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Byline: By Peter Shuttleworth Wales on Sunday

Should Peter Manfredo jnr get his 'ass kicked' by Joe Calzaghe, The Contender will not consider it a tragedy.

The American reality TV star has bitter experience of real hurt when his great friend and fellow Contender contestant Najai Turpin committed suicide.

Turpin was Manfredo's East Coast team-mate during the first series of The Contender but the Philadelphia fighter was KO'd in the first round.

Months later, before the cult reality TV show was screened, a depressed Turpin shot himself on Valentine's Day, 2005, in front of his girlfriend in a car parked outside his gym.

Turpin's death hit Manfredo harder than any Calzaghe combination. Boxing was Manfredo's life but suddenly it didn't matter.

'He stupidly ended his life over a woman,' recalled the sombre 26 year old. 'He had problems with his girlfriend and put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger.

'You just don't know what goes on in people's heads. It totally depressed me because Najai was a friend because he was on my East Coast team. He was a good guy and we became close.

'Due to our contracts with The Contender show, the fighters were not allowed to fight until the show was aired.

'I've heard people speculate that him not being allowed to box and right the wrong of his defeat to Sergio Mora, the eventual winner, was a reason why he ended it all but the pay-cheque we got from The Contender was by far more than he would have got from fighting in the ghetto.'

The Contender show went on with a special tribute to their absent friend as producers set up a trust fund for Turpin's daughter, Anyae, in his memory.

Manfredo, The Contender runner-up, added: 'Najai's death put life into perspective.

'I didn't care about boxing for ages. People love you when you're winning but don't care when you're losing. You're born alone, you die alone and you fight alone.

'I've dealt with a real loss. Losing in boxing isn't a tragedy. The whole Contender experience was tough and hardened me mentally.'

Manfredo has criticised the show that made him, claiming the programme portrays an 'unrealistic view' of him as a boxer due to the fact he fought at a lower weight. But without such Fame Academy-style exposure, The Prince of Providence would still be making sandwiches or delivering pizzas between $500-dollar fights.

'I made a little extra from percentage of tickets I sold myself,' he said. 'I auditioned for The Contender because of its $1m winning jackpot. So when I was offered a place, I didn't look at the small print before signing my life away.

'The Contender was a different format than I imagined and I wouldn't do it again but I pocketed $250,000 for being runner-up and my two fights since have made me the same amount again.

'I'm a better fighter than people think I am because now I'm fighting in my preferred division, super-middleweight. Me taking the Joe Calzaghe fight is not for the money, it's my one opportunity.'

Manfredo is Calzaghe's 20th WBO title defence and he admitted: 'If I'm going get my ass kicked, I want to get my ass kicked by the best guy out there,' Manfredo said. 'But I'm going to surprise a lot of people.'
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Mar 25, 2007
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