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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

Yinzers invented MMA?!?

Yinzers Invented MMA

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

tough guys mma
Frank Caliguri and Bill Viola the Yinzers who invented MMA in America are Burgh Proud!


tough guys mma by Bill Viola

Courtney of Pittsburgh Tribune Review:

Tough Guys traces MMA’s roots right back to Western Pennsylvania

This is the real story.

tough guys mma

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.

Details: godfathersofmma.com

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-853-5062 or jharrop@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Jharrop_Trib.


Showtime's 'Tough Guys' documentary explores MMA's early roots in 1980s Pittsburgh

MMA timeline

White Collar Brawlers

jimmy cvetic

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

Who invented mma mixed martial arts in America

who invented mma

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. 

No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” bill@kumiteclassic.com 

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

who invented mma
Frank Caliguri and Bill Viola are credited with inventing the sport of MMA in America years before the UFC and founding the first mixed martial arts company in the United States -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 bill@pittsburghmma.com   

who invented mma in America?  http://www.mmahistory.org/who-invented-mma

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who invented mma





Cauliflower Chronicles

marshal carperWhen Marshal Carper broke up with his long-time girlfriend, he packed up his white belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and moved from rural Pennsylvania to Hilo, Hawaii to train at the BJ Penn MMA Academy.

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.

Pick up your copy today


MMA Forefathers

Mixed martial arts in the United States was not conceived by the Gracie
family and Art Davie in 1993, it actually began life 14 years earlier
in a Pennsylvanian diner. FO reveals the untold story of…

MMA”s Forgotten Forefathers
By Richard Cartley Featured in Fighters Only Magazine

The history of the sport of MMA began in Pittsburgh, PA.  Photos circa 1979
November 1979. The world’s favorite Stars Wars film is yet to illuminate a single silver screen, Jimmy Carter was walking the halls of the White House and a gallon of gas cost less than a dollar down the road from the Denny’s restaurant in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, where two kickboxing promoters, Bill Viola Sr and Frank Caliguri, would meet once a week. Bill, a 33-year-old karate school owner and school science teacher, and Frank, the 32-year-old proprietor of the only karate gym in Pennsylvania with a boxing ring, were talking business. However, unlike every previous week’s Denny’s conversation, this one would lead to holding the United States’ first-ever mixed martial arts league. And this was nearly 15 years before the 1993 debut of what would become the world’s largest MMA organization: the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Bill and Frank would converse about their efforts promoting their co-promoted karate and kickboxing events. As publicizing primarily entailed hanging posters in gyms and bars, they’d frequently encounter clientele keen to point out a martial artist they knew could pummel any kickboxer on their show. “It would keep coming up,” Bill Viola recalls to Fighters Only. “Then one night, we were just there like we always were, having a little bite to eat, and we both almost simultaneously came up with this idea: what happens if we get all these guys together and do an event?” As men fascinated by the question of who would win between jeet kune do creator Bruce Lee, boxer Muhammad Ali and wrestler Bruno Sammartino, they needed no more encouragement. Only days later, Bill began hashing out a rule-set, picking the brains of the judokas, and other martial artists who visited his shotokan karate gym’s unique open door Wednesday night, where the practitioners could share techniques. He also visited with his school’s wrestling coach on his free periods to hit the mats. What resulted was a remarkably thorough 11-page rulebook that outlined regulations (fights to end by knockout, submission, referee stoppage or decision), safety gear (head guards, If you would like to sign up for automatic school appropriate games closing notifications for participating schools, please visit Delaware Notification Services, create an account and subscribe to school appropriate games notifications. karate gloves, foot and leg protection) and even judging criteria for a 10-point must system. There would also be two physicians, one ringside and one in the dressing room. In 1979, mixed martial arts was already light years ahead of itself. Soon Viola and Caliguri were brainstorming names. ‘Ultimate Fighting Championship’ wasn’t in their top 10, Bill admits with a laugh. “We may have had a little blunder there,” he jokes. Seeking a title that would echo the tough ethos of their Steel City Pittsburgh locale, Bill and Frank would first settle on ‘Tough Man Contest.’ Though it seemed perfect, within months, they would get their first hint of why the moniker wasn’t as shrewd as they’d hoped. Unaware, the pair created flyers and posters to spread the word. Seeking fighters for, as the promotional material promised, an “anything goes” event “as they fought in the Orient,” but to find “the real-life Rocky” was easier than they anticipated. Bill marvels: “It was unbelievable. We would get 150, maybe 200 (calls), for a tournament or kickboxing show. First week we got 1,500 phone calls. We didn’t know what to do. We were totally engulfed. We had to actually hire a real secretary. We knew from that point this was going to be huge.” They immediately scheduled a three-night event, March 20th, 21st and 22nd 1980, at the Holiday Inn in New Kensington, Pennsylvania. However, by now, Bill and Frank (who had formed CV Productions – the ‘C’ for Caliguri, the ‘V’ for Viola – to stage the shows) received word of a gritty amateur boxing event in Michigan already using the title ‘Tough Man.’  Not wanting to be associated with a pure boxing contest, a simple name change to ‘Tough Guy’ ready for the second round of posters was in order. As Bill recalls, those booked for the first shows in New Kensington were a local ragtag crew of wrestlers, boxers, karate fighters, martial artists and, just as the UFC would attract well over a decade later, brawlers. Having selected simply via first come first served, Bill and Frank had gathered a tournament bracket of 32 lightweights (175lb and under) and a separate grand prix of 32 heavyweights (176lb and over), all to compete over three two-minute rounds with the finals read more

mma history

MMA Fans get ready for one of the most anticipated books in the sports history… Mixed Martial Madness explores the history of MMA and the birth of an american sport.  The book gives a detailed account of the origin of the sport of MMA years before the UFC.  Most fans don’t realize that organized, legalized mixed martial arts was established in 1979 in Pittsburgh.

Mixed Martial Madness is really a memoir chronicling the dramatic rollercoaster ride that was CV Productions ( Caliguri Viola ).  The stories, now legends, are dedicated to preserving the historical integrity of modern MMA as a sport from its humble beginnings in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, through its tumultuous rise across the United States.  Many people and groups have helped pioneer mixed martial arts, creating the worldwide phenomenon we know today. The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) shook up the country with its no-holds-barred approach to televised combat, while the Gracie family inspired a completely new generation of martial arts fans and practitioners.  Zuffa, LLC took their marketing strategy to an entirely new level and has since put MMA on a global scale as a multi-billion dollar industry.   All of the hard work and dedication should be, and for the most part has been recognized and commended–almost.

As this book’s story unfolds, we aim to fill in the missing parts of the sport’s history and reminisce about the wild rise and fall of MMA from 1979-1983.  Most fight fans don’t realize just how close they were to seeing a UFC-type entity thirty years ago.

For more info visit www.pittsburghmma.com

Rooney McGinely Boxing Club

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.

rooney mcginley boxing club

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 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.”