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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

The Mixed Martial Arts Family Tree

mma pioneers

MMA Family Tree Pittsburgh native Bill Viola Sr. credited with creating Mixed Martial Arts in America

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

How a Pittsburgh karate pioneer Bill Viola Sr. fits in the mixed martial arts family tree from Pankration to UFC.  Learn more about the History of MMA

history of mma timeline
History of mixed martial arts mma timeline

bill viola pittsburgh
Bill Viola Sr. & Frank Caliguri credited with creating the modern sport of MMA mixed martial arts

 

 

Antonio Brown

Antonio Brown Bill Viola jr Bill Viola Sr

Pittsburgh Steeler Team MVP and Pro Bowl Super Star Antonio Brown with Sensei Bill Viola and Master Bill Viola at the Kumite Classic, Pittsburgh, PA.  Allegheny Shotokan Karate is a proud partner of the Kumite Classic.

antonio-brown-towell

2011 Pittsburgh Steeler Team MVP and Pro Bowl Super Star Antonio Brown with Sensei Bill Viola and Master Bill Viola at the 2012 Kumite Classic, Pittsburgh, PA.  Allegheny Shotokan Karate is a proud partner of the Kumite Classic.

Black Belt Legacy

allegheny shotokan

Alleghey Shotokan is the oldest most established karate school in the area.  North Huntingdon School Continues Its Black Belt Legacy

Pictured Left to Right:
Front Row: Dave Zezza, Perry Culver, Ray Walters, Bill Viola Sr., Bill
Viola Jr. Ray Adams, Tim Meyer, Rocky Whatule
Second Row: Dave Crissman, Bill Holshue, George Yurechko, Joce Viola, Ali
Viola, Jacque Viola, Addie Viola, Dominic Leader, Dave Jones
Back Row: Mark Luctoch, Josh Dorazio, Arnold Mosa, Billy Leader, Connor
Burns, Charlie Slie

On December 16th 2013, Allegheny Shotokan Karate honored North

Huntingdon resident Dave Jones with the rank of Black Belt. Jones, who
began his martial arts training circa 1975, quickly made a name for himself
as a full contact fighter, honored and inducted in the Heinz History Museum
in 2011 as one of the first mixed martial arts fighters in American history.

Despite his success as a champion fighter, an extremely rare and chronic
blood disorder called Porphyria cutanea tarda (PCT) had kept him from
receiving his black belt for many years. His dedication and perseverance
was finally rewarded in front of his peers at the 2012 Laurel State Karate
Championships, held in White Oak, PA. The 37th annual martial arts event is
one of the oldest running marital arts tournaments in Pennsylvania area and
sanctioned by the Pennsylvania Karate Rating Association (PKRA). Jones
received a standing ovation during the ceremony.

Since 1969, The Allegheny Shotokan Karate School has produced some of
the most celebrated martial artists in the history of Pennsylvania;
recognized as the most successful national and international sport karate
school in the Pittsburgh region by the National Black Belt League. North
Huntingdon Martial Artist Sensei Bill Viola Sr. founded the organization
nearly forty five years ago and since taught tens of thousands students over
his career.

Viola explains, “Even though so many students have trained with me over
the years, its only an elite group that earn the rank of black belt from
Allegheny Shotokan. I believe in quality over quantity, when it comes to
wearing that particular belt. In the case of Dave Jones, he has been with
the school for over 30 years, and fought through adversity. He deserves it.”

Allegheny Shotokan Karate black belts represent over 6 decades of
martial arts excellence in the North Huntingdon area.

viola karate

Pictured left to right: Jacque Viola, Ali Viola, Bill Viola Sr., Bill Viola Jr., Addie Viola @ the Christmas Kumite (Pittsburgh Sport Karate)

NBL Player of The Year

Pittsburgh Martial Artist Billy Leader named NBL Diamond Award Winner for Sport Karate “Player of the Year”

The 23rd Sport Karate World Games known internationally as the “Super Grands” was held 26th-31st in Buffalo New York. The tournament is sanctioned by the National Black Belt League (NBL) and Sport Karate International (SKIL) which are responsible for the largest sport karate ranking system and league for black belts in the world. The competition is the equivalent of the Super Bowl for martial arts with over 2000 world class competitors representing North America, South America, Africa, Asia and Europe each year at the Games. The competitor must compete at a series of regional and national events to earn a seed and qualify for the competition, a process similar to NCAA tournaments that is required to secure an invitation.

