Patriots Tom Brady (l.) and Rob Gronkowski at Churchill Downs
LOS ANGELES – (Staff Report from Official News Release) – Premium pay television network EPIX announced undefeated boxing champion Andre “Son of God” Ward will host the new version of its “The Contender” boxing franchise. Legendary boxing trainers Freddie Roach and Naazim Richardson will join the series as trainers, helping launch multiple boxers into contention for world titles.
Andre “Son of God” Ward (left)
The all-new 12-episode season of the boxing competition series, the first of its kind to air on EPIX is produced by Mark Burnett and his longtime executive producer Eric Van Wagenen. MGM Television has joined forces with Paramount Television to produce the series. Filming will begin this Spring in Los Angeles.
As host, Ward brings his undefeated record and undisputed boxing expertise to The Contender. Throughout his incredible 13-year career, he’s held multiple world titles in two weight classes including, unified WBA (Super), WBC, Ring magazine, and lineal super middleweight titles between 2009 and 2015 as well as the unified WBA (Undisputed), IBF, WBO, and Ring’s light heavyweight titles between 2016 and 2017. Ward also won the gold medal in the light heavyweight division in the 2004 Summer Olympics.
“I have faced the unique challenges of professional boxing firsthand and know the focus required to succeed at the highest level,” said Ward. “Hosting a show that has enabled so many talented fighters reach their dreams is an honor and I look forward to giving the fans unique insight into the life of a fighter and leading the audience through the thrills of this competition.”
“It’s so important for The Contender to have the best and most trusted boxing experts which is why we reached out to Andre, Freddy and Naazim,” said Burnett. “They are the very best and can help create an experience almost never seen before. Eric and I are really excited to exceed the fans’ expectations. We love The Contender and we love boxing.”
Esteemed coaches Roach and Richardson will each oversee a team of eight fighters, pushing their fighting skills, strength and endurance to the limit in preparation for elimination competitions. The coaches will also act as the fighters’ mentor, helping them to navigate their everyday life as the competitors live and train together and fight each other in the ring. Each fighter will be vying to become the ultimate Contender and take the winner’s six-figure purse.
Roach is widely regarded as one of the most successful boxing trainers of all time. His roster includes the eight-division world champion Manny Pacquiao, five-time and four-division World Champion Miguel Cotto, former WBC Middleweight Champion Julio César Chávez, Jr., defensive master and three-time world champion James Toney, former UFC Middleweight and three-time Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre, as well as top prospects Jose Benavidez, Peter Quillin, and Vanes Martirosyan, among many others.
One of the most respected trainers from the boxing hotbed of Philadelphia, Naazim Richardson has helped shape the careers of some of the biggest names in the sport over the past 30 years. From Bernard Hopkins to “Sugar” Shane Mosley, as well as others like Travis Kauffman, and prospect Khalib ‘Bigfoot’ Whitmore, Richardson’s work and his spirit continue to be part of boxing lore. The father and trainer of boxing twin brothers Rock Allen and Tiger Allen Richardson, Naazim is also known for discovering plaster hidden in Antonio Margarito’s wraps before the January 24, 2009 fight between Margarito and Mosley.
Eric Van Wagenen serves as executive producer and showrunner alongside Burnett. The format is owned by MGM Television and Paramount Television.
By TERRY LYONS, Editor-in-Chief
BOSTON – They broke ground on Jersey Street in the Back Bay Fens-meets-Kenmore neighborhood of Boston on April 25, 1912, nearly 105 years ago and somehow, the greatest generation of builders reached for and obtained perfection. Besides the fact there’s the perfect distance of 60-feet, six inches from the rubber on the pitcher’s mound to the rear point of home plate and 90-feet between the bases, the rest of Fenway Park is truly unique.
Now, “unique” is a dangerous word to a journalist because very few things can be considered absolutely unique. New York is unique. Fingerprints are unique. Augusta, Tiger Woods and The Masters are unique. John Lennon was unique and Yoko Ono is really unique. In Boston’s classic rock history, Steven Tyler is unique, while conducting the Pops, Arthur Fiedler was unique. In basketball, Bill Russell and Satch Sanders are unique, just as Red Auerbach and Larry Bird were each and in their very own ways, one-of-a-kind and well beyond unique.
Traffic on 93, snowy days in April, Dunkin Donuts shops and Legal Seafood are not unique.
The word unique is over-used by public relations professionals in their trumped-up press releases. Frequently, I’ll take a “unique” press release or an “I’m excited … quote” from said release and toss it in the little trash bin conveniently located on the right corner dock of my failing computer, as hard drives can never qualify as unique because of their 100% failure rate.
