The Contender 2 debuts tonight on ESPN

Mark Burnett’s boxing reality series returns tonight on its new network, ESPN. The Contender 2‘s two-hour premiere starts at 10 p.m. ET. The 16 welterweight fighters will be eliminated one at a time until two remain; they’ll fight live Sept. 26.

Besides the elimination of host Sylvester Stallone, who’s working on Rocky, the show is also dumping the challenges. Burnett told the Los Angeles Times that they “didn’t really fit. Now, we’re focused on the more important stuff, which is three things: the relationships in the loft between the 16 boxers, the relationship of each boxer to his family and, of course, the fights.” But Richard Huff at the New York Daily News says it “doesn’t pack the same wallop as the first” in part because the family time is mostly eliminated.

What’s not changing is the look and feel of the show; the Boston Herald says “The camera work during the bouts is dazzling — a mix of film-quality stop-motion effects and heightened sounds,” just like last year. And Sugar Ray Leonard returns to host the show alone.

And speaking of last year, one of the cast members will be familiar to those who watched season one: Daniel Franco–oh, just kidding. Actually, Jeff Fraza, who left the first season because he got chicken pox, gets a second chance.

Retooled ‘Contender’ heads back to the ring [Los Angeles Times]
Glove affair: ESPN unveils new-look ‘Contender’ [Boston Herald]