THE CONTENDER - ASIA (Singapore) - Autumn 2007
The Contender follows 16 aspiring kickboxers from training camp through an evolving series of outdoor challenges and real sanctioned matches over 16 episodes. For the first eight episodes, the winner of the fight-of-the-week will be rewarded with a guaranteed spot in the Quarter Finals. After four weeks of these Quarter Finals, two weeks of Semi-Finals will follow. The total prize pool is USD $150,000. In the show's last week, the final victor will claim the title of Contender Champion and the money prize.
Welcome to The Contender Asia where 16 of the world's best fighters representing 12 different countries come together in Singapore to compete to become The Contender. The form of martial art chosen? Muay Thai Boxing, an 8-point contact fight that tests the mind, body, heart and spirit. Muay Thai, otherwise known as the art of the 8 limbs originates from Thailand where it also represents Thailand's national sport. We caught our first glimpse of all 16 contenders through the introductory montage of the show, all 16 who are winners and champions in their own right, so who will send the pretenders to the throne packing to become the ultimate Contender?
In the introduction we first met John Wayne, an Australian with a reputation as big as his size. He said it did not matter whether he was white and believes that given the time and effort he has put in, he will be able to win. Next we meet Trevor the newlywed from Canada who exclaims that he is a force to be reckoned with. Another Australian Bruce believes that this is a test of his own self through this competition.
In the face of this tough competition and colourful characters, who will be The Contender?
MEETING THE CONTENDERS
We are first introduced to their trainer, Stephen Fox, one of the world's leading trainers and former Muay Thai Champion. He owns and runs the world famous Muay Thai gym in Koh Samui and is the Vice President of the World MuayThai Council. He has, together with his team of trainers, handpicked the contenders from all over the world. Stephen meets Jaymee Ong, the host for the show at the main arena in which the contenders will be fighting. Together they introduce the fighters in the show. As they were being introduced, the fighters walked into the arena and lined up in front of the ring.
In the first batch of introductions we met Joakim Karlsson from Sweden, Naruepol Fairtex from Thailand, Jose Pitu Sans from Spain, Zidov Dominik from Switzerland, David Pacquette from the United Kingdom, Dzhabar Askerov from the United Arab Emirates and Yodsaenklai, our second Thai competitor. In his interview, Yodsaenklai, boldly stated, "…I am a world champion famous in Thailand and the world. I'm not afraid of fighting against western fighters." Homegrown Zach from Singapore came next saying in his interview that he definitely was the underdog in the competition with the least amount of fighting experince. He goes into it with nothing to lose! John Wayne Parr who we met earlier on came next. Following him was Rafik Bakkouri from France who explained in his interview, "I'm a fighter in life and I'm a fighter in the ring." The second Australian fighter Bruce Macfie came next. Subsequently we met Alain Sylvestre from Canada, Sean Wright from Scotland and Trevor Smandych (Mike Miles) from Canada, who just got married twenty-four hours before he reached Singapore for The Contender Asia. Next we met, James Martinez from United States of America and finally, the third Aussie in the competition, Soren Mongkontong.
Stephen then explained to all 16 contenders that the arena they were in was where they would be fighting for the right to stay in the competition. Jaymee continued on to explain that each week two men will fight with the loser sent home and the winner staying on course to become Asia's first contender. The winner would not only have the right to call himself the Ultimate Muay Thai fighter but will also walk away with USD$150,000 worth of prize money.
The contenders then started to mingle with each other around the room. Being trained in this traditional Thai form of martial arts, they placed their hands together and bowed in a traditional Thai custom, while they sized up the competition. Sean mentioned in his interview that looking at Stephen, the world class trainer as well as the competition, the reality hit him that this indeed was the ultimate competition and that there was no turning back.
THE LOFT AND TRAINING AREA
We were then taken into the loft, home for the fighters for the duration of the Contender Asia where they will be staying as well as training. There were plenty of bedrooms for the fighters, a chic living room area plus a full sized boxing ring surrounded by multitude of punching bags and excellent training equipment. The men looked around at the room in excitement and happiness occasionally testing out the equipment. Stephen explained that the room contained all the state of the art equipment that they could possibly desire, and also this was where they would be training for their fights.
