Words by Jesse Serwer
In the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, Jamaica could be counted on to produce a world-class boxer every couple of years. There was Mike “The Bodysnatcher” McCallum; the late Trevor Berbick, known to history as the guy Mike Tyson beat to claim his first heavyweight title AND the last professional fighter to face Muhammad Ali; and former welterweight champ Simon Brown. And that’s not even counting yard-blooded fighters from other soil, like Lennox Lewis, England’s Frank Bruno and Canada’s Razor Ruddock. The makers of The Wray & Nephew Contender, set to air at 9:30 on Wednesday nights on Jamaica’s TVJ, are hoping to “herald a new age of boxing in Jamaica” with the primetime series, which makes its debut next week.
In adapting the not-particularly-successful U.S. reality series The Contender for Jamaican audiences, the producers of the show (which is directed by music video maker Jay Will and will feature Lennox Lewis as a mentor) have thrown an interesting wrench into the mix. Instead of dividing the show’s 16 competitors arbitrarily, they’ve split them into rural and urban teams, adding some cultural subtext as they compete for the title of Jamaican middleweight champion and $1 million Jamaican dollars.