesse teases Juan.
The West stages a comeback thanks to the unexpected dodgeball prowess of Joey Gilbert. Gilbert's tactic involves hustling for the net while his teammates hang back. He grabs the ball and slams it into his opponents from the East before they have a chance to hit him (or his remaining Team West players).
By the time Gilbert is done, Team East has been whittled down to Ahmed, who faces dodgeball champion Gilbert, Anthony Bonsante and Ishe Smith on his own.
Ahmed gives Team West his best Babyface smirk and taunts them. To his credit, Kaddour does a serviceable playground dance and manages to frustrate Smith, Gilbert and Bonsante, who are hurling ball after ball in his direction.
But it's only a matter of time before Kaddour gets hit, and Anthony Bonsante does the honor by finally offing the last Team East player.
Kaddour picks up a ball and hurls it at Bonsante, in a typical display of Ahmed sportsmanship. Bonsante glares at Kaddour, but no one seems to notice as Sugar Ray is breaking up the game and hustling the boxers back to the locker room for Team West to select a boxer.
Ishe Smith's Sleight of Hand
The selection of a West fighter in the locker room appears to be the quickest one yet as Ishe Smith simply declares: "I told you what I'm going to do."
Once Team West and Team East have reconvened in the gym, Ishe Smith comes to the line and calls out...Brent Cooper.
Team West are stunned. Ishe Smith embraces Brent and asks the fighter from the East to pray for/with him. He sends Brent back and finally, Ishe Smith calls out Ahmed Kaddour, who wastes no time coming to the line and going toe-to-toe and eye-to-eye with Ishe.
The tension is thick as maple syrup. Even Stallone warns them against throwing a punch. "If you fire here, you're disqualified," he shouts.
"You look good, baby," Kaddour sneers. "I hope you look that good tomorrow."
It takes one or two of the other boxers to physically separate Ishe and Ahmed as the tension builds, to prevent one or both of them from going to blows right there.
"Have you ever wanted someone as bad as him?" Stallone asks Ishe.
"Talk is over," Smith replies.
In a jarring contrast to the Contender Gym powderkeg, Ahmed and his girlfriend, Brandy, have dinner in a dark, candlelit L.A. restaurant to celebrate his impending ring ballet.
Brandy calls Ahmed the "sweetest guy...on the outside" and warns him that "If we're going to get married, you better win."
I understand the pressure that Ahmed must be under because J. said the same thing to me at the Whack-A-Mole the first time she and I went to the county fair, and damn if I didn't whack those moles. I won the copyright-infringed ersatz Donkey Kong doll for J., but my five-year-old opponents who lost to me cried. Deep down, though, I think they learned a valuable lesson about disappointment.
Meanwhile, Ishe and Latoya Smith are bathing their son. Ishe seems noticeably more relaxed now that the die is cast.
In contrast to the relationship between Ishe and the sleek but mercenary Brandy, Ishe calls his wife Latoya his "best friend and the mother of [his] child."
Ahmed Kaddour (18-0) Vs. Ishe Smith (14-0)
While Ishe gets his head in the fight, he remarks, "He's (Ahmed) been a cancer in my side ever since I've been here."
Ahmed is getting a massage, one of many, apparently, since he stepped foot in Contender Gym.
Latoya prays for Ishe in the company of their son, who tells his father, "Be careful."
"I will," Ishe answers. It's one of the most touching moments of this episode.
Ishe reveals his strategy is to break Ahmed mentally, while his opponent boasts, "I'm the best fighter here."
The audience for this fight are obviously excited, their edgy anticipation no doubt matching that of the audience at home.
And, oh, dear reader, just when your loyal recapper thinks that some episodes, like this one, are devoid of any material whatsoever from which corny jokes can be spun, Fate conspires and damn, does She deliver: In attendance is one William Shatner--Captain James Tiberius Kirk, himself.
Kirk is looking a little pudgy, as if all that Romulan ale and all those dancing Orion slavegirls have caught up with him. The only thing he's "beaming up" now is an extra order of nachos and a Michelob Light.
The announcer introduces Ahmed Kaddour first, who comes to the ring shouting "Allah is great!" in Arabic.
Ishe smith arrives in the ring, and Ahmed dances around him, taunting the boxer from the West.
When the referee brings Ishe and Ahmed to the center of the ring to touch gloves, they refuse to look at one another. Someone even tries to force Ishe's head down so that he'll meet Ahmed's eyes.
Ahmed taunts Ishe by throwing mock punches in his direction.
Ahmed comes out early--and angry. He has Smith cornered like a sixth-grade math nerd. But that anger seems to work against Kaddour. He throws a lot of indiscriminate punches, and none of them seems to deliver any big hurt.
Smith comes off the ropes like Kaddour wasn't even punching and changes places with Kaddour, doing the same thing to the boxer from the East.
Smith puts a glove on Kaddour and lands a solid right, the kind that Kaddour will be thinking about the next day.
Smith's body blows are good, solid haymakers, and every once in a while, he sneaks upstairs with an uppercut that Kaddour knows has done some damage.
Ahmed goes for Ishe but makes the mistake of ducking his head. Ishe lands a solid head shot and follows up with a series of left-left-big-rights that seem to frustrate Ahmed.
Ahmed jaws at Ishe, but the boxer ought to worry more about running his feet or running his fists than his tongue. Ishe takes the opportunity to land an uppecut and right hook that has Jimmy Caan wincing in the audience. And if the security chief of the Montecito thinks it hurts, you know it's gotta be bad.
Ahmed walks into an Ishe Smith left as the bell marks the end of the second round.
"Babyface" Kaddour apparently decides it's no more Mr. Nice Guy as the third round starts with the boxer from the East picking up and tossing Ishe Smith. The referee intervenes.
Kaddour is not deterred. He wrestles Smith to his knees to the dismay of the crowd, especially Smith's wife, Latoya.
When the referee is forced to intervene again, Kaddour walks off and makes a rude gesture to Smith's corner.
Kaddour clinches Smith and gets in a few shots before the bell signals the end of a mostly dishonorable and dismaying third round on Babyface's part.
The next-to-final round is shaped by Kaddour, who has Smith on the ropes, raining blow after blow down on the big fighter from the West.
Kaddour is up to his old tricks: When the referee gets between Kaddour and Smith, Kaddour throws a cheap shot.
The fifth and final round belongs to Ishe Smith. Ahmed Kaddour doesn't seem to throw a single punch as Hurricane Ishe arrives in the ring and storms Kaddour with blow after punishing blow, hunting for Kaddour around the ring, up against the ropes. Smith's body blows and head shots are relentless, and the big fighter from the West is unforgiving.
The fight is called for Ishe Smith, who is jubilant in the ring. Smith says that it feels great to be the man "who sent him (Kaddour) home."
Kaddour shuffles off to the locker room, alone. His girlfriend, Brandy, is nowhere to be seen.
"I'm still the man," Kaddour insists.
He studies his face in the mirror after showering and notes that he doesn't have a scratch on his face.
"I still look good," says "Babyface," hanging up his gloves and leaving Contender Gym for good.
My boxing nickname "The Fleeing Chicken" is not very heroic. Suggest a new one by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.