Author Archives: Bill Viola Jr.

About Bill Viola Jr.

Bill Viola Jr. is a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania based promoter, producer and author. He is the founder of Kumite Classic Entertainment.

MMA History

The history of modern mixed martial arts (MMA) is a fascinating journey that spans continents, cultures, and centuries. While the origins of MMA can be traced back to ancient civilizations where various forms of unarmed combat were practiced, the modern iteration of the sport began to take shape in the late 20th century.

Here’s a brief overview of the key milestones in the history of modern MMA:

  1. Bruce Lee and Jeet Kune Do (1960s-1970s): Bruce Lee, a martial arts icon, advocated for the concept of “Jeet Kune Do,” which emphasized the use of techniques from multiple martial arts styles in combat. Lee’s philosophy laid the groundwork for the idea of cross-training and blending different martial arts disciplines.
  2. Vale Tudo and Shootfighting (1970s-1980s): In Brazil and Japan, practitioners of various martial arts styles began to experiment with no-holds-barred competitions known as Vale Tudo (meaning “anything goes”) and Shootfighting. These early events featured fighters from different backgrounds competing under minimal rules, laying the foundation for modern MMA.
  3. Tough Guy Contest (1979-1983): In Pennsylvania, USA, Bill Viola Sr. and Frank Caliguri organized the Tough Guy Contest, which allowed fighters from different martial arts backgrounds to compete in mixed-rules matches. Despite facing legal challenges and controversy, the Tough Guy Contest is considered one of the earliest forms of organized MMA in the United States.
  4. Gracie Challenge and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (1980s): Members of the Gracie family, particularly Rorion Gracie, popularized Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) in the United States through the Gracie Challenge. These challenge matches demonstrated the effectiveness of BJJ techniques against larger and stronger opponents, leading to increased interest in ground fighting and grappling.
  5. Formation of the UFC (1993): The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) was founded in 1993 by Rorion Gracie, Art Davie, and Bob Meyrowitz. The inaugural event, UFC 1, featured fighters from various martial arts backgrounds competing in a tournament-style format. The UFC played a pivotal role in popularizing MMA and bringing it to a wider audience.
  6. Regulation and Evolution (1990s-2000s): In the wake of early controversies and criticism, MMA underwent significant changes, including the introduction of weight classes, time limits, and additional rules to ensure fighter safety. State athletic commissions began to regulate the sport, leading to increased legitimacy and mainstream acceptance.
  7. Global Expansion and Growth (2000s-present): MMA continued to grow in popularity worldwide, with organizations like Bellator MMA, ONE Championship, and others emerging as major players in the industry. The sport attracted top athletes from diverse backgrounds and gained a dedicated fan base across the globe.
  8. Cross-Training and Evolution of Fighters (2000s-present): Modern MMA fighters are well-rounded athletes who typically train in multiple disciplines, including striking, grappling, wrestling, and conditioning. The sport has evolved to incorporate techniques from various martial arts styles, leading to highly dynamic and exciting fights.
pittsburgh mma history

Today, MMA is a global phenomenon with millions of fans and participants around the world. It continues to evolve and innovate, pushing the boundaries of combat sports and showcasing the skill, athleticism, and determination of its athletes.

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is a combat sport that traces its roots back to ancient Greece, where various forms of unarmed combat, such as Pankration, were practiced. However, the modern evolution of MMA can be attributed to the development of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) in the early 20th century and the emergence of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in the early 1990s. While Pittsburgh might not be as widely recognized for its contributions to MMA as other cities, it has still played a notable role in the sport’s history and development.

In Pittsburgh, MMA gained traction primarily through the efforts of local gyms, coaches, and fighters who contributed to its growth and popularity in the region. These individuals and establishments have helped shape the local MMA scene and have produced talented athletes who have competed at various levels of the sport.

CV Productions, also known as “Caliguri and Viola,” is a prominent MMA promotion company based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Established in 1979, CV Productions has played a significant role in the growth and development of MMA in the United States. The promotion has organized numerous events, providing a platform for both amateur and professional fighters to showcase their skills and compete against top talent.

Bill Viola Sr. and Frank Caliguri are credited with creating a precursor to modern mixed martial arts (MMA) in the United States. In 1979, they founded the Tough Guy Contest in Pennsylvania, which is considered one of the earliest forms of organized MMA-style competitions.

