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MMA Before the UFC?
The best kept secret in mma
What do an NFL star, a United States Secret Service Agent, Sylvester Stallone’s bodyguard, and Muhammad Ali’s sparring partner all have in common? They were all characters cast in America’s original “anything goes” reality fighting drama, an “open call” that led to the birth of a new sport—MMA.
Long before the Octagon was in vogue or Royce Gracie made his pay-per-view debut; decades before the UFC became a household brand and while the likes of Dana White were still in elementary school; two martial artists, Bill Viola and Frank Caliguri, set out to prove once and for all who the world’s greatest fighter was by creating a radical new “sport” in 1979.
Godfathers of MMA reveals the clandestine plot to subvert the “first” mixed martial arts revolution in American history, one poised to challenge boxing as the king of combat sports. Confounded by a freak accident (death in the ring) and widespread corruption, a massive struggle ensued over money, power, and respect between boxing’s gentry and an upstart MMA company from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. CV (Caliguri and Viola) Productions ignited a bitter turf war with the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission that sparked a spectacular David and Goliath battle for leverage.
The legendary story, buried by rhetoric for years, casts a wide net reeling in everyone from politicians to mobsters, all with ulterior motives; all with eyes on a billion dollar blueprint. From boxing’s “Holy Territory,” the home of Rocky Balboa, to a bizarre connection with the Supreme Court that lead to the first legal precedent for MMA—ever, this is the ultimate inside look.
Godfathers of MMA is a testosterone-laced whirlwind tale of “what might have been” told by the trailblazers who fought for it. Relive the epic adventure of the “Tough Guys” later known as Super Fighters (the first mixed martial arts league in history).
Thirty years before the UFC gained a mainstream audience; the media embraced mixed martial arts: KDKA-TV dubbed CV’s new sport, “Organized, Legalized, Street fighting,” while the Philadelphia Journal proclaimed, “No holds barred as Superfighters take over.”
Take a journey back in time to the “Iron City” and meet the fighters, the foes, and the visionaries who created the modern sport of MMA.
About The Authors
Dr. Fred Adams is a western Pennsylvania native who has enjoyed lifelong love affair with literature and film. He holds a Ph.D. in American Literature from Duquesne University and recently retired from in the English Department of Penn State University. He has published over 50 short stories in amateur and professional magazines as well as hundreds of news features as a staff writer and sportswriter for the now Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
In the 1970s Fred published the fanzine Spoor and its companion The Spoor Anthology. In 2014 his novels, Hitwolf, and Six Gun Terrors were published by Airship 27, and his nonfiction book, Edith Wharton’s American Gothic: Gods, Ghosts, and Vampires was accepted for publication by Borgo Press. Three additional novels by Adams are currently pending publication.
Adams acted as the official press agent for CV Productions Inc., the first mixed martial arts company in America (1979-1983). He sat ringside covering the radical new sport for the media and is credited with coining the phrase, “The Real Thing in the Ring.”
Fred is also an accomplished singer/songwriter who has performed solo and with bands since the early 1960s and over the last few years has recorded two compilations of original material, The Doctor is In and Searching for a Vein.
Bill Viola Jr. is a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania based promoter and international martial arts champion who experienced the “Golden Era” of MMA firsthand as his father, Bill Sr., is credited as the co-creator of the sport.
Bill graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Pittsburgh in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and immediately moved to Hollywood, California to gain hands-on experience in the entertainment industry. Subsequently, he earned acceptance into the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and American Federation of Television and Radio (AFTRA) en route to establishing his own production company, Kumite Classic Entertainment in 1999.
He established Kumite Quarterly magazine in 2003, serving as publisher and overseeing distribution throughout North America until 2007. Viola is an accomplished freelance journalist, contracted by Sport Karate Magazine to cover the National Black Belt League World Games on location in Mexico, Canada, and across the United States.
Viola has also served as an independent consultant for number major motion pictures including the mixed martial arts movie Warrior (2011). He is also credited as an Associate Producer for the MMA inspired film Tapped Out (2014) starring former UFC champions Lyoto Machida and Anderson “Spider” Silva.
