Made Men Promotions honored “Godfathers of MMA” and stars of the SHOWTIME film “Tough Guys” at the recent Rivers Rumble 9 at the Rivers Casino Amphitheater.
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
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
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
Yoi and double yoi. You heard that right… Two Parmanti eatin’ terrible towel waving “Yinzers” from Western Pennsylvania are credited with creating a new sport [MMA] over 14 years before the UFC. These weren’t your average yinzers though, they set sights on a “billion dollar” prize and would have won if it wasn’t for Commonwealth outlawing the sport with the passage of the Tough Guy Law in 1983. Who knew?? Fascinating story of what if, but #Pittsburgh is documented as the birthplace of MMA. BURGH PROUD! Read the book or Watch the Showtime Documentary
Courtney of Pittsburgh Tribune Review:
Tough Guys traces MMA’s roots right back to Western Pennsylvania
This is the real story.
Two guys from Western Pennsylvania — Bill Viola Sr. and Frank Caliguiri — created the sport of mixed martial arts, now a billion-dollar business, years before it became a household name.
That tale has been documented by Bill Viola Jr. in the book “Godfathers of MMA,” which he co-authored with his cousin Fred Adams. The local connection to this sport will receive even more exposure in the documentary “Tough Guys,” which airs at 9 p.m. Sept. 15 on Showtime. The network broadcast premiere of the film will be shown at a free event Sept. 15 at the Palace Theater in Greensburg. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis
Viola Jr., 40, from North Huntingdon — who operates Viola Karate the same dojo his father founded in 1969 (then known as Allegheny Shotokan) — served as producer of “Tough Guys,” which features the origins of the MMA fighting phenomenon. The movie premiered June 15 at the AFI DOCS Film Festival in Washington, D.C.
The reason the younger Viola decided to write about his father and Caliguiri was because MMA was getting more popular and he didn’t want the true story to be lost.
Viola Sr., 69, a Brownsville native who lives in North Huntingdon, and Caliguiri, 68, from New Kensington, met through karate and have been friends a long time, Viola Jr. says. They are proud of what they started long ago.
“It’s surreal to have this journey played out on television,” says Viola Sr. “We created a new sport, and even if we don’t have the reins anymore, I’m proud of how popular MMA is today.”
Here’s how the story goes, Viola Jr. says.
His dad and business partner Caliguiri were successful in martial artists and promoted karate and kickboxing. They came up with the idea of a mixed martial arts event. They developed an even playing field where the guys could “settle the score,” so to speak, via a competition called Tough Guys. At one point, they held a finals match in the former Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh.
“It just took off,” Viola Jr. says. “It was something no one had seen before, and it was fresh and exciting — a sport that had never been done before. They gained so much attention but got an enemy in boxing, which was struggling.”
As this mixed martial arts was on the upswing, the State Athletic Commission, which oversaw boxing, stepped in and ended the competitions. After a man was killed in Johnstown — in an event not sponsored by Tough Guys, but with a similar name — it was outlawed, Viola Jr. says.
In 2009, the ban was lifted and MMA became legal.
“It was hard for my dad to swallow — he had the idea, but he wasn’t one to talk about it,” Viola Jr. says. “It is a sad thing it happened, so I took it upon myself to tell the story. I don’t want history to be lost. Pittsburgh could be losing an important part of its history.”
That legacy is being preserved in an exhibit at the Senator John Heinz History Center in the Strip District. The film came into being after producers from MinusL Productions in New York City saw the history center exhibit. They teamed up with an Academy Award-winning team, including Morgan Spurlock (“Super Size Me”), to produce the film and brokered a deal with Showtime to broadcast, Viola Jr. says.
“It is great to meet the people who are a part of this, and for them to see it come to fruition,” says Anne Madarasz, director of the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum and chief historian for the history center. “They kept so many pieces of memorabilia from tickets to uniforms to photographs to posters that it has made for an amazing exhibition. Their story has merit, and it’s credible, and it needs to be told. It’s a ‘wow’ kind of moment for people who see it, and with the film coming out, it will create more attention.”
She says now MMA is a big-time sports business, but when Viola Sr. and Caliguiri started they had hoped to promote the event and grow it, but then the state stepped in.
“There were things that happened that were out of their control,” Madarasz says. “There are a lot of different factors. The sport is huge on TV — which changes the landscape of a sport — taking it from a neighborhood and community sport to an across-the-world sport.”
The documentary is the combination of a lot of the original fighters and guys who took a chance to enter the ring, Viola Jr. says. They came from all walks of life. There are re-enactment scenes by professional actors. The timing is perfect for this, says Viola Jr., because it’s coming off the recent fight between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor in Las Vegas which created a lot of interest. There is an Ultimate Fighting Championship on Sept. 16 at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, where top middleweight contender Luke Rockhold faces David Branch.
“Contrary to popular belief, the sport of MMA didn’t begin with the UFC in 1993. It was born in Pittsburgh between 1979-83. They were the pioneers,” says Viola Jr., who also is producer of the Kumite Classic the mecca for martial arts in Pittsburgh since 1999.
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-853-5062 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Jharrop_Trib.
“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.”
ACADEMY AWARD® NOMINATED MORGAN SPURLOCK JOINS ACADEMY AWARD® WINNER ROSS KAUFFMAN FOR THE MIXED MARTIAL ARTS DOCUMENTARY “TOUGH GUYS”
DOCU FILM ON THE ORIGINS OF THE MIXED MARTIAL ARTS COMPETITION PHENOMENON IS SET TO WORLD PREMIERE THURSDAY AT AFI DOCS IN WASHINGTON DC
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.
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.”