Sergio Mora, the champion from the first season of "The Contender," returns to his native town to engage in a rematch loudly requested by Sylvester Stallone during the finale held in May.
Now we get to see if Rocky knows his stuff. And while most of the millions of fans saw the East Los Angeles middleweight talent outslug and outscore the very admirable Peter Manfredo Jr., it was Stallone who loudly felt the contest was close enough to merit a rematch.
Now, before an expected crowd of 12,000 at the Staples Center, Mora returns to face Manfredo in a ring within a bus token of the Latin Snake's home turf on Whittier and Hendrix, about 10 miles east of downtown L.A. The fight will be shown on ESPN on Saturday (11 p.m. ET).
"The thing is, it's in my hometown," said Mora (16-0, 3 KOs). "It's exciting for me because a lot of my family who couldn't see it before can get to see it."
Last year, the little-known Mora emerged from a pack of prizefighters to become the sensation of the reality television show that had many different time slots on NBC. When the finale was held in Las Vegas May 24, an estimated 14 million viewers tuned in to watch Mora win a unanimous decision over Manfredo at Caesars Palace before a turn-away crowd.
"This time I'm going to be ready for Sergio," said Manfredo (24-2, 12 KOs). "Last time I underestimated him. I won't do that this time."
Before the finale, several of the prizefighters invited to participate on the reality show -- which finally found a home on Sunday nights -- were world-ranked and known within the boxing community. Manfredo, Ishe Smith, Jesse Brinkley, Jonathan Reid and Anthony Bonsante had recognition in the boxing world.
While Manfredo was knocking out junior middleweight contenders like Sherwin Davis, Mora was exiled to club shows in East Los Angeles and Irvine, Calif. The talent was there, but you needed to have an expert eye to see the diamond in his skills.
"These are extremely nice young men," said Mark Burnett, the show's executive producer and co-creator. "They all have stories to share."
The day Mora was selected to compete for the $1 million prize on "The Contender," there were 16 other prospects, and perhaps two-thirds of them were favored to win it.
"I didn't get any respect when I first started," Mora, 24, said. "They didn't give me a chance."
Mora proceeded to use his shake-and-bake style to bamboozle and befuddle opponents such as Najai Turpin, Smith, Brinkley and finally Manfredo. He's still a puzzle.
Yet some world champions knew his talent, like Oscar De La Hoya, Terry Norris, Yory Boy Campas and Fernando Vargas.
"The first time we ever sparred someone real good was Terry Norris," said Dean Campos, who trains Mora. "Sergio did so good they asked him not to move so much."
Other fighters soon requested the speedy East L.A. fighter.
"Sergio's a dog, he's hungry," Vargas said during his summer training camp. "He's always pumped up."
John Montelongo, his longtime manager, remembers a skinny kid showing up in a makeshift gym and sticking with boxing after all the others slipped back into the neighborhood streets.
"Sergio was always a little more determined," said Montelongo, who's known Mora for more than 10 years. "I guess that's what I saw in him."
Manfredo is no pushover, either.
Several years ago, the pride of Providence, R.I., spent weeks in the mountains helping Sugar Shane Mosley prepare for his rematch with Vernon Forrest. He withstood every assault by the elite Pomona, Calif., fighter. This past summer, Manfredo appeared at Vargas' training camp to help Vargas prepare for his bout against Spain's Javier Castillejo.
"He's a tough kid," Vargas said of Manfredo.
Despite taking some belts from Mora May 24, Manfredo never wilted.
"I thought I did enough," Manfredo, 24, said immediately after the fight.
Doing more than enough will be his goal Saturday.
"Sergio is a fast fighter, but I can beat him," Manfredo said.
Second season auditions
Burnett said the second season of "The Contender" will begin in April with an entirely different lineup of prizefighters.
"The process to find the new contenders begins," Burnett said.
Auditions are currently under way from coast to coast, beginning at the Wilshire Grand Hotel in Los Angeles Friday. No workouts or sparring will be held. Auditions also will be staged in Las Vegas, Dallas, Miami, Chicago and New York in the coming weeks. Click here for details.
Burnett also said the first-season members of "The Contender" cast will take part in one more show before engaging outside talent.
"We realize they have to fight outside," Burnett said. "We'll be looking for recognizable fighters for our boys."