Durham, NC, December 1, 2020 – Jessie Bowen, Director of the American Martial Arts Alliance Foundation announced the release of highly anticipated 2020 MARTIAL ARTS MASTERS & PIONEERS CHUCK NORRIS BIO BOOK – US & World Edition.
The Viola Karate Family Honored in Chuck Norris “Who’s Who” Book
Father and Son karate experts, Bill Viola Sr. and Bill Viola Jr., have been inducted into 2020 AMAA “Who’s Who Legends Hall of Honors” alongside martial arts icon Chuck Norris. The pioneers are featured in the 2020 edition of Who’s Who in the Martial Arts Book, an autobiographical publication that is one of the most recognizable martial arts titles worldwide and is an essential guide for preserving history. Viola Sr. states, “It’s a huge accomplishment for an individual, but having us both recognized as pioneers is something special. Karate is our way of life.”
Bill Viola Sr. is the family patriarch of a Pittsburgh’s most famous karate legacy. He is one of the most well-known figures in the karate industry and last year Allegheny Country council honored him by naming September 23rd as “Sensei Viola Day” in recognition of his 50-year anniversary founding Allegheny Shotokan Karate in Western Pennsylvania. Viola Sr. began his journey in combat sports in 1955 in Brownsville, Pennsylvania taking up boxing lessons from the legendary Marion “Slugger” Klingensmith. In High School he took up Karate and has never looked back. In 1969 he opened his first dojo and then in 1979 he wrote the rules for mixed martial arts (MMA) competition. He has since been honored by the Heinz History Center as the co-creator of the sport of MMA more than a decade before the UFC. His life story was the subject of the books Godfathers of MMA (2014) and #1 bestselling sports book Tough Guys (2017) which inspired the Showtime film Tough Guys (2017) produced by an Academy Award winning accredited team. He is a member of the USA Karate Hall of Fame, and was named by California University of Pennsylvania as an Illustrious Californian Award (2020).
Bill Viola Jr. has followed in his father’s footsteps taking the reins of the family owned and operated dojo which now includes the third generation of Viola’s (his daughter Gabby and son William Viola IV). Viola Jr., a multiple time USA Karate National Champion and All-American Athlete was named World Champion in 1998 by Arnold Schwarzenegger. In fact it was Arnold that encouraged Viola to establish his own production company, and in 1999 he founded Kumite Classic Entertainment which grew into the mecca for martial arts and fitness in the Pittsburgh region.
Viola Jr. is an accredited associate producer, producer, and executive producer with credits in Pittsburgh area films including Warrior, Tough Guys, and most recently had a cameo as Mary Steenburgen’s “Karate Sensei” in the Hulu’s “Happiest Season” which debuted on Thanksgiving. ⬇️
Viola Jr. is a #1 bestselling author whose latest project CommonSensei is creating major buzz in the self-help genre. His book series, where each volume you can earn a different colored belt, is slated to launch in 2021. The project is aimed towards millennials and Gen-Z sharing, “everything they should teach you in school, but don’t.” Viola explains that the goal of series is becoming a, “Black Belt in Life.” He was just honored as “Author of the Month” (December 2020) by Elite Publications out of North Carolina.
The Pandemic has shifted the “Who’s Who” ceremony to an online presentation. December 5th, will be the official public release of the Chuck Norris Martial Arts Masters and Pioneers Biography Book and Online Emerging Leaders Conference with special guest speaker Laura Silva Quesada, world renowned transformational coach and author. There will also be online Seminars, martial arts demonstrations and a special salute honoring Grandmaster Chuck Norris, and the Violas.
Jessie Bowen (publisher of Who’s Who) explains, “We are dedicated to preserving and sharing our inductee’s extraordinary journeys with the world. The book is the first of its kind that combines a martial arts history book and directory all in one.
The new Chuck Norris book will be available at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Lulu, and other book outlets.
