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Inspired by the book Godfathers of MMA:
The AFI DOCS Interview: TOUGH GUYS Directors Henry Roosevelt and W.B. Zullo
Told through the colorful stories of scrappy brawlers and amateur promoters, TOUGH GUYS brings to life the birth of mixed martial arts competitions in 1980s 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.
AFI spoke with directors Henry Roosevelt and W.B. Zullo about the film, which makes its world premiere at AFI DOCS as part of the Spotlight Screenings section.
AFI: What led you to pursue documentary filmmaking?
Focusing on a single story and telling it in a more fulsome, comprehensive and visual way.
AFI: What inspired you to tell this story?
The 1980s and growing up during the golden age of action films. From Van Damme and Eastwood to Schwarzenegger and Stallone, the culture was saturated with cinema tough guys. As we got older, we often wondered whether movies like BLOODSPORT, KARATE KID and OVER THE TOP were art imitating life or whether the tough guy tournaments we explore in our film took their cues from blue-collar brawlers created by Hollywood.
AFI: How did you find the subjects in your film?
On a visit to Pittsburgh, at the Heinz History Center’s Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum, we came across a small exhibit that made an intriguing claim: The roots of the modern sports colossus we know as mixed-martial arts were planted at a New Kensington Holiday Inn in 1980.
The fliers for the fights, which pitted lumberjacks against bikers, steel workers and other rough-and-tumble trades, so perfectly encapsulated that action-star era that we found ourselves incredibly curious about the men who chose to step into the ring. Why did they do it? What were they trying to prove? What happened to the fledgling league they were trying to get off the ground?
We were sure there was a great story in the hustle of the promoters and the backgrounds of the fighters, not to mention what happened in the ring.
AFI: What was a particular obstacle you faced while making the film?
Tracking these guys down and getting them to agree to be on camera. Bill Viola and Frank Caliguri have stayed in touch with some of the fighters in their circles over the years, but we wanted to tell as many aspects of the story as possible. That meant finding guys they hadn’t heard from in some cases since the early 1980s. That proved a chore, but the effort was well worth it in order to get interviews with, for example, Danny “Mad Dog” Moyak and his nemesis, Frank Tigano, who we convinced to fly in to Pittsburgh from Florida for an interview.
Also, when we first made contact with Bill and Frank, we assumed there was video of all the fights they promoted. Unfortunately, we discovered that much of the footage was destroyed in a flood, forcing us to recreate some of the fights that were central to our story arc.
AFI: What do you want audiences to walk away with after screening your film?
We want to cast some light on a fascinating footnote from a unique time and place. Western Pennsylvania in the early 1980s was grappling with unemployment rates that were worse than during the Great Depression, as a result of the crippling decline in steel and related industries. People were desperate, and some of the fighters got in the ring for money, which in some cases was exploited by promoters. But others were trying to prove something to themselves and the world. We really think the story here is why these guys risked it, what they were trying to validate about themselves at a time when America was really changing for blue-collar workers.
We also want people to enjoy this film and its real-life characters for their own sake, including their long-held grudges and still-unsettled scores.
AFI: Why is Washington, DC, a valuable location to screening your film?
It’s a well-worn trope, especially after the election, but we also think it’s important because too often people in Washington forget about pockets of the country that have suffered from the economic challenges of the past 30 or 40 years.
AFI: Why are documentary films important today?
People love stories. But they really love true stories. Documentaries educate and they inspire, but if the subject matter is good and you don’t get in the way of the story too much, they can also entertain.
The North American Open! Europa has formed a strategic partnership with WAKO, UFC, Century, MAIA Supershow and Kumite Classic. Stay tuned and mark your calendars for July 6-7th 2017 in VEGAS! More information visit our Facebook Page
Sensei Says is an award winning martial arts and education curriculum.
Being a SENSEI isn’t for everyone, but everyone needs a Sensei -Bill Viola Jr.
My Sensei gave me the greatest gift he could give someone, he believed in me. This is a concept I have dedicated my life to sharing with the world. Sensei Says ® is life skills curriculum that promotes character based education. The program was created by Sensei Bill Viola Jr. Sensei is an award-winning author and motivational speaker. #senseisays
Sensei Bill Viola Jr. aka Common Sensei and Founder of Sensei Says
Bill Viola Jr. is a Pittsburgh Pennsylvania based author, producer, and Master Martial Arts instructor. He is the president and founder of Kumite Classic Entertainment Inc. and operates Allegheny Shotokan “Viola” Karate, established in 1969 by his father (Bill Viola Sr., the co-creator of the sport of mixed martial arts). Pittsburgh Magazine recently named Viola Jr. as one of the “40 Under 40” most influential people in the city in 2016.