Bill teaches martial arts at the same school his father established in 1969 (Allegheny Shotokan). He is part of a growing Pittsburgh karate legacy that that now includes his daughter, Gabriella Capri Viola.
More info www.godfathersofmma.com
Pittsburgh is the Birthplace of Modern MMA
CV Productions honored as the creators of the sport of mixed martial arts in 1979
On June 23, 2011, an exhibit showcasing CV [Frank Caliguri and Bill Viola] Productions and the origin of the sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in America officially opened. Making History, the newsletter for the Senator John Heinz History Center (home of the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum) in association with the Smithsonian Institution, said, “Professional baseball, football, and hockey can all trace their history to Western Pennsylvania. But most local sports fans will be surprised to learn that our region is also the birthplace of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).
CV (Caliguri and Viola) Productions was the first MMA based promotional company in American history, established in 1979.
Bill Viola wrote the first codified set of mixed martial arts rules in 1979; implemented in over 130 bouts. Those standards parallel the unified rules of today.
The World Martial Arts Fighting Association (WMAFA) sanctioned all CV Productions events and was the first regulatory body for mixed martial arts in the United States.
CV Productions introduced open regulated mixed martial arts competitions to the United States March 20, 1980 in Pittsburgh, PA with the inaugural “Battle of the Tough Guys” championship. This was the first commercial MMA success and the beginning of a new sport.
Later in 1980, the “Tough Guys” were rebranded as Super Fighters to accommodate a professional fighting image: The “Super Fighters League” (SFL). This was the first MMA league of its kind and set the tone for mainstream mixed martial arts.
Pennsylvania became the first state in history to set a legal precedent for mixed martial arts, officially banning the sport of MMA with the passage of Senate Bill 632 (Session of 1983 Act 1983-62).
The groundbreaking law was drafted specifically to outlaw CV Productions’ events and provided detailed language that defined mixed martial arts competition by prohibiting:
“ANY COMPETITION WHICH INVOLVES ANY PHYSICAL CONTACT BOUT BETWEEN TWO OR MORE INDIVIDUALS, WHO ATTEMPT TO KNOCK OUT THEIR OPPONENT BY EMPLOYING BOXING, WRESTLING, MARTIAL ARTS TACTICS OR ANY COMBINATION THEREOF AND BY USING TECHNIQUES INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, PUNCHES, KICKS AND CHOKING.”
Ten years after the passage of Senate Bill 632, the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) would debut in 1993.
Who is the Father of MMA? We examine the facts.
Mixed Martial Arts History Lesson:
Who really invented the “sport” of MMA in America?
“It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph, or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a photograph, or a telephone or any other important thing—and the last man gets the credit and we forget the others. He added his little mite — that is all he did. These object lessons should teach us that ninety-nine parts of all things that proceed from the intellect are plagiarisms, pure and simple; and the lesson ought to make us modest. But nothing can do that.” ―Mark Twain
Most mixed martial arts fans simply aren’t concerned with revisionist history, but we still have a duty to preserve the integrity of sport. Note “sport” is a very specific label not to be confused with methodology that would include an analysis of Pankration, Vale Tudo, and any number of distant relatives that inspired modern MMA competition in the United States (long before we knew it as mixed martial arts). The “invention” of mixing martial arts dates back to the dawn of mankind, but the “creation” of an American sport has direct lineage. The field of pioneers runs deep including everyone from Bruce Lee to Judo Gene LeBell setting the tone with exhibitions, but their contributions, although groundbreaking, do not constitute sport. Like stick-and-ball games, baseball didn’t become a sport until the emergence of a diamond, 3 strikes and 4 bases and MMA is no different. While the UFC popularized the idea of MMA, the “sport” was created a decade earlier (MMA’s best kept secret). CV [Caliguri and Viola] Productions provided the blueprint for a multi-billion dollar business in 1979; the first league of its kind. They were ultimate fighters ahead of their time (no pay-per-view or the internet to spread their message). The revolution was repressed, now passed off as mere urban legend, but it’s time to look past the fairy tale version you’ve been brainwashed to believe.
