Author Archives: Bill Viola Jr.

About Bill Viola Jr.

Bill Viola jr. is a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania based Sensei, promoter, producer and award-winning author of Tough Guys.

Kick Parkinson’s Disease

kick parkinsons


Team Kumite Kick’s Parkinson’s Disease @ PIND 5K

8-year-old Rayden Galley, a member of “Team Kumite” (all-star karate team from Pittsburgh) was the top fundraiser at the PIND (Pittsburgh Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases) 5K walk/run/kick.  Over 600 participants supported the cause held September 4th at Boyce Park in Monroeville.

Sean Logan Rayden Galley
Former Senator Sean Logan with Rayden Galley


PIND offers a unique twist to the traditional 5K by incorporating a “Kick-a-thon” portion where local martial artists literally kick for a mile non-stop alongside the walkers. It is a first of its kind in event in the region, possibly the country.  The estimated amount of kicks thrown by each participant was 2000. With 50 kids joining kick-a-thon category, the total number was nearly 100,000 kicks.

The “Kick” concept was developed former State Senator Sean Logan along with and Irwin native Bill Viola Jr. (owner of Norwin Ninjas and Allegheny Shotokan Karate).  Logan was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in his mid-forties and Viola spent years caring for his Grandmother who passed away from neurodegenerative complications.

Viola said, “The cause is near and dear to my heart.  I’ve been looking for a way to fight this epidemic, and having my school ‘Kick’ for a cure was a perfect fit.  Building character is an important part of martial arts.  My students exceeded my expectations by collecting donations.”  Rayden Galley led the group of 50 kickers by donating nearly $500.   The karate students in total donated over $4500 to PIND bringing the 2017 efforts to over $100,000 for the entire project with aid from corporate sponsors and the surrounding communities.

PIND spearheads efforts to find a cure for Parkinson’s Disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Huntington’s Disease, Stroke, and Alzheimer’s Disease.  The kids have already made plans to “Kick Parksinsons” again next year.  For more information please visit:

Top 5 Fundraisers:

  1. Rayden Galley
  2. Michael Barone
  3. Owen Orth
  4. Grace Weinberger
  5. Riley Evans

5K In The Park

Team Kumite, Viola Karate, Norwin Ninjas support PIND

The PIND takes an integrated, interdisciplinary approach to the study of neurodegenerative diseases and their mechanisms, including Parkinson’s Disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Huntington’s Disease, Stroke, and Alzheimer’s Disease. Through basic, translation, and clinical research, the PIND seeks to ultimately apply basic laboratory findings in the clinic, transforming the latest scientific findings into new treatments and applications for those affected by neurodegenerative diseases.

 PIND 5K Results:


Walk to Cure Parkinson’s Disease, One Step at a Time

WHAT: Sponsored by UPMC, the Pittsburgh Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases (PIND) is hosting it’s second annual 5K run and 1-mile walk in remembrance and support of all people with Parkinson’s disease. All proceeds will benefit PIND’s research on finding a cure for Parkinson’s.
WHY: Neurodegenerative diseases are estimated to affect approximately one in four Pennsylvanians in their lifetime. The goal of this race is to raise awareness and fund research for neurodegenerative diseases, which currently are not well understood by scientists.
WHO: Neurodegenerative disease patients, caregivers, friends and family members
Race Sponsor UPMC

Platinum Sponsors

Prism, Visit Monroeville, Staples, Monroeville Chamber

Gold Sponsors

Tyler Mountain Water, Power of Bowser, Pat Deon, People, Highmark Health, PNC, Senator Jay Costa, Cohen & Grigsby, Stevens & Lee, Parkinson Foundation of Western PA, Rivers Casino, Tom and Paula McCartney, Anthony Dolan

Silver Sponsors

Oxford Development
Pittsburgh Steelers
Buchanon Ingersoll & Rooney
Atlantic Coast Baseball
Bill and Sissy Lieberman
Boenning & Scattergood
Cutis Bray Memorial Fund
The Marbury Group

Bronze Sponsors

Mom and Dad
Congressman Mike Doyle
Walnut Capital
Dr. Koti Kondaveeti
EPI Engineered Products
Turtle Creek Valley COG
Aunt Martie
Aunt Patty
Senator Wayne Fontana
HDJ & Associates
Frank and Sue McCartney
Santa’s Kids
Direct Axis

Sean Logan spent decades serving the public as a state senator, mayor of Monroeville and head of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.

