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What: The boxing reality series “The Contender” debuts on EPIX on Friday, August 24, with the Hispanic audience an important factor in its success.
Why it matters: The tradition of boxing across Latin America and among Latinos in the U.S., has never been stronger.

Eric Van Wegenen

This fall may be the rebirth of boxing in the mainstream. From Canelo Alvarez (@Canelo) vs Triple G (@GGGBoxingin September to new massive deals by ESPN (@espnand DAZN (@DAZN_USAto invest in the sport, the buzz has not been this loud consistently in years. Also in the mix will be the reintroduction of the reality series that started it all in sports “The Contender,” (@TheContender ) which will begin its weekly run in a few weeks on a new home EPIX (@EpixHD), starting August 24 at 9 pm EDT. Core to the success of that show, and for that matter all of boxing, is the rabid Latino fan base, which has supported all forms of boxing even in its lowest moments. From South Americans to the Caribbean, Mexico to Central America, boxing remains a tradition to Latinos.

We were able to take in one of the shows for The Contender this past spring in Los Angeles, and we recently caught up with Executive Producer Eric Van Wagenen (@EricVanWagenen(also familiar to Latino fans as the EVP of “Lucha Underground”) to find out what will be in store for those tuning in on EPIX this fall.

Portada: The Latino community is obviously a prime market for the Contender, when putting together the show does that market factor into decisions on talent?

Eric Van Wagenen: We want to appeal to all demographics when we cast “The Contender,” but the primary focus is on boxing talent. Obviously, the Latino fans make up a large percentage of all boxing fans, but most boxing fans are drawn to fighters who put on entertaining fights, even more than any regional or ethnic loyalties.

They support live events, broadcast events, and actively engage on boxing social media. To build the Contender brand, we will need a strong Latino fanbase.
Daniel Valdivia (Credit: Epix / Dianna Garcia – Beck Media)

Portada: Sergio Mora was a past champion and is part of this show. How valuable was it to have him win in the past, and how important is he in the storytelling this time around?

EVW: Sergio Mora was the ideal champion for us in season 1 and a great example of the power of this format. He’s a former world champion and one of the few guys from season 1 that is still fighting. He helped us evaluate the talent early on, and was even a frequent sparring partner for the boxers before and during the tournament. Having been through the “TV” part of the experience before, his advice was very helpful -not only to the boxers, but to the producers as well.

Portada: We believe you have one Latino boxer in the show, from Mexico? Can you tell us about him?

EVW: We have two Latino boxers; Daniel Valdivia, born in Mexico but moved to Tulare, California as a young boy to follow his father who was a migrant worker in California’s central valley. Also, Marcos Hernandez – a young father and native of Fresno, California. These men live only 75 miles away from each other, and their careers have been circling each other for a long time.

Portada: Regardless of the winner, boxing is enjoying quite a rebirth overall. As the sport grows even further, how important is it as someone promoting the sport, that the Latino audience stay engaged and involved?

EVW: It’s very important to appeal to the “hardcore” boxing fans as we reboot this series and Latino fans are some of the most supportive of the sport. They support live events, broadcast events, and actively engage on boxing social media. To build the Contender brand, we will need a strong Latino fanbase.

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Portada: What will Latino fans of the sport enjoy most with this go-round?

EVW: In boxing, a “Mexican style” fight usually implies toe-to-toe, nose-to-nose, tough exchanges with lots of shots traded. Given the five round format of our tournament, the fights are extremely action-packed without any boring rounds.

Portada: If you were advising brands on why to get involved in boxing again, especially those interested in engaging with Latinos, what would you tell them?

EVW: We saw a lot of Latino families coming to our Contender fight nights. Fathers and Mothers came with their children. The love of the sport is constantly passing down to the next generation, and they become life-long boxing fans.

Portada: Lastly, what would fans of the series expect to see differently in this series than in the ones past?

EVW: While we still go deep into fighter’s backstories and families, we have a higher caliber of fighter than in previous seasons. Additionally, the fights are shown in their entirety, without music, sound effects, or clever editing. You will see exactly how the fights went down.

Cover Image courtesy 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.

Daniel Valdivia (Credit: Epix / Dianna Garcia – Beck Media)

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.
Andre Ward (Credit: Epix / Dianna Garcia – Beck Media)

“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