The UFC’s Maiden Voyage
Art Davie thought he had entered uncharted waters in 1993 when he created the Ultimate Fighting Championship, but another ship set sail years before him. Davie planted his flag in Denver, Colorado thinking he had discovered new land, but in reality MMA’s story began in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania more than a decade earlier. It’s not up for debate; there is overwhelming evidence that a UFC-esque company thrived before Rorion Gracie and Art Davie collaborated. CV [Caliguri and Viola] Productions was a premonition of the Zuffa era, built as sport from the ground up, while UFC 1 was devised as a spectacle, slowly transforming to sport over time. The former isolated in Pennsylvania, the latter seen in every major market in America. One forgotten, the other larger than life.
In 2014 Art Davie released his book aptly titled “Is This Legal” reminiscing about UFC’s heyday and staking his claim to have created MMA. While Davie, a true innovator, certainly pitched the idea of Ultimate Fighting and popularized it on television, his vision “There are no rules” was a far cry from anything that resembled sport. His baby would eventually morph into a sport, a billion dollar behemoth, but it too had a precursor. Yes, he co-created the UFC (the most famous 3 letters in combat sports) but he wasn’t the first to “package MMA.” It may be hard to fathom that sport existed before the UFC, but it did. Ironically Davie is compared to Abner Doubleday on his book jacket, fitting since neither of them invented a sport, but he may be ignorant to that fact. Mr. Davie was the first to introduce MMA to the “world” (via pay-per-view) but remains the runner up in “America.”
Most media outlets believe, “Mixed martial arts competitions were introduced in the United States with the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in 1993.” This just isn’t true; a major milestone yes, but a major misnomer. They, the press, got it wrong in ‘93 and have been wearing blinders ever since. A more accurate description might have been, No Holds Barred competitions were introduced in the United States with the first UFC but mixed martial arts as sport began in 1979 under the banner of CV Productions. Too late, once the ripple effect set in (print, reprint, reprint) the UFC became the first of its kind. Positive or negative press, the public is prone to believe what news they hear first. Ask any politician who’s been on the wrong end of a juicy scandal; truth becomes relative depending which way the press leans. It’s equally hard to buck that trend if you are an inventor or explorer playing catch up.
The perception of the UFC and CV Productions is very much in line with Christopher Columbus and Leif Eriksson. While the Vikings didn’t have a clever rhyme, Columbus did, sailing the ocean blue in 1492. The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s ploy of course was shock and awe, broadcast live and in bloody color. UFC, like Columbus, won the media’s attention and was accepted into an exclusive club with “lifetime” membership—pop culture. The New World may have been discovered 500 years before Columbus was born, and likewise MMA created while Dana White was still in grade school, but once America makes up her mind she is stubborn.
History does seem to iron itself out, but first impressions still carry a lot of weight. What’s right is right and President Lyndon Johnson declared October 9th to be Leif Eriksson Day, just a few days earlier than Columbus Day observed on the 12th. However, unless you’re Norwegian, Columbus still takes the first place for being second. CV Productions is yet to get its official proclamation, but their day is coming.
Who’s Your Daddy? The real father of MMA…
Alexander Cartwright, James Naismith and Walter Camp all share a similar rite of passage, each has been honored as the “father” of their respective sports: Baseball, Basketball and Football. For all intents and purposes history credits them with invention, although each sport evolved incrementally from some inspiration or another. While there may be scholarly debate about who, what, when, where and how each sport actually was conceived, history proves that the masterminds behind the original “rules and regulations” determine the birth of a sport, and with it the recognition of its original author, aka “the father.”
The journey towards mainstream status for every sport has endured long and winding roads, but each trailblazer took that same very defining first step—RULES. It’s the creation of rules that distinguishes a game from simply goofing off and sport from spectacle. While rules have certainly changed over the past century, the essence of each major sport is steeped in tradition. Basketball, football, and baseball can trace their roots back to a pioneer who drafted a blueprint in an effort to standardize competition. Embodied by awards that bear their namesake, the legacy of Cartwright, Naismith, and Camp are intact, but who is the father of MMA? Who penned the holy grail of MMA rules?