- University of Pittsburgh, Summa Cum Laude
- University Scholar, 1998
- BS Political Science, 1999
» Work Experience
Allegheny Shotokan Karate Inc., North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania
Master Instructor, 1995-Present
- Recognized as World Champion by Arnold Schwarzenegger, 1998
Kumite Classic Entertainment Corp., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
President & Founder, 1999-Present
- Established 18th Annual Pittsburgh Fitness Expo
- Film producer and writer
Non-Fiction, 2003-Present: Notable work
- Go Ask Your Dad (2016) Debuted on Amazon Best Seller List
- Godfathers of MMA (2015) Inspiration of the documentary film Tough Guys
- Tough Guys #1 Amazon Best-Seller
Kumite Quarterly Magazine., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Eckert Seamans Law Firm, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
KI Scholarship Program Director, 2001-2007
Congressman Ron Klink (PA 4th District), North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania
Congressional Intern, 1997
Western Pennsylvania Police Athletic League Martial Arts Chairman Union member of the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio.
- Honored with The Willie Stargell “MVP Award” for community service, 2011
- Recipient of The Lifetime Achievement Award, Sport Karate Museum, 2005
- Inducted into The Martial Arts Hall of Fame, 2003
Team Kumite will be attending the Europa Games Martial Arts Tour. Looking forward to the UFC Fan Expo in July!
Congratulations on Sensei Bill Viola Jr. making the Amazon best sellers list with his latest book, “Go Ask Your Dad.” Bill was also recently selected as one of Pittsburgh Magazine’s Pittsburgh’s “40 under 40” people who influence the community. Congrats!
“Being a SENSEI isn’t for everyone, but everyone needs a SENSEI.”
Mark Your Calendars! 2017 Kumite Classic May 26-27th Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh’s largest martial arts and sport karate tournament.
Photos by Joe Kleon. Visit http://www.joekleon.com/ for more info.
Karate 2020 Olympics
Judo made its Olympic debut in 1964, Tae Kwon Do in 2000. Karate, however, has yet to make an appearance. Although poised, seemingly forever, karate has been rejected by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on three separate occasions; Beijing, London and Rio games. Why- oh-why has karate been shutout from the Olympic stage for so long? Long story short: Politics. Who is to say what style of karate is best? Compound that problem with egos attached to those styles and well… you can see why we have been absent.
I personally grew up amidst the Olympic hubbub of the 80s and 90s as my father was a regional director for the USA Karate Federation (then National Governing Body for Karate under the US Olympic Committee and member of the World Union of Karate-Do Organizations (WUKO). Excitement mounted as my family was invited to the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea for Tae Kwon Do’s inaugural demonstration. Back then, the “talk” was karate is next! Naturally, our dojo jumped at the opportunity and churned out numerous USA Team members who traveled the globe in quest of Olympic status (none more prolific than Doug Selchan, America’s most dominant Kumite Champion of the era). WUKO sat in the driver’s seat speeding toward an Olympic dream—one that ultimately sputtered. Sadly, every four years the hype train rolled into the United States with all its fanfare and visions of Olympic rings, and time and time again left us holding broken promises. The base was disheartened.
Many, including myself, grew weary of the power struggle and drifted away until Tokyo was announced as the home for the 2020 Olympics. The IOC gives the host city influence in nominating additional sports, so karate with its roots in Okinawa, rose as a top contender shortlisted among four other candidates including sports climbing, surfing, skateboarding, and a combined bid of baseball and softball. A final decision will be taken at the 129th IOC Session in Rio in August 2016.
Just as Korea positioned Tae Kwon Do as an exhibition, collectively we cross our fingers that Japan will carry the same weight for karate as it did for Judo in the 1960s. The World Karate Federation (WKF), the successor to WUKO, has positioned itself under the IOC to make history. Its groundbreaking news I’ve waited over thirty years to witness. I sat down with some WKF competitors to hear their thoughts: USANKF TEAM MEMBERS: Kieran Tamondong: “Having karate in the Olympics gives kids like me an ultimate goal.” Adrian Galvan: “Amazing, it’s the biggest stage.” Ariel Torres: “I’m honored to be a part of the movement.” Marissa Meandro, Karate Canada Team Member: “Each tournament is an experience that will hopefully lead to the Olympics.”
The Kumite Classic May 27-28th is a National Qualifier for the USANKF. Now is your chance to try out Olympic-style competition. More info: www.kumiteclassic.com/usankf
Bill Viola Jr. is a Pittsburgh based martial arts promoter, author and producer of the Annual Kumite Classic. He is the head instructor at Allegheny Shotokan Karate (member of the USANKF) founded by his father Bill Viola Sr. in 1969.
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