The Tough Guy Contest allowed fighters from different martial arts backgrounds to compete against each other in a regulated, mixed-rules format. Competitors came from various disciplines, including boxing, wrestling, karate, and judo, among others. These events showcased the effectiveness of different martial arts techniques in real fighting situations and laid the groundwork for what would eventually become modern MMA.

Viola and Caliguri’s promotion of the Tough Guy Contest faced legal challenges and controversy, leading to the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission banning the events in 1983. Despite this setback, their efforts laid the foundation for the development of MMA in the United States, influencing the creation of organizations like the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in the early 1990s.

While Bill Viola Sr. and Frank Caliguri’s contributions to the early development of MMA are significant, it’s essential to recognize that modern MMA has evolved considerably since then, incorporating additional rules, regulations, and safety measures to ensure the well-being of fighters. Nonetheless, their pioneering efforts played a crucial role in popularizing the concept of mixed martial arts competition in the United States.

CV Productions is known for its commitment to promoting exciting and competitive fights while prioritizing the safety and well-being of its athletes. The promotion has garnered a loyal following of fans who appreciate its high-quality productions and thrilling matchups.

Throughout its history, CV Productions has hosted events at various venues across Pittsburgh, including arenas, convention centers, and auditoriums. These events have attracted crowds of enthusiastic spectators, further solidifying Pittsburgh’s reputation as a hub for MMA in the Northeast region.

In addition to organizing live events, CV Productions has also produced televised broadcasts and promotional materials to showcase its fights to a wider audience. These efforts have helped raise the profile of MMA in Pittsburgh and have contributed to the sport’s continued growth and popularity in the region.

Overall, CV Productions has made significant contributions to the history of MMA in Pittsburgh, playing a vital role in cultivating talent, promoting exciting matchups, and elevating the sport’s presence in the local community. With its dedication to excellence and passion for the sport, CV Productions continues to be a driving force in the MMA scene in Pittsburgh and beyond.

Additionally, Pittsburgh has hosted numerous MMA events over the years, providing a platform for local fighters to showcase their skills and compete against top talent from around the world. These events have helped elevate the profile of MMA in the city and have contributed to its growth and popularity among fans and athletes alike.

Moreover, Pittsburgh’s proximity to other major cities in the Northeast and Midwest regions has also allowed fighters from the area to participate in a wide range of competitions and training opportunities, further contributing to the development of the local MMA scene.

While Pittsburgh may not be as synonymous with MMA as other cities like Las Vegas or New York, its role in the sport’s history and evolution should not be overlooked. Through the efforts of dedicated individuals and organizations, Pittsburgh has established itself as a notable hub for MMA in the region, showcasing the talent and passion of its fighters to audiences worldwide.

History of Pittsburgh MMA

first mma fight

History of Pittsburgh MMA Mixed Martial Arts

If you want to know how mixed martial arts and MMA was cultivated in Pittsburgh, here is the real story and history…

Excerpt used with permission from Tough Guys ©

Long and Winding Road

 “Different roads sometimes lead to the same castle.”

-George R.R. Martin

Caliguri and Viola agree, Pittsburgh felt the ripple effect of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, but MMA had been brewing since the 1970s.  Viola explains, “Formal mixed martial arts instruction began to gain ground shortly after we were ostracized in the early 1980s, and Don Garon was instrumental in carrying the torch.”

Garon, an Okinawan Kenpo stylist, earned a reputation as a skilled fighter, battling Pennsylvania legends such as Billy Blanks on the karate circuit. Before Tae Bo became a novelty, Blanks was a true world karate champion and even fought as a kick boxer for CV Productions before he settled on the West Coast.

Viola recalls meeting Garon in the years leading up to the Tough Guy competition.  “I remember stopping by Mike Donovan’s Kenpo school in Monroeville with Keith Bertiluzzi in the early 70s.  In those days, I kept an ear to the ground about any new schools in the area.  Don was working out there, but all that I really remember was a huge Doberman pinscher snarling and guarding the dojo door. All kidding aside, Don was a great marital artist and a great friend to Frank and me.  His heart was as big as his skills.” By the mid 80s Garon began training with Dan Inosanto, a direct student of Bruce Lee and the authority on Jeet Kune Do.  He also became an avid proponent of submission wrestling and sought specialized training from Erik Paulson, hosting clinics and seminars that broadened the views of many local fighters.  Paulson, who has reportedly learned from nearly forty different experts, masters and instructors over his career, was a quintessential mixed martial artist.  (Among his notable instructors was Rorion Gracie.)  Paulson would go on to be an MMA champion and his influence is still heavily felt in Pittsburgh.  The Garon-Paulson connection would set the stage for Pittsburgh’s new MMA establishment.

