- Michael Woods, Boxing
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The two men squaring off in a Boston ring in "The Contender" finale are both convinced that destiny will smile upon them, lift them to victory and deliver a fat payday of $750,000.
Jaidon Codrington, the Connecticut-born, Queens, N.Y., resident, and Cameroon's Sakio Bika, who is based out of Sydney, Australia, could conceivably battle to a draw on Tuesday (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET).
In that case, the fighters could argue that destiny shone her warm light on both of them. Or perhaps neither of them. But the stakes here are sky-high, financially, and perhaps more importantly, emotionally. Chances are that only one man will soak up the spoils, and the other man will be forced to ponder why destiny worked the other man's corner in Boston.
Each man has a persuasive case as to why they will be the one to leave Boston's TD Banknorth Garden richer in acclaim and wallet, but the New Yorker's situation is draped in tragedy, so Codrington's motivation entering the final could be a shade stronger.
During the filming for the show, one day after Codrington beat Brian Vera in the first round of the tournament, Codrington's father, Jamesy Sr., committed suicide.
The 23-year-old fighter faced a tortuous decision: Exit the show to attend his father's funeral and to grieve with family, or stick it out on "The Contender" and try to win the event, as he believes his father would want.
"The producers asked me if I wanted to go home right away," Codrington told ESPN.com. "It was my family's decision and my own. But I knew if I went home I wouldn't come back. I did it with the support of my bothers and sisters. I'm still getting over things."
On the show, the circumstances of Jamesy's death weren't specified. The fact that he committed suicide came as an utter shock to Codrington and his family, he says.
"I didn't have any idea about his sadness. What I saw of him, he wouldn't let you see his sadness. I can understand his depression. I don't show my sadness either. But the circumstance was definitely out of the blue. It caught me off guard."
Codrington was caught in a catch-22. If he left the show to grieve alongside his family, he'd be left wondering how he would have performed on the show. And because he stayed, and wasn't able to participate fully in the burial, he feels some guilt.
To muddy the sea of emotions he's negotiating, Jamesy was a stern taskmaster with Jaidon when it came to boxing. There were many a morning when he'd yank the kid, who started boxing at 13 in Connecticut, out of bed at 5 a.m. to do road work.
"If I didn't run, he'd say I couldn't fight," the boxer says.
But as he got older, Codrington appreciated the methods behind the gruff treatment. He eventually warmed up to his dad's ways.
As he goes into the tournament climax, Codrington (18-1, 14 KOs) has been working to stay focused and avoid drifting into sadness. He's concentrating fully on the more experienced African, who carries a 24-3 (14 KOs) mark into the ring with him.
"This is destiny," Codrington says. "Why was the show for 168-pounders? [Super middleweight] is not even a real weight class. And Boston is a one-and-a-half hour drive from where I was born; in the past the finale was in Los Angeles. But I'd give everything to see my father one more time. I'd take it all back."
When push comes to shove and beyond, Codrington knows he will be able to push himself against Bika more than ever before.
"I've been praying for extra strength. I feel like my father is there. I believe in life after death. I see him watching me. Closer than that, he'll be in me. He'll be part of me."
Bika, a 28-year-old who's battled world class foes like Joe Calzaghe (UD12 loss, October 2006) and Markus Beyer (draw, May 2005), doesn't scoff at Codrington's belief that his father's death will strengthen his resolve and chance of victory come fight night.
Bika was in the house when word came, on Aug. 11, that Codrington's dad had died. He offered Codrington words of comfort, and those words came from his heart.
In 1995, Bika's older brother Gabriel passed away from an unspecified illness. Sakio was aiming towards the 1996 Olympics -- he made the 2000 Cameroon squad -- so he had to plod on when his heart weighed him down.
"I wasn't happy for Codrington, I'm sorry his father passed away," Bika says. "But I can't give Codrington a chance to win. This competition is my destiny. I want that prize money very, very badly."
Bika is also aiming to win to show Africans they can do anything they set out to do. But that prize money would insure 2-year-old son, Zidene, a superb education.
"Maybe he can go to Harvard," Bika says from his hotel room in Somerville, Mass., a couple of miles from the ivy-draped campus in Cambridge.
The cash windfall would also benefit family back in Cameroon. Bika's mom, dad, four brothers and five sisters would get a mansion-sized bonus if he wins.
"My family back in Cameroon would get a big surprise, a big house," he says. "I can't give Jaidon a chance to win. It's about business, about boxing."
ESPN play by play caller Joe Tessitore isn't ready to go out on a limb and call a winner. He sees pluses in both men.
"Jaidon has more upside and current momentum. He also has better physical attributes," he says. "Bika has the edge, experience wise. Bika's been on this big of a stage, and I think Codrington realizes he had an easy road to the final [KO2 over Brian Vera, TKO1 win over Wayne Johnsen]."
Codrington may have to struggle with not only recent history, but an event from further back, Tessitore believes.
He stepped on a moderately big stage in November 2005, when the then 9-0 hitter met 17-0 Allen Green on ESPN2 in Oklahoma.
It was a disaster.
Green came out with guns blazing and demolished Codrington, a highly-touted -- perhaps prematurely so -- prospect in 18 seconds.
"Codrington stepped up once," Tessitore says. "He may be fighting two entities: The physical, against Bika, and the memory of the Green fight. I think Codrington has some doubts he needs to overcome."
Renowned trainer Teddy Atlas also sees positive elements in both fighters.
"Codrington is younger, he's quicker, he's explosive, he brings danger throughout the fight," the analyst says. "Bika is steady, solid, strong, but his strength is his weakness. He's steady and solid, and right in front of you. He's available."
Bika has an experience edge, Atlas says, as he has had to enter those mental dark alleys, late in fights, when brain and body are both screaming to quit, but the heart prevails. "He's maybe hoping the fight goes there, to shadowy places, where he can make a pace that Codrington starts to ask questions of himself," he says. "Codrington's moved on from a devastating KO loss. But maybe Bika wants to bring him deeper into the fight, where he can show his seasoning."
Business management sage Jack Welch has cautioned searchers of wisdom to "control your own destiny or someone else will."
On Tuesday, either Codrington or Bika is likely to be left fuming at their fate. Boxing is a harsh brand of reality, where destiny is often found in the form of one crashing, neuron-shifting punch, applied without consent and with vicious intent.
Michael Woods, the executive editor of TheSweetScience.com, has written for ESPN The Magazine, GQ and The New York Observer.