At age 47, his new mission in life is to help find a cure for Parkinson’s disease after being diagnosed.

“Once you find the diagnosis, you can dwell on it and it’s not going to change,” Logan said. “Myself and my family, we made a decision that we would do something.”

Logan has been working with doctors and researchers at the Pittsburgh Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Oakland, where high-impact research is conducted on diseases like Parkinson’s, ALS and Alzheimer’s.

“I know the cure is going to come out of Pittsburgh. It’s going to come out of PIND,” Logan said. “Maybe getting this at 47 gives me five or 10 or 20 years to help find a cure.”

More than $100,000 was raised through sponsors and community members at the PIND 5K in Boyce Park last year. He hopes to raise more at this year’s event on Labor Day.


Tough Guys Premiere

bill viola jr showtime

By Jonathan Guth

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


Tough Guys Showtime

Toughs Guys make television history on Showtime

tough guys showtime mma

Emotional day! In 2007 I set out to share the untold story of the “Tough Guys.” These are the men who created the sport of MMA while Dana White was still in elementary school and 13 years before the UFC existed. A decade later and my book (along with my cousin Fred) “Godfathers of MMA” is coming to life on SHOWTIME 🎥 The same network that just set PPV records with Mayweather vs McGregor, will broadcast the real origins of MMA in America. Pittsburgh is the “City of Champions” and now can add “Birthplace of MMA” to its banners! It may have been the wrong place wrong time… but it was one hell of a ride. Congrats to my dad and Frank on being a part  of American sports history!!!!!!! #toughguys #godfathersofmma #showtime  Thanks, Bill Viola Jr. 



June 12, 2017 – NEW YORK, NY Academy Award® nominated documentarian Morgan Spurlock (SUPER SIZE ME) teams with fellow Oscar® winning filmmaker Ross Kauffman (BORN INTO BROTHELS) to bring TOUGH GUYS – the story of the origins of the mixed martial arts (MMA) fighting phenomenon – to the big screen. The film is executive produced by Kauffman and Spurlock together with Spurlock’s business partner Jeremy Chilnick.

TOUGH GUYS is directed by two award-winning filmmakers, Henry Roosevelt and W.B. Zullo and produced by the award winning commercial producer Craig DiBiase. This moving and insightful non-fiction cinematic film chronicles the origins of the MMA beginning in Pittsburgh, PA in the early 1980s. Back then, these fights were known as the “tough man,” or “tough guy,” or “battle of the brawlers,” or “battle of the superfighters” matches. These fighting bouts have now achieved multimillion-dollar fight status.

“When I was around 12 years old, my dad took me to my first “tough guy” competition in my hometown of Beckley, WV,” says Spurlock. “And I have to admit, it was one of the greatest things I’d ever seen. So when the opportunity came along for me help tell the story of its origin, I jumped at the chance. TOUGH GUYS is an unbelievable tale about the creation of this one of a kind, man against man, skill against skill, sport of the ages. Films like this are rare discoveries, and the characters behind them are even more incredible. If you like watching guys get punched in the face as much as I do, then you are going to love this movie!”

In 1979, Bill Viola and Frank Caliguri dreamed up a contest pitting barroom bigmouths against wrestlers, martial artists, boxers, bouncers and brawlers, billed as 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.

Presented through the untold stories of scrappy brawlers and amateur promoters, TOUGH GUYS chronicles the inception of Caliguri and Viola’s first bouts and the colorful, crazy cast of fighters who made them a hit as well as the politicians who brought it all crashing down. 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 chance to prove their worth and earn some money in the ring.

“Like my previous films, BORN INTO BROTHELS and E-TEAM, TOUGH GUYS is about underdogs striving to achieve the impossible,” states Kauffman. “In TOUGH GUYS, the
underdog is America’s working class who are searching for respect and ultimately a way to survive. When I got involved I didn’t know how timely the story would be.”

TOUGH GUYS made its world premiere on June 15 at the AFI DOCS Film Festival in Washington, DC. It will make its network debut September 15 on Showtime.


