Weighing in on who will win 'Contender' finale

Originally Published: September 26, 2006
By Michael Woods | Special to ESPN.com

Steve Forbes and Grady Brewer have put in a combined 17 years plying their trade as boxers, and each has engaged in high-profile bouts. Forbes has even managed to climb the ladder to a title shot, and he held a championship belt for a spell. But both are well aware that those marquee moments and paydays pale in comparison to the challenge and opportunity that stands before them now.

Grady Brewer

Steve Forbes

Forbes and Brewer are the last two men standing on the second season of "The Contender" and will face off Tuesday (10 p.m. ET) at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The winner of the ESPN-televised battle will get a taste of the spoils from their warring; $500,000 goes to the victor of the ESPN-Mark Burnett production, and the runner-up gets $75,000. Not to mention, the level of exposure they will derive from being seen in so many households in the last few months will effect their lives monumentally.

Forbes, who holds a 32-3 (9 KOs) mark as a pro, has to be considered the favorite against Brewer, who owns a 21-11 (12 KOs) mark.

Sugar Ray Leonard, who has acted as host of this second season of the program, which jumped ship from NBC to the more conducive home base of ESPN, won't go too far out on a limb to pick Forbes, but he's leaning that way.

"I think it's basically a toss-up," Leonard told ESPN.com. "I give the slight edge to Forbes on experience and talent. But I won't be surprised if Grady pulls off the upset. If you don't keep your eyes on him, he will take you to the cleaners."

The two-hour finale is a live telecast, and there probably will be a full house busting their lungs, about 17,000 vocal rooters imploring their pick to prevail. Forbes, 29, has been in high-stakes shootouts along these lines, as he held the IBF super featherweight title in 2000 and fought for the WBA super feather belt in 2004. He believes that his experience level is one of the attributes that will put him over Brewer, 35.

Tuesday, undercard starts at 8:15 p.m. ET on ESPN.com, followed by main event at 10 ET on ESPN
Staples Center, Los Angeles

All bouts are fought at a weight limit of 150 pounds.
• Final: Grady Brewer (21-11, 12 KOs) vs. Steve Forbes (32-3, 9 KOs), 10 rounds
• Third-place: Norberto Bravo (22-11-3, 12 KOs) vs. Cornelius Brundage (23-2, 13 KOs), 8 rounds
• Freddy Curiel (15-6-2, 6 KOs) vs. Aaron Torres (14-3, 6 KOs), 6 rounds
• Vinroy Barrett (21-5, 11 KOs) vs. Walter Wright (11-2, 5 KOs), 6 rounds
• Nick Acevedo (16-2, 9 KOs) vs. Nurhan Suleymanoglu (16-4, 8 KOs), 6 rounds

"This is the biggest fight of my life," Forbes said. "A lot of non-boxing fans will be watching this."

"My smarts, my speed, my experience are big," he continued. "Grady has experience too, but he has experience in losing. I have experience in winning."

Forbes, who turned pro in 1996 and resides just outside Detroit with his wife Valerie, does not, however, dismiss Brewer as an unskilled punk.

"Grady stepped it up on the show," he conceded. "He had to. But on Tuesday, he'll see a whole different level of fighter."

Each boxer won three "Contender" bouts, in the welterweight class, to reach the finale. That weight division allows a boxer to weigh 147 pounds or less, but in the 10-rounder on Tuesday, a catch-weight, up to 150 pounds, will be in effect. Forbes has excelled as 130-pounder, so he was asked: Won't Brewer have an edge in the beef department, as he has campaigned as a middleweight since turning pro in 1999?

"I think it's basically a toss-up. I give the slight edge to Forbes on experience and talent. But I won't be surprised if Grady pulls off the upset."
-- Sugar Ray Leonard

"I'm not worried at all," said Forbes, who has enlisted "Contender" trainer and old-school sage Tommy Gallagher as his cornerman. "I beat the biggest guy on the show, Cornelius Bundrage. I made him back up."

Forbes offers a historical precedent to bolster his case.

"You go through history, Henry Armstrong held the featherweight, lightweight and welterweight titles at the same time," Forbes said. "And he should've been the middleweight champion [but was held to a draw against titleholder Ceferino Garcia in 1940]. It's the skill and the will that can overcome weight."

