This was an odd episode. Remember those season finales on shows like Beverly Hills 90210, where it's been business as usual all season, but suddenly, on the last episode before summer, Brandon and Kelly break up, Brenda suddenly gets shipped back to Minnesota and Dylan drunkenly wraps his car around a tree, leaving us in suspense about his fate until the Fall? (Uh, not that I watched or anything.) You hated the writers for doing that to you, but at the same time, you wonder, How did the characters know it was the season finale and time to pull out all the stops? Yeah, well, this episode was like that--chock full of changes.
A Hard-Juan Victory
As we rejoin the boxers of Contender, Juan De La Rosa is celebrating his victory over Tarick Salmaci. It's a significant win for the 18-year-old because not only is he the youngest (and one of the most inexperienced) boxers in The Contender, but also because Tarick was a contender for a championship before his retirement, making him a formidable opponent.
During the bout, Tarick delivered a cut to Juan's face, above his left eye. Juan expresses concern about his injuries and tells the audience, "I'm not going to risk my boxing career for this."
I'm positive that when Juan was a boy (a few months ago), he must have loved having his mother apply a Band-Aid whenever he skinned his knee.
De La Rosa indicates the injury to Sugar Ray when the ex-champion joins him in the ring. Sugar Ray calls it a "superficial cut" and furrows his brow when he hears that Juan is considering leaving the competition.
"Fighters don't say that. It really bothered me."
Sugar Ray isn't the only boxer who isn't altogether impressed with Juan De La Rosa.
Ishe Smith criticized Juan for his lack of defense.
The potshots continue even as Juan returns to Contender Gymnasium. Lange, between spoonfuls of cereal, tells De La Rosa that his boxing was "sloppy."
You'll all be sad to know the sports world has suffered a great loss. After all, someone died and made Lange the king of boxing.
There's No Need to Fear...Underdog Is Here!
How quickly we forget our heroes, though. Before Juan gets another look at his cut in the mirror and swoons (again), Anthony Bonsante is thinking about Joey Gilbert's upcoming fight against Jimmy Lange.
Bonsante appears confident that Lange is going to beat Gilbert.
Now, at this point, I ought to comment about Bonsante's fortune-telling skill or Lange's strengths and Gilbert's strengths, but I can't. The most horrifying sight of all--more horrifying than Bonsante's beating of Cooper, more horrifying than Jackie without her makeup--has just appeared in The Contender.
Tommy the Trainer is wandering around the kitchen, sleepily looking for cereal...and he's not wearing a shirt. God help us all.
After I'm done poking my own eyes out, I hear Bonsante say that Gilbert's fundamental problem is that he lacks self-confidence. (Well, him, and every junior-high student in America, Tony.) We cut to a scene of Gilbert, sitting at a table, mouth slightly open. (I bet Gilbert's lips move when he reads, assuming he does.)
Even Lange can't hide his feelings about Gilbert the Underdog.
"I'm fighting a guy I'm supposed to walk through," the King of Boxing says, adding that that actually makes him nervous.
From Lange's comments about Gilbert, we meet his family for the first time. According to Lange, he is one of ten(!) children. The others have driven 2,700 miles to Los Angeles to see him box Gilbert.
In voiceover, Lange talks about his sister even as he's kissing a woman, and I hope to heaven that's not her.
Hamstring and Cheese
Gilbert is training in the ring with a hamstring injury, which, of course, is cause for concern about how he's going to fare against Lange. He thinks it's tough not having his father on hand for his bout with Lange.
Sugar Ray goes back to De La Rosa, shaking his head at how he had thought that Juan was a boxing prodigy, but the way he fought against Salmaci showed him, Sugar Ray Leonard, that Juan is an amateur.
All right, Sugar Ray, we get it. You were the champion of the world. Geez.
But back to Joey Gilbert. About Gilbert, Jesse Brinkley remarks, "Joey reminds me of where I was at his record."
And when was that, Jesse? Last week?
Brinkley adds that since Gilbert has no family here with him during The Contender, he's taken on Gilbert like surrogate family. I hope Gilbert learns to like salami and cream cheese sandwiches.
While Jesse is delivering his heartfelt homily on family commitment, we see Jesse's girlfriend (who has a name, I think, although I tend to forget it) and their two kids sitting with a man who resembles Joey's father. (Actually, what the two children are doing is more climbing on Jesse's girlfriend than sitting.)