ABOUT TOUGH GUYS Told through the colorful stories of scrappy brawlers and amateur promoters, TOUGH GUYS brings to life the birth of mixed martial arts competitions in 1980’s 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. The film is directed by Henry Roosevelt and W.B. Zullo and produced by award winning commercial producer Craig DiBiase. It is executive produced by Oscar winner Ross Kauffman together with Oscar nominated director Morgan Spurlock and his producing partner Jeremy Chlinick.
ABOUT MORGAN SPURLOCK Morgan Spurlock is an Oscar® nominated filmmaker and founder of Warrior Poets, a New York-based production studio. His first film, SUPER SIZE ME, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004, winning Best Directing honors. The film went on to win the inaugural WGA Best Documentary Screenplay award, as well as garner an Academy Award® nomination for Best Feature Documentary. Since then he has directed, produced, and distributed multiple film, television and online projects, including THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD; WHERE IN THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN LADEN?; RATS; MANSOME; CNN’s INSIDE MAN; and more.
ABOUT ROSS KAUFFMAN Ross Kauffman is the Academy Award winning Director, Producer and Cinematographer of BORN INTO BROTHELS, winner of the 2005 Academy Award for Best Documentary. He is Co-Director of E-TEAM, a documentary about the high-stakes investigative work of four human rights workers and winner of the 2014 Sundance Cinematography award. He served as Executive Producer on the documentary feature IN A DREAM, which was short-listed for the 2009 Academy Awards and as Consulting Producer on the Academy Award nominated film POSTERGIRL. Ross is a Founder and Creative Director of Fictionless.

Is boxing dead?

is boxing dead

Boxing isn’t dead… but it will be soon

Is boxing Dead? No, but MMA will be King soon enough…

If you ask most people who invented the telephone, chances are the answer would be Alexander Graham Bell.  Bell was the first to obtain the legal patent for the invention, and as they say the rest is history.  However a quick trip to the library can paint a somewhat different picture.  My favorite contributor to this scenario is none other than Antonio Santi Giuseppe Meucci.  Many believe the Italian-American innovator championed the idea years before Bell.  The controversial legend of Meucci strikes a chord with me.  Regardless of who invented the phone, he still deserved the respect of his peers for his groundbreaking ideas. My father and Frank join a long list of figurative “Meuccis”; men who stood at the cusp of greatness but didn’t get any credit.  Be it fate or destiny, the UFC is the metaphorical Bell Telephone of mixed martial arts.  Nobody can dispute its success and rightfully so. However, CV Productions deserves an asterisk in the history books.

Over a century later the United States House of Representatives passed a bill essentially honoring Meucci’s contributions with some clever wording giving him recognition in the invention of the telephone” not necessarily for the invention of the telephone.” It would have been a moral victory had he lived to appreciate it.  This book represents a moral victory for CV Productions. Finally, a detailed account of mixed martial arts’ “Forgotten Forefathers” is documented.

The sport of mixed martial arts has come a long way since 1979 and even further since 1993. CV Productions took a groundbreaking step forward only to see the original UFC take two steps back when America was reintroduced to MMA in its pure unaltered state, a savage contest that boasted, “There are no rules.” It was a harsh “reality” check.  In a sense, they [UFC et al.] couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

As outspoken as Senator John McCain was of the early UFC, the mixed martial arts community actually owes him gratitude.  People have spent far too much time questioning his allegiance to boxing and his wife’s union with Anheuser-Busch [a major sponsor of boxing at that time] as the only motive to outlaw extreme fighting.  In essence, he did us all a favor. The inaugural UFC was spectacle, not a sport and without his public crusade to ostracize the contests, the Ultimate Fighting Championship we know today may not exist.

McCain’s actions sparked the “necessity” of more rules, regulations and safely precautions; ironically the same rules, regulations and safely precautions that CV Productions were banished for creating.  As a political science major, I can’t help but shake my head at the hypocrisy, but thirty-five years ago it wasn’t about “right or wrong”; it was about suppressing the threat of MMA.

The scales of justice were severely tilted by malfeasance, a fact fans would be hard pressed to dispute after digesting this book.  I’ve heard that necessity may well be called the mother of invention but calamity is the test of integrity. CV was tried and true under the circumstances, setting a standard for years to come.

Tom McMillan of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review wrote about the advent of mixed martial arts in 1980, “Although contestants are allowed to punch, kick, and wrestle, the action is not as savage as its newspaper ads indicate.  There’s a doctor ringside, and the flow of blood is kept to a minimum.  The referee closely surveys the fighters and takes points away for illegal tactics. Viola told the Tribune-Review, ‘They wear gloves and boots.  It’s really refined.  One guy even brought his two little kids to work his corner.’ McMillian continues, “In other words, it’s a cut above the old ‘Battle Royale’ brawls in South America where the only rule was to call the undertaker living closest to the arena.”

