Stallone vs. De La Hoya: Real fight behind TV set

Golden Boy hopes to show that he can develop real Rocky

By Jonathan Santucci Scripps Howard News Service
May 5, 2004

VERO BEACH, Fla. - Oscar De La Hoya coulda been on "The Contender."

Instead, he's co-producing his own reality boxing show - "The Next Great Champ," scheduled to premiere on Fox in November - after turning down a part in a similar show co-produced by and starring Hollywood heavyweight Sylvester Stallone.

And the opposite corners are spouting off.

'The Golden Boy', De La Hoya, who will appear on his show as a trainer for young fighters, is hoping his show will help generate exposure for the sport.

"It's like my baby," De La Hoya said this week at the House of Champions, where he's training for his June 5 middleweight fight in Las Vegas with undefeated WBO champion Felix Sturm.

"We are going to have real amateurs fighting, and I think that it will be great for the sport."

"The Next Great Champ" will feature young fighters in the 154-pound class, either up-and-coming amateurs or professionals undefeated in four fights or less.

That's the biggest difference between "The Next Great Champ" and NBC's "The Contender," set to debut early next year.

"The Contender," produced by Mark Burnett Productions, Inc. and Dreamworks, is a reality show with Stallone and 'Sugar' Ray Leonard. The shows have taken shots at each other because of their similarities.

De La Hoya said that Dreamworks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg approached him about appearing with Leonard and possibly George Foreman on "The Contender." But De La Hoya said he didn't like the show's format.

The official Web site of "The Contender" says the show is looking for "qualified male boxers," but De La Hoya referred to it as a "(glorified) tough-man contest" that doesn't focus on boxing skill.

"It can be any person off the street - it can't be real fighting," De La Hoya said. "It takes talent to fight."

De La Hoya said he was first contacted to do a reality show 16 months ago.

"These people approached me to do a boxing show with recognizable fighters," he said. "They said they had talked to Roy Jones Jr. and Mike Tyson about it. It sounded great, and then we never heard from them again."

After then turning down "The Contender," De La Hoya said, he was contacted by Endemol USA, which produces "Fear Factor," about doing "The Next Great Champ." And with the show running on Fox, which originally turned down "The Contender," some have suggested De La Hoya's show is a carbon-copy of Stallone's.

The concepts are similar. In both shows, young hopefuls box for a cash prize and more bouts.

Stallone - best known for creating and starring as the "Rocky" character in films between 1976 and 1990, has talked about starting a new boxing federation. De La Hoya, meanwhile, will offer the winner of "The Next Great Champ" a contract with Golden Boy Productions and possibly a real title fight.

Burnett, who has also produced shows such as "Survivor" and "The Apprentice," feels that the shows could be too similar.

"If we feel they've stepped over the line, it's creatively outrageous ... we take legal action," Burnett recently told Variety.

"Fox lost out (on "The Contender") fair and square, and it's hard to believe they'd do something substantially similar."

But De La Hoya is looking at the bigger picture.

He feels exposure on two networks will be good for a sport that has taken a nosedive in the public's eye for a number of reasons.

"This is a tremendous opportunity for boxing," said De La Hoya, who hopes that reality shows will be a stepping stone to putting fights on network television. "This is going to bring visibility to our sport and open some eyes.

"Our show is coming out in November and their show is coming out a little later," he said. "I think that there's enough pie out there for everyone."
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