Joey shows all his horse-like teeth when he spots his father. The two men embrace, and Joey asks Jesse if he knew that his father was in Jesse's house.
"No," Jesse smiles and shrugs.
It may be a heartwarming scene (for those of you whose hearts aren't dead, like mine), but something rings a little false about it. For one thing, if Joey's father hasn't seen him in "five months," how did he knew about Jesse and his family? How did he find Jesse's house? How did he know that Joey would be following Jesse home, like two kids running home from school to do the PlayStation 2?
Joey's father, who probably has a name, if only I'd bother to find it and remember it, is thrilled to be able to see his son in the ring, but he feels strange not to be in his corner on fight night.
Jimmy Lange is in the locker room, warming up for his fight against Joey. Lange says that he wouldn't let Jack and Angela box, which naturally leads to the question, "Who are Jack and Angela?"
Lange thinks that the other fighters have avoided Joey Gilbert because Gilbert is considered too easy for an opponent, but he doesn't think that Gilbert is going to be a pushover at all.
Sugar Ray, as always, visits the boxers in their locker rooms to wish them luck in the ring.
Jimmy Lange draws first blood by coming up with a big punch early in the bout then delivers a series of combos.
Gilbert tries for a big shot but misses in a big way.
Once Gilbert puts his gloves up to defend himself, it's all Lange. Lange hits Gilbert high and low, but as they go into a clinch, Gilbert seems to wake up, get angry, and somehow gets Lange up against the ropes, going to work with body blows.
Gilbert serves up combos high and low, making an impressive show of himself, the underdog coming in to the fight, during the first round.
Lange wants to come out swinging, but Gilbert delivers a hard shot that connects with Lange's noggin, backing him into the corner, delivering a vicious uppercut, a combination and rocking him back against the ropes.
Lange comes out strong again, but Gilbert forces him to retreat.
Then, unfortunately, the hamstring injury obviously begins to bother Gilbert.
When Gilbert should be on top of Lange in the ring, hunting him down, he can barely move.
At first, Lange doesn't seem to notice; then, suddenly, he does. Lange is too shrewd to miss something like that.
Lange seems to test Gilbert by coming in close, throwing a few jabs, then backing away to see if Gilbert offers chase.
There is no other word for Gilbert at this point other than "sitting duck." He seems to know it, and the audience seems to know it, and if we have a sinking feeling for him, we can only imagine how it must have felt to be in the ring with a proven fighter like Lange and discover that your feet are cement. It's like every junior-high nightmare come true.
Lange takes advantage of the situation, comes in, socks Gilbert in the belly, takes two big shots to the face that seem to cut right through Gilbert's gloves, which are protecting his face.
Gilbert lashes out at Lange, but weakly, completely missing the target. He lists like a boat on choppy water.
When the round is mercifully over, Gilbert returns to his corner and tells Jesse and Team West Bald Guy: "I ain't got no legs."
He staggers into the fourth round, nevertheless.
Gilbert jabs at Lange, but Lange responds with big, fast punches. Gilbert jabs again, and Lange dances out of his reach and responds with a devastating blow.
To avoid Lange, Gilbert actually pinwheels back, bounces off the rope like a pinball at the start of play, and comes up on Lange's two o'clock.
All the moving around is in vain, though. Lange comes in and hits Gilbert with a widowmaker that's going to be featured on the highlight reel of The Contender.
He boxes Gilbert into a corner at the bell.
As the round starts, the two fighters exchange blows, and it seems like Lange is going to dominate again, on his way to a clear victory.
Lange boxes Gilbert into the ropes, giving him nowhere to go.
Then, out of nowhere like a cat in the headlights on a midnight country road, Gilbert comes back swinging.
And he doesn't stop swinging for the remainder of the round. He's fast, furious and skillful, taking Lange apart like a Caribbean plastic surgeon.
Gilbert goes punch after punch after punch against Lange, until, finally, Lange goes to his knees, breathing hard, but conscious.
Lange gets to his feet, but the damage is done.
After an interminable commercial break, the decision is for Joey Gilbert.
Don't Call It a Comeback
Lange takes the long walk back to the locker room, blaming only himself for his loss, remarking that he didn't capitalize on the opportunity given to him. (Lange isn't clear on whether he thinks he didn't capitalize on the opportunities in the bout against Gilbert or whether he didn't capitalize on his chance to fight for $1 million on The Contender.)