Even though most readers weren’t familiar with the “South American” reference, it was an obvious allusion to the Vale Tudo matches of Brazil and the stomping grounds of the Gracie family.  McMillian didn’t know it at the time, but his words illuminate the philosophical difference between UFC 1 and CV Productions. It was a case of walking a similar path with very different destinations.

As for McCain and the MMA, it seems all is forgiven. On February 28th 2008, Anheuser-Busch announced that Bud Light, the world’s best-selling beer, would become the new exclusive beer sponsor for the UFC. The blue chip sponsorship agreement was renewed again in 2011; and Bud-Light continues to plaster the center of the Octagon today.

Boxing and MMA are still in a tug-of-war today, but the gap has closed considerably.  While boxing pays its marquee fighters more lucrative salaries, its star power is fading fast.  The Floyd Mayweather/Manny Pacquiao rivalry had kept the sport relevant among younger fans, but there is a lack of talent in the pipeline. On June 8th 2012, boxing’s creditability came under severe scrutiny once again following the controversial decision of Timothy Bradley over heavy favorite Manny Pacquiao.  Critics lambasted the outcome with a landslide of strong statements.  According to ESPN analyst Teddy Atlas, “Boxing is a corrupt sport;” a comment that sportscaster Linda Cohn made famous in the “twittershpere.”

According to some experts, the days of integrity in the sport of boxing are gone. Call it incompetence or corruption; either way it’s another self-inflicted black eye that has boxing purists and pundits calling foul.  The scandal is just another example of a disappointed and already diminishing fan base, one that has been suspicious of fixed fights overshadowed by Vegas bookmakers for years. Pacquiao has fallen further from grace, suffering a devastating knockout at the hands of Juan Manuel Marquez.  While boxing fans shelled out hard earned cash to watch PacMan kiss the canvas on HBO, the UFC treated its audience to a “free” PPV caliber card on FOX; a savvy move by Dana White and company. Punch—Counterpunch.

UPDATED: Pacquiao, tarnished by two losses, squared off with Mayweather in the so-called dream fight May 2nd 2015.  It of course didn’t live up to the hype, but was pay-per-view gold becoming the highest-grossing PPV in history.  Now that the smoke has cleared, what does boxing have left to offer young fans?   We’ll get to that soon.

Boxing may be its own worst enemy with no true structure.  Fans don’t always experience the best matchups and judges have relatively no accountability for their decisions. Boxers and fans alike feel disenfranchised, manipulated by conspiracy, greed and bribery.  For all intents and purposes MMA is monopolized by the UFC, an organized body that has the power to give the public fights they want to see with a unified champion. (It’s worth noting that Federal Trade Commission did investigate possible anti-trust law violations against UFC’s parent company Zuffa, LLC.  The probe was urged on behalf of the Culinary Union, an outspoken critic of the Fertitta brothers, who besides owning the majority stake in Zuffa, also operate a large “non-union” gaming business in Las Vegas, Station Casinos.)

Boxing still thrives among older audiences who reminisce about iconic figures like Ali and Frazier.  I myself grew up in the age of Nintendo, playing Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!! and watching the “Baddest Man on the Planet” thrash everyone in his path during 1980s.  “Iron Mike” was bigger than boxing, a persona he took to an entirely new level. Tyson was ferocious; the most feared and intimidating man to ever step into the ring.  He acted with sheer malevolence, “When I fight someone, I want to break his will. I want to take his manhood. I want to rip out his heart and show it to him,” snarled Tyson in a 1988 issue of Sports Illustrated.

In 1990, the undefeated and seemingly invincible Tyson was upset by James Buster Douglas, a 42-1 underdog, shattering the undisputed image for millions of fans.  I watched in disbelief as Tyson fumbled to find his mouthpiece, down for the count. It was one of the biggest upsets in sports history and in some strange way opened the door for a resurgence of MMA.  With the UFC looming on the horizon, it wouldn’t take long for Royce Gracie to claim the title as the new “Baddest man on the planet.”  Tyson was out and Gracie was in; a changing of the guard.

In recent years, boxing and MMA diehards have begun choosing sides. While the stereotypical UFC-type comment remains, “Boxing is your Grandfather’s sport,” The boxing “establishment” has also gone on the offensive; Ding-ding-ding.  Let the mudslinging begin.