The default response isn’t an individual at all but rather, “The UFC of course.” The nonchalant reaction bundles Rorion Gracie, Art Davie, Campbell McLaren, Bob Meyrowitz, Dana White and a host of others into a single entity so you don’t have to pinpoint exactly when the NHB became MMA. Some would argue that pioneers like Jeff Blatnik, Larry Hazzard, John McCarthy, and Howard Petchler, who all had a hand in influencing modern MMA rules, should be in the conversation. Each deserves a placard in the Hall of Fame, but unfortunately those rules were not the originals. CV Productions owns the rights whether folks know it or not.
When my father [Bill Viola Sr.] first put pen to paper in 1979 he had a vivid dream. As successful as mixed martial arts has become, to him, MMA is as brilliant today as it was supposed to be decades ago. It’s come a long way since the Holiday Inn in New Kensington, but one thing remains the same; my father, Frank and the original “Tough Guys” and Super Fighters will always and forever be the undisputed Godfathers of an American sport.
Pittsburgh MMA contributor Jimmmy Cvetic is a reality tv star.
By Maria Sciullo / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In the second of three episodes shot in Pittsburgh during the summer, Oxford Solutions IT recruiters Geoff Morgan and Corey Walker starred as “White Collar Brawlers,” a new limited-run series at 10 p.m. Tuesdays on the Esquire Network.
The guys are competitive in more than recruiting new hires. Tuesday’s show featured a pingpong game that underscored Mr. Morgan’s tendency to get hotheaded under pressure. “A ticking time bomb,” as one co-worker put it.
These two appeared naturals for a program that pits office mates against each other in the boxing ring. Mr. Morgan stated early on that he suspects Mr. Walker is stealing his recruits, prompting the latter to respond, “I never stole anybody’s candidates. It’s not my style.”
So, onto the 3rd Avenue Gym they go. Owner Jimmy Cvetic had them sweating and in great pain after one practice session. Trainer Johnny Spells, who handled Mr. Morgan throughout the six-week ordeal, began with the fact that boxing isn’t something easily learned at a quick pace: “But we’re going to microwave this.”
Beyond the physical challenges, the men soon discovered that training is a time-consuming business. Relationships with significant others, and with work, took a hit. Finally, it was time for the match.
Slightly shorter, Mr. Walker surprised with a flurry of jabs to easily take the first of the three, two-minute rounds. Mr. Morgan settled down and won Round 2. In the third round, both were so exhausted they could barely keep their arms up. The judges’ decision went to Mr. Walker.
Everyone agreed the men would probably still fight it out at work over candidates, but the blood-and-guts experience in the ring was a bonding experience.
“I have nothing but respect for Geoff,” Mr. Walker said.
* James Wolpert fell prey to the Twitter Instant Save Curse on NBC’s “The Voice” and was eliminated Tuesday. Each of the four singers “saved” this season in the 5-minute fan tweet window promptly exited in the next round.
Singing U2’s “With or Without You,” the former Carnegie Mellon University art student drew raves from his mentors, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton. But it wasn’t enough.
Mr. Wolpert will perform in the two-night season finale, which begins Monday. A former employee at the Shadyside Apple Store, before he left, he sent company CEO Tim Cook an email. Although he invited Mr. Cook to stop by, should he reach the live shows, like Godot, Mr. Cook apparently never showed up.
* Katie Correll would appear to have the qualifications to be one of 11 contestants on Season 2 of TBS’s “King of the Nerds.” Ms. Correll, who is getting her master’s at the CMU Entertainment Technology Center, does research at the university’s Robotics Institute and next month, begins a new job at Disney Research Pittsburgh.
The show premieres Jan. 23.
* A minor Twitterstorm erupted Sunday night during the CBS finale of “The Amazing Race,” when, in the first hour, two of the four remaining teams decided to work together to reach the final set of challenges.
