The Contender boxing competition series started its run on NBC back on March 7, 2005. Produced by Mark Burnett and hosted by Rocky veteran Sylvester Stallone and boxer/trainer Sugar Ray Leonard, the reality show followed 16 middle-weights as they competed for a million dollar prize. The show garnered low-ratings and viewership wasn’t likely helped by the suicide of one of the eliminated competitors. the series was cancelled after one season.
A few months later, ESPN picked up the series. The cable channel dropped most of the show’s extraneous elements and focused on the boxer training and matches. The Contender has aired on ESPN for two seasons but now the sports channel says that they’re finished with it as well.
ESPN vice president of series development and production Ron Wechsler tells ESPN.com, “It was a hard decision to make. We were talking to [promoter Tournament of Contenders] about a renewal but we couldn’t come to terms.” He added, “We have the greatest respect for TOC, Jeff Wald, Mark Burnett Productions and DreamWorks and we stand by the quality of the show. But it’s a very competitive marketplace and the ratings weren’t as strong as they were the year prior.”
Wald, one of the show’s executive producers, says that the boxing series isn’t down for the count just yet. He notes, “We’re sorry it didn’t work out at ESPN, but we’re in the process of making another deal.” He wouldn’t say where the show might land but hinted, “Hopefully, the deal we are working on will be closed in the next few days. The Contender is the show that will not die.” Both HBO and Showtime have reportedly both indicated that they’re not interested.
The executive producer feels that ESPN is to blame for any ratings issues, saying, “The show is a success with the fans and it became that without much marketing or promotion. With the exception of Ron, who was in our corner from day one, the show was mishandled right from the beginning.” Stay tuned!