The state may have put the brakes on MMA as an organized sport, but the region continued mixing martial arts and a swarm of Pittsburgh fighters kept the spirit alive.

William “Sarge” Edwards was part of the Don Garon clique, but had a unique identity all of his own.  He was a multi-discipline Guru, possessing a mixed martial arts mindset that incorporated karate, boxing, and Jeet Kune Do. Caliguri remembers, “Edwards was always eager to fight on our kickboxing cards. He taught outside the traditional standards of most conventional schools.” He built a following of reality fighters who shied away from a traditional atmosphere.  Edwards was revered for his ability to equate hand to hand combat into sport specific training; especially the x’s and o’s of football.  His close quarter strikes, signature techniques of Jeet Kune Do, morphed into an innovative training method known around NFL circle’s as the “Tunch Punch” (made famous by Pittsburgh Steeler Pro Bowl offensive lineman, Tunch Ilkin).  Ilkin and teammate Craig Wolfley studied under Sarge and continue to carry on his legacy today through their coaching.

Viola explains, “There were a lot of great potential mixed martial arts competitors in the early days.  Curtis Smith was one.  He was a highly recruited athlete by the University of Pittsburgh and played fullback for the Panthers (blocking for the legendary NFL Hall of Famer Tony Dorset).  Curtis was a champion wrestler and martial artist (well versed in Japanese jujitsu and karate) He had all the tools.”

Smith shared his cross-training methods with the Pitt student base.  His talents landed him a full time position at the University to instruct martial arts as an accredited course in 1981.  He also joined the University of Pittsburgh City police force (now a 35-year veteran) and serves as a special tactical self-defense instructor for the State of Pennsylvania, national police organizations, and other international law enforcement agencies.

Smith recalls, “There was no bigger influence on me than Master Flew.”  Theodore Flewellen was a true ambassador of combat, amassing a lifetime of hands on experience dating back to 1936 when he first began teaching the art in Pittsburgh.  In 1972 Smith became his prodigy, “I took lessons for a $1.00 a class at the Kingsley House and I never looked back. He was a Lieutenant in the Sheriff’s Office, and he single handedly shaped the way the force looked at hand to hand combat.”  In 1980, the Allegheny County Police Academy instituted the Eugene Coon & Ted Flewellen Award, an honor bestowed upon Smith for his superior physical fitness skills.

Viola adds, “Curtis would have been a great candidate to join our pro league. He was big, strong, agile, and could fight on the ground.  He was in his prime during the early 1980s, so a potential match up with someone like Rorion [Gracie] would have been very interesting if we continued.  It’s just another, what if.”

Countless other men and women have forged the way for an MMA mentality in Western PA, most testing their skills at open martial arts competitions hosted by CV over the years.

In the wake of UFC, submission wrestling and freestyle jiu-jitsu made an impact on the Pittsburgh area before Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.  Eric Hibler and Dan Moore stood on the frontline of the grappling scene; men on separate paths but fortunate to share a common influence: Don Garon.

Hibler remembers, “Don opened everyone’s eyes by bringing in experts in submissions, JKD [Jeet Kune Do] and Philipino martial arts.”  Hibler and Moore were always thinking outside the box, and soon gravitated towards more of a no-holds-barred approach; a new regime led by Sarge Edwards.  The standouts got the itch to pursue submission wrestling and MMA would take their passions to the next level.

Moore began teaching Kenpo karate in 1982 with the establishment of Penn Hills Martial Arts Center.  Slowly he transformed his system into a strictly MMA school by the early 1990s.  His curriculum began to incorporate elements of Eric Paulson’s combat submission wrestling and Larry Hartsell’s Jun Fan Grappling. “I simply advertised ‘We’ll teach you to fight’ to get away from attracting kids. We were teaching JKD [jeet kune do] and shoot wrestling and I wanted an adult clientele.” Soon Moore was producing pro fighters like Jermey “Bioharzard” Bennet, one of the first men from Pittsburgh to ever set foot inside a cage.