For more information, interviews, and demonstration contact Bill Viola Jr. 724-640-2111
Let me share. Life isn’t fair, the sooner you accept that the better. In 2018, completely out of the blue, my daughter Gabby was diagnosed with bowel disease, an incurable inflammatory form of colitis 😥. Without too much detail you’d never know she is sick on the outside, but on the inside, it is killing her: severe bleeding, dehydration, abdominal pain, cramping, fatigue, inflammation of joints, skin and eyes, and a swelling colon just off the top of my head. She was only seven years old; no family history of the illness! Why oh why?! Long story short, we continue to do what we have to do: Specialists, naturopathic and holistic experts, trials, infusions, diets, meds, steroids, tests, and therapy — the works😞. All you can do is 🙏 for remission.
In the meantime, she wanted to continue karate. It was her sanctuary, and her doctor gave it the👍. In July 2019, she attended the World Karate Commission Team Trials in Detroit, Michigan. Top placement earned a spot on “Team USA” to compete at the World Championships. Gabby and her teammates bled for this opportunity. She was one of the youngest competitors to enter and still only a brown belt, in a division dominated by seasoned black belts. The selection process is based on multiple rounds of competition. Day 1, she stumbled😱. The look of disappointment on her face broke my heart into a million pieces😭, but I couldn’t show it. Her little lip quivering, trying to hold back tears, I consoled her the only way I knew how. I said, “It’s time to unleash tora 🐯.” “Win or lose, show everyone your tiger spirit.”
We had something special up our sleeve, a symbol of her destiny. That weekend, I brought a 55+ year old brown belt with me. It was tattered and way too long, but it was magical. It was the same belt my father wore, that I wore, that my sister wore, and now Gabby. She knew the history behind the belt, and I told her she just needed to add her own sweat to it. In that moment, she showed “tora no me,” the “eye of the tiger.” It was a complete 360. She took the mat with a passion and fervor I’ve never seen. She absolutely nailed her kata, flipped the script, and catapultedto🥇. In that moment, not a single individual victory or title I’ve experienced could compete with the pride I felt.
Gabby still has good and bad days, but when the disease attacks, I remind her that she’s a fighter💪👊! It seems scary, but deep down she has the fortitude of a hundred kids. She proved it to me and all the bystanders that day in Detroit.
*This except was used with permission from the upcoming book CommonSensei.
Gabby has successfully competed in over 100 tournaments and has no plans on slowing down. Her dream is the attend the 2020 Olympics and watch her idol, Sandra Sanchez (Spain), go for the gold medal🥇 in Tokyo, Japan.
For those that are close to my family, you already know how this situation dramatically changed our lives. For twenty years I promoted the Kumite Classic (one of the largest and most prestigious independent tournaments in North America). The expo was a 24/7 – 365 type operation. Despite the show being apart of my identity, it does NOT define me. As they say, “family first” and I have retired from the Kumite until Gabby is in remission. Someday, I hope to pass the torch 🕯️to her, and she can reignite 🔥! I enjoy coaching my team, teaching, and traveling when she is 💯%. It’s a new chapter in a long book!
Today, Gabby is receiving biologic infusions at UPMC Children’s hospital in Pittsburgh, PA. Her Doctors are kind, compassionate, and very knowledgeable. The infusions are typically 3-4 hour procedures (she has to miss school for each treatment). It is taxing on her body and mind.
However, insurance doesn’t make it easy on these patients. The amount of red tape and outrageous medical bills is both frustrating and sad 😔. According to The National Center of Biotechnology (NCBI), the yearly cost of her current medicine is $25,000 to $45,000 annually, depending on the frequency needed 😡😤. Big Pharm 💊💉 should be ashamed. The polices and regulations need to change! As a result we choose to “fight” and get involved. Gabby has been asked to join a national effort to raise awareness for the disease. Beginning this May, she will be lobbying on behalf of patients (like herself) who suffer lack of access to certain treatment. She will be sharing her story as an advocate of IBD research, trying to convince Washington to support her cause. She hopes to be part of the solution and be a small part of one day finding a cure for IBD. She will be attending the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation’s “Day on the Hill” to meet with different Senators an Congressmen to plead with them to do more! Her trip will be mulitple meetings with legislators about policies impacting the IBD community. The event includes forums hosted by the National Council of College Leaders for parents and pediatric patients, informative advocacy training briefings, and a reception on Capitol Hill .
