Former IBO middleweight champion Peter Manfredo Jr. knows first-hand what an opportunity appearing on ‘The Contender’ TV series can be on the back of becoming a household name during season one.
Under the guidance of Sylvester Stallone and Sugar Ray Leonard, the competitors from the maiden competition are by far the most well known in a tournament that has since spawned numerous spin-offs around the world.
Despite losing to Alfonso Gomez in the Preliminary Round, Manfredo was brought back to fight another day following Jeff Fraza’s decision to quit the show. ‘Hell Raza’ Fraza was eventually given a second chance himself for season two, where he lost to Nick Acevedo in his opening bout. Some years later in 2012, Fraza was tragically killed when hit by an empty train in Haverhill, Massachusettes.
Making the most of an unexpected opportunity, Manfredo won three bouts in a row during his comeback – avenging his reverse to Gomez in the process – and made it to the final where he went up against ‘The Latin Snake’ Sergio Mora.
The final took place on May 24, 2005 at Caesars Palace and resulted in Mora scoring a seven-round points win over Manfredo to take the lucrative top prize on offer for the champion.
A rematch would be set up five months later, and despite being a much-closer affair, Mora once against was able to get to the final bell and take the judges decision via a split.
Stallone’s Contender platform had given all the participants a massive jolt in their respective careers and Manfredo has nothing but fond memories of his stint on the NBC network production.
“I had a great time on The Contender,” Manfredo exclusively told World Boxing News. “Maybe not at first,” he jokingly added.
“The Platform without a doubt helped me in my career. I was with a local promoter, who wasn’t and still isn’t a big-time promoter in the game. And those guys can only get you so far. I mean you eventually can get a world title shot but you’re going to be the B side to the big-time promoters, like the Golden Boy’s, and the Top Rank’s.
“So, by me being on the show, on national television, I became a household name.”
Addressing the format of the show, Manfredo explained that it was a tough transition to adhere to the stipulations the producers laid down for the 16 fighters taking part.
“It was a totally different experience. Coming from being a main event fighter, getting ready and preparing properly for fights, to going into a five-round tournament fighting guys you knew nothing about.
“You also had to go in there without your trainer or any sort of routine that you’d been used to. But as the show went on, you adjusted and fought the best you could.
“The Contender didn’t just test you physically, but you had to be mentally strong as well to compete. It was a great learning experience, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
“To make money in this game, you gotta be able to sell tickets and be a fan favorite. The show certainly helped me accomplish that. Plus, I met a lot of great people out there in California who I would have never got a chance to meet, I don’t believe.
“I keep in touch with as many of them as I can and we have a four-way group text going at the moment. We usually text each other from time to time, so it’s nice to know how the guys are doing.
“One fighter I became really close to Jesse Brinkley as I brought him with me after the show to train in California. We became close, and I look at him as a close brother, but they’re all my brothers really.”
EPIX and Mark Burnett are preparing to revive the show for 2018 after a nine-year hiatus and Manfredo is happy with the idea and says it will give more up and coming young fighters the chance push themselves into the spotlight.
“I think it’s a really great opportunity for someone else who’s trying to make a living and trying to be a household name,” he said before being asked what advice he’d give those new ‘Contenders’ who are chosen: “The advice I would give is to take it seriously and give it your all.
“These opportunities don’t come around that often, so you have to make the best out of the situation.
“Try to better, not only your life, but your family’s as well,” added Manfredo.
Now working hard to provide for his family with his boxing career behind him, Manfredo fought in two world title fights, picking up the IBO strap in 2010 before losing out against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. one year later for the WBC crown.
Manfredo bowed out of boxing with an impressive 40-7-1 record and remains a popular figure with the fans who remember his exploits fondly from a 2000 debut to his final bout sixteen years later.
Phil Jay is Editor of World Boxing News. Follow on Twitter @PhilDJay