"I did my best, and it wasn't good enough," Lange adds, echoing some of the boxers before him who also lost their bouts.
Lange's wife comes to see him in the locker room. We learn, for the first time, that she's six months pregnant.
Gilbert returns to Contender Gym, where he receives a hero's welcome from the other fighters.
Bonsante says that Gilbert earned "so much respect from" the other fighters.
Jesse Brinkley commends Gilbert's "conditioning, strength and heart."
Meanwhile, Juan De La Rosa is being examined by a doctor. They discuss at least three injuries that won't heal in time for his next fight.
Juan decides, just like that, to take his leave.
He walks out in to the loft area where he makes the announcement to the other boxers, adding that he's been asked to leave immediately.
Alfonso Gomez doesn't entirely respect Juan's decision and says that if he were Juan, he would have fought for a chance to stay in the competition.
Roman around Las Vegas
Sylvester Stallone awards the golden glove to Joey Gilbert and tells the Elite Eight Minus Juan that they're all being treated to reward: they'll be whisked off in a private plane for a little R&R to Caesars Palace in Vegas.
At this point, I wish I could turn this recap over to my friend speedbump, who did such a capable job with the A&E series Caesars 24/7, but when I asked him, speedy tells me "there's no way I'm covering that crap!" (Just kidding.)
When the Elite lay eyes on the corniness of Caesars for the first time, they stand in awe (of the $2 steaks and nickel slots). Jesse Brinkley says, "It's almost like the Roman Empire!" Well, Jesse, maybe because that's the theme they were aiming for...? Ya think?
By the pool area, the boxers are hand fed grapes by women wearing skimpy togas. That's a luxury I've never seen the appeal of, frankly. Those grapes could get mighty wrinkly in that hot Vegas sun (and they're not all that get "wrinkly" with that heat).
"I could get used to that," grinned Alfonso Gomez, who snuck a peck on the cheek from every toga girl who fed him a grape.
But Stallone can't just let the Elite enjoy the Caesars pool. He gathers them all in a boxing ring, along with two actors dressed up as Roman Centurions, guarding a lockbox.
"You win two more fights, you fight for $1 million," Stallone reminds them.
Sly opens the lockbox to show the boxers the million in cash in the lockbox, and they all gather around to have a look, only to be held back by the "Romans."
Hilariously, one of the "Centurions"--the one closest to the boxers--holds up his shield to force them back, as if he were a real Centurion. I expected him to say, "Stay your hand, plebe. The emperor commands you!"
Oh, What a Feeling!
But the fun isn't over. Stallone shows the boxers a deck of cards as a Toyota truck pulls up near the ring. The boxer who draws the ace will win the truck.
All draw, all look, and it's...Sergio Mora who wins the truck.
And, still, the hits just keep on coming at break-neck speed.
As they did with Manfredo after Jeff Fraza left with a case of the chicken pox, the boxers are asked to vote to bring back one of the boxers. This time, they have only five to choose from because only five are in suitable medical condition. Stallone asks them to choose from among Jonathan Reid, Ahmed Kaddour, Miguel Espino, Tarick Salmaci and Jimmy Lange. (I guess Brent Cooper has the brain damage, after all.)
Ishe goes to a table to cast his vote, saying that he'll vote for the best (most worthwhile) boxer.
Manfredo remembers the vote that brought him back and thinks that he was brought back because the others didn't think he could win a fight.
As the votes are cast and placed in a hat, we'll have to wait until next week to learn the results.
As we go to credit, we learn that if you visit Yahoo.com and access their materials for The Contender, Joey Gilbert will show you his "favorite Nevada hangout." (I thought In-n-Out Burger already had a Web site?)
As we go to credits, instead of listening to Stallone, Sugar Ray, Tommy and Jackie meaninglessly blather on about the Lange/Gilbert bout, Stallone throws a stack of $1,000 at each of the boxers, to do with as they wish (read: gamble).
I don't know about the boxers, but I know what I would do: 999 shrimp cocktails and one spin of a $1 slot machine, here I come! *Kisses $1 chip.* Smack!
phat32 (email@example.com) believes in trying to make the best of every opportunity that comes his way, even the ones that spill a drink in his lap or slap him across the face.