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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
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40 under 40 Pittsburgh

bill viola jr 40 under 40

Congratulations to our very own President and founder Bill Viola Jr. on making the prestigious “40 under 40” List in Pittsburgh.

bill viola jr picture

Bill Viola Jr.   [39]
President, Kumite Classic Entertainment Corp.

Pittsburgh often is credited as the birthplace of a self-defense discipline known as Mixed Martial Arts.

Bill Viola Jr. is the author of the book “Godfathers of MMA,” which chronicles the life of his father, Bill Sr., and explores the world of martial arts as first developed west of the Alleghenies. The younger Viola is known internationally for his work in the martial arts industry, founding the highly regarded annual Kumite Classic in 1999.

He also was named to the U.S. Karate Hall of Fame in 2005 and was the winner of the Willie Stargell Pittsburgh MVP Award in 2011 for his work training youth in martial arts programs.

He currently is head instructor at his family’s Allegheny Shotokan Karate studio, founded in 1969, and he is the founder and producer of the Pittsburgh Fitness Expo.

The biggest thing I ever had to overcome … In 1999, I was in a car accident that ended my competitive martial arts career. Going from world champion to watching on the sidelines was complete culture shock, but the injury was actually a blessing. In rehab, I found my true passion, being a sensei (teacher). Seeing my students succeed is more rewarding than any title I won.

http://www.pittsburghmagazine.com/Pittsburgh-Magazine/November-2016/40-Under-40-2016/

bill viola jr 40 under 40

40 Under 40: 2016

Meet our 2016 class of 40 Pittsburghers Under 40 who are changing our region – and the world – for the better.

 

PHOTOS AT PNC PARK BY BECKY THURNER BRADDOCK | HAIR/MAKEUP BY TRAVIS KLINGER

People are drawn to lists, and sometimes when a list isn’t handy they make one up. Consider Jorge Luis Borges, whose fantastical prose lit up the world of Latin American literature in the 20th century.

He referenced a Chinese list — a taxonomy of different types of animals — and attributed its translation to a known academic of the time. According to this list, animals broke down into categories such as “those that belong to the Emperor,” “mermaids,” “embalmed ones,” “fabulous ones,” “those that resemble flies from a distance,” and even, “those that have just broken a flower vase.”

Scholars spent decades trying to locate the original list which, as it turns out, was stored safely inside Borges’ head and nowhere else. The French writer Michel Foucault referenced the Borges list in his book “The Order of Things.”
    

    

Foucault’s main theory was that the thinking of each age is defined by a single, dominant prism of beliefs and constructs through which we view things. Called an “episteme,” it set the boundaries for all knowledge and understanding at the time. The episteme for the pre-classical period was based on differences and similarities. In the Classical Period, it was all about order and measurement.

And, so on.

What worldview informs this year’s list of 40 Under 40? The conceit of the list is that Pittsburgh Magazine and PUMP invite others to nominate people who, not quite midway through life, have done something — or several things — remarkable. Community service, professional achievement, a general overcoming of obstacles that would stop the rest of us — or all of these factors can land someone on this list.
    

    

One of our honorees was inspired by growing up in war-scarred Ethiopia. Another founded a company that provides free, online language-learning to anyone. Still another seems to have succeeded in so many community organizations, she borders on requiring her own, separate list.

The list is so diverse, the personalities so disparate and the accomplishments so varied that fitting our 40 Under 40 onto a single list requires breadth of imagination and depth of understanding. None has broken the flower vase, nor have we noticed any mermaids. As to any “embalmed ones,” there always is a reception to celebrate this honor, so we’ll need to get back to you.
    

    

In the meantime, accept that at least on this list, we can include the term “fabulous ones” and not be accused of making anything up.

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