Leonard says that if a superlatives vote were held, he'd tab Brewer as the most improved "Contender." Here's a scouting report from Hall of Famer on Brewer: "His strength is an asset. He's very confident, very fast. He's got an unorthodox style. He punches from different angles and confuses guys. He doesn't just throw a one-two, he's always in your face."

"Grady has experience, too, but he has experience in losing. I have experience in winning."
-- Steve Forbes

One intangible that must be factored in is desire. Forbes has seen the view from the mountaintop, while Brewer has attacked the face tenaciously but hasn't made much headway to the peak. Brewer has four mouths to feed (Geovanty, 16; Darius 13; Lavasley, 13; Mariah, 6 months) and a wife, Brandi, 28, who will be screaming louder than anyone in the arena for her man to come home with that half million.

Far and away, that top prize money will represent the most Brewer has made to fight. In three of his pro fights -- all losses, against Marco Antonio Rubio, Sechew Powell and Jermain Taylor -- he made $10,000 per bout.

Each "Contender" finalist bested three other reality-show scrappers to graduate from the Contender Arena to the Staples Center.

Here's a synopsis from Grady Brewer and Steve Forbes, breaking down their victories -- all of which went the five-round distance -- that propelled them into the championship.

• First win over Vinroy Barrett, by unanimous decision: "I had a lot of emotion going in against him. I was a little nervous, because I had surgery on my left shoulder two months before 'The Contender' started. I couldn't even do pushups at the start of the show. I was afraid of what I could do. But Vinroy caused a lot of chaos in the house."

• Second win over Michael Stewart, by unanimous decision: "The win over Vinroy carried me into the Stewart fight. I was a lot more focused and sharper."

• Third win over Norberto Bravo, by majority decision: "I knew it would be a tough fight going in. But I really believed in myself going into it."

• First win over Freddy Curiel, by unanimous decision: "It was a good, exciting fight. Freddy has a lot of heart and will and he was determined. I think it was one of the most exciting fights of either season."

• Second win over Nick Acevedo, by split decision: "It was a tough fight. I was just off the Freddy fight, I had two days' rest. That was the biggest physical test of my career. You're so sore, so tired."

• Third Win over Cornelius Bundrage, by unanimous decision "He flirts with the rules. He's a rough guy who throws a lot of guys off. I had to make it a street fight. That's how you get rid of a bully, you do what a bully does."
Michael Woods

Brewer's confidence level, though, is at an all-time high. "I feel good," he said. "I wasn't going to give up my dream. All I needed was a chance. I had opportunities before and I blew them, because I didn't have a chance to train."

Brewer isn't rationalizing his missteps.

The last four years, he has worked full-time at a Goodyear plant in Lawton, Okla., his home. He works a 7 a.m.-7 p.m. shift curing tires and then tries to balance his duties as a father and husband with training.

"I will beat Forbes," Brewer said. "I'm gonna beat him down, it's going to be stopped. I'll be too much for him."

ESPN.com apprised Forbes of Brewer's promise, and he responded eagerly.

"I really hope he does try and stop me," Forbes said. "I don't like when guys try and box me. I hope he stays a man and sticks by what he says he'll do. If he does, you'll see one of the most vicious ass-whuppings you could think of."

Forbes said Brewer advertised his size advantage from the get-go, and that didn't sit well with him: "Grady was one of the guys who would say, 'We're bigger than you.'"

Forbes, whose previous high purse was $112,000 to fight David Santos in 2002, is understandably on guard when his stature is questioned. His in-ring nickname is "2 Pounds" for good reason.

"Forbes already had his shot. I don't think he deserves another one."
-- Grady Brewer

Forbes was born two months early, in Portland, Ore., in 1977. His heart and lungs were in frail shape and hours of prayers were offered by his family to get him through it.

"I've been small my whole life," said the boxer, who lives with his wife, Valerie, 28, and has a daughter, Sentierra (9). "I'm a throwback to the Henry Armstrong era."

Brewer isn't moved by the history lesson.

"Forbes already had his shot," he said. "I don't think he deserves another one."

The fighting words, of championship caliber, have been spoken. Come Tuesday, we'll see who translates the words into deeds and comes away with the biggest purse and publicity push of his boxing life.

Michael Woods, the news editor for TheSweetScience.com, has written for ESPN The Magazine, GQ and the New York Observer.

Michael Woods, a member of the board of the Boxing Writers Association of America, has been covering boxing since 1991. He writes about boxing for ESPN The Magazine and is the news editor for TheSweetScience.com.