Comeback season for ex-Contender champ
By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
"Hey... didn't you used to be Grady Brewer?"
You'll have to forgive a perturbed 37-year-old if he no longer laughs at that opening line.
"Yeah, it's frustrating, disappointing, irritating. All those things," said Brewer, the season two champion of ESPN's "The Contender," who's spent much of the two years since his dramatic win in Los Angeles watching fellow series alumni surge past him on the boxing significance ladder.
"I could come up with about 1,000 words to describe how it feels. These guys are not better than me. They may be younger than I am, but they aren't doing anything that I couldn't be doing, and doing even better. It's been injuries that have held me back, not a lack of talent."
A winner over Steve Forbes in the second season finale on Sept. 26, 2006, Brewer was on the shelf with various maladies for the subsequent 717 days before finally re-emerging two Fridays ago with a third-round stoppage of Brandon Wooten in Lawton, Okla.
Among the issues keeping him sidelined were chronic knee and shoulder pain that prompted a series of arthroscopic surgeries, as well as a more intensive cartilage replacement procedure.
Grady Brewer has been on the shelf with various maladies.
And the blows to the resolve have been frequent as well.
First-season Contender champion Sergio Mora has won and lost a 154-pound world title since appearing on the show, while his runner-up, Peter Manfredo Jr., was stopped in three rounds in a failed bid for the WBO super middleweight crown in 2007.
Third-place finisher Alfonso Gomez also got a title shot, falling in five rounds to Miguel Cotto in the then-unbeaten Puerto Rican's final title defense before a summertime loss to Antonio Margarito.
Even second-season runner-up Forbes, whom Brewer beat by split decision, was rewarded with a role as Oscar De La Hoya's foil in the Golden Boy's May 3 return, which he's since parlayed into a date with incumbent Andre Berto for the WBC welterweight belt on Sept. 27 in Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, Brewer's sat and waited.
"It's real tough. Real, real, real tough. But it makes me want it even more," Brewer said.
"I beat Forbes and then he gets De La Hoya and now Berto. It's amazing how much these guys have advanced while I've been sitting back and trying to recover from this thing or that thing. But you just remind yourself that God is making all this happen for a reason."
A Lawton native and father of five who still holds a job at a local Goodyear tire facility, Brewer was among the least likely candidates for TV success after an early career that saw him lose 11 times in 29 fights, including meetings with future stars Kelly Pavlik (TKO 2) and Jermain Taylor (UD 8).
He dropped three of four bouts heading into the series and was contemplating retirement in early 2006, but got a confidence boost after an early episode win over Vinroy Barrett, which was followed by defeats of Michael Stewart and Norberto Bravo over the subsequent three weeks.
The Forbes finale came seven months later and brought with it a winner's purse of $500,000.
"A lot of my early fights that I took on short notice really destroyed my record," Brewer said. "I was facing guys like Taylor and Manfredo when I wasn't really ready with my cardio work. They'd call me because they knew I'd take the fights, but I didn't have time to train.
"I would go out and compete evenly with them and a lot of times outperform them, but I didn't have the conditioning built up and I couldn't take it to the end of the fight. I'd wear down and they'd either outpoint me or I'd get stopped. I was right there, but I just needed a break."
The return to the ring against Wooten marked step one of what he hopes will be a successful second act, which continues Nov. 13 as part of a Contender reunion event in Providence, R.I.
There, Brewer will face second-season semifinalist Cornelius Bundrage in the final preliminary bout beneath a main event featuring Manfredo and another season-one alumnus, Sakio Bika.
The Brewer-Bundrage winner could advance to a title-elimination bout at 154 pounds.
And in the mean time, on Oct. 15, Brewer will meet with his supervisors at Goodyear one last time to decide whether he wants to remain on the regular staff there or go all-in in the ring.
"It's definitely a make-or-break fight for me," Brewer said. "There's no doubt that will be an extra source of pressure, but, just like anything else, you have to block it out. I can't think about the opportunity or else it'll take away from my fight. I've done it all my life. This is just another example.
"When I turned pro in 1998, my goal was to get to the top and become a world champion and that hasn't changed. Even when I was losing fights, I always thought I could compete if I had the same chances. And now is my opportunity to prove that."
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A three-year exile to boxing's backwoods ended Tuesday in New York.
Former four-division world champion Roy Jones Jr., whose career appeared finished after an abysmal three-fight losing skid in 2004-05, certified a return to relevance with the press tour kick-off for his Nov. 8 match with Ring Magazine light heavyweight champion Joe Calzaghe.
The bout, originally scheduled for Sept. 20 before a Calzaghe wrist injury prompted postponement, is again set for Madison Square Garden and will be broadcast live on HBO PPV.
"I'm going to be looking right. I'm going to be in pretty good shape. I keep getting better, so however it goes, I'm going to be in the best shape I can," Jones said.
Now 38, Jones held belts at middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight over a 10-year stretch before a precipitous fall from grace in the form of consecutive knockouts by Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson, and an uninspired effort in a subsequent decision loss to Tarver.
He fought twice in the two years following the losing streak -- traveling to Idaho and Mississippi to out-point little-known fringe contenders Prince Badi Ajamu and Anthony Hanshaw -- then returned to Manhattan for a widely-panned decision over ex-welterweight champ Felix Trinidad in January.
Calzaghe, meanwhile, has seen his star rise significantly since a lopsided win over St. Petersburg's Jeff Lacy in a 2006 super middleweight unification bout many experts picked him to lose.
He followed up with successful 168-pound title defenses against Sakio Bika and Peter Manfredo Jr. and another unification with Mikkel Kessler before scoring his biggest win to date, a split 12-round decision over Bernard Hopkins in April to capture the Ring jewelry and consensus acclaim at 175.
The 36-year-old Welshman is unbeaten in 45 career fights, with 32 knockouts.
"I followed his career from the amateur days, when he got robbed in the Olympics by the Korean, and I've always been a fan," Calzaghe said. "Roy is saying how pretty he looks all the time, and I'm not bad myself, and we'll see who looks prettier after the fight. With Roy, I know he's going to fight.
"He has tremendous hand speed like myself. It's going to be a great fight."
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This week's title fight capsule:
Saturday WBO flyweight title -- Chubut, Argentina Omar Narvaez (champion) vs. Alejandro Hernandez (No. 6 challenger) Narvaez (27-0-2, 17 KO): Belt-holder since 2002, making 14th title defense. Hernandez (20-5-1, 9 KO): First world title fight, 22 years old. FitzHitz says: Narvaez KO 9.
Last week's record: 7-0 Overall picks record: 18-7
Lyle Fitzsimmons is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He provides "In The Ring" commentary for Speeding Bullet Network (speedingbulletnetwork.com), is a periodic contributor to 'The Drive with Dave Smith' on KLAA radio (am830klaa.com) and can be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com.