The ambitious “Hib,” as he became known abound the ‘Burgh, opened the first full-scale “big-time” facility that catered to modern MMA enthusiasts.  Hibler founded Practical Fighting Concepts in early 1990s which later became known as Pittsburgh Fight Club by 2006.  His emphasis was simply “cage fighting” and he had all the amenities; a full-sized octagon cage, regulation boxing ring, raised jiu-jitsu mats, and a forest of heavy bags.

The men and women who trained there gained a reputation as “Pit-fighters,” a place where local pedigrees [pros] like Chris Custer and Dave Sachs made names for themselves. One of Hibler’s protégés, Don Kaecher, would amass a pro fight record of 9-1; his only defeat to UFC veteran Hermes Franca early in his career. In keeping with the NFL/MMA tradition in Pittsburgh, Kaecher recently [spring 2012] gave Steeler all-pro Linebacker LaMarr Woodley private instruction in mixed martial arts during the offseason. Kaecher explains, “Bill [Viola Jr.] introduced me to LaMarr, and we immediately got to work.”  The Viola’s believe, “That martial arts can benefit pro athletes in every sport.”

Next to join the submission wrestling subculture was Ed Vincent who trained extensively under Walt Bayless in Utah.  Vincent recalls, “I actually got my start in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.  I trained for nearly a year with Pedro Sauer, but the commute was over an hour away from home and I discovered the Bayless school was just 5 minutes away.” Vincent would earn a black belt in freestyle Jiu-Jitsu and bring that knowledge back to Pittsburgh in the late 1990s.

It wasn’t long before he built a dedicated following, attracting high profile students that included the before mentioned Pittsburgh Steeler Craig Wolfley (an early student of Sarge Edwards). Vincent remembers, “Walt [Bayless] taught more like a wrestling coach, and we crossed over to gi and no-gi (submission grappling). I brought that style of teaching to the area and people took to it. The name “Freestyle Jiu-jitsu” was just a way to emphasize the no-gi aspect of the art. When people saw Gracie and Shamrock use submission skills, they were amazed and wanted to learn how to fight on the ground too.”

While visiting his family back home in Pennsylvania, Vincent entered and won the light heavyweight advanced division at Pittsburgh’s first-ever submission grappling championship hosted by CV’s Frank Caliguri in 1997.  It was a who’s who gathering of local ground-game pioneers including Chris Custer, Don Kaecher, and heavyweight champion, Dan Rae (co-founder the  CFC–Complete Fighters Club).

Rae along with Pat Ramsey opened the first mixed martial arts club in Westmoreland County (a Pittsburgh Suburban area) in 1995.  To accommodate their large student base, Rae and Ramsey eventually moved the class from Larimer, Pennsylvania to Viola’s Allegheny Shotokan Karate Club in 1997.  Rae had built an early rapport with the dojo where his daughter Leah, was a student.

“In the early days, very few people were training in mixed martial arts, so if you heard of a talented fighter, you paid him a visit. I remember leaving [Doug] Selchan’s dojo bruised and bloody and loving every minute of it.” Selchan won the Gold medal at 1999 Pan American Games; 80+ Kilo Kumite.  Former UFC Champion Lyoto Machida would make that style of traditional Kumite famous in MMA circles years later.  (Incidentally Selchan began his training at Allegheny Shotokan under Viola).

Another tie between the Pittsburgh MMA community and Viola’s dojo was CFC’s Ramsey, who had trained at Allegheny Shotokan in the late 1970s, crossing paths with MMA pioneer Dave Jones, an alumnus of CV fights.  As Viola describes it, “The degree of separation in mixed martial arts in Pittsburgh is very thin.”

As the decade progressed, a pair of pugilists kept Pittsburgh in the limelight as former world heavyweight champion Michael Moorer

defeated Evander Holyfield to win the Lineal/WBA/IBF World Heavy Weight Titles in 1994, and later Paul Spadafora would secure the IBF World Lightweight Championship in 1999.  Kurt Angle kept Pittsburgh’s wrestling tradition alive by winning the Gold Medal (heavyweight freestyle wrestling) at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.

It wasn’t long before the UFC would call, trying to entice Angle into the Octagon in 1997. Angle explains, “I was offered a 10-fight deal at $15,000 per match.  I was intrigued, but instead opted for a contract with the WWE in 1998 and an opportunity at the big money.

