‘TOUGH’ START TO 2019
HUNTINGTON — As we turn into the new year, it’s always a time for self-reflection.
If you’re asking yourself how tough you are, that question can get answered pretty quickly this weekend as the Big Sandy Superstore Arena rings the bell for the 31st annual Tri-State Original Toughman contest.
More than 160 fighters from around the Tri-State, and from as far away as Cumberland, Maryland, will battle for more than $12,000 in prize money and bragging rights.
Doors open at 5:30 p.m., and the four hours or so of boxing gets started at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Jan. 4-5 as local boxers with nicknames such as “The Albino Ali,” “The Lead Hammer,” “One Shot,” “Magic Mitch” and “The Chanimal,” all take some swings in the ring.
Tickets are $22 general admission, $27 reserved and $37 for VIP ringside to watch a night of boxing that features lightweights, middleweights, light heavyweights and heavyweights who come as big as Isaac “The Convict” Thompson, a 20-year-old Ironton, Ohio, resident, who steps into the ring at 6′5″ and 300 pounds. Thompson, and the rest of the heavyweight class will have their hands full as Huntington’s own, Chris Miles, a two-time Toughman winner, will be back to fight for his third, and final, Toughman title.
Like a night-long shot of adrenaline, Toughman’s fast and furious blasts of boxing (three one-minute rounds) are punctuated with a booming soundtrack of boxing songs like “Eye of the Tiger,” crying baby sounds when a boxer goes down and the roar of more than 5,000 family, friends and boxing fans.
Toss in the ring girls strutting their stuff between rounds and the smooth emcee work of Jerry “The Suit” Thomas, you have the perfect recipe for a buck wild night of sports entertainment billed as a night of drama with everything —“violence, comedy, sex appeal and, it’s not fattening.”
It is that simple concept that birthed Toughman when founder Art Dore, who started the amateurs-only contest in Bay City, Michigan, in 1979, heard someone talking in a bar about how tough they were and went onto create the event to prove it.
Thomas, whose West Virginia Sports Promotions is based out of Clarksburg, got on board that very year with events in Clarksburg and Beckley before spreading out to Huntington and eventually to a total of nine West Virginia cities.
This year, Toughman kicks off in Huntington before setting up shop in such cities as Wheeling, Parkersburg, Summersville, Elkins and Martinsburg.
The final Toughman is April 5-6 in Beckley. Thomas and his veteran crew will put on five events in the next six weeks and nine events in 13 weeks.
For Thomas, and Toughman it is a special year as the amateur boxing event celebrates its 40th year nationally — with West Virginia as a perennial top state for the events. Huntington is one of the top drawing Toughman events in the country.
“Huntington has been basically known as a fight town for 50 or 60 years because of The Golden Gloves and now we have