By Ryan Songalia
Rico Hoye was once a prized prospect, riding a string of knockouts en route to a number one ranking with the IBF and a subsequent title shot. But even he admits that meant nothing to the general public; he was still a nobody.
But all of that will change, he hopes, with his inclusion on The Contender Season 4, the latest installment of the Jeff Wald hype machine that has revolutionized the way boxing reaches the public.
The same show that jump-started the careers of Sergio Mora, Peter Manfredo and Sakio Bika now focuses on the cruiserweight division, which historically has been overshadowed by more glamorous weight classes. In a sport that is under-marketed and shunned by mainstream media, The Contender has turned otherwise anonymous fighters into household names.
This is the opportunity Hoye had been waiting for his entire career.
"The exposure I’ll get on this show will be so much more than anything I had before," says Hoye of Detroit, MI, with a record of 20-2 (15 KO). "Now, I’m going to be in millions of homes. Going into the show I was looking to rebirth my career. Now, I could possibly become a crossover star."
Alongside Darnell Wilson, Felix Cora Jr., and other lesser known fighters, Hoye traveled to the small Southeast Asian country of Singapore for five weeks of competition. At stake, a chance to participate in the grand finale on Feb. 25 at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods to win $500,000.
"Singapore is awesome," Hoye says. "The people were really cool, the food was great and it’s a clean city. I think going over there we heard the war stories. Nobody wanted to get beat with a cane. We were very professional over there and the people were appreciative. They had just done the Contender Asia, Muay Thai stuff. The crowds were ridiculous."
Hoye had been away from public view since his third round TKO loss to Adrian Diaconu on ESPN2 last May. Following that defeat Hoye resolved to take a reprieve and contemplate his next step.
"When I took the Diaconu fight, I had a manager who wanted me to campaign as a light-heavyweight," Hoye says. "I didn’t want to, I wanted to fight at cruiserweight or heavyweight. I’m 6’4 and walk around at 225. I was always coming down and it was extremely difficult.
"Throughout my career, I've had some horrible experiences with promoters and managers. I was fed up with the business of boxing. I just took some time off, got some different people who allowed me to take control of my career.
"The Contender opportunity came around and I jumped on it."
The show has bounced around networks throughout it's short run. The series will now be televised on Versus, which boasts its own growing niche market within the boxing community. Tony Danza now hosts the show, picking up where Sugar Ray Leonard and Sylvester Stallone left off.
The one thing that has not been affected is the desire.
"You have 16 guys and everybody is super hungry. This was a tournament, and one loss [and] you’re going off. These are some great fights. You have guys in there slugging it out, TV fights. It’s not Roy Jones but you have some decent fighters who are putting it all on the line. Every fight was life and death."
Outside of Hoye, Wilson, Cora and world-rated Lawrence Tauasa, the rest of the squad consists of upstarts less-acquainted with the nature of the business. Hoye was once in their shoes, wide-eyed and ready to reap the spoils of his passion. Being in that atmosphere, Hoye says, has helped refresh his perspective on the sport.
"I kinda fell out of love with the sport. I want to have fun with boxing again and just being around these guys, they’re still new to boxing. I was trying to feed off their excitement."
While the exposure on the show will undoubtedly open some doors to fights that previously would have been locked, Hoye isn't open to the idea of using the opportunity to sell himself as a prepackaged "Contender" opponent.
"With boxing period, it’s all a packaged deal. It’s how you promote it and what situation your management puts you in. It’s like being thrown in the ocean, if you can’t swim, don’t get on the boat."
Ryan Songalia is a member of The Boxing Writers Association of America. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org