Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Curse of 'The Contender'


With the continued success of 'The Ultimate Fighter' TV reality series, now in its 17th season in just eight years, I've often wished the boxing equivalent 'The Contender' would have enjoyed similar success. As a fan of both MMA and boxing, I was really excited when both TV shows began in early 2005. However, 'The Contender' for some reason didn't have the same staying power. (No pun intended)

The big question has always been why? I attribute it to the fact that NBC mismanaged it right from the start. The first three episodes of season one aired on three different nights, beginning on a Sunday, then moving to Thursday, then to Saturday; thus not giving it a fair and solid base from the beginning.

When I posed the question to Hall of Fame boxing analyst Al Bernstein, he agreed with that assessment along with the instability of moving from network to network in the first three seasons; beginning with NBC, then ESPN and finally the Versus network for seasons three and four. However, a little further research has me thinking something more may be to blame. Could it be that 'The Contender' TV series had a curse on it?

Since the show aired from 2005-2009, I've always tried to follow-up on the careers of some of the more notable fighters on the series. Upon doing so, I noticed a sad and unsettling trend. At least one fighter from the first three seasons has passed away along with other criminal circumstances befalling a couple of alumni.

For those that don't know, the series began with a dark cloud over it right from the start as a fighter who had competed in season one actually committed suicide less than a month before the first season was to air. This coming Valentine's Day, February 14, will mark the eighth anniversary of the untimely passing of light middleweight prospect Najai 'Nitro' Turpin.

Turpin was a promising fighter out of Philadelphia who entered the shows competition with a (13-1) professional record; though he would lose his first round fight against eventual tournament winner Sergio Mora, I'm not sure how much of that loss and the pressure of such may have weighed on Turpin taking his life as the shows premiere drew near. On the show he was quiet and shy and appeared to have some personal demons hanging over him; just my assessment from what I could see on the show. Whatever it was, Turpin took his own life after an argument with the mother of his two-year old daughter.

Another mystery we'll never know about is how and why Jeff 'Hell Raza' Fraza (pictured above) was walking along train tracks in the middle of the night when he got hit by a commuter train? Fraza was actually a fighter who appeared in both season's one and two, but he never got a chance to compete in season one after being diagnosed with chicken pox early on in the show. Thus, the producers brought him back to compete on the following season.

A hard punching professional from the Boston area trained by former world champion Mickey Ward, Fraza had a (17-2) record going into the second season of the show. Unlike Turpin, Fraza was more outgoing and open, but just like Turpin he too lost in his first round match. Though he would never fight again after that, he stayed close to boxing by working with kids at his local gym. For some reason a year ago on February 4, 2012, he was walking on the tracks late at night while on his cell phone and even stranger, got hit by a train. Fraza left behind a son.

Moving on to season three, one would think that an Olympic Bronze medalist and former world title challenger would be a favorite going into the tournament. Yet, Rhoshii Wells AKA 'The Great One' never made the cut as he was eliminated before the competition even began. With a new format that only took 10 fighters versus 16 in the previous seasons, Wells surprisingly did not make an impression to the trainers during the fighter evaluations.

Wells, who won the Bronze medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics, carried an (18-2) pro record into 'The Contender' with his only two losses coming to former world light middleweight champion Alejandro Garcia. Originally from Austin, Texas, Wells lived in Las Vegas. On August 11, 2008 he was in a shady area of Vegas with his son when he was involved in a dispute that resulted in him being shot and killed; luckily his son was unharmed. Wells was the father of six children.

In that same season three, another fighter with a promising future, Les Ralston sporting an (18-2) record was also eliminated before ever competing. Never having fought ever again, Ralston was arrested last summer in a hit and run incident in which he struck two teenagers. Meanwhile season two participant Andre Eason, (20-5), was shot in the arm and leg in 2006 right after his appearance on the show; luckily he survived.

Sure, it could very well be that all these cases are just incidents of coincidental circumstance; or it could even be that all these talented young fighters just happen to come across some bad luck in their lives. Whatever it is, one has to stop and wonder if these fighters and the show as a whole were all victims of "The Curse of The Contender."

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