“Cheating!” was a common complaint, although in the long history of “TAR,” many teams have joined forces. After 23 cycles of the program, which airs twice a year, the rules appear to change from time to time — and generally are not announced to viewers.
For example, then-engaged couple Amber Brkich (a Beaver County native) and Rob Mariano came up with a number of creative, albeit sneaky, styles of game play en route to the Season 7 finale. Among their antics: having decided he didn’t want to eat 4 pounds of meat in a roadblock, Mr. Mariano convinced some of the other teams to skip the chow and join them in accepting a time penalty.
Winners of this season’s show were dating couple Amy Diaz and Jason Case, who took home $1 million. The finale drew about 9 million viewers but scored a ratings share of only 2.1 among the 18-49 demo.
NBC’s “Football Night in America” trounced the competition with 16.6 million viewers and a 6.0 rating.
* So, you think you can dance? Fox’s venerable reality competition begins auditions next month in Atlanta (Jan. 13). Other casting calls are New Orleans (Jan. 31) and Los Angeles (March 23) but other sites will be announced shortly at www.fox.com/dance.
* “Farm Kings” returns Thursday on Great American Country, with the promise of the guys overhauling “a clunker for entry into a demolition derby and Lisa entering the local Apple Festival’s pie bake-off.”
The show features the King Family, which runs its Freedom Farms complex off Route 8 in Butler County.
Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/ae/tv-radio/2013/12/14/Brawlers-focuses-on-Pittsburgers-again/stories/2013121400360000000#ixzz2puduVmwL
Q: Who invented MMA?
Copyright © 2013 By Bill Viola Jr. Pittsburgh MMA Inc. CV Productions Inc. Who Invented MMA? The answer is not so simple. As for who invented mixed martial arts as a sport… we have the answer and it might surprise you.
All rights reserved.
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Hand to hand combat has roots in prehistoric times, influencing every culture since the dawn of mankind. From ancient mosaic sculptures discovered in Sumeria to hieroglyphic inscriptions revealed in Egypt, early evidence suggests that some type of formalized fighting system has always existed. Be it a “fight” or “flight” response from the threat of imminent danger, survival is a universal instinct of humanity. The public’s obsession with barbaric “life or death” contests reminiscent of the Roman Gladiators affirms an innate human fascination with combative sports, especially as entertainment. While the violent spectacles of the Coliseum are no longer apropos, contemporary mixed martial artists are celebrated prizefighters, heralded as modern day warriors.
Martial arts or the “Arts of Mars” in Latin is derived from the Roman god of war. Its military connotation, “kill or be killed,” is a philosophy that resonates among thousands of armed and unarmed methods of self-defense; many steeped in tradition and influenced by cultural, religious, or ethnic backgrounds. Today, “martial art” has become a catch-all, almost generic term that universally and collectively describes combat systems from around the world dating back to antiquity. What is and what isn’t technically a martial art is truly a subjective topic, a debate reserved for another day.
The origins of martial arts in general are shrouded in mystery and legend, more often than not based on hyperbole, stories passed down from generation to generation. Entwined deep within Greek mythology, Pankration (literally meaning “all powers”) was introduced to the Ancient Olympic Games in 648 B.C., a sport said to have been created in the spirit of Heracles and Theseus. Scholars regard this hybrid of Hellenic wrestling and boxing to be one of the earliest versions of mixed martial arts. The competitions garnered national fanfare while imposing very few rules; death unfortunately was considered an occupational hazard.
Many experts credit the conquests of Alexander the Great as a pervasive influence on primitive Martial Arts. His army inadvertently spread the fundamentals of Pankration throughout the world, including India. Popular folklore glorifies an Indian Monk named Bodhidharma, a journeyman who traveled to China establishing Zen Buddhism in the 6th Century A.D. Many believe the training regimen he taught the Shaolin Monks later spread and impacted the development of traditional martial arts around the world.