Sean explained that the house was great and it had the best equipment. This was when we first saw the excitement on the faces of the fighters in their new home. Sean and Rafik stood in the ring and exclaimed, "we are here!" right above 'The Contender' sign. Rafik exclaimed that he had never seen grounds like this ever in his life. The men got a feel around the room and started to socialize with each other. They goofed around as they tried out the punching the bags and experimented with some of the equipment. They walked around the kitchen, which was stocked up with all the possible food that a fighter would need; huge bottles of juice, bananas, bread and a whole lot of other types of food items. They peeked around the cupboards to see what else was in store for them.
Zidov continued to joke around with the other housemates and the atmosphere around the room became very light and jovial. The fighters relaxed around their new living room while David explained that in Thailand they usually stayed in shacks and it was nice to be in a comfortable environment for a change. The moment of rest was broken when Stephen and Jaymee entered the room to summon the fighters to the training area.
There, Stephen told them that throughout the competition there will be a series of challenges for them to compete in. The winning team in each challenge will have the right to pick the competitors in the next fight. They will get to pick one person from their own team as well as the opponent from the losing team.
A 'school yard pick' was conducted to decide how the fighters will be separated into their individual teams. Stephen had decided the team captains based on the contenders previous records and character. John Wayne Parr was called up first. In the interview he said, "…It was such an honour as there were so many other great fighters… it's a privilege... I want to be a good role model." Rafik was then chosen as the other team captain and he said that he was chosen because "he is strong in his mind and in his body." Jaymee then tossed a coin to determine who will start picking their teammates first. Wayne picked tails and tails it was. He got the first pick.
First up, he chose the Thai world champion, Yodsaenklai because, he said, he is the strongest and also due to the fact that he is Thai. Rafik picked the next Thai boxer, Naruepol. It seemed to be some sort of strategy for the team captains to pick the two Thai boxers first and this was confirmed by David when he said in his interview that if he were captain he would have picked the two Thai boxers as well as they would be best in their own sport.
John Wayne said that felt the pressure at this point and chose his fellow countrymen next, Soren. At this juncture, the camera panned at the third Aussie in the competition, Bruce who rolled his eyes at Wayne's decision. He said in his interview that he was a better fighter that Soren, hands down and is looked obviously unhappy that he was not chosen next. However, Rafik chose him as his second pick. He then exclaimed that he wanted to be on the opposing team from John Wayne as he had "a score to settle" from the past. Pitu was chosen next by Wayne, followed by Rafik picking David. In his interview, Trevor said that he is a short guy and obviously when picking a team they would naturally go for the one with the physical attributes.
Tension was rising and prickling in the air as the captains continued to pick their teammates. Wayne picked Dzhabar next. Rafik injected a little humour in his picking style to lighten the mood, and picked Alain. In his interview, Wayne said that Alain might have been a strong asset to his team if only he could have had him. Moving on, he said that he will pick the only Singaporean on the team, Zach! A rather relieved looking Zach joined Wayne. Rafik picked Karlsson next. Wayne picked James. Rafik picked Zidov. Rafik said that Zidov was not afraid of strong guys but liked him cause "he's mad."
Wayne then picked Trevor next leaving Sean left as the last pick who automatically joined Rafik's team. In his interview Trevor said he really wanted to be on Wayne's team. He explained that he had been looking up to him throughout his career and thus it was a great honor for him. A rather sour Sean was picked last by Rafik and he said he felt very pissed off and did not believe that he was the weakest person in the competition. Furthermore, he continued on to say that if people were going to underestimate him then he would use it in his favor.
Stephen then explains to the fighters the meaning of the name of their teams. Wayne's team was the red team called the Tiger Kings, a name derived from one of the strongest fighters in Muay Thai history, a man of strength. Rafik's team was the blue team called the Wild Boars, a modern legendary figure in Muay Thai who never once lost in his career. The fighters were given their team shirts and were asked to settle into their bedrooms with their newly formed teams.
