Dale De Souza's Rating
Kyle Symes' Rating
3.5Overall Score

The Fighters, a new series from Pilgrim Studios, debuted Thursday night on the Discovery Channel. The reality series, which counts UFC President Dana White as an executive producer, is set in South Boston—Southie, as local residents call it—and follows gym owner Peter Welch on his quest to revive boxing in Boston and provides viewers with glimpses into the lives and careers of young boxing hopefuls from the area. The MMA Corner’s Dale De Souza and Kyle Symes look at the first episode of the eight-part series, which airs Thursday nights at 9 p.m. ET.

De Souza: When the news broke about Dana White involving himself in a show called The Fighters, few knew what to really expect from it. Would the show feature something along the lines of The Contender, the NBC and ESPN reality series where a winner would emerge at the end of a single-elimination tournament/game-show-style competition? Would it resemble UFC’s own reality series, The Ultimate Fighter, only with boxers instead of mixed martial artists? Combat sports fans had waited until tonight’s premiere to discover the answer to those questions.

Ultimately, fans got a mix of two different worlds, in a manner of speaking. The show’s presentation featured the style of interviews that MMA fans currently witness in The Ultimate Fighter, with the fighters and coaches in “confessionals.” But the people behind the show gave the viewing audience at home a look at each fighter inside and outside of the ring in a style almost akin to something from HBO’s 24/7 series. The show’s prime focus, however, surrounds something that stands much larger and taller than just the fighters.

Rather than just show two fighters preparing for a fight, the show spotlights a number of gyms in the city of Boston, historically considered one of the true fight meccas of the sports world, as well as a proud sports city. Peter Welch, one of the most legendary trainers in the history of the sweet science, outright says at one point that with gyms closing in the past 20 years, the city not only finds itself in danger of losing their sport, but also their identity. While Welch makes it his goal to feature Boston’s hungriest boxers on a card that intends to bring the city back to their sport, the show goes beyond Welch’s efforts to revive the sport in Boston, specifically by demonstrating the struggle that the fighters themselves endure, from overcoming personal demons to trying to get some sleep inside of their own vehicles while in between residences.

These underdog stories, where the fighters’ livelihoods depend on their ability to make it in the sport of boxing, aim to invoke a variety of emotions throughout the course of the series, and the intrigue of the show comes from knowing that one underdog story will lead into another, which will bring exposure to this fresh crop of prospects from the city best known as “Beantown.” As for the prospects themselves, only time will tell what the future holds in store for them, but regardless, even the MMA diehards of the world would surely agree that they will not go down without a fight.

Symes: I, like Dale and many combat sports fans, were wondering what we would get from The Fighters. MMA fans had heard about it due to Dana White’s involvement in the program, but outside of seeing his name in the credits, there’s no “Do you want to be a (bleeping) fighter?!” type moments from the UFC president.

I’m not what you would consider your average casual boxing fan, but I am by no means an expert in the history or current state of the sweet science. I was initially confused at what the show was supposed to be about as I began to watch it. Eventually, though, it became what Dale mentioned: sort of a Primetime or HBO 24/7 style of program with the episode focusing on an upcoming bout between two guys.

I liked how the show took getting to know the competitors to an emotional level. The Ultimate Fighter has tried this in recent years by adding interviews before guys even make it into the house, but the show generally doesn’t make you want to see someone succeed. That’s not the case with The Fighters.

The show details how both Matt Phinney and Anthony McKenna go through a daily struggle. Phinney is homeless, choosing to sleep in his car outside the gym until his coach, Welch, catches wind of it and lets him stay inside the gym. McKenna is talked about as a guy who has talent but has fallen into the pitfalls of drugs and alcohol. He obviously has lived a tough life if he can’t even go back home to stay with his parents.

Both guys come into the fight at an event that most people would call a “smoker” talking about how the fight is their last chance at making a career in boxing. It seems odd to me that both guys talk as if it’s a do-or-die situation when both are relatively young and sport good records and while there are plenty of other “smoker” events at which to make a name for oneself. It’s also odd to me that both guys didn’t treat the fight like an amateur boxing match where points are scored for each clean punch landed. It was a much more methodical pace than what I’ve seen from amateur boxing events I’ve attended.

After the episode, I’m not sure where the show is going. They spent quite a bit of time explaining how Boston, and South Boston in particular, was a hotbed for boxing but has since lost its luster. I’m not sure why they’re trying to focus on building the city of Boston up to be another “fight town,” because it’s not something the sport really needs. They’d be better off focusing on the individual fighters as new American stars. That is something the sport really does need (at least in the United States).

It was an interesting show and definitely something different from the TUF format with which we’ve all grown accustomed. Seeing the fighters in their natural element and getting glimpses into their daily lives makes viewers more vested in wanting both guys to succeed and provides some personality beyond their headgear and boxing gloves. It’s also interesting to see how Welch and the other trainers put aside their differences to try to help save the sport.

If you’re a boxing fan, I don’t know why you wouldn’t watch it, since there are very few programs focusing on boxing right now. It’s not The Contender or another The Ultimate Fighter rip-off, which will keep the show from feeling stale. If you’re a MMA fan, it’s something that could fill an hour of your time on television given that there really aren’t many things to watch on Thursdays at the moment. It’s definitely a program I’ll be keeping my eye on in the future.

About The Author

Kyle Symes
Staff Writer

Kyle is a recent graduate of Aurora University, where he obtained a Bachelor's in Communications. Kyle resides in Illinois, just outside of Chicago. He played baseball and football in both high school and college, but is now focusing on an amateur MMA career.