By Paul Upham: The new television boxing tournament series The Contender Australia arrives ‘down under’ on Monday night November 2 at 8:30pm AEST. The FOX8 channel, Foxtel’s highest rating cable platform, will televise the hourly series over ten weeks, leading to a live finale on January 11, 2010.
This super middleweight tournament on a main stream non-sporting cable channel is a significant boost for boxing in Australia and will hopefully attract new fans to the sport.
The officially licensed spin off from Mark Burnett’s American version replicates the four original boxing series with one major difference. The eventual champion not only receives a title belt, cash and prizes, but also a guaranteed fight with two division world champion Anthony “The Man” Mundine and a pay cheque of $250,000 in 2010.
Filmed at a secret location in Sydney over a ten week period in August and September 2009, the boxers were locked away from the outside world as they were eliminated one by one. Like the American series, the boxers are divided into two teams and will contest team and individual challenges to determine each match.
For a series of this magnitude, it was important to get the best talent available to guide the boxers through one of the most unique boxing experiences they will ever encounter.
Trainer of world champions Johnny Lewis is the senior mentor to all of the boxers. Former super middleweight boxing world title challenger and kick-boxing world champion Paul “Hurricane” Briggs will train one team. Rising star trainer Billy Hussein, who has already worked the corner of some of Australia’s best boxing talent, guides the other team.
Actor and singer Daniel Amalm, who starred recently as a fighter in the film Two Fists, One Heart will co-host the series with model Charlotte Dawson, a judge from the series Australia’s Next Top Model.
In a tournament such as this with limited time to prepare and the professional matches only scheduled for five rounds, anything can happen and probably will.
The Contender Australia Boxers, (listed in alphabetical order)
Sonni Michael Angelo, 24 years, 15-8-2 (5): The “Jungle Lord” from the Congo is highly unpredictable in the ring. The five round matches will suit him. Has good power when he has prepared. A number of his losses have come in fights where he had not trained adequately. Very capable of springing some upsets.
Josh Clenshaw, 32 years, 26-16 (13): The veteran “Chainsaw” always gives 100% in every fight. The chance to train full-time in camp will suit him. Had a memorable four fight series with Nader Hamdan earlier in his career.
Nader Hamdan, 35 years, 41-6 (18): Senior professional who battled Anthony Mundine for twelve rounds in February 2008. “Lionheart” knows all the tricks. Question mark on his left shoulder. If his physical fitness holds, will be very hard to outbox over five rounds. Will give anything for a Mundine rematch. Equal favourite.
Israel Kani, 36 years, 9-2-2 (4): Former Australian super middleweight champion. Has had two draws with arch-rival Les Piper. Tall and lean, one of the main reasons he wanted into the tournament was to get another crack at Piper.
Kariz Kariuki, 32 years, 18-7-2 (17): Kenyan born, tall and strong. Has great knockout power, but has also been stopped on four occasions. Victor Oganov knocked him out in 2 rounds last year. Trainer Paul Briggs stopped him in 4 in 2002. More experienced now and if his defence holds, could make it to the semi-finals.
Ben McCulloch, 27 years, 3-0 (2): Tagged as a rising star in the media earlier this year, has the chance to show that he belongs in this company. Thinking fighter with good skills. Is untested at this level and will have to learn very quick against some of the more experienced boxers.
Daniel McKinnon, 26 years, 13-4-1 (7): Tough Kiwi who went 10 rounds with Daniel Geale in December 2008. Will relish the chance to prove himself against some of the bigger name Aussies. Strong and gritty.
Luke Moloney, 29 years, 13-4 (0): Victorian super middleweight champion. Lost to Les Piper on points in July. Looks like a clean-cut businessman until you see him in the gym. Highly tattooed with a great sense of fun. His boxing skills will make him hard to tag over five rounds. Lack of power will make it difficult for him to keep the heavy hitters at bay.
Victor Oganov, 33 years, 28-2 (28): The boxer every other fighter is looking back over their shoulder at. When the fighters were being interviewed for the tournament, one of the most regular questions was, is Oganov in? Possesses a special KO power. He knocked out Peter Kariuki in 2. The individual and team challenges will be interesting to see who is prepared to step forward and face his fury. Equal favourite.
Les Piper, 26 years, 10-2-3 (2): Reigning Australian super middleweight champion. Pocket dynamo who will enjoy the five round matches. Determined to prove he is Australia’s best at this weight. Great rivalry with Israel Kani.
Pradeep Singh, 22 years, 15-1-1 (8): When asked why he should be included in the tournament he replied, I have 1 billion fans back in India! Upright boxer who seemingly smiles all the time. Will be tested in the gymnasium by some of the more intense personalities. Nice jab and highly determined to succeed.
Adrian Taihia, 27 years, 5-0-1 (3): Undefeated unknown from New Zealand. Set a record by winning his third career fight in only 12 seconds. Quietly spoken, but very strong and hits hard. Surprised that anyone in Australia even knew of him, now given the chance of a lifetime. Handling the pressure of stepping up against some big names will be the real test.
Junior Talipeau, 25 years, 14-0 (5): Undefeated Australian middleweight champion. Quietly confident of winning and may sneak under some fans radar early. Hard worker in the gym. Will need to push himself to start fast. Possible semi-finalist.
Garth Woods, 31 years, 4-1 (2): Late replacement in the final week before the tournament commenced. The former NRL rugby league player has superior fitness, but is still learning his trade as a boxer. Short fights will suit him. Needs to keep a tight defence against the more experienced boxers.