In an interview with Ariel Helwani for, Bob Arum [Top Rank Boxing] refers to MMA as “garbage” and offers a skewed view of its audience, “UFC are a bunch of skinhead white guys watching people in the ring who also look like skinhead white guys.”  He continues his rant, “For me, and people like me, it is not something they ever care to see. They’ve watched it. It’s horrible. Guys rolling around like homosexuals on the ground. It is not a sport that shows great, great talent.”  As for Dana White [UFC President] he doesn’t sugarcoat his feelings about Arum, “I can’t stand him, he makes me sick… He’s a phony, he’s a liar, he’s what I hated about boxing when I was growing up. He’s one of these lying two-faced pigs who has destroyed the sport of boxing.” Further, “He’s a scumbag who actually thinks he’s a pillar of society who destroyed the entire sport of boxing and has done lots of dirty things.”  Whether it’s 1979 or 2013, it seems as if some things will never change.

In a sense, the times have changed though, and today if you ask any kid who the Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World is, you’ll likely get a blank stare. I’m afraid boxing has lost some of its charisma and will continue to have a difficult time winning over new young fight fans.  While a faction of boxing’s hierarchy clings to hope that the sport can remain viable, other experts have offered a more candid forecast of the  future.  Boxing examiner Charles Jay stated in 2011, “Boxing is now behind and is playing a game of catch-up that it will not likely to win, and there is, at this moment, no ‘Hail Mary’ in the playbook.”

As we watch the scenario unfold, power players continue to weigh in on the subject. On June 14, 2012 Mike Tyson was asked by, “Do you see that sport [mixed martial arts] as a threat to boxing? Or do you think they could coexist?  His response, “Hey, listen man, a threat to boxing? It’s already defeated boxing. It’s all about MMA right now.”  It was an inevitable reaction, one that boxing promoters have dreaded for decades and why CV was shut down.

Boxing and MMA started sparring in 1979, knocking CV Productions to the canvas by 1983… it was merely round one of a thirty year title fight, one that is only now approaching the final bell. Regis Accettulla may have been the Pennsylvania Athletic Commissioner in the 1980s, but he was a de facto bodyguard for boxing. There was no sense of reasoning, no Larry Hazzards or Marc Ratners in the fold.  Today, ideology has changed, and leaders like Ratner accept the boxing/mma dynamic in a very different way.  His analogy, “In real life I have two kids, and in my sporting life I also have two. My older child is boxing, my younger child is mixed-martial-arts, and I love them both.” That’s compromise.  I just can’t help but think what might have been—where the Super Fighters would have gone.

The boxing versus MMA saga will ultimately be determined by the next generation.  From my perspective mixed martial arts, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and grappling schools are thriving, while many boxing gyms are struggling to keep their doors open. Teenagers today wear BJJ Apparel and  clothes while dreaming about entering the octagon.  MMA is trendy and gaining momentum.  While there is certainly room for both sports to flourish, Mixed Martial Arts has undoubtedly poised itself to challenge the “King.”  Fans can make their own predictions of who will ultimately take the crown, but personally I am betting on the dream of two men, Bill Viola and Frank Caliguri.

is boxing dead

Boxing vs MMA

The climate has changed since the original release of Godfathers of MMA (2014) but the boxing / MMA dynamic has never been more prevalent.  In 2016 the Feritta brother’s cashed out of the MMA game to the tune of an unprecedented $4 billion (that’s with a “B”), passing the torch to WME-IMG.  New ownership began cleaning house; trimming the fat by eliminating legacy positions and ousting everyone from commentators to matchmakers; but two things remained constant: 1. Dana White (who inked a 5-year deal) and 2.  The haves and haves-not (aka underpaid fighters).  As many experts label the gap as exploitation, athletes have been forced to think outside the box.

While UFC 3.0 was busy adjusting operations, their biggest asset was flirting with the “enemy.”  Connor McGregor, the UFC’s poster boy, began courting pretty boy Floyd, taunting him to come out of retirement for some “fantasy” fisticuffs.  The industry response:  “This is a joke!”  A year later and the one they call “Notorious” was able to broker the most lucrative fight in HISTORY weighing-in with more twitter jabs than boxing wins.  In the image of Ali vs Inoki, Connor scored the ultimate prom date and the two most polarizing figures in combat sports are set to dance August 26th at MGM Grand.