As a family, we have made the decision use this terrible diagnosis as a powerful teaching moment. We look for anyway to change a negative 👎 into a positive 👍. So we tackle this disease, the way we train at the dojo. with relentless determination! She promises to fight 👊 everyday, and I know she will inspire and empower other’s to do the same. This disease will not stop her from reaching her dreams, goals, and aspirations. There are be setbacks, but without them there are no comebacks.
Over the years, we have had to make multiple emergency stops to local hospitals, urgent cares, and medical facilities. Recently she was hospitalized at the 2019 US Open ISKA World Championships and admitted into Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital after nearly passing out. She was in a flare 🔥 and her body was attacked. Unfortunately, she was unable to perform to her standards the next couple months, and fell short of winning WKC Worlds. She could either spiral into self-doubt and depression, or double down on her training. I’m proud to announce she back to her winning ways taking 1st place 🏆 at NASKA’s 6-A COMPETE Internationals. The place really doesn’t matter, its continuing to “suit up,” time and time again, when other’s say “hang it up.” This journey will always have ups and downs 📈 but we fail forward ➡️. No matter how difficult the challenge, we continue to inch forward ➡️. We call is Kaizen (改善) continual self-improvement! 1% every day… Its our “Violosophy.”
🙏Please help us find a cure. Steroids and biologic medicine are only a temporary fix (a band-aid). The toll it takes on the body is heartbreaking. Just look at this little girl on and off drugs💔:
Understanding inflammatory type diseases: Inflammation 🔥 is the body’s response to fighting off harmful things. It could be an injury, infection, or something toxic. In Gabby’s case, she is always on 🔥. Her body is confused. This is called IBD or (Inflammatory bowel disease) not to be confused with the very common IBS (Irritable bowel syndrome) which is not an inflammatory condition/disease. IBD is an umbrella covering both Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. Both Crohn’s and colitis are characterized by chronic inflammation 🔥 of the GI (gastrointestinal) tract. IBD is a “ninja” of sorts, because the symptoms often stealth like to the outside world. Patients often look totally normal to friends and family, but behind the scenes they are struggling with abdominal pain, fatigue, rectal bleeding, bloody stools, and persistent uncontrollable trips to the bathroom. Its cause is unknown, but Doctors do know it’s the result of a defective immune system. Essentially Gabby’s immune system is attacking itself causing the inflammation 🔥. While there is no cure, we search for ways to help her live a comfortable life, and hold on to hope that a cure will be discovered in her lifetime.
Often times people associate martial arts as a rough-and-tumble sport dominated by male competitors, but Gabby Viola is shattering the stereotype. 9-year-old Gabby was recently honored by the national karate media and their peers with nationwide “People’s Choice Awards.”Point Fighter Live is one the most popular media outlets in North America for the sport and recognized the top athletes.
Gabby Viola was nominated as “Competitor of the Year” by Point Fighter Live. The honor, dubbed as a “Power Award” was voted on by coaches, competitors, and promoters from across North America. After a nationwide poll, Viola not only won her category (edging out a talented competitor from El Paso, Texas) but was the highest vote total of the show. The physical award will be presented this April in Warwick, Rhode Island at the Ocean State Grand Nationals.
is a third generation Viola to win national honors. She’s following in her Dad Bill Jr. and
Grandfather Bill Sr.’s footsteps. She began her training as a toddler and has
been a national champion since she debuted at the 2013 Kumite Classic. She’s a member of Team USA, and defending
Gold Medalist from the WKC Nationals Championships. Gabby is an inspiration to other girls battling
bowel disease. At 7-years-old, she was diagnosed with chronic
inflammation and ulcerative colitis.
While there is no cure for the condition, she is fighting for remission
every day and proving that nothing can stop her karate dreams. She is currently treated with infusions at
UPMC Children’s hospital and will travel to the Washington, DC this May to meet
with the Senate and Congress about funding new research to find a cure.
