Meet CV (Caliguri & Viola) Productions The founders of the
“Tough Guy Contest”
Regulated mixed martial arts (MMA) competitions were introduced to the United States in 1980 with the establishment of the world’s first “Tough Guy Contest” in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The league was also billed as “Battle of the Tough Guys” and “Battle of the Brawlers” before re-branding to “Super Fighters.” The “invention” of mixing martial arts dates back to the rise of humanity, but the “creation” of an American sport is credited to the “Tough Guys.”
MMA is the sport of the 21st century: WOW Promotions popularized it, SEG Entertainment refined it, Zuffa LLC monetized it, but The Tough Guys created it!
Tough Guy Contests were elimination style MMA competitions promoted as “Anything Goes” fighting. Each were part of a series that formed the first Mixed Martial Arts league history. Bill Viola wrote the first codified set of mixed martial arts rules in 1979: Fighters were required to use open fingered padded gloves and permitted to use any combination of martial arts including but not limited to boxing, wrestling, grappling, karate, judo, and ju-jitsu techniques. Bouts were 3 two minute rounds judged using a 10-point-must system. Fighters could win by knockout, technical knockout, submission or decision. Fighters were ranked based on performance and head-to-head match ups. View the Top 10 Rankings in 1980.
Safety precautions, rules and regulations were paramount in Tough Guy competitions, unlike their successor (UFC) which boasted there are “No Rules.” Tough Guys were broken into weight classes, required to wear Olympic style headgear, and subject to a Doctor’s approval to fight. The referees were highly trained to stop fights if a competitor could not defend themselves. It was a sophisticated solution to no-holds-barred fighting by placing an emphasis on sport, not spectacle. It was the first time mixed-fights were organized into league competition. It was an open platform where anyone could test their mixed martial arts skills in a controlled environment.
The Tough Guy concept was created by Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania martial artists Bill Viola and Frank Caliguri in 1979. They founded CV (Caliguri and Viola) Productions to promote and package mixed martial arts as a legitimate sport. The combination of multiple martial arts disciplines as a sport was unprecedented at the time. The Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission had no jurisdiction over martial arts competitions until 1983. Many experts credit Caliguri and Viola as the inventors of a new “sport.” Read More.
The first Tough Guy MMA competitions were held March 20th-22nd 1980 at the New Kensington, Pennsylvania, Holiday Inn ballroom. The finals were held April 18, 1980 at the Stanley Theater. Return fighters in subsequent shows solidified the league. Fighters were ranked and seeded into the national finals scheduled for Las Vegas, Nevada with a proposed $100,000 prize.
The league regulated over 130 mixed martial arts bouts across Pennsylvania before the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office ordered CV Productions to cease and desist in January of 1981. The new sports revolution was suppressed by the Pennsylvania legislature which outlawed MMA in 1983 with the passage of the Tough Guy Law. The controversial legal battle pitted Toughman (boxing) vs Tough Guy (mixed martial arts).
The Tough Guy competitions made sensational media headlines who christened it as the birth of a new sport!
Below: Pittsburgh, PA based promoters Bill Viola & Frank Caliguri -1979