McGregor stands to be the wealthiest “MMA” athlete in history (his cut estimated upwards of $100 million) from a boxing contest? I say “contest” because “it is what it is.”  Floyd is one of the best P4P fighters of all-time, and Connor is a 0-0 novice in the professional squared circle.  The Irishman (who at one point was collecting welfare checks) earned a paltry $16,000 in his UFC debut (April 2013). Although he currently leads the roster (disclosed pay of $3 million for UFC 202), it pales in comparison to comparable boxers.  Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Connor is a marketing juggernaut. Win or lose, he wins!  If by some miracle he lands the Hail Mary “puncher’s chance,” he’s instantly immortal.  If he loses, he was supposed to! Either way he bags the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow that “he” hustled—Genius. The entire scenario takes us back to 1979 and the allure of the Tough Guy Contest.  McGregor vs Mayweather isn’t about boxing per se, it’s a “what if” contest.  Boxing fans are salivating to see Connor get his ass kicked, while some MMA junkies still believe in Lucky Charms.  Connor is an “average Joe” in the world of pugilism and yet the age old question still has a billion dollar answer.

I’d be remiss not give CV Productions a preverbal pat on the back; they created a business model with market share in line with other professional franchises at the time.  In 1980 the average NFL salary was $78,657 and the Tough Guy Champion was slated to take home 100K.  With a nearly 14-year jump start on the UFC, it begs to ask the obvious; would such a gap and disparity between boxing and MMA exist today if the sport wasn’t outlawed?  Chalk it up to another reoccurring, “what if?”

Read about the 40 year struggle between boxing and MMA in the book “Tough Guys” 

Tough Guys Documentary

Tough Guys Doc

‘Tough Guys’ documentary profiles local creators of MMA Viola, Caliguri

 | SaturdayJuly 8, 2017, 10:09 p.m.

If nice guys finish last, then tough guys almost always come out on top.

Renowned local martial arts instructors Frank Caliguri and Bill Viola already believed that, and after more than 35 years, their work came to fruition with the June premiere of the feature-length documentary “Tough Guys” at the 2017 AFI Docs Film Festival last month in Washington, D.C.

The film details the early days of mixed martial arts, which Caliguri and Viola created in the late 1970s. Then known as “Tough Guy Championships,” the first competition took place in March 1980 in New Kensington.

“It was really amazing when you think of two small-town guys and on a national level,” said Viola, of North Huntingdon. “This documentary is going everywhere. We reached for that star 35 years ago, and all of the sudden it’s coming back to us.”

The buzz surrounding the film made tickets for the one-time showing tough to get. Of the 118 documentary films that premiered during the five-day festival, held June 14-18, “Tough Guys” holds the distinction of being the first film to sell out while also being recognized as one of the festival’s 10 “Spotlight Films.”

“It was kind of awing to be a part of this,” said Caliguri, of Lower Burrell. “It was awesome, and I couldn’t believe how they put this together.”

It was late 1978 when Viola and Caliguri met at the Monroeville Denny’s restaurant and asked the age-old question: Who would win a fight between Muhammad Ali, Bruce Lee and Bruno Sammartino? It was a question that gave birth to a sport with roots firmly planted in Western Pennsylvania and became widely popular in the 21st century with the help of organizations like the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

“We called it ‘combined fighting.’ Mixed martial arts is a term they’ve used over the past few years,” Viola said. “(Frank and I) knew that it had to be a combination of all the (fighting) disciplines for there to be a winner.”

But while Caliguri and Viola set out to answer the age-old question, the state of Pennsylvania stepped in and shut down “Tough Guy” contests in large part because the state had no governing jurisdiction over “combined fighting” events like it had over boxing and professional wrestling. Caliguri and Viola sanctioned the contests under CV Productions. The state legislature became the first in the country to pass a ban on all mixed martial arts fighting and specifically named CV Productions in its ruling.

Not until 2007 did mixed martial arts competitions become legal in the state.

“We were selling out our shows and boxing wasn’t doing anything, and we didn’t fall under the jurisdiction of the state athletic commission, so they weren’t getting their 5 percent (of the earnings),” Caliguri said. “At that time, they were nickel-and-diming us to death with legal stuff.”

And just like that, Caliguri and Viola were advised to quit promoting “Tough Guy” contests in early 1981, leaving the age-old question to go on unanswered.