Angle would go onto become one of most famous pro wrestlers of the era;  the first and only 12 time World Heavyweight Champion in professional history to hold all TNA and WWE top titles. In 2006 rumors began to circulate that Angle wanted to make a bid in the UFC when he left WWE. “I started to look at the prospect of MMA very seriously in 2006,” says Angle.  “I worked out at Greg Jackson’s Camp for three months, but it was difficult to arrange with my schedule.  I found a perfect fit in my backyard, and began extensive training at the Pittsburgh Fight Club with Eric Hibler.  Hib was a great coach and he prepared me to fight anyone.”

Angle continues, “I had just signed with TNA and Dixie Carter (Total Nonstop Action) and Dana [White] approached me with a very lucrative offer. I was ready to make a move into mixed martial arts, but at the same time I couldn’t just leave TNA hanging. I wanted to do both. Dana gave me an ultimatum: quit pro-wrestling. We couldn’t come to terms.”

In an Antonio Inoki-promoted pro wrestling match, Angle defeated Brock Lesnar (later UFC’s heavyweight world champion) by submission in 2007 and then challenged him to a real MMA fight.  “In my opinion, Brock is one of the baddest dudes on the planet, and if I’m going to fight, I want to fight the best. Randy [Couture] is another phenomenal fighter.  I would have fought either one of them.  Even though they had great wrestling backgrounds, I felt my skills were that much better.”

Bad blood had actually been brewing between Inoki and Pittsburgh pro-wrestling stars since the early ‘70s when the up-and-coming Japanese fighter reportedly tried to make a name for himself by attempting a real submission on Bruno Sammartino.  The alleged plan to turn the bout into a “shoot” or a real match was supposedly drawn up by Karl Gotch (who taught Inoki authentic submissions), but the stronger American champ is said to have brushed off the attempt, instead punishing him with a barrage of real beatings. Inoki fled the ring and let his tag team partner finish the match in its classic predetermined or “worked” fashion.

Inoki was the most famous of Karl Gotch’s protégés, pro-wrestlers who mastered the art of hooking and shooting. Inoki founded New Japan Pro Wrestling, an organization that would straddle the line between fake and “strong style” or more realistic wrestling matches.  The promotions ultimately created a breeding ground for future mixed martial artists and were a precursor to shoot-wrestling tournaments and later Shooto.  Erik Paulson would become the first American to win the World Light Heavy Weight Shooto Title, valuable experience he would share with his Pittsburgh students.

However, pro wrestling and submission wrestling would have to make room for the next grappling trend in Pittsburgh: BJJ.  Brazilian jiu-jitsu, although widely popular, didn’t really impact the Pittsburgh area until early the 2000s.  Viola’s son, Bill, Jr. hosted the region’s first Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament in Pennsylvania in 2003.  The annual championship, (now the longest running Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu event in Pennsylvania) is now a mainstay at the Kumite Classic, Pittsburgh’s Mecca for martial arts.  Steel City Martial Arts won the team honor at that first competition. Viola, Jr. recalls, “The coach of Steel City was Sonny Achille.  He had a very talented group of BJJ competitors and they made their presence felt.  It was the first tournament of its kind in Pittsburgh, so all the schools were represented.

“I hadn’t met Sonny before, but he knew my father from the Laurel State Karate Championships (Viola Senior’s tournament). There really isn’t anyone in Pittsburgh who didn’t cut their teeth at my dad’s and Frank’s tournaments.”   In the 1970s, Achille began his marital arts journey learning Judo under the tutelage of Nick Zaffuto.  Decades later he would become Pittsburgh’s authority on Gracie Jiu-jitsu training under Pedro Sauer (a direct student of Heilo and Rickson Gracie).  After making the commute to Utah for nearly 10 years, Achille became the first Pittsburgher recognized in the Gracie lineage as a legitimate black belt in 2009.

