Category Archives: author

Tough Guys – Showtime

tough guys mma on showtime

TOUGH GUYS – SHOWTIME

Showtime documentary proves Pittsburgh-area early mixed martial arts fighters were ‘Tough Guys’

By MARIA SCIULLO Pittsburgh Post-Gazette msciullo@post-gazette.com

Google the “history of mixed martial arts.” Sometimes, the name of action star Bruce Lee pops up. Other times, it might be Art Davie, who created the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 1993.

But for practical purposes, a couple of guys from the Pittsburgh area got there first.

At 9 p.m. Friday, Showtime will premiere “Tough Guys,” a documentary feature that revisits the “City of Champions” era — one that spawned a series of streetfighter-type competitions.

In spirit, if not legally, it was the grassroots beginnings of MMA.

“For me, growing up in the ’80s in Pittsburgh, I had no idea any of this existed,” said Craig DiBiase, a Peters Township High School grad and producer of the film. His New York-based MinusL  production company financed “Tough Guys,” and one of its directors, Henry Roosevelt, co-directed with William Zullo.

“Tough Guys” is a sideburn-wearing stroll through the evolution of bikers, bouncers and steelworkers brawling for cash, honor and the sheer thrill of beating each other up.

At the beginning of the film, karate promoters Bill Viola, who grew up in Brownsville, and Frank Caliguri, of Arnold, talk about the night they laid the groundwork for their tough guy competitions.

“Some great ideas start in laboratories. Some start in classrooms. But ours started at America’s diner: Denny’s,” Mr. Viola said.

They’d seen all sorts of bar fights and, as martial arts experts, were familiar with various forms of self-defense. What might happen if you put boxing, wrestling and martial arts together? Even better, what would happen if the participants were amateurs, fighting mainly for pride and street cred?

Would anyone come to watch? Resoundingly yes: more than 3,500 fans crammed the 2,000-seat ballroom at the New Kensington Holiday Inn.

Mr. Viola and Mr. Caliguri put up posters recruiting “tough men” to compete in a three-day event beginning March 20, 1980. With $6,000 in prize money available, the response was great. Three secretaries were hired to handle the flood of entries. 

“In the late ’70s and early ’80s, ‘Rocky’ was the biggest movie out,” Mr. Viola said. “Everyone was listening to the song [‘Gonna Fly Now’], drinking eggs in the morning

“He was fictitious, but we were going to have the real ‘Rocky.’ ”

These were fighters like Dave Jones, a kickboxer and road laborer; Mike Murray, a car salesman, and Danny “Mad Dog” Moyak, a construction worker with a wild Charles Manson beard. 

“A lot of them were from the New Kensington area, real streetfighters,” Mr. Caliguri said. “When we put the word out, they came.”

Tough Guys” competitions had a loose set of rules (no eye-gouging, biting or “kicking anyone in the jewels”). Knocking out your opponent helped get you to the next round.

Competitors wore boxing-style headgear as well as padded footwear and gloves for safety. That didn’t entirely prevent injuries: one, Frank Tigano, a steelworker from Braddock, broke his jaw but still competed the following month.

There would be other, bigger events, such as the regional finals at the old Stanley Theatre in Downtown Pittsburgh, now the Benedum Center. But according to the film, death in the ring involving a rival promoter’s event would lead to Pennsylvania legistlators banning the sport.

Based on a story idea by Robert Zullo, a former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer, “Tough Guys” was shot in Pittsburgh and the surrounding area, as well as parts of New York and New Jersey.

Many of the fighters were not only tough, they were survivors who seemed happy to tell their stories on camera. In addition to archieved footage of the fights and promotions (remember Liz Miles and Dave Durian on “Evening Magazine”?), there are re-creations of certain scenes that brighten the look of “Tough Guys.”

“We played a little with the narrative,” Mr. DiBiase said. “We made it fast-paced; there’s never a lull.”

Besides Mr. DiBiase, at least another key player in making the documentary has Pittsburgh ties. Brad Grimm, director of photography, is a Monroeville native working in New York City.

Robert Zullo, father of the writer and director, even played Monroeville’s legendary boxing promoter Al Monzo in one re-creation scene.

Executive producers include Morgan Spurlock (the Oscar nominated “Supersize Me”) and Ross Kauffman (who won an Oscar for “Born Into Brothels”).

“Tough Guys” had its cinematic debut in June, when it played to a sold-out crowd at the American Film Institute’s Docs festival. A free, public showing is set for 9 p.m. Friday at the Palace Theatre in Greensburg. 

In an early scene, Mr. Jones, the kickboxer, is duking it out with Mr. Murray, the car salesman. Reeling, Mr. Jones tucks into the corner, but it seems he’s just playing possum. As his opponent moves in for the kill, Mr. Jones gives him a vicious kick to the chest and wins the match.

“The MMA,” he said, “was born right then.”