NBL Karate logo
At the closing ceremonies of the World Games, the NBL Executive Office votes on a series of Hall of Fame categories that represent the entire league. For the first time in Pittsburgh history, a local resident was honored with the NBL Diamond Award “Player of the Year.” 21-year-old Billy Leader of North Huntingdon Township was inducted into the NBL Hall of Fame on December 31st 2012 and honored with this prestigious title. Leader’s coach Sensei Bill Viola Jr explains, “It is similar to a league MVP type honor, an award for his entire body of work as a competitor. He was in contention with thousands of international competitors worldwide. This is huge, it puts Pittsburgh on the map when it comes to sport karate.” The Norwin Graduate and Penn State Junior has studied martial arts since he was three years old at the Allegheny Shotokan Karate School in Irwin, PA.
Allegheny Shotokan was founded in 1969 and since has produced more World Champions than any other school in the Pittsburgh region. They school as a rich tradition of representing Pennsylvania and the United States at the World Games dating back to the establishment of the league. Serving as captain of the Pittsburgh based all-star Team Kumite Classic, Leader defeated Andres Garcia of Guatemala (the reigning 6-time World Champion) in the Men’s Light Middleweight Continuous Sparring division en route to an appearance on the main stage for the finals. His brother, 19-year-old Dominic Leader, also advanced to the finals to face Hugo Mendoza of Mexico. Leader’s teammate also includes 20-year old Ali Viola who claimed her 4th continuous sparring World Title by defeating the top international competitors from Canada, Guatemala and Mexico in the finals. Viola had previously become the first female form Pittsburgh to win a World Title in 2006, 2008, and 2009 before winning the Adult title this year.
The Team Kumite Classic Roster also includes a trio of sisters; 14-year-old Bridget Chase, 13-year-old Hope Chase, 11-year old Bess Chase all of Imperial, PA and 17-year-old Connor Burns of North Huntingdon who was inactive due to a torn ACL two weeks prior to the tournament. All of the athletes compete in Black Belt Continuous Sparring, a hybrid of kickboxing which requires high levels of endurance and physical toughness.  Coach Viola was very proud of his team stating, “In all, we qualified six black belts who attended the World Games, and all six placed top three in the World. Its an incredible winning percentage, especially when you consider that our school is the only one in the Pittsburgh area to bring home a World Title. They are a special group of students and Billy [Leader] works harder than any other student I have ever had. Winning player of the year is well deserved.”

billy leader nbl
Billy Leader holds the NBL Diamond Award for Sport Karate Player of the Year inducted into the National Black Belt League Karate Hall of Fame

World Champs

ali viola world champion

Pittsburgh was once again represented at the 23rd Sport Karate World Games aka the NBL National Black Belt League Super Grands by Allegheny Shotokan Karate and Team Kumite. Ali Viola claimed her 4th continuous sparring World Title and Championship in Buffalo New York over New Years. She defeated international competitors from Canada, Guatemala and Mexico in the finals. Team Captain Billy Leader defeated Andres Garcia of Guatemala (the reigning 6-time World Champion) in the Men’s Light Middleweight Continuous Sparring division en route to an appearance to the main stage for the finals. His brother Dominic also advanced to the finals to face Hugo Mendoza of Mexico. The team sent six black belts to the competition and all six placed top three in the World and earned NBL title belt. Coach Bill Viola was very proud of his team stating, “This year our team had to face allot of adversity and injury. Ali had bad hamstring injury and Bill could hardly walk let alone fight, but they found a way to persevere. Each year they bring respect back to Pittsburgh. I am also impressed with our Rookies at the Super Grands. The Chase sisters all earned a belt in their first World Games.”

Black Belt Roster @ the Super Grands:

Billy Leader

Ali Viola

Dominic Leader

Bridgit Chase

Hope Chase

Bess Chase

Also representing the team in the SKIL Sport Karate International Games were Liz Leaseburg and Cameron Klos who fought up in the NBL Continuous division with a 5-2 record against world class competition.

Inactive due to injury or sickness included:

Connor Burns: ACL

Joe Powell: Ribs

Raun Churchfield: Pneumonia

Ali Viola poses with her 2012 World Championship All-Star Gear Karate Gloves, and The Leader brothers Dominic and Billy pose with Ali after their big wins. Ali shows off the NBL 1st place belt and Coach Bill Viola Jr. Congratulates NBL Player of the Year Billy Leader

 

Pittsburgh Karate Champs

pittsburgh karate champions

Champions Bleed Black & Gold. Team Kumite Classic is known as Pittsburgh’s top sport karate competition team and home to the only NBL World Champions in the Pittsburgh region in the past decade. The open martial arts travel team represents Western PA and Pennsylvania at the NBL Super Grands World Games each year. The members attend tournaments and follows the National Black Belt League NBL circuit and the PKRA Pennsylvania Karate Rating Association. If you are interested in joining “Team Kumite” contact coach Bill Viola Jr. The team is open to all schools and styles (karate, tae kwon do, tang soo do etc.) for tryouts. It is a positive and fun atmosphere. Upcoming events include The Christmas Kumite.

Hines Ward Show

hines ward team kumite

Allegheny Shotokan and Team Kumite represent Pittsburgh Karate on the Hines Ward Show. WPXI host Alby Oxenreiter, Brett Keisel and Hines were on hand for the program that features Positive Athletes in Pittsburgh.  Connor Burns, Dominic Leader, and Coach Bill Viola all represented sport karate and martial arts.  Hines was able to learn some karate on air, and warned the Baltimore Ravens to watch out!

Hines Ward demonstrates his best front snap kick and kiai!

pittsburgh karate

Here’s a clip from behind the scenes on the Hines Ward show on youtube:

 

The demonstration included Hines learning to block a roundhouse kick and counter with a reverse punch. Connor Burns was interviewed by Hines for his community service and taking time out to mentor younger kids. He emphasized self-discipline and the confidence that karate instills. Team Kumite sported the custom kumite classic black & yellow all star gear gloves. Yeah, Champions bleed black & gold! The team is based in North Huntington Irwin, PA. Dominic Leader was the first recipient of the Western PA Positive Athlete award for martial arts last year and continues the tradition of team kumite with the program!

From dancing with the stars, football and even karate, Hines ward is a true sport and great role model! Visit his website http://www.positiveathlete.org/