In the early 2000s, America was in the midst of a martial arts revolution and cross-training proved to be the most effective way to learn. Viola explains, “For some of us, it was old hat.  BJJ added a new element, but the concept of combined fighting, as we liked to call back in the 1970s, was common. You just continue to adapt and add new techniques to your curriculum. If we have learned anything over the years, you have to understand that all martial arts have pros and cons. I often laugh when new kids on the block brag about teaching MMA and try to degrade all other arts. These guys didn’t even come onto the scene until after they saw it on TV. But make no mistake; some of us were around long before the UFC and can appreciate the past, present and future of reality fighting.”  Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and grappling were hot, but Mixed Martial Arts still had a narrow audience. The UFC had as many haters as supporters, and the sport struggled to find its true identity.  Read more

Mademen Rivers Rumble


Made Men Promotions honored “Godfathers of MMA” and stars Sparkles on Google Android 8.1 of the SHOWTIME film “Tough Guys” at the recent Rivers Rumble 9 at the Rivers Casino Amphitheater.

pittsburgh mma hall of fmae
Left to right: Bill Viola Jr, Dave Jones, Bill Viola Sr., Frank Caliguri, Mike Murray



Made Men Promotions, noted for their boxing events, hosted its first mixed martial arts event in Pittsburgh.  The card didn’t disappoint the Steel City  fans, as nearly all the local fighters walked away victorious.  In the main events, The Academy MMA’s Khama Worthy (11-6) defeated  Brady Hovermale (11-8) while Stout MMA’s Mike Wilkins (9-4) won over Eric Vo (15-18) in another 155-pound weight class.

Rivers Rumble MMA card

Pro Bouts:
Brady Hovermale vs. Khama Worthy
Erik Vo vs. Michael Wilkins
Andre Hall vs. Josh Fremd
Chris McKinney vs. Jonas Rubiano
Donelei Benedetto vs. John Antanitis

Amateur Bouts:
Devon Williams vs. Dalton Rosta
Cheyenne Hall vs. Stephanie Lehecka
Trenton Zdarko vs. Desmond Carroll
Ryan McDermott vs. Geronimo Velasquez
Vladimir Jean-Philippe vs. Marcus Williamson
Kelly Stout vs. Leticia Candra
Chistian Bosco vs Luis Rivera
Teyonte Hawkins vs Cody Law

MMA infographic

mma infographic

The history of mixed martial arts MMA in one simple #infographic

MMA Infographic

mma infographic
History of MMA Infographic

mma history movie

UFC-IMG-WME Era 2016
Mainstream 2005
UFC-Zuffa Era 2001
Pride 1997
UFC-SEG Era 1995
UFC- WOW Era 1993
Pancrase 1992
Shooto 1986
Tough Guy Law 1983
Tough Guys 1979
Ali vs Inoki 1976
Bruce Lee Early 1970s
Gene LeBell vs Milo Savage 1963
Vale Tudo 1920s
Mitsuyo Maeda 1914
Karate & Judo spread turn of century
Pankration 648 BC
Dawn of mankind indigenous forms of hand to hand combat fighting develops around the world
Roots of MMA

showtime mma film

Tough Guys on Showtime

Tough Guys shotwim

Tough Guys

Showtime Network Debut Premiere

Friday, September 15 at 9 PM

Tough Guys shotwim“Pittsburgh” recognized in the network broadcast premiere of the mixed martial arts inspired film “Tough Guys” debuting on Showtime September 15.  The free event will offer open seating available on a first-come, first-serve basis celebrating local fighters, fans, and MMA pioneers.

The movie is based on the book Godfathers of MMA written by Pittsburgh native Bill Viola Jr. The book which he co-wrote with his cousin Dr. Fred Adams also documents Pittsburgh as the birthplace of MMA, which is now a billion-dollar business. Viola Jr. explains, “When most fight fans think MMA history, they immediately reminisce about the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) which made its debut in 1993.  My dad and Frank created the sport over a decade before the UFC.  This is the untold story.”

The movie is largely based in Western Pennsylvania and has strong ties to the city of Greensburg.  In fact, the last “Tough Guy” event was held in Greensburg at “Hartys” on November 6-7th 1980.

Academy Award-nominated documentarian Morgan Spurlock (“SUPER SIZE ME”) teamed with Oscar-winning filmmaker Ross Kauffman (“BORN INTO BROTHELS”) to produce this film that chronicles the history of MMA beginning in Pittsburgh over a decade before the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) existed.

“Back then, my dad literally mixed up all the martial arts and invented the ‘Tough Guy’ competition, not to be confused with Toughman, which was purely boxing,” Viola Jr. said. “Last year the UFC sold for $4 billion dollars.”