Upon the emergence of the 20th century, Vale Tudo (Portuguese meaning “everything allowed”) matches throughout Brazil left a modern footprint on MMA. The scene cultivated adaptations of judo that emphasized ground fighting; namely the creation of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and later Luta Livre (Brazilian free fighting). In the Pacific Rim, Eastern and Western styles clashed head-to-head in mixed-fights known as Merikan (Japanese slang for American) while no-holds-barred fisticuffs were a regular feature at large music halls throughout Europe. England operated on the cutting edge of an MMA ideology in the form of Bartitsu, while France had long claimed home to an ancient mixture of wrestling and striking known as Brancaille. The list of early mixed martial arts was as extensive as it was widespread, touching both hemispheres. Each geographic region had its favorite, and with it the pride of its people. Whether it’s narcissism or just intrinsic curiosity, challenges that prove superiority have always defined the human race and continue to do so today.
Sensei is probably the most recognizable term in all of martial arts. The Japanese to English translation literally means, “Person born before another,” simply said one with experience; a teacher. The arts themselves have followed a similar path, advancing slowly over time, individually influenced by those who came before; soldiers, warriors, students, masters and visionaries. Millennia later we see the fruits of their labor; an offspring of countless forms of combat (karate, kung fu, muay thai, etc.). Regardless what styles or theories you embrace, mixed martial arts is obviously not the handiwork of one person, group, or culture; it has evolved over thousands of years and continues to evolve today.
Who invented the “Sport” of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in the United States? Answer: Bill Viola and Frank Caliguri –1979
Contrary to popular belief, the UFC was not the first organization to promote the sport of mixed martial arts in 1993. The development of mainstream MMA as an organized and structured “sport” in the United States of America, is credited to CV Productions Inc., the oldest MMA company in America. Founded by Frank Caliguri and Bill Viola in 1979, the duo packaged and promoted legal mixed martial arts until it was banned by the Pennsylvania legislature in 1983.
Mixed Martial Madness: The Birth of an American Sport
Long before the Octagon was in vogue or Royce Gracie made his pay-per-view debut; decades before the UFC became a household brand and while the likes of Dana White were still in elementary school; two martial arts entrepreneurs pursued a dream that would change the sporting world forever. Bill Viola and Frank Caliguri, martial artists from Pittsburgh, set out to prove once and for all who the “Toughest Man on the planet” was by inventing a radical new “sport.” Groundbreaking—sophisticated—progressive; their competition transformed the barbaric spectacles of an earlier era into a modern franchise more akin to the NFL than the Roman Coliseum. It was the Tough Guy Contest, The Battle of the Brawlers.
CV [Caliguri and Viola] Productions created the blueprint for a multi-billion dollar business in 1979 by launching the first mixed martial arts league in United States history only to ignite a bitter turf war with a jealous boxing community over money, power and respect. Mixed Martial Madness reveals a clandestine plot that subverted a martial arts revolution that was poised to challenge boxing for preeminence as the king of combat sports.
The rise and fall of the first Mixed Martial Arts competition in the United States is nothing less than a spectacular David-and Goliath story populated by a colorful cast of characters who bring the drama of MMA to life. This was reality fighting, not an overhyped mixed “challenge.” Professional athletes, barroom brawlers, collegiate wrestlers, self-proclaimed bad asses, and aspiring “Rockys” all went toe-to-toe in what was the first legal “anything goes” competition in America.
The testosterone-laced rollercoaster ride was ultimately buried by back alley politics and special interests in an effort to protect the “sweet science.” In 1983, with the stench of corruption still in the air, the Pennsylvania legislature banned the new sport en route to setting the first legal precedent for MMA—ever.
Outlawed and blacklisted by the “Good ol’ boys,” Mixed Martial Arts would sit idle until an upstart UFC finally emerged in 1993. Unfortunately, their “No Holds Barred” format was light-years behind CV Productions in terms of rules, regulations and safety precautions. It would take nearly thirty years of “catching up” for MMA to come full circle and gain mainstream acceptance. Mixed Martial Madness is the untold story of the men who changed the game and a sport that was born ahead of its time.