“They legalized it 15 years after me and Frank started it,” Viola said. “It’s like inventing the TV, and we can’t turn it on for 15 years.”

Year’s later, Viola’s son, Bill Jr., figured it was time to set the record straight as to the origin of the sport of MMA before revisionist’s history took over and completely wiped out Caliguri and his father’s accomplishments. He co-authored with Fred Adams the book “Godfathers of MMA: The Birth of an American Sport,” which became the basis for the documentary.

“My motivation was Frank and my dad had this billion-dollar idea back in the late ’70s and had a shot at doing it, but things weren’t in their favor at the time,” Bill Jr. said. “I knew in the back of my head that this was nothing new. I felt it my duty to tell this story before it was lost forever.

“The integrity of the sport was in jeopardy.”

Before the documentary was made, “Tough Guys” still was seeking legitimacy and credibility in a sport where the fan base rose dramatically since its mainstream and commercial debut in the mid-1990s.

Then came CV Productions’ public relations representative Mike Murray, who after seeing a commercial for the Heinz History Center Sports Museum, set out to make the claim that MMA was rooted in Western Pa.

Murray and Dave Jones hold the distinction of fighting in the first “Tough Guys” match when CV Productions held the event in front of an over-capacity crowd at the New Kensington Holiday Inn in 1980. Jones got the better of Murray that night as Murray’s corner man threw in the towel with 8 seconds remaining in the match.

The Heinz History Center Sports Museum’s exhibit, “Pioneers of MMA,” opened in 2010.

“I thought we were the first MMA league, and I called the curator and finally after a few months (the curator) said get some documentation together, bring it down and we’ll go over it,” Murray said. “Finally after almost eight or nine months she called me one day and said they were going to do it and called me a few months later and said they were going to open the exhibit.”

The Heinz History Center exhibit caught the eye of W.B. Zullo, who co-directed “Tough Guys” with Henry Roosevelt. Renowned directors Ross Kaufmann — Zullo’s cousin, who won an Academy Award in 2004 for best director in the feature-length documentary category for his film “Born into Brothels” — and Morgan Spurlock — whose film “Super Size Me” was bested for the Oscar by “Born into Brothels” — came to the film as executive producers.

“It was an amazing story and a story that nobody really knows,” Spurlock said.

“Good things take time. These guys are such underdogs, and it’s what a real ‘Rocky’ drama is all about.”

Everybody is tight-lipped about the future of “Tough Guys,” but people will get a chance to view the documentary in the near future as the film’s directors are in talks with studios.

The plan is to hold a Pittsburgh premiere once a deal is reached. Caliguri said theBenedum Center would be ideal for the “Tough Guys” premiere, as it is the former Stanley Theater, where the first Tough Guy finals matches were held April 18, 1980.

“The people were cheering the whole way through because it was a such crazy movie,” Caliguri said. “They all stood up, cheered and clapped when it was over.”

William Whalen is a freelance writer.

Morgan Spurlock MMA Tough Guys
Morgan Spurlock & Company

Tough Guys Doc – AFI

Tough Guys movie mma

Tough Guys Doc

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. 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. Two years later after 52TB of filming, the Tough Guys Doc was born. 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.

Washington Post




10 years before the debut of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

In 1979, Bill Viola and Frank Caliguri dreamed up a contest pitting barroom bigmouths against wrestlers, martial artists, boxers, bouncers and brawlers, billed as 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.

 “Tough Guys” chronicles the inception of Caliguri and Viola’s first bouts and the colorful, crazy cast of fighters who made them a hit as well as the politicians who brought it all crashing down. 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, breeding desperate men looking for a chance to prove their worth and make some money in the ring.


10 years before the debut of the

Ultimate Fighting Championship.

In 1979, Bill Viola and Frank Caliguri dreamed up a contest pitting barroom bigmouths against wrestlers, martial artists, boxers, bouncers and brawlers, billed as 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.

“Tough Guys” chronicles the inception of Caliguri and Viola’s first bouts and the colorful, crazy cast of fighters who made them a hit as well as the politicians who brought it all crashing down. 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, breeding desperate men looking for a chance to prove their worth and make some money in the ring.


It happened like this…

  • 39 days of filming

  • 42 interviews

  • 12 meals at Denny’s

  • 18 locations

  • 1000 frames per second

  • 52 terabytes of footage

  • 1 film