The men continue to bond with their teammates in their respective rooms. In the Wild Boars room, the men were settling into beds. They displayed photos of loved ones and shared it with their fellow teammates. Many of them also brought along their medals and trophies from their past competitions to perhaps use as a psychological edge over their competitors. David told Bruce about his fiancé Nikki and his proposal to her on New Year's Eve.
In the Tiger Kings' room, the men continued to settle in. James shared with Trevor pictures of his family back home in the USA. In return Trevor showed James pictures of his new wife and messages from his loved ones which were given to him for his trip to Singapore. He explained that his wife is very supportive, despite of some people's distaste with him for leaving her right after their marriage for the competition. Karlsson then showed Dzhabar a picture of his son and explained that though he misses him, he was here to fight for his son. Yodsaenklai showed Wayne his belt from the competition in Australia where he had beaten Wayne en route to becoming champion. The team laughed good-naturedly and remained in good spirits.
TIME FOR TRAINING
They met Stephen in the training area and he explained to them that although they were in teams, they might have to fight against each other in the not too distant future. Also, they had to train hard so as to be able to win challenges which were of utmost importance in deciding the fights as mentioned earlier on. They started with some sprints and stretches before working with their Thai trainers. As they were training, the fighters began sizing each other up. Stephen explained that to fight at the level of the contender, they had to train twice a day, with a minimum of 2 hours in each session, 6 times a week. We then saw the contenders sprinting and warming up as they prepared for their work out session. Some went right to work on their punching bags while others practiced with their trainers. There are 8 weapons, Stephen said, the kicks, the knees, the elbows and the punches which all scored points for the fighter during the fights. Their training session was tough as the men were pushed to their limits; they were made to kick higher and harder with each and every kick that followed. The men, however took it all in their stride and looked very determined to press even harder.
Bruce said it was an honour to be there training as he has a lot of respect for Stephen as he is a great ambassador for the sport. Right then, Wayne said it was a good time to check out the competition by analyzing the other team's weaknesses as well as the strengths of his own team
Wayne then started analyzing the fighters. First, he commented that David from the Wild Boars seemed to be in the best physical shape and technically sound and thus was the man to look out for. He commented that Yodsaenklai was a serious competition because he was very strong and had great boxing skills. He added that he lost to him once in Australia and that if he could beat him in this competition he would be a "superstar". He continued on to say that Soren was a great fighter and that he had fought with him once and was someone to look out for. He said that although the westerners were very good, the Thais were the ones to beat.
Rafik commented that although Wayne was very popular in the Muay Thai scene with his plethora of titles, he felt that he was putting on weight or as he put it "he's fat!" Laughing, he said that he believed that it would be really easy to win against Wayne now due to this weakness. Alain commented that Zidov was putting on weight as well and it would be easy to beat him. As the fighters continued to size each other up, they released more powerful kicks and punches.
As the men were brought out for their first challenge, they seemed serious about winning. Wayne commented that it was important to win to be able to determine the fighters for the first match. Jaymee explained that in the challenge they would be running 'sprints in a relay' against each other. They had to run, tag a member on the opposite side and only then can the next members start running. The race would end when all members finished their run. The catch, Stephen added, was that instead of running singularly, they would be running in pairs, attached by a rope and a relay. Stephen explained that this would test not only their stamina but also their teamwork. He exclaimed, "there is no 'I' in team." They partner up and start joining each other through the rope and relay. David derived a strategy for the Wild Boars to speed up or slow down according to their partners.
The race began once everyone was finally tied to their partners and were at their starting positions. Jaymee blew the horn and off they ran! Bruce and Alain for the Wild Boars and Dzhabar and Trevor for the Tiger Kings. The Tiger Kings were in the lead but the Wild Boars managed to catch up with them towards the end as they tagged their next pair of teammates. At this point, the Boars pushed ahead into the lead. Zach and Soren ran for the Tiger Kings and tried to make up some ground but however in doing so, they lost their rhythm and Zach tripped over Soren's foot and hence sent both of them crumbling to the ground along with the Tiger Kings hopes of winning the challenge.
