Congrats to Godfathers of MMA best selling author Bill Viola Jr. on being named one of Pittsburgh’s Magazines “40 under 40” for 2016.
His latest book, “Go Ask Your Dad” is available on Amazon.
-By Clem Williams
I’ve been involved in the martial arts for approximately forty years, both as a journalist and fighter so I consider myself savvy. I have to admit, after reading Godfathers of MMA, the new book by Bill Viola Jr. and Dr. Fred Adams, I had to completely reevaluate the historical timeline of mixed martial arts. This is truly one of the best kept secrets in all of martial arts. The book sets the record straight on a number of significant milestones, that until now have been completely overlooked by even the most in-depth journalists.
The book opens with a comprehensive outline and summary of martial arts in general and its infiltration into the United States. The authors do a great job setting the stage and scene for a martial arts revolution. Most journalists, including myself, believed that the UFC introduced mixed martial arts competition to the United States, but its clear that they were more than a decade behind CV (Caliguri and Viola) Productions. The upstart martial arts company was established in 1979 after two prominent martial arts promoters, Bill Viola and Frank Caliguri, hatched an idea to create the first “anything goes” sport. The men set out to answer the age old question of who would win in a “real” fight: The boxer, the wrestler, the karate-ka?
Mixed contests were popular at the turn of the century, but they were more or less sideshows. There was no legitimate outlet for full contact fighting and CV Productions filled that void with the inaugural “Tough Guy” contest. The competition allowed all fighting tactics including karate, judo, wresting, boxing, etc. They implemented the 10-point-must system for scoring and banned the most dangerous techniques such as biting or groin strikes.
Caliguri and Viola essentially created the blueprint for modern MMA years before the Ultimate Fighting Championship or the Gracie family was on the scene. Unfortunately, the Pennsylvania State Legislature outlawed the sport in 1983 with the passage of the Tough Guy Law in repsonse to the death of Ronald Miller at a unrelated Tough Man boxing show. The struggle between the Pennsylvania Senate, Tough Man boxing and shady underworld players are depicted in easy to read entertaining chapters.
A few of the enlightening accomplishments by CV Productions were: CV (Caliguri and Viola) Productions is credited as the first MMA based promotional company in American history, established in 1979. Bill Viola Sr. 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.
Godfathers of MMA is a must read for any martial arts fan. The amount of research and attention to detail is impressive. Ten years after the passage of The Tough Guy Law (Senate Bill 632), the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) would debut in 1993. “The UFC doesn’t owe them [CV Productions] anything, but they should be thankful for everything.” That line sums up the saga, as if it wasn’t for the fluke death at the Tough Man event, the UFC as we know today wouldn’t exist. What I learned was Pittsburgh was indeed the birthplace of MMA. It’s an incredible journey back in time introducing you to the colorful characters who paved the way for the sport of MMA.
Conclusion: 5 Stars. Highly recommenced.
The World Martial Arts Fighting Association (WMAFA) sanctioned all CV Productions events and established the first regulatory body for mixed martial arts in the USA.
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 mainstream MMA success and the beginning of a new sport.
The sport was outlawed in 1983 with the passage of the Tough Guy Law.
The Viola family is a Pittsburgh martial arts legacy. Bill Viola Sr. is the co-creator of the modern sport of MMA while his children continue to spread his teachings. Great read.
When Bill Viola Sr. attended middle school in Brownsville in the early 1960s, an older friend taught him some Shotokan karate he had learned in the military.
“After getting a taste of the martial arts, Dad just never stopped,” recalled his son Bill Viola Jr., 37, of North Huntingdon.
Since the 1960s, Mr. Viola Sr., now 67 and also of North Huntingdon, has been a karate pioneer and is credited as a founder of the sport of mixed martial arts. In 1969, he established Allegheny Shotokan Karate and was champion competitor until he retired in 1979.
In 2011, the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum and the Heinz History Center honored him with an exhibit documenting Pittsburgh as the birthplace of the sport he helped create. Two years later, he celebrated 50 years as a martial arts practitioner.
He also taught karate to all five of his children, all of whom have gone on to obtain the rank of black belt and follow him into the competitive arena.
“Dad got us started on this journey,” Mr. Viola Jr. said. “All of us have gone on to win state championships and [daughters] Ali, Addie and I have won world championships.”
Ali Viola, 22, a Duquesne University law student, is the winningest Viola. She’s captured seven National Black Belt League World Championships, making her the most successful female karate fighter in Pittsburgh history.
In the 2014 Karate World Games held in New York in December, she won her last two titles, but also watched as her 4-year-old niece, Gabby, joined her as the youngest competitor in the games. Not only did Gabby represent another generation of Violas to contend in the competitive arena, she came in fourth in her division.
“It seems as if we Violas start to get involved in karate as soon as we can walk,” Mr. Viola Jr. said. “Being in my father’s karate studio is my earliest childhood memory.”
As Gabby’s father, he said he didn’t force his daughter into the sport, but because her four aunts all participate in karate it just seemed natural. The 4-year-old goes to her grandfather’s studio in North Huntingdon three or four times a week.
“Some of our success must have to do with genes, but, first and foremost, it depends on building character, which creates an atmosphere of discipline and a good work ethic,” he said. “The motto at our school is ‘The more you sweat here, the less you bleed out there.’”
The family’s competitive drive seems to have spilled over into their professional lives. All five siblings have college degrees. Besides winning an international title, Addie Viola, 35, teaches kindergarten in Bethel Park. Her sister, Jackie, 23, is a pharmacist, and sister Jocelyn, 21, is studying pharmacy at West Virginia University.
Ali Viola, short for Allison, started martial arts at age 3 and hopes to be involved in the sport indefinitely.
“Karate is a life-long activity that you can keep doing into your 60s and 70s,” she said. “If I have children I plan to encourage them to study martial arts because they’re so beneficial to so many other areas of life.”
Mr. Viola Jr. retired from competing in early 1999 after suffering a broken neck in a car accident. “One of the most terrible events in my life, it did allow me to refocus my love of the sport into coaching and film making,” he said.
Every weekend, an all-star group of 30 young karate students train under his tutelage for three hours at the studio his father founded.
“Dad oversees everything, and when he comes in everyone sits up a little straighter,” he said.
Mr. Viola Jr. created the Kumite Classic competition and is a film producer of movies mostly in the karate genre. He’s also authored a book on the history of mixed martial arts and his father’s contributions as a pioneer of the sport. Titled “Godfathers of MMA,” the book is scheduled for release soon.
Besides Gabby, Mr. Viola Sr. has two other grandchildren from daughter, Addie; granddaughter, Ella, 6, and grandson, Noah, 4, are also involved.
“Titles come and go, but a legacy is forever,” the senior Mr. Viola noted.
Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: email@example.com.
Pittsburgh, PA — January 5th, 2015
Winning World Titles is nothing new for the Viola family, especially for Duquesne University law student Ali Viola. Over the course of the past decade, she has become a 7x National Black Belt League (NBL) World Champion with international honors that have made her the most successful female karate fighter in Pittsburgh history. She has followed in the footsteps of her martial arts pioneer father and International Champion brother, Bill Viola Sr. and Jr. Although she doesn’t have anything further to prove on the mat and wasn’t planning on competing in 2014 due to college commitments, it was a very special season for the family.
The 2014 World Games marked a ceremonial passing of the torch, a karate tradition that has been a rooted in Pittsburgh for fifty years. Ali Viola competed alongside her 4-year-old niece, Gabby Viola, the youngest competitor at the World Games and the next generation of Violas to represent Pittsburgh.
The 25th Annual Sport Karate World Games known internationally as the “Super Grands” was held 26th-31st in Buffalo, New York. The tournament is sanctioned by the National Black Belt League (NBL) and Sport Karate International (SKIL) which are responsible for the largest sport karate ranking system and league for black belts in the world. The competition is the equivalent of the Super Bowl for martial arts with over thousands of world class competitors representing North America, South America, Asia and Europe each year at the Games. The competitors must compete at a series of regional and national events to earn a seed and qualify for the competition, a process similar to NCAA tournaments that is required to secure an invitation.
Gabby’s Aunt [Ali] added two World Titles to her resume, one for Women’s Middle Weight sparring (defeating a contender from France in the semi-finals and then the number #1 ranked fighter from California, Ashlee Grant, in the finals); the second victory was a team title that included teammates Willie Hicks (Texas) and Luis Jimenez (Mexico). Jimenez, a friend of Ali’s coach and brother Bill, also entered his son Joey Jimenez (the second youngest competitor at the World Games).
Gabby and Joey formed a unique bond that extended beyond the ring as they learned about family, respect and tradition. Although neither Gabby nor Joey won the overall division (Gabby 4th and Joey 6th) they learned something much more valuable—the importance of carrying on a legacy! Each walked away with an Amateur International Title and took the first step towards creating their place in martial arts history.
As Viola Sr. says, “Titles come and go, but a legacy is forever.” The school’s motto is “Building Champions in Life.” He prides his students on being community leaders and excelling in the education. Ali Viola is a first year law student at Duquesne University and former Division-1 soccer star at Youngstown State. She currently works at Eckert Seamans Law Firm and is an assistant coach for “Team Kumite” the all-star travel team founded by her brother. She avidly supports the Western Pennsylvania Police Athletic League and also trains boxing at the Third Avenue Gym downtown Pittsburgh in her free time.
Gabby Viola is currently a yellow belt in the Norwin Ninjas program at Allegheny Shotokan Karate and is coached by her father (Bill Jr.) and instructed by her Aunt (Ali) and Grandfather (Bill Sr.) aka “Papa Sensei.” For the past fifty years, the Viola name has been synonymous with martial arts excellence and Gabby is next in line to carry the tradition. More importantly, she is learning how to build character through martial arts. Viola Jr. adds, “Respect, discipline, and focus are the cornerstones of karate and those traits will help you throughout your schooling, your job, and life.”
For generations, the Viola family has put Pittsburgh karate on the map in the world of martial arts. Bill Viola Sr., the family patriarch, has been a pioneer of karate since the 1960s and is credited as the co-creator of the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) in 1979, a decade before the UFC was a household name. In 2011 The Western PA Sports Museum and Heinz History Center honored him with an exhibit documenting Pittsburgh as the birthplace of modern MMA. In all, Viola Sr. has five children [Bill Jr., Addie, Jacque, Ali, and Joce], all of whom have earned black belts and excelled in international competition.
Bill Viola Jr. has created the Mecca for martial arts in Pittsburgh, promoting the region’s largest and most prestigious competition known worldwide as the “Kumite Classic.” He’s an accomplished martial arts author and movie producer whose credits that include Tapped (2014) starring UFC Champions Lyoto Machida and Anderson “Spider” Silva. His latest book, Godfathers of MMA, is available at www.godfathersofmma.com
About Allegheny Shotokan: Bill Viola Sr. established Allegheny Shotokan Karate in 1969, and has since produced more World Champions than any other school in the Pittsburgh region. The school has been representing Pennsylvania and the United States at the World Games dating back to the establishment of the league. www.alleghenyshotokan.com
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 lead 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” who morphed into Super Fighters (the first mixed martial arts league, long before it was labeled MMA). Thirty years before the UFC gained a mainstream audience, 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. For more info on the untold history of MMA, visit http://mmahistory.org/who-invented-mma/
Godfathers of MMA By Dr. Fred Adams & Bill Viola Jr. is available now: http://www.godfathersofmma.com
Pennsylvania’s oldest and most established BJJ competition. The Kumite Classic tournament was the first BJJ championship ever held in the state of Pennsylvania. www.kumiteclassic.com