‘The Contender’ Tabs Boxers Hernandez, Valdivia For Relaunch on EPIX
What: Cable network Epix is bringing back "The Contender," with Andre Ward hosting and two boxers of Mexican descent, Marcos Hernandez, and Daniel Valdivia, competing.
Why it matters: Boxing remains extremely popular and marketable in the Hispanic sports market, and the inclusion of two Hispanic fighters in the show's revival is a natural tie into that fan base.
Premium cable network Epix (@EpixHD) is set to revive the reality series "The Contender," recently announcing the 16 boxers that will face off in the 12-episode fifth season, set to debut August 24 at 10 PM ET/PT.
Hosted by Andre "Son of God" Ward (@andreward), the 16 boxers will be split into two teams, trained by Freddie Roach and Naazim Richardson, as they compete in elimination-style bouts for the 160-pound middleweight champion of "The Contender" (@TheContender) and a six-figure purse. The show will center around the fighters, inside and outside of the ring, as they look to improve their lot in life while working their way up the rankings.
Marcos "Madman" Hernandez (@madmarcos559) and Daniel “El Chapulin” Valdivia (@ValdiviaBoxing), both of Mexican descent, are among the boxers featured. And while their motivations for participating are different, their goal is the same—getting to the title fight.
A natural salesman and real estate agent by day, Valdivia was born to step into the ring. With several titles including the NABF Super Welterweight Champion as an underdog, he’s chasing fame to prove giving up college for boxing was the right move.
Having been bullied from a young age after an accident left him with burns on 30 percent of his body, Hernandez is fighting for his young autistic son, in hopes that he won’t be bullied the same way. With Junior Olympics, 2012 Blue and Gold titles and “Mexican-go-forward” style fighting he may be overlooked and underestimated.
In light of his vast experience in the ring against the likes Chad Dawson, Carl Froch (@Carl_Froch) and Sakio Bika (@sakio_bika) – winner of Season 3 of "The Contender," Ward believed it was his duty to be more than just a host for the show.
The fights themselves are tailored for the more hardcore fan, of which I think 40 percent are Hispanic.
"I've always said that if my job as a fighter, when I was active, was just to win championship belts and win money, but yet not leave a legacy or take what I know in the ring and out of the ring and try to give back, not just future fighters, but current fighters, then I’m failing," said Ward. "A lot of these fighters that are in 'The Contender' Season 5, some of them I knew, but most of them I never heard of and they had only seen me on television.
So, for them to be able to spend time with me on a personal level, for me to try to give back in the ring, and share strategies and workout tips, but also strategies in life, in helping them deal with the pressures of 'The Contender' and the pressures at home, that’s what it’s about."
Eric Van Wagenen (@EricVanWagenen), who worked on the original show, will serve as executive producer and showrunner of the revived franchise, alongside Mark Burnett (@MarkBurnettTV). Van Wagenen previously served as a supervising editor during Seasons 1 and 2, before becoming the executive producer and showrunner during Season 3 and 4.
"There was, I think, a fan base that was very devoted to it and loyal to it," said Van Wagenen. "It was one of those things where when you look back on it ten years later, you think, 'Man, I wish we could do that show again,' because there is so much we would like to utilize in today's TV environment and pop culture and everything from social media involvement to streaming services."
The original incarnation of "The Contender" series launched in 2005, hosted by Sylvester Stallone (Season 1) (@TheSlyStallone) and boxing legend "Sugar" Ray Leonard (Season 1-3) (@SugarRayLeonard) before Tony Danza (@TonyDanza) took over the spot on Season 4. Ward, who retired at 32-0 with the WBA (@WBABoxing), IBF (@IBFUSBAboxing), and WBO (@WorldBoxingOrg) light heavyweight titles, was a perfect fit to host "The Contender," according to Van Wagenen.
"Literally after about a 15-minute conversation with Andre, I felt like the franchise was safe in his hands," said Van Wagenen. "I, of course, knew Andre from his boxing career, but I gained a new respect for him in working with him over the course of the shoots, just how smart he is, how much he cares about young fighters, and about how attached he was to this process, and he just really fully bought in. I think he brings the biggest surprise to the series. It’s just how active and involved he is and I think we are in very good hands with Andre at the helm."
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The sport of boxing has always found an engaged audience in the Hispanic market. Keeping in mind the passion that Latino audiences have for "the sweet science," Van Wagenen felt that authenticity was very important, particularly with the Hispanic community.
"Being in California and being a boxing fan, I know that probably easily close to half of the hardcore boxing fans are Hispanic," he added. I think that they can watch fighting, appreciate a fight, in that they are hardcore fans."
"We are letting the fights play in real time, unedited, and unchanged. We had a very great production team and a lot of very creative and inventive ways to shoot a boxing match. We’re excited to put those on display. By the same token, we wanted people to judge the fights for the fights and not our interpretation of them. So, rounds play three minutes exactly, as long as they go, and then we give opportunities to replay with slo-mo and things like that and highlight packages and things like that after the fights. But, the fights themselves are tailored for the more hardcore fan, of which I think 40 percent are Hispanic."
cover image: courtesy Epix