The exception to my rule is the fact a news release or any type of commentary about Fenway Park has Carte Blanche or an unlimited AMEX Platinum card of available credit to use the word “unique” simply because, since the building of that monstrosity next to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, only Wrigley Field in Chicago and Fenway Park can claim uniqueness among major league parks.
That brings us to the preparations for Opening Day 2018 at Fenway, and our invite a couple days before the Boston Red Sox host the Tampa Bay Rays, when we gathered with the New England media corps for a sneak preview of the improvements to “America’s Most Beloved Ballpark.”
Opening Day and Patriots’ Day are the two New England holidays everyone celebrates and Sam Kennedy, the President, CEO and highly capable steward of the Boston baseball franchise from a working man’s perspective, was joined for our tour by the equally-capable Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans, a.k.a. “America’s Most Beloved Policeman.” We all wanted to see what the harsh winter months did to the beloved ballpark since we last saw it in the fall when the Houston Astros dumped the Red Sox into the Charles.
Changes, err, “improvements” to Fenway are nothing new. The most significant and noticeable change to the ballpark came about in the winter of 2002-03 when the famed Green Monster became the foundation to some 274 “Monster Seats,” located atop the 23-foot wall, some 310 feet away from home plate. But, while the change was significant, the goal of keeping the authenticity and appeal of the origins of Fenway was met and possibly exceeded. So, too, were the changes made to the scoreboard (added in 1934 until the National League scores were removed in 1976 but restored in 2003), the old 600 Club and main pressbox renovation, the installation of lights (1947) and a slew of cosmetic improvements, seating options, suites, and technology gadgets, not to mention improvements to the concourses and concessions.
“We thrown some ideas against the wall to see what sticks, but then everything is highly debated,” said Sox Executive VP and COO Jonathan Gilula, one of Kennedy’s right-hand men in the front office who oversees these renovations. “We’ve got a design team that’s worked on Fenway improvements since 2002 and they really care deeply about respecting Fenway Park, maintaining the look and feel and charm of the place.”
For 2018, the most important improvement is the fact the club extended protective netting well beyond the dugout to allow for 12-feet, eight inches of protection to fans in the field level seats. The netting is a new “field green” color to minimize the distraction factor for sightlines, a welcome and now MLB-wide protection for fans at all 30 major league parks.
The most innovative change was the installation of a new 25-seat field level group seating area to be known as the “Jim Beam Dugout,” (think Bourbon). The new space will be sold on a game-to-game basis and fans will have a viewpoint similar to the players and coaches, complete with bats, helmets and a gatorade cooler or two. Fans will have to bring their own sunflower seeds but in-game service for frosty refreshments and snacks are available for purchase if fans are still thirsty after a pre-game invite to the Royal Rooters Club out in the right field (Gate K) concourse.
The take-away from the new dugout was the fact it blended in with the rest of the field level aura of Fenway, as the contractors from Gilbane Inc. worked with DAIQ Architects of Somerville to take only one row from prior seating and build-out slightly to the 1B/right field line warning track, tucking the new seating area almost incognito.
“We’ve had a good run since 2002, and literally every off-season we came up with some level of improvement,” Gilula added. “Between 2002 and 2011 was our 10-year period of major improvements to Fenway. Probably the last six or seven years, it’s been more modest but still important improvements for fans.”
For fans of the big right field roof “Budweiser” deck, you’ll need to change your brew to Sam Adams, as the Red Sox struck a major beverage deal with the Boston Beer Co. and it resulted in a refreshed and rebranded “Sam Deck.” Along with the news signs and availability of Boston Lager, Sam ’76, Rebel IPA and a host of others, including the ever-so-popular Sam Seasonal varieties (think Sam Summer until September when the Octoberfest rolls in). Somehow, the signature 74-feet by 10-foot high Sam Adams sign actually complements the iconic John Hancock billboard atop the center field bleachers while the “Sammy’s on 3rd” bar near Gate E might be the most popular and utilized “improvement” in Fenway history.
Sammy’s on 3rd at Fenway Park
The tour continued all around the park to showcase new seats in left field just past the visitor’s dugout and a refreshed “Coca-Cola Corner” on the left field side of the park, opposite Sam Adams’ joint. The media relations crew hit a grand slam with our sneak peek concluding with a sampling of some of Aramark’s finest, including New England Lobster Rolls, Cavendish Farms Tator Tots, topped with bacon bits, sour cream and fresh chives, popular make your own salad offerings and a list of treats far too long to list, but well worth your time and hard earned bucks.