When asked about the recognition Gabby said, “I’m really happy. I hope this helps get me to Japan!” She’s on a mission to fund raise to watch her Idol Sandra Sanchez from Spain compete for a gold medal 🥇 at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. Gabby had the opportunity to train with Sanchez in Orlando, Florida this past July. When she’s not competing, she loves playing piano, dance, and teaching her 2-year-old brother karate.
Throughout the long season, Gabby traveled to Illinois, California, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, New York, West Virginia, Ohio, New Jersey and Canada to compete. The honors are based on an entire year’s body of work.
Gabby is a member of Allegheny Shotokan “Viola” Karate Dojo which recently celebrated its 50-Year Anniversary. The Dojo was honored with a proclamation from County Executive Rich Fitzgerald who recognized “Sensei Viola Day” on September 23rd 2019 for the Pittsburgh region. Sensei Bill Viola Sr. has 4 daughters, all of whom have earned their black belts. His Granddaughter Gabby and all the up and coming Senpai and Sensei (Lucy, Sammy, Taylor, Zoey, Haley, Abby, Riley) carry on the tradition of strong inspiring ladies from the dojo!
The team is gearing up for the 2020 WKC World Championships held in Madrid, Spain and fundraising to visit Tokyo, Japan and attend the 2020 Olympics 🥇. For more information visit www.alleghenyshotokan.com
# # #
Gabby began🥋 training at just 2-years-old and was the inspiration of the Nursery Ninjas program at Allegheny Shotokan Karate. She made her competition debut at the 2013 Kumite Classic and has since competed in over 100 tournaments across North America. In 2015 she won her first Grand Champion, and later that year was the youngest competitor at the World Games. She is a multiple time PKRA State Champion, USKA National Champion, WKC National Champion, and consistent champion on the NASKA World Tour. She is a 3rd generation Viola to carry on the family legacy. Gabby is committed to community service, and has been a top fundraiser to “Kick Parkinson’s Disease” a charity her father helped establish in memory of their Grandmother.
We would also like to extend this positive energy out to our Allegheny Shotokan dojo brothers who also suffer from GI complications: Sensei Conor Burns, Sensei Dave Zezza, and Senpai Mike Pietrzyk
Immediate Release: 11/21/19 Contact: Call/Text Bill Viola Jr. 724-640-2111
2019 WKC World Titles brought home to Western Pennsylvania
The World Karate and Kickboxing Council (WKC) hosted the World Championships November, 3rd -9th in Niagara Falls, New York. The world’s best from 22 countries converged to compete in WKC Tatami-style divisions. The competition was the largest WKC championships in history with over 2000 athletes.
Team USA was comprised of athletes from across the country who won the National Team trials in Detroit this past June. 13 members from Allegheny Shotokan “Viola” Karate Dojo earned positions to represent the United States at the World Championships. Of that group, 4 students advanced to the medal rounds and secured top honors. These medals are the first ever for the Pittsburgh region.
Bill Viola Jr. said, “I am proud of the way these kids represented our
community and the United States. Win or
lose, they demonstrated respect and determination. We they play our National Anthem for Gold, it
makes all the sacrifice worthwhile.”
