‘Contender’ packs punch

Boxing reality show finds home on ESPN

Boxing reality show “The Contender” is looking like, well, a contender.

The Mark Burnett-DreamWorks TV series went down for the count following a run on NBC last year, but it’s fought its way back on ESPN.

The new “Contender” season drew an OK 1.256 million total viewers on July 18 for a special two-hour premiere. That number has risen in each of the three subsequent weeks.

“Contender” hit its peak on ESPN in primetime Aug. 8, scoring 1.88 million viewers. Even more significant, 1.32 million of that total were people 18 to 49, a gaudy 70%.

And ESPN is racking up these audiences, despite the loss of Sylvester Stallone, who ended his participation in the series when NBC canceled it after just one limited season, from March to May 2005. Former boxer Sugar Ray Leonard has stayed on as host.

The ESPN version of “Contender” will culminate in a live final-bout elimination match of the two boxers who survived from the original group of 16 at Staples Center on Sept. 26.

Tickets go on sale today for between $50 and $500.

Still, it remains to be seen whether “The Contender” will go the distance. ESPN hasn’t yet announced a pickup for a third season.

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