Originally created 09/09/04

Boxing reality show finally makes it on the air



NEW YORK -- After preliminaries stuffed with enough lawsuits and trash-talk to make Don King proud, the first of TV's battling boxing series threw some real punches on Tuesday.

Fox's "The Next Great Champ" takes 12 amateur boxers and has them compete for a contract with Oscar De La Hoya's promotional company and a title fight within the World Boxing Organization.

The first episode actually produced a compelling fight, with a "top-ranked" contender, David Pareja of Chicago, beating R.C. Reyes of Miami by unanimous decision and sending Reyes home.

"The Next Great Champ" had several familiar elements of a reality series: a smoke-filled backroom, instead of a boardroom, where challengers are ranked; dormitory living like "The Real World" or "America's Next Top Model"; a significant other brought along for companionship like "The Amazing Race."

With testosterone in overdrive, one series it didn't resemble was "The Bachelor."

"I'm looking to crack ribs," said one participant, Rene Armigo. "I'm looking to break ribs. I will get pleasure from his pain."

That clicking sound you hear is female viewers changing channels.

The very idea of the series made NBC and producers Mark Burnett and DreamWorks SKG livid. They accused Fox of ripping off its idea for their boxing reality series "The Contender," which was announced earlier but is not scheduled to air until November.

Burnett and DreamWorks unsuccessfully sought an injunction to keep the Fox show off the air. They claimed Fox's series shouldn't go forward because it violated rules set up for boxing matches by the California Athletic Commission.

In an unusually bitter war of words, NBC executive Jeff Zucker accused Fox of being a copycat in an attempt to hurt a rival. Fox also aired, with some success, the series "Trading Spouses" this summer after ABC had announced a similar series, "Wife Swap," for the fall.

Fox called such allegations outrageous and said it's typical for different networks to compete with similar ideas.

Even before these battles simmered down, an independent producer filed a lawsuit last week claiming De La Hoya and his Golden Boy Promotions had gotten their idea from her in a meeting last fall.

The Fox series' convoluted rules involved winning a challenge - in this case how many sit-ups the boxers could complete while hanging upside down in mid-air. Pareja won and was ranked No. 1 for the episode.

Veteran boxing trainers Lou Duva and Tommy Brooks, who worked with champions like Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson, ranked the remaining fighters with De La Hoya. The bottom-ranked fighter has to pick one of the top three-ranked fighters to challenge in a four-round boxing match.

Pareja styled himself an intimidator, with his wife equally blood-thirsty.

"I can't wait for you to bust him up," she said.

Reyes came out fast and appeared to win the first two rounds before Pareja recovered.

After losing, Reyes symbolically hung up his boxing gloves.

The match was edited, making it hard for true boxing fans to judge for themselves.