WHEREAS, Allegheny Shotokan Karate, or Viola Karate as it is more commonly known today, was established in 1969 at East Allegheny High School by Bill Viola, Sr. and is celebrating its 50th anniversary of educating students in martial arts in Allegheny County and western Pennsylvania;
WHEREAS, the family-owned and operated
dojo has had three generations of Violas carry on the legacy of Bill Sr., who
still teaches a black belt class every Monday evening, reminding students that
karate is a lifelong journey; his journey has been recognized with the
induction of Viola Karate into the USA Karate Hall of Fame who also named
Sensei V the Man of the Year in 2003 and his being given the honorific title of
WHEREAS, Shihan Bill Viola is credited
by the Senator John Heinz History Center in conjunction with the Smithsonian
Institution as the co-creator of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), a decade before the
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC); in 2011, the Western PA Sports Museum
established a permanent exhibit to honor him as one of the founding fathers of
the sport; his life was the
subject of the Amazon #1 selling book Godfathers of MMAwhich inspired a documentary film Tough Guys; in 2017 the Violas were published in the book, Who’s Who in the Martial Arts – Legends of American Karate;
WHEREAS, over the past half-century, Shihan
Bill Viola’s powerful brand of punches and kicks have translated some of life’s
most important lessons: respect, discipline and focus; the confidence he has
instilled in his students can be found on and off the mat, while the dojo
remains the most successful sport karate school in the Pittsburgh region; and
WHEREAS, we are fortunate to have Allegheny
Shotokan Karate in Allegheny County, and that the school, led today by the next
generation of Violas, has not only served our communities but used its
notoriety as an internationally-known and recognized martial arts school to
further benefit charities in our community for generations.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that I, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, by virtue of the authority vested in me, do hereby proclaim September 23, 2019 as “Sensei Bill Viola Day” in Allegheny County. We congratulate Sensei Bill Viola and the Allegheny Shotokan Karate School on their 50th anniversary and wish them many more successful years to come.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I
have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the County of Allegheny to be
affixed this 23rd day of September, 2019.
An inspiring group of martial artists have made it their mission to KICK Parkinson’s disease—literally. On September 3rd 2018 the Viola Karate Dojo and their sister program Norwin Ninjas assembled over 100 students to make a bold statement and kick non-stop for one mile at Boyce Park. The students showcased their skill and donated over $10,000 to aid The Pittsburgh Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases (PIND) for research.
The “KICK” concept was developed Irwin native Bill Viola Jr., founder of Kumite Classic Entertainment, and former Mayor and State Senator Sean Logan. Logan was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease in his mid-forties and Viola spent years caring for his Grandmother who passed away from neurodegenerative complications.
Logan developed a 5K to promote his “Do Something” campaign as means to encourage exercise. Physical activity has been proven to be an effective method to combat Parkinson’s disease. Viola parented with Logan in 2017 to add a “Kick-a-thon” element to the 5k, and its growth has been exponential. Viola explains, “Last year the KICK raised just over $5000 with 50 participants. This year we doubled both brining us up to over $15,000 with just two kicks-a-thons.
PIND offers a unique twist to the traditional 5K by incorporating Viola’s “Kick-a-thon” concept. Viola explains, “There are a lot of in-house kick-a-thons that take place at schools but none that actually kick for distance. This is the first of its kind.” The estimated amount of kicks thrown by each participant was 1500 and with over 100 students, the total number was approximately 150,000 kicks.
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. Their selflessness is incredible.” 9-year-old Mike Barone led the group of by donating nearly $2015 followed by 11-year-old Aidan Thornton ($900) and 5-year-old Madden McKeever ($800). In just three years, through corporate sponsorships and race participants the PIND 5k has surpassed over $300,000 in total donations for PIND.
Although Viola is known internationally for his competitive success in karate he says, “Trophies collect dust. Making an impact on the community is priceless. They are making a difference and learning the value of paying in forward. I tell them, Kick with kindness and create an endless a ripple.”
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: PIND5K.org
Dr Freddie Fu Gives Karate Standout a Second Chance
Luke Lokay Represents United States Kickboxing / Karate Team in Quest for Gold Medal
Six years ago Luke Lokay thought he’d never walk straight again. This October Luke will represent America as part of USA Karate Kickboxing team in Cancun, Mexico at the PAN AMERICAN Championships. His story of determination is one that inspires his teammates and the community.
In 2012, Lokay was in fourth grader in the Norwin School District where he was recruited by Sensei Bill Viola Jr. to join “Team Kumite” (an all-star traveling karate team). Viola remembers, “I just saw something in Luke. He had the intangibles I look for. He had that the eye of the tiger—heart.” I wanted to work with him and get him ready for the big leagues.”
