Versus Takes on ‘The Contender’

20 Jul

by Chris Pursell (2008-07-20)

Versus emerged as the winner in the battle for rights to “The Contender,” landing a deal for the upcoming fourth season of the reality boxing series. In addition, the cable channel will also air the first season of spinoff “The Contender Muay Thai,” a show about kick boxing, later this month.

The agreement includes 11 new one-hour episodes of the Mark Burnett-produced “Contender” series, as well as the two-hour season finale of the show, which will begin airing in December. The deal also encompasses 14 one-hour episodes and a two-hour finale of “Muay Thai” slated to start on July 31.

“This is a series that is right up our alley and we are pumped to be able to air it,” said Marc Fein, executive VP of programming, production and business operations at Versus. “In addition, this serves as a great compliment to our lineup of raw, real, authentic and hard-hitting programming such as “World Extreme Cagefighting,” “Fight Night’ and ‘TapouT.’”

Other networks contending for the series included Spike TV, according to sources. The series most recently aired on ESPN and also had a stint on network prime time when it debuted on NBC. For boxing fans, the series made stars out of athletes such as the recently crowned WBC Super Welterweight Champion Sergio Mora as well as Alfonso Gomez, Peter Manfredo Jr. and Steve Forbes.

The fourth season of “The Contender” will step up the weight class this year featuring 16 cruiserweights from around the world squaring off in a 12-episode competition that pits American boxers against an international group of fighters.

Series host and six-time world champion Sugar Ray Leonard is in negotiations to return for another go-round and Buddy McGirt is locked in to serve as trainer. The series is produced by Mark Burnett Productions and DreamWorks Television.

“The Contender Muay Thai” is based on the format of the mother series, serving as a reality competition that brings 16 of the best international Muay Thai kickboxers together to compete until one is left standing as international champion.

The series was shot on location in Singapore and is produced by Imagine Omnimedia in cooperation with Mark Burnett Productions and DreamWorks Television. Each episode culminates in a five-round professional bout after which the loser will go home.

“The gang at DreamWorks and I are really excited to be partnering with Versus on the fourth season of ‘The Contender’,” said Mark Burnett. “If the work they’ve done with the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs and Tour de France is any indication, we are confident that ‘The Contender’ will be a successful franchise for the channel.”

According to Versus executives, the recognition of the brand was a large reason the outlet pursued rights to the show.

“As a network, whether its NHL, the Tour de France or bull riding, we are determined to take established brands and try to blow them out to maximize their build-in audiences,” said Mr. Fein. “We’ve had boxing for a few years now and this series deepens our position in the sport and the opportunity for us to work with Mark Burnett and DreamWorks was too good to pass up.”

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