The film was executive produced by Spurlock, Kauffman and Spurlock’s business partner, Jeremy Chilnick. It was directed by award-winning filmmakers Henry Roosevelt and W.B. Zullo and produced by award-winning commercial producer Craig DiBiase.

Although Godfathers of MMA has already been written and published, Viola Jr. plans to re-release the book as a commemorative edition to coincide with the network debut of the film and will include bonus material, a new chapter and rebranded as Tough Guys to match the film.

According to Viola Jr., in 1979, his father and Caliguri dreamed up a contest pitting barroom big mouths against wrestlers, martial artists, boxers, bouncers and brawlers, billed as a no -holds-barred new type of competitive fighting. “When the fights succeeded beyond their wildest expectations, they were swept up in a chain of events that ended in the first mixed martial arts ban in the nation when the Senate passed the ‘Tough Guy Law’ in 1983.”

“Tough Guys” recounts the inception of Caliguri and Viola Sr.’s first bouts and the colorful, crazy cast of fighters who made them a hit, as well as the politicians who prohibited it. The film brings to life a moment when the national martial arts craze was building to a crescendo as the economies of Pennsylvania steel towns were plummeting to levels of unemployment never seen before or since, breeding desperate men looking for a chance to prove their worth and earn some money in the ring.

“The film presents the untold stories of scrappy brawlers and martial arts promoters,” said Viola Jr., who served as an associate producer. “And, it covers a broad audience of Pittsburgh-area characters.”

For more information about the book, visit or

Pittsburgh Tough Guys on Showtime

Showtime to air MMA Documentary about Pittsburgh called Tough Guys

showtime mma

Showtime presents a documentary on the origins of mixed martial arts in America.  Tough Guys is the story of Bill Viola and Frank Caliguri (Pittsburgh Natives) rise and fall 13 years before the UFC.

tough guys showtime

Tough Guys will air on Showtime Friday September 15th.  It is riding the momentum of the largest PPV fight (Mayweather vs McGregor).

tough guys showtime

Bill Viola Jr., director of the Pittsburgh based Kumite Classic Entertainment was a producer on the film.

Bill Viola Sr. and Bill Viola Jr. Tough Guys

Tough Guys Film MMA History

MMA Film Makes History


June 12, 2017 – NEW YORK, NY Academy Award® nominated documentarian Morgan Spurlock (SUPER SIZE ME) teams with fellow Oscar® winning filmmaker Ross Kauffman (BORN INTO BROTHELS) to bring TOUGH GUYS – the story of the origins of the mixed martial arts (MMA) fighting phenomenon – to the big screen. The film is executive produced by Kauffman and Spurlock together with Spurlock’s business partner Jeremy Chilnick.

TOUGH GUYS is directed by two award-winning filmmakers, Henry Roosevelt and W.B. Zullo and produced by the award winning commercial producer Craig DiBiase. This moving and insightful non-fiction cinematic film chronicles the origins of the MMA beginning in Pittsburgh, PA in the early 1980s. Back then, these fights were known as the “tough man,” or “tough guy,” or “battle of the brawlers,” or “battle of the superfighters” matches. These fighting bouts have now achieved multimillion-dollar fight status.

“When I was around 12 years old, my dad took me to my first “tough guy” competition in my hometown of Beckley, WV,” says Spurlock. “And I have to admit, it was one of the greatest things I’d ever seen. So when the opportunity came along for me help tell the story of its origin, I jumped at the chance. TOUGH GUYS is an unbelievable tale about the creation of this one of a kind, man against man, skill against skill, sport of the ages. Films like this are rare discoveries, and the characters behind them are even more incredible. If you like watching guys get punched in the face as much as I do, then you are going to love this movie!”

In 1979, Bill Viola and Frank Caliguri dreamed up a contest pitting barroom bigmouths against wrestlers, martial artists, boxers, bouncers and brawlers, billed as no-holds-barred new type of competitive fighting. When the fights succeeded beyond their wildest expectations, they were swept up in a chain of events that ended in the first mixed-martial arts ban in the nation.

Presented through the untold stories of scrappy brawlers and amateur promoters, TOUGH GUYS chronicles the inception of Caliguri and Viola’s first bouts and the colorful, crazy cast of fighters who made them a hit as well as the politicians who brought it all crashing down. The film brings to life a moment when the national martial arts craze was building to a crescendo as the economies of Pennsylvania steel towns were plummeting to levels of unemployment never seen before or since, breeding desperate men looking for chance to prove their worth and earn some money in the ring.