Lokay was poised to compete for his first national karate championship when a fluke accident sent his body and dreams crashing. Lokay recalls, “I was riding my bike and my neighbors dog [Kippie] just charged at me. He was just playing, but he knocked me to the ground awkwardly and pinned my knee. I knew immediately something was wrong.” Luke’s parents, John and Amy, took him to multiple specialists and hospitals in the area. Initial emergency rooms didn’t treat him with urgency and said the leg wasn’t broken. He was told to “just rest” the injured leg. The recommendation didn’t sit well with his dad. John Lokay recalls, “I wasn’t satisfied with what they were saying at all. He was in real pain, and he never complained about anything. I went out on a limb and ignored the prognosis. A friend of mine told me to get ahold of Dr. Freddie Fu. That call saved my boy. He actually called me on a Sunday from New York. He got us in the next day.”
Luke was rushed in for a 3rd Opinion where Dr. Fu (Chair of Orthopedic Surgery at UPMC) confirmed Luke had in fact torn his ACL, meniscus and broke his tibia that pulled into the knee cap. The diagnosis was severe for anyone, especially for someone that young. Dr. Fu told the family that if he didn’t perform surgery the next day, the leg may never straighten again. The Lokay’s followed his advice, rehabilitation and course of action. At the time, karate was out of the picture but Dr. Fu was optimistic that if Luke followed the rehab he could someday make a return.
Luke underwent surgery and began the long journey of rehabilitation. Although he couldn’t train, he still remained active with his karate school by attending martial arts tournaments to cheer on his teammates. Sensei Viola remembers, “Luke remained positive throughout the entire experience. Most kids would have quit, but there is something special about him. Everyone was rooting for him. I’ve never seen a kid with such a serious injury be able to bounce back like he did. His parents and his doctors did a wonderful job!”
Flash forward to 2018, and Luke is currently on a quest for Gold. He represents the United States as a member of the prestigious 2018 “Team USA” and will fight at the Pan American Kickboxing Championship this fall. In the upcoming months while other kids are enjoying summer break, 15-year old Luke Lokay will be training to compete at the highest international levels for sport martial arts. Viola says, “We train the mind as much as the body by incorporating ‘mokuso‘ into our workouts. I think this helps keep Luke grounded.”
Luke earned a spot on “Team USA” at the WAKO Trials in Kansas City, Missouri in February in the 63- Kg division and his teammate, 9-year-old Xander Eddy, secured the 30- Kg weight class. The selection process is limited to the current national champions officially recognized by their National Olympic Committees or Ministry of Sports.
Lokay, now going into 10th grade at Norwin High School explains, “Representing my country is such huge honor. I wasn’t supposed to be able to walk, let alone compete for a Gold medal. I’m making the most of my second chance. I’m dedicating this journey to Dr. Fu, who fixed me up.” Lokay has been training at Allegheny Shotokan “Viola” Karate in North Huntingdon since he was 5-years-old. Lokay and his training partner Eddy are the first US Team members to earn a team selection for The World Association of Kickboxing Organizations (WAKO) from Western Pennsylvania.
WAKO is the largest international organization of kickboxing, and the governing body of Amateur kickboxing sport certified by SportAccord. WAKO is affiliated in 128 nations on 5 continents officially recognized by either National Olympic Committee or relevant National Government Sports Authority responsible for than 4,000,000 practitioners from across the globe. WAKO kickboxing was one of thirteen combat sports participating in the first ever World Combat Games which were held in Beijing, China under the patronage of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). WAKO is a member of the “Olympic Channel,” a multi-platform global media destination for the Olympic Games which includes other combat sports such as Karate slated for the 2020 Games in Tokyo, Japan.
Luke will be traveling to Orlando, Florida in July for the US Open World Martial Arts Championships in preparation for the PanAmerican Championship. He is in search of community based support to offset the financial burdens to his family to travel and compete.
About Luke Lokay: Luke is a goodwill representative for the Western PA Police Athletic League (PAL) where is serves as an advocate for disadvantaged youth. It’s a role his Sensei held when he was Luke’s age. Loaky is also a “Junior Leader” for the University of Pittsburgh’s PIND (Pittsburgh Institute for Neurodegerative Disease) 5K Kick-a-thon where he and his team raise funds to “Kick Parkinson’s Disease.” He will kick for 1-mile straight non-stop on Labor Day to raise awareness of the cause.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
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.”