‘Champ’ early to the punch

Several fake endings taped to avoid winner leak

The “Champ” is here — and much sooner than most observers expected.

Over the weekend, Fox quietly wrapped production on its controversial Endemol USA-produced boxing skein “The Next Great Champ.”

Production on “Champ,” which features Oscar De La Hoya at its center, began about a month ago and wrapped a bit ahead of schedule, industry insiders said.

Worried that the winner of the competish might leak out in advance, Fox and Endemol taped several different title fights without telling the live audience if the bout was real. What’s more, in some cases, more than one winner was announced, all to further confuse would-be leakers.

“It’s an extraordinarily competitive environment,” one Fox insider said of the reasons behind the fake endings. “The competition has proven they’ll do anything. We’re being very, very careful.”

NBC’s star-studded boxing skein “The Contender” is in pre-production and is set for a November premiere. There’s been buzz about a preview special airing in September, right after the Olympics, but so far NBC and the show’s producers — Mark Burnett, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Sylvester Stallone — have not announced anything.

Still unclear is when Fox plans to debut “Champ.” In May, net said the show would air on Fridays come October. Given how competitive things have become, it’s possible that date could be moved up.

It’s expected Fox will announce a firm preem date soon.

Wrap of production on “Champ” comes in advance of today’s hearing of the California State Athletic Commission, whose chairman has expressed concern over whether certain fights on “Champ” had appropriate supervision.

Winner of the “Champ” competish gets a pro contract with De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions as well as a possible shot at a real boxing title; that match would be carried live on Fox.

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