The Wild Boars went on to win the race with ease after the Tiger Kings mishap. In a good show of unity and teamwork, the Tiger Kings rushed to Zach's aide. He had injured his shoulder as a result of the fall onto the tarred surface. During this time, the Wild Boars howled in the happiness of winning. Stephen told Zach to bounce back from the injury as Zach looked on obviously unhappy, as he had caused his team, the Tiger Kings to lose. Jaymee announced that the Wild Boars won the challenge and they duly released a cheer. The Wild Boars now got to decide the fighters for the first fight of The Contender Asia. Bruce, from the victorious Wild Boars team then jokingly asked, "Who wants to go home?"
THE DECISION MAKING
The Wild Boars headed back into the training area to make their decision. With no one really eager to fight first, there was a long silence in the room before Naruepol finally volunteered to fight first. He said in his interview that he wanted to be the first one to enter the ring. Naruepol said he wanted to fight against Trevor and the team joke that they should send him back to his new wife. Bruce felt that Wayne should be sent out in a strategic move to get rid of the best. He said that they thought he was the strongest; he had a problem with his weight and would be easy to eliminate. David agreed with Bruce's strategy. Rafik commented jokingly that if Wayne did not lose weight he would die in the ring. David also brought up Zach who being injured would be easy to eliminate. They all seemed to agree that they should take advantage of the situation with Zach.
Back with the Tiger Kings who has retired to the loft, Wayne tried to boost morale by saying, "it doesn't matter what happened in the race, what was going to happen in the ring was much more important." In his interview he explained that in the loft, it was very nerve wrecking due to having to wait for the decision. Wayne joked, in an attempt to lighten the mood that perhaps he should have been nicer to Rafik. He believed that they were going to choose him to fight due to his weight problem. Zach added that it would be horrible if they chose him right now, due to his injury. In his interview, Soren took the blame for tripping Zach and felt very bad about it and he was hoping that the Boars would not choose Zach. Trevor thought that they might pick one of their less experienced men in the Tiger King's team.
In the Wild Boar's room, due to the language barrier with Naruepol, the team went to the wall with the pictures of all the contenders where Naruepol pointed out the contender he wanted to fight against. He believed that the opponent he chose was not as strong and hence it would be an easier win. The entire team agreed with his decision, which had not been revealed to the audience as yet.
The two teams met Stephen and Jaymee in the training area where the decision was to be announced. Naruepol stepped out as the representative of the Wild Boars and pointed at his opponent, Trevor from the Tiger Kings. In his interview, Naruepol said that he was not worried about Trevor because he was not better than him in Muay Thai. Trevor comments that he feels good about his decision but it will be one of his greatest challenges as his opponent was Thai and that the reality was that they were known to be the best. However he also adds that, 'they're human.' Sean comically comments that it would be good if Trevor loses so that he could go back to his honeymoon and everyone will be happy.
THE CONFRONTATION WITH THE BLUES
In the Wild Boar's room Rafik started to reveal his true colours as the group settled down around the room. He starts of by telling Sean that Yodsaenklai had explicitly told him that he wanted to fight with the "Scottish guy". As this has been brought out of the blue, raised eyebrows were exchanged around the room. Bruce questioned him, "Are you sure he said that?" Rafik continued to stick by his story, by saying, "If it wasn't true, I wouldn't bring it up."
When Rafik left the room, everyone exclaimed that Rafik's story seemed to have been boiled out of thin air. Bruce commented that Rafik might be playing some sort of psychological game and not to trust him till what Yodsaenklai said actually came true. David believed that Rafik was attempting to manipulate. Bruce believed it was perhaps his strategy to get one of his teammates take out the stronger fighter first so that Rafik would not have to deal with it. Sean, confused with this sudden twist of events, decided not to take Rafik's words to heart. There seemed to be a lack of trust among the Wild Boar's with regards to their leader.
For dinner before the fight, both teams had their meals together. Naruepol attempted to analyze Trevor at the dinner table. However he commented that though he saw no fear in Trevor, he had to have some fear as he was competing against a Thai boxer. Trevor on the other hand, said in his interview that he did not like to waste any mental energy before the fight though he was a little worried by Naruepol.
