Sunday, July 1, 2012

The first shall be last and the last shall be first

Seven years ago when the reality series 'The Contender' premiered on NBC, I was ecstatic. Finally, a real TV series about boxing, unlike that sad attempt put together by Oscar De La Hoya called 'The Next Great Fighter'. This show was legit, as it was produced by Mark Burnett, and on network television; the only problem was that NBC mismanaged it. In its first three episodes, it played on different nights, thus it could never develop and keep a following.

I followed it though, even after it got cancelled after one season and then got picked up by ESPN for season two. I loved it and as a hardcore MMA fan, am not ashamed to say that I enjoyed it even more than the successful 'Ultimate Fighter' TV series that just concluded its 15th season. Alas, 'The Contender' didn't have as successful a run, but it produced a handful of notable contenders and champions.

Oddly enough, the most successful to date was probably the least likely when we first saw him. Cornelius 'K-9' Bundrage (32-4, 19 KO's), IBF Junior Middleweight (154 lbs.) Champion ranked #3 in the world has quietly carved out a nice little post 'Contender' career. Although he appeared on the show with an impressive (22-1) record, he was a virtual unknown out of Detroit, Michigan, who was coming off a first round KO loss to the first real test he faced Sechew Powell.

Bundrage appeared in the second season of the show and after initial workouts was quickly looked upon as the worst of the bunch by his fellow competitors. He appeared to be awkward, slow and stiff, who made some of his counterparts like former fringe titleholder Michael Clark think they had an easy out. He even ended up being the last choice of the 16 fighters when teams were picked. Bundrage's response was to quote a scripture from the bible, "the first shall be last and the last shall be first."

He may not have ended up first on the show, but he surprised many when he came in third overall and made the overconfident and boastful Michael Clark the first one eliminated. He also may not have been the first one to a world title as that distinction went to season one winner Sergio Mora, but he's been the last and has quietly been the most successful.

On Saturday night 'K-9' defended his title by knocking out former titleholder Cory Spinks in the seventh round, in a rematch from two years ago when he won the title from Spinks. His resume may not be the most impressive in terms of his competition, but that pales in comparison to his inactivity. Since winning the title two years ago, this was only his second defense. I realize this isn't the day when Larry Holmes would defend his belt three times a year, but once a year isn't going to cut it; especially at 39 years of age.

With this latest win; Bundrage is in the mix and conversation of possible opponents for Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez, the 21 year old phenom who holds the WBC version of the light middleweight title. Considering how much trouble they've been having finding a viable opponent for Alvarez, I think it would be a perfect fit; a title unification bout between the number two and three 154 pounders in the world.

Do I think Bundrage can defeat Alvarez? No I don't, but for Bundrage it's a win-win situation. If he loses, he scores the biggest payday of his career, which is probably dwindling down anyway; and if he wins, he finally gets the recognition to go with his career. If I'm K-9, I'd start barking louder than he used to do on the show and begging for this fight. Besides, the first shall be last and the last shall be first, remember?

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