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Boxing: SCOUSER PAUL A TOP CONTENDER; City boxer relishes screen test.

Byline: By NICK PEET

LIVERPOOL boxer Paul Smith Jnr is set to become a household name on both sides of the Atlantic after signing up to star in hit American TV show The Contender.

Boxing greats Sugar Ray Leonard and Barry McGuigan will skipper rival teams in a Ryder Cup-style tournament at the Newcastle Arena on Friday, March 30.

Leonard, a world champion at five weights, will bring over a squad of Contender boxers - including season two champion Grady Brewer, Cornelius 'K9' Bundrage, and Alfonso Gomez.

The seven fights will be pre-recorded in the North East and then screened on ITV and American channel ESPN over a six-week period.

A delighted Smith today said: "I've known about it for a few weeks but couldn't tell anybody. I am really excited about boxing in a show like The Contender - of which, like most fight fans, I am a big fan.

"I will be boxing Miguel Espino, who lost on points to Manfredo in the first series of the show and I remember he was very fit and very strong.

"This is a big opportunity for me and I intend to be at my very best to impress what I am sure will be a huge home audience."

Leonard, in London yesterday to announce the British version of The Contender, said: "I'm very excited about it and look forward to pitting my boxing brain against Barry McGuigan's.

"I boxed in Britain as an amateur and know how passionate the British fans are. This is a great opportunity for them to see some great fights."

McGuigan added: "It's a chance for the kids to become really famous. If they had come through the normal route, a lot of the guys wouldn't have got the sort of recognition they have from The Contender and so many of them are on the cusp of bigger things now."

The two teams will compete for the Sugar Ray Leonard Cup in what British promoter Frank Warren and Jeff Wald, American Contender producer, hope will become an annual event on both sides of the Atlantic.

Warren said: "Contender has already created a worldwide audience and the winners will get great exposure to create further big opportunities in their careers.

"As well as the fights, it goes behind the scenes and shows their training, their families and the pain and sacrifices needed to make a champion fighter. It will enable the public to get to know the fighters and produce some real stars."

The American show has already delivered Peter Manfredo Jnr, who challenges world super-middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe for his WBO belt at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium on Saturday, April 7 - eight days after the first Contender promotion in Britain.

As well as former amateur star Smith, British fighters lined up are former WBU world light-middleweight champion Wayne Alexander, London great Alan Minter's son Ross, Hartlepool's English light-welter champ Nigel Wright, unbeaten London middleweight Anthony Small and prospects Martin Concepcion and Newcastle's Paul Buchanan.

The American team also consists of welterweight challenger 'Furious' Freddi Curiel, Walter '2 Guns' Wright, Jerson Ravelo and Miguel Espino.

"We have fighters on the up, fighters who have been there and fighters who are treading water but they all have a chance to make a name for themselves," said Warren.

Smith, 18-0 (10 KO's), added: "I just want to assure Liverpool fight fans that I will still be boxing in Liverpool on March 10 that's for sure.

"I'll have 20 days to recover in time for the Contender show and that's fine by me."

CAPTION(S):

BOXING CLEVER: Paul Smith Jnr, landing a right on the chin of Simeon Cover, will star in The Contender
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Feb 7, 2007
Words:611
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