If you are a member of the media and would like to read an advance copy of the book, please contact email@example.com
who invented mma in America? http://www.mmahistory.org/who-invented-mma
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The Cauliflower Chronicles follow Carper”s adventures and misadventures, both on the mat and around the island. He quickly learns that Hawaii is not the carefree paradise advertised in brochures and finds himself feeling like a foreigner in his own country. On the mat, he experiences Hawaiian fight culture from the inside, goes head to head with BJ Penn, and struggles playfuddle to overcome injuries. Off the mat, he explores the Hawaiian Independence movement and the effects of colonization, battles with giant cockroaches and centipedes, meets a myriad of colorful locals, and travels the island in the bed of the Red Baron—a rusted 1986 Mazda pick-up truck.
At times sad, shocking, and laugh out-loud funny, The Cauliflower Chronicles is a must-read for both sports fans and travel buffs, showing a side of mixed martial arts and Hawaii not available anywhere else.
I recently had the pleasure to sit down with John R. “Jack” McGinley Jr. [Barney McGinley’s Grandson]. Below is an excerpt from the upcoming book “Mixed Martial Madness”
*Photos courtesy of Jack McGinley & Art Rooney Jr.
During the 1930s & 40s the famed Rooney-McGinley Boxing Club put Pittsburgh prizefighting on the map. Rooney, as in Art Rooney, the founder of the Pittsburgh Steelers, partnered with Barney McGinley to promote gladiators on the gridiron and the canvas. John R. “Jack” McGinley Jr. [Barney’s Grandson] jokes about the Fort Pitt Hotel headquarters, “They had a desk. One drawer with football tickets, the other boxing tickets.” The gym became “the” place to train for champions like the “Pittsburgh Kid” Billy Conn.
Billy was regarded as one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters of all time; a trifecta: handsome, athletic and charismatic. “Conn was a family friend, so much so that Art [Rooney Sr.] even stood as Godfather for [Tim Conn] one of his kids,” says McGinley Jr. The public perception of boxers in the 1940s was on an entirely other level. When asked if Billy Conn was the equivalent of Hines Ward [Pittsburgh Steeler Star] in terms of celebrity status. McGinley quipped, “No he was more like the Michael Jordan.” Conn was a beloved national hero, Hollywood celebrity, and household name. It was a testimony not only to boxings popularity, but the clout associated with its hierarchy. The night Billy Conn “won and lost” the heavyweight title from Joe Louis in New York, over 24,000 fans sat idle at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh to watch the Pirates play baseball. The umpire suspended the game so the anxious crowd could listen to the fight over the P.A. system. At that moment Pittsburgh and most of America stopped. Boxing gripped the nation.
In 1951 Barney’s son Jack McGinley Sr. promoted the first major heavyweight championship in the city’s history, a match between Jersey Joe Walcott and Ezzard Charles at Forbes Field. The bout was Ring Magazine’s “Fight of the Year,” attracting a virtual who’s who of boxing legends; Billy Conn, Fritzie Zivic, Teddy Yarosz, Primo Carnera, Joe Louis, and Rocky Marciano. My grandfather William Viola also sat ringside that day, rubbing elbows with the greats. McGinley Jr. recounts “The buzz was everywhere… It was like the first Superbowl.” (Jersey Joe would later fight mixed-fights with pro-wresting stars “Nature By” Buddy Rogers and Lou Thesz. Most historians concede that these were likely “worked” fights, a frequent way for ex boxing champions past their prime to earn a paycheck).
Jack McGinley Sr. was quoted as saying, “Television killed boxing here.” By the early 1950s fans chose to stay home and watch fights on tv instead of attending them live. Although boxing may have been Barney McGinley’s first love, the writing was on the wall. He and Rooney turned their attention to football and never looked back; a difficult decision, but ultimately the right call. Today, the Steelers franchise is a billion dollar entity while boxing never regained the glitz and glamour of its heyday. As to the future of Pittsburgh boxing, McGinley sadly admits, “Those days are over…I can’t name four [top boxers] today… I think mixed martial arts has a chance.”