The most notable names from the first three seasons include Sergio Mora, the season one champion and only fighter from the show to go on to win a world title after the series began. He quickly lost it back to Vernon Forrest in a one-sided fight, and has alienated many fans with bad career decisions and the perception that he's arrogant.
Alfonso Gomez became maybe the most popular fighter from the show's short history, and he did retire Arturo Gatti with a wicked beating at Boardwalk Hall last July. Earlier this year, Miguel Cotto beat Gomez mercilessly for five rounds before the ring doctor thankfully stepped in to stop the carnage after five rounds.
Season two champion Grady Brewer, now 37, was a big upset winner whose career has stalled because of injuries. On the undercard Thursday night, he'll meet Cornelius "K-9" Bundrage, another "Contender" alum. Season two runner-up Steve Forbes was a former world titleholder that has gone on to fight and lose to Oscar de la Hoya when Oscar needed a tune-up in May.
Ishe Smith has been a solid fighter, but hasn't broken through. Sam Soliman remains the same fringe contender he's always been. Brian Vera upset Andy Lee earlier this year, and now will have a shot at offensive force James Kirkland on November 22. Season three runner-up Jaidon Codrington has done nothing since the series ended.
Many other fighters have been part of the show, and that is pretty much their story.
Thursday night on Versus, at the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, season three champion Sakio Bika and season one standout Peter Manfredo, Jr., will meet to find out which one of them will avoid being typecast as "nothing more than a 'Contender' fighter" for the near future.
Both have had chances. Prior to his participation on the show, Bika had a crack at then-super middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe and lost. Calzaghe moved on after Bika to face Manfredo, and he blew the pride of Providence out in three rounds. Though many questioned the stoppage as Calzaghe didn't seem to be hurting Manfredo, no one has questioned what the outcome would have been.
Manfredo (31-5, 16 KO) has gone 5-1 since losing to Calzaghe, losing only to Jeff Lacy in a tight, ten-round decision on the Mayweather-Hatton undercard. Bika (26-3-2, 16 KO) has fought just one round since "The Contender" ended last November.
Manfredo's critics have cast him as nothing more than a club fighter, and though I'm not going to lie and say I'm a huge believer in his chances to become a world-class fighter, I think "club fighter" is a bit harsh. At 27, Manfredo is likely as good as he's going to get, but he's a tough guy with fine skills. He's not a puncher, he's not an exceptional boxer, and he's not particularly fast. But he's also not terribly weak in any area.
Truth is, Manfredo probably tops out with fights like these. Sure, he could prove the detractors wrong, which is exactly what he's trying to do, but guys in his position at his age working to constantly prove detractors wrong likely has detractors for a reason.
Bika, 29, has not fared well against world class fighters either. Calzaghe clearly beat him, and he also lost to current super middleweight titlist Lucian Bute in 2007 by wide scores (118-109, 118-109, 116-111).
Is either man destined for greatness? It is unlikely. Frankly, there's a reason all these guys have been on "The Contender" in the first place. It is not the home for world-class boxing. And Bika-Manfredo, while not a world-class fight, is one featuring a couple of hungry guys that are both desperate to extend their time in the spotlight. One more loss for either guy is essentially it for any gold hopes and championship wishes. But a win could go so far as to give one of them another title shot sometime in 2009.
It's not quite do or die, but it's pretty close. Like the other past cast members, life beyond "The Contender" has been an uphill battle for both Manfredo and Bika. That will likely never stop. All that they can do is win to fight the stereotype.