On Patriots’ Day, April 16th’s 11am first pitch, look for Creme Brûlée French Toast as the show-stopper, along with Jane Dough cookie dough with or without ice cream.
All-in-all, Opening Day to Patriots’ Day, right on to the third most important day on the baseball schedule will be celebrated nicely from every angle a baseball fan might expect, especially from a safety and security stand-point.
Three important days, you said?
Yes, maybe we’ll see you the night you’re lucky enough to have tickets or at World Series Game 7.
LOS ANGELES – (Staff Report from Official News Release) – Get ready for The Shark Tank of Mixed Martial Arts.
The Professional Fighters League, the world’s only major mixed martial arts league, announced a new partnership with Mark Burnett, President of MGM Television Group & Digital and MGM Television to develop and produce content and programming for PFL’s upcoming season. MGM and Burnett (Survivor, The Voice, Shark Tank, The Contender) will both join as PFL investors and Burnett was added to the company advisory board. The PFL 2018 league season debuts June 7 and consists of 11 events live on NBC Sports Network and Facebook Watch.
The Professional Fighters League is the first organization ever to present MMA as a true sport with individual fighters competing in regular season, “win-and-advance” playoffs, and season-ending championship. The new partnership with MGM Television will bring unscripted programming and short-form content to PFL’s multi-platform distribution designed to maximize engagement with MMA’s 300 million fans worldwide. The initial unscripted series will engage fans in the day to day life of the fighters and feature a parallel tournament whose champion will win a spot in the PFL league playoffs.
“We are thrilled to partner with MGM Television and Mark Burnett,” said Peter Murray, Chief Executive Officer of Professional Fighters League. “Mark’s creative vision for delivering innovative live content is among the absolute best the industry has to offer – and that is exactly what we will bring MMA fans this season.”
Earlier this year, PFL announced exclusive multi-platform distribution agreements for the 2018 season with NBC Sports Group and Facebook. NBC Sports Group will establish an exclusive live Thursday night PFL fight franchise, presenting seven regular-season live events in prime time exclusively on NBCSN beginning June 7 through the end of August.
“It’s no secret that MMA’s audience is rapidly growing and PFL has an enormous global presence. As an enthusiast for innovation within the television industry, I’m passionate about the growth and vision of PFL and it’s time this sport revolves around a league format,” said Burnett. “They’re elevating the sport in an entirely new way and I’m looking forward to being part of it.”
In addition to the live events, the development deal will feature PFL’s “What Do you Fight For?” programming that brings viewers short-form digital & social content that will showcase the day-to-day lives and back stories of the fighters, designed to help build online communities of PFL’s fan base and encourage engagement among fans, fighters, and PFL’s on-air talent. Viewers can follow PFL athletes through an array of short-form original content, such as the “Top 10 of The Week, Path to the Finals, 24:7: Life of a Fighter, and “Inside the Gym” Cam.
“PFL is thrilled to partner with Mark Burnett the innovator and icon who invented and perfected unscripted TV,” said Donn Davis, Co-Founder and Chairman of the Board of the PFL. “The PFL is re-imagining MMA and the start of the 2018 Season June 7 will bring fans the same excitement and ‘hey, I have never seen that’ reaction they felt when Survivor debuted and ushered in the new age
The Professional Fighters League brings the sport format to MMA for the first time with a regular season, post-season, and championship.
The PFL is co-founded by Donn Davis, Russ Ramsey, and Mark Leschly and backed by business titans in sports, media, and technology. The Professional Fighters League purchased the fighting operations and event infrastructure of the World Series of Fighting (WSOF) and will launch its first season in June 2018 on NBC Sports Network and Facebook. For more visit www.PFLmma.com.
Mark Burnett is president of MGM Television and Digital Group. He has won twelve Emmy Awards, five Producers Guild of America Awards, seven Critics’ Choice Television Awards, and six People’s Choice Awards. Currently, Burnett is the executive producer of five network television shows: The Voice (NBC), Survivor (CBS), Shark Tank (ABC), Steve Harvey’s FunderDome (ABC) and Jamie Foxx’s Beat Shazam (FOX). In 2017, Burnett had timeslot winning shows five nights out of the week. As President of MGM Television, Burnett also oversees numerous award-winning scripted television shows including Fargo (FX),The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu), Vikings (History) and Teen Wolf (MTV).
Dan Patrick (left) on NBC’s SNF Super Bowl Set