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Interview with Bill Viola Jr. Author of Tough Guys

Interview with Bill Viola Jr. Author of Amazon Best Seller ‘Tough Guys’

By Heather Holtschlag

Tough Guys (2017) Kumite Classic Press available on Amazon

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.  My cousin Dr. Fred Adams and I took on the task of documenting a forgotten time and place for the sport.  We bring you back to the Golden Era of MMA.

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.

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

Amazon best seller martial arts

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’

Tough Guys #1 Amazon Best Seller Mixed Marital Arts MMA Bookbill viola jr author

Tough Guys in the News

Tough Guys IMDb

Showtime:  “Tough Guys” Sho.com

Madarasz, Anne.  “Tough Guys”.  Western Pennsylvania History, Volume 94, Number 3, fall 2011.

Bloom, Elizabeth.  “From Pittsburgh roots, MMA, UFC have grown to staggering heightsPittsburgh Post-Gazette.  February 19, 2016.

Page-Kirby, Kristen. “AFI Docs is your ticket to 3 world-premiere films”   June 15, 2017 Washington Post

McNary, Dave.  “ Morgan Spurlock to Exec Produce MMA Origins Documentary ‘Tough Guys’ (EXCLUSIVE)”  June 13, 2017 Variety

Klimovich-Harrop, Joanne.  “‘Tough Guys’ traces MMA’s roots right back to Western Pennsylvania”  Sept. 12, 2017.  Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Whalen, William.  “‘Tough Guys’ documentary profiles local creators of MMA Viola, Caliguri”  July 8, 2017.  Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Golightly, Justin.   “Showtime to Air New ‘Tough Guys’ Documentary on Early Days of MMA” August 29, 2017.  BJpenn.com

Sciullo, Maria.   “Showtime documentary proves Pittsburgh-area early mixed martial arts fighters were ‘Tough Guys’”  Sept, 15 2017.  Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

‘Tough Guys’ documentary sheds welcome light on forgotten MMA tourney that pre-dates UFC 1”  Mike Chiappetta Sept. 15, 201.7 MMA Fighting

Bowen, Jessie.  “Who’s Who in the Marital Arts, Legends Edition.” September 25, 2017.  Page 365.  ISBN-10: 1387161539

 

 

 

Tough Guys Premiere

bill viola jr showtime

By Jonathan Guth

jguth@heraldstandard.com

GREENSBURG — The stars came out on Friday night at The Palace Theatre for a special showing of Showtime’s “Tough Guys” documentary that takes a first-hand look at what Brownsville native Bill Viola, Sr. and Frank Caliguri started 13 years before the first UFC event took place.

Viola and Caliguri, who co-founded the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA), were in attendance with many of the fighters who competed in the first event on Mar. 20, 1980, at the New Kensington Holiday Inn, including Mike Murray, who attended Belle Vernon Area High School, and Dave Jones, who fought Murray in the first official bout.

bill viola jr, bill viola sr, frank caliguri
Author Bill Viola Jr

The fans, friends and family in attendance were able to watch the film free of charge and were able to ask questions following the showing, and the fighters and promoters involved signed autographs and posed for pictures.

The film is a must see and will be repeated on Showtime in case you missed it on Friday.

Without giving away the plot, it is a true story of the little guy getting crushed by “the man.”

Viola and Calguri’s first event was a huge success, with the first event being sold out and people being turned away at the gate, but following a few events, confusion between the “Tough Man” and “Tough Guy” contests, a death during a boxing-only “Tough Man” event and some politicians, CV (Caliguri & Viola) Productions was in trouble due to Senate Bill 632.

Viola’s son, Bill Jr., who is the co-author of the book, “Godfathers of MMA,” was in attendance.

mma history book

An exhibit at the Heinz History Sports Museum displays the first event that inspired the making of the documentary.

Obviously, there is a great deal of violence and language, so the documentary may not be suitable for all members of the family.

It is great to see these men recognized for what they have done but my only question is: Where was the UFC?

The biggest MMA company in the world was in Pittsburgh at PPG Paints Arena for an event, and no one involved in “Tough Guys” was contacted by the organization.

UFC President Dana White will probably never read this, and even on the one and a million chance that he does, doesn’t care what I have to say, but I think a tribute inside the ring would have been fitting.

Those involved at the event on Friday didn’t seem too worried if White and his organization would acknowledge them publicly but hopefully the film takes off and it has to be addressed.

“Dana White was probably in second grade when we started this event,” Viola Sr. said. “There’s no hard feelings. They produced a great product. They do not recognize us, but I think after the show comes out, the facts will speak for themselves, and I think we will get our day.”

Murray probably best summed it up with this statement: “Maybe Dana White should come here to this event and see Frank (Caliguri) and Bill (Viola).”

I totally agree, Mr. Murray.

Herald-Standard Sports Writer Jonathan Guth can be reached via email at jguth@heraldstandard.com

 

Bill Viola Jr. Author of Tough Guys

bill viola jr author

Bill Viola Jr. is an Amazon Best Selling Author #1 Martial Arts book in America (Sept 2017) “Tough Guys”  The book is the inspiration of the critically acclaimed Showtime Television documentary that bares the same name.

bill viola jr author tough guys

What do an NFL star, a United States Secret Service Agent, Sylvester Stallone’s bodyguard, and Muhammad Ali’s sparring partner all have in common?  They were all characters cast in America’s original “anything goes” reality fighting drama, an “open call” that gave birth to a new sport—MMA.

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 artists, Bill Viola and Frank Caliguri, set out to prove once and for all who the world’s greatest fighter was by creating a radical new “sport” in 1979.

Godfathers of MMA reveals the clandestine plot to subvert the “first” mixed martial arts revolution in American history, one poised to challenge boxing as the king of combat sports.  Confounded by a freak accident (death in the ring) and widespread corruption, a massive struggle ensued over money, power, and respect between boxing’s gentry and an upstart MMA company from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  CV (Caliguri and Viola) Productions ignited a bitter turf war with the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission that sparked a spectacular David and Goliath battle for leverage.

The legendary story, buried by rhetoric for years, casts a wide net reeling in everyone from politicians to mobsters, all with ulterior motives; all with eyes on a billion dollar blueprint. From boxing’s “Holy Territory,” the home of Rocky Balboa, to a bizarre connection with the Supreme Court that lead to the first legal precedent for MMA—ever, this is the ultimate inside look.

Godfathers of MMA is a testosterone-laced whirlwind tale of “what might have been” told by the trailblazers who fought for it.  Relive the epic adventure of the “Tough Guys” later known as Super Fighters (the first mixed martial arts league, long before it was labeled MMA).  Thirty years before the UFC gained a mainstream audience, KDKA-TV dubbed CV’s new sport, “Organized, Legalized, Street fighting” while the Philadelphia Journal proclaimed, “No holds barred as Superfighters take over.” Take a journey back in time to the “Iron City” and meet the fighters, the foes, and the visionaries who created the modern sport of MMA.

bill viola jr showtime

mixed martial arts history

mma history book

Academy Award-Winning Team debuts “Tough Guys” on Showtime

“Tough Guys” 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 1983.

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 bigmouths 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.”

For more information about the book, visit www.GodfathersofMMA.com.

bill viola jr karate
Bill Viola Jr. has been training in Shotokan Karate since 1979 under the supervision of his father (Bill Viola Sr.) the founder of Allegheny Shotokan Karate in the Greater Pittsburgh Area.

 

 

Tough Guys Tops Charts