Trevor had a chat with Wayne to gain some advice from the experience that he has had. Wayne suggested, "…to move around and use the space… deliver shots and get out." Wayne then promised to be in Trevor's corner during the match. Trevor was elated that Wayne had agreed to help due to his experience in Muay Thai and also due to the fact that Wayne was one of his role models. They shared a hug, before getting ready for the fight.
30 minutes to fight We first saw Trevor preparing in his room with Wayne. He said he wanted to win this fight because he did not want to return home empty handed to his new wife. Stephen gave him some last words of encouragement before placing the mongkok on his head.
In the Wild Boar's room, Naruepol explained that he was fighting for his mother who had been so hardworking all her life. He said that if he lost he would be ashamed and would not dare face anyone for a long time. Stephen told him to win it for Thailand and wished him good luck while he placed the mongkokn on his head. "I must complete my duty," he said.
Trevor entered the arena to a cheering audience first before Naruepol came out flanked by his teammates. In the ring, they performed the Wai Khru; an ancient Thai dance that was performed before warriors entered the field of battle. Today, the Wai Khru as Stephen put it was a very grood way to warm up before a fight. Both fighters said a short prayer in their corners before the match start. At the sound of the bell, the punches started to fly thick and fast.
Trevor threw in the first few punches as Naruepol went right to work with his flying kicks. At the end of the round, it seemed as though Trevor had managed to throw in more than Naruepol had and this sent the Tiger Kings into ecstacy over Trevor's early gain in the fight. An upset on the cards perhaps?
Wayne continued to encourage Trevor by telling him he was doing a good job and reminded him to watch his opponent's hands. When the match starts, within seconds, Naruepol threw Trevor to the floor. This affected Trevor, as he lost his momentum from the first round. Right then, Naruepol threw a high kick aimed for Trevor's face, which Trevor just managed to partially block. They get stuck in a clinch and Naruepol managed to throw in more elbows into Trevor's torso. Trevor kicked, missed and fell to the ground. At the end of this round, Naruepol had managed to take the lead by gaining more points with a host of punches to Trevor's face and body. As Trevor began to look resigned, Wayne continued to encourage him by telling him to further "pressure" his opponent. At the same time Naruepol was told to concentrate on his kicks, by his trainer.
Naruepol was able to get a few early kicks in and we heard Wayne shouting, "Pressure! Pressure! Pressure!" from the outside. Naruepol managed to throw him to the ground yet again. Getting stuck in another clinch, Naruepol almost topples Trevor once again. Soon after, he does successfully do so towards the end of the round. At this point in time, though Trevor put on a brave fight, he seemed frustrated at his inability to match Naruepol's vigor. By this point, even Naruepol's trainer tells him that he should "feel sorry for him," as he has already more or less won the match.
As we moved into the 4th and final round, it was rather obvious that Naruepol had taken an obvious edge over Trevor, despite Trevor's efforts in the first round. Wayne tells Trevor to not let himself fall into Naruepol's game and to instead focus on his own. James, from the audience, shouted out to Trevor to "kill him in this round." As the round progressed, the competitors got stuck in even fiercer clinches as the crowd cheered enthusiastically. Naruepol tried to topple Trevor again and once almost threw Trevor into the audience. Things continued to remain bleak for Trevor as Wayne shouted "Pressure!" from the audience. He threw wild punches but missed by some margin. Towards the end of the match, Trevor began to look well and truly resigned as Naruepol threw in several kicks as Trevor backed away with no fight left in him. The match ends with the audience cheering on for Naruepol, who knew that he had won the match. Finally, it was announced, "The winner of the match is from the blue corner…" Cheers ensue for Naruepol, as Trevor quietly backed into his corner.
In the interviews, Naruepol exclaimed that he was extremely happy that he was the first to win in this competition. He felt sorry for Trevor although he commended his spirit in putting up a strong fight against him.
A well and truly beaten Trevor explained that he tried his best but his biggest mistake was "playing Naruepol's game." However he was happy that he had Wayne in his corner. Although he really wanted to win for him, he said he did not have any regrets.
In a very sentimental moment, he hung his mongkon on the wall of his changing room and left. Before he left, he took one last look at the ring, longingly. He's parting words were, "I am disappointed I didn't manage to achieve what I wanted to."