Maria Sciullo: msciullo@post-gazette.com or @MariaSciulloPG.

the original tough guys
Frank Caliguri and Bill Viola the Godfathers of MMA and inventors of the Tough Guy Contest

Tough Guys #1 Amazon Best Seller

Tough Guys #1 Amazon Best Seller Mixed Marital Arts MMA Book

An interview with the Bill Viola Jr. (Author of Amazon #1 best seller Tough Guys).

Tough Guys (2017) Kumite Classic Press  

Why and when did you decide to write Godfathers of MMA?

The real story of who invented the sport of MMA in America was in jeopardy of being lost forever. My father and his business partner created a regulated MMA in 1979, and I needed to set the record straight. They deserved credit and I was shocked that all of the history books available were clueless.  It began as a passion piece to provide information and morphed into the most the most comprehensive book on early MMA history.

What is the book about?

You get an inside look into the minds and events of the men who “mixed” the martial arts a decade before the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship.”  They created a new sport in the form of the Tough Guys. 

How did things with the movie get started?

Shortly after the exclusive preview run of Godfathers of MMA, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Robert Zullo stumbled upon the Tough Guys exhibit featured at the Heinz History center. The display recognizes Pittsburgh as the Birthplace of MMA. The display is located right next to Franco Harris’s immaculate reception and catches a lot of attention.  Zullo explains, “I couldn’t believe I’d never heard about this story. I was enamored with the time, place and machismo of the whole thing. I just had a gut instinct to meet these guys.”   Zullo reached out to his brother Will and childhood friend Craig DiBiase a producer [MinusL] and Director Henry Roosevelt from New York City. Zullo also got his Academy Award winning cousin, Ross Kaufmann, on board.  Two years later after 52TB of filming, the Tough Guys Doc was born.

When did the movie start in production?

Production began in the summer of 2015.  One of the feature locations was Allegheny Shotokan Karate in North Huntingdon. My favorite location was Ritters Diner which we retrofitted to look like a 1979 Dennys.  I played my father in a famous scence where we hashed out the name ‘Tough.’

Was it all filmed in Pittsburgh?

We had 18 locations from Florida to New York but the bulk of the footage and interviews were from Western Pennsylvania (North Huntingdon, New Kensington and Pittsburgh).

How did the name Tough Guys come about?

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Pittsburgh was the epitome of a blue collar ‘tough’ city.  This sport would be an open call for the ‘toughest’ guys on the planet to fight, so Tough Guys was fitting for the era.

Who starred in it?

The documentary stars the men who lived it.  We were fortunate to film the original fighters and pioneers.  One of the stars was Dave Jones.  He trained at my father’s dojo and actually worked for North Huntingdon Township as part of a ‘road gang’ and laborer.  Dave fought in the first fight and won by TKO.  He was fearless–I looked up to him as a kid.

Can you tell me about the production process…your role, how production went, any details you can add about the highlights of the movie?  I

had the unique experience to wear many hats on the project: the production end, consulting end, and even played a 1979 version of my father in the famous ‘Denny’s Restaurant’ scene. Since my book was the master outline, I had to on point.

When did the movie premiere?

Initial praise attracted a star studded lineup of executive producers including Academy Award® Nominated Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me) and Oscar winning writer Ross Kaufmann (Born in Brothels).   The world premiere of “Tough Guys” took place at the American Film Institute (AFI) Docs on June 15th 2017 at the famous Landmark Theatre in Washington, DC. It was screened the day after the mega Mayweather / McGregor announcement. The film sold out.

And when did it air on Showtime? September 15th

Will it be shown again in the future?  It aired all of September and October. Then it will be distributed internationally.

Do you have plans to write anymore books or be involved in any other movies?

After the Showtime debut, my commemorative edition of the book retitled ‘Tough Guys’. It just hit #1 on the Amazon Best Sellers list for sports today.  It’s received critical acclaim and we’ve been getting offers for a screenplay to turn the journey into a major motion picture.  That is my ultimate goal.  With the right team, I know this could an Oscar worthy drama.

How passionate are you about MMA?

I am most passionate about teaching and sharing my knowledge.  It’s a family legacy.  All my siblings are black belts and now I am mentoring my daughter (Gabby) and will have my son William Viola IV who was just born in September on the mat soon.

What, exactly, is MMA?

MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) is a sport that combines all disciplines of combats sports (boxing, karate, wrestling, judo etc.) fighting into regulated competition.  My father is credited for writing the first legitimate rule book in 1979. The UFC, the sports largest franchise, was sold for 4 billion dollars in 2016.  If Pennsylvania didn’t outlaw the sport in 1983, my father and Frank would be at the helm of that empire.

How can people get a copy of the book?

The book is available on Amazon.  Just google ‘Bill Viola Tough Guys’

amazon best seller viola jr author bill viola jr