“Like my previous films, BORN INTO BROTHELS and E-TEAM, TOUGH GUYS is about underdogs striving to achieve the impossible,” states Kauffman. “In TOUGH GUYS, the
underdog is America’s working class who are searching for respect and ultimately a way to survive. When I got involved I didn’t know how timely the story would be.”

TOUGH GUYS will have its world premiere on June 15 at the AFI DOCS Film Festival in Washington, DC.


ABOUT TOUGH GUYS Told through the colorful stories of scrappy brawlers and amateur promoters, TOUGH GUYS brings to life the birth of mixed martial arts competitions in 1980’s Pittsburgh. The idea to legitimize street fighting by putting it in the ring, brought big money, crowds, copycat competitions and ultimately scrutiny and tighter control. The film is directed by Henry Roosevelt and W.B. Zullo and produced by award winning commercial producer Craig DiBiase. It is executive produced by Oscar winner Ross Kauffman together with Oscar nominated director Morgan Spurlock and his producing partner Jeremy Chlinick.
ABOUT MORGAN SPURLOCK Morgan Spurlock is an Oscar® nominated filmmaker and founder of Warrior Poets, a New York-based production studio. His first film, SUPER SIZE ME, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004, winning Best Directing honors. The film went on to win the inaugural WGA Best Documentary Screenplay award, as well as garner an Academy Award® nomination for Best Feature Documentary. Since then he has directed, produced, and distributed multiple film, television and online projects, including THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD; WHERE IN THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN LADEN?; RATS; MANSOME; CNN’s INSIDE MAN; and more.
ABOUT ROSS KAUFFMAN Ross Kauffman is the Academy Award winning Director, Producer and Cinematographer of BORN INTO BROTHELS, winner of the 2005 Academy Award for Best Documentary. He is Co-Director of E-TEAM, a documentary about the high-stakes investigative work of four human rights workers and winner of the 2014 Sundance Cinematography award. He served as Executive Producer on the documentary feature IN A DREAM, which was short-listed for the 2009 Academy Awards and as Consulting Producer on the Academy Award nominated film POSTERGIRL. Ross is a Founder and Creative Director of Fictionless.


Tough Guys Bill Viola and Frank Caliguri
Bill Viola Sr. & Frank Caliguri MMA Exhibit

Tough Guys MMA Film Producers
The Producers of Tough Guys MMA Film

Tough Guys MMA poster
Tough Guys Sold Out

MMA history front kick
Flash of Light Kick Dave Jones KO Mike Murray

MMA History interview
MMA History Panel AFI Docs


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MMA 1980

MMA Tough Guys sold out
Tough Guys Debut

Godfathers of MMA book
The book that inspired it all

UFC with CV Productions
Godfathers of MMA with Dana White

Washington Post MMA Film
World Premiere Tough Guys MMA Film

MMA History Tough Guys
Tough Guys makes MMA History

MMA History 1
Wrong Place Wrong Time

MMA History 2
The real birthplace of MMA

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MMA History 4
Tough Guy Contest

MMA History 5
CV Productions

Tough Guys MMA Skillset
Skillset Magazine Tough Guys

MMA History birthplace
Tough Guy Contest. The Birthplace of MMA

Pittsburgh Karate

Pittsburgh Sport Karate is dedicated to the top sport martial artists in the Western PA region. The best of the best in pittsburgh karate, tae kwon do, tang doo do, kung fu, brazilian jiu-jitsu, submission grappling, kobudo, and all combat sport disciplines.  This is the #1 resource for news archives for Pittsburgh Karate tournaments, championships, competitions, seminars, and workshops. Pittsburgh the “Steel City” has produced some of the most legendary karate competitors in the country.  Champions Bleed Black and Gold!  The Kumite Classic is the mecca for martial arts, host of the area’s largest sport karate championship and the first and most established BJJ & Grappling tournament.

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Connor Burns, Hines Ward, Dominic Leader

Visit Pittsburgh Sport Karate for more info.

MMA before the UFC

MMA Before the UFC?

The best kept secret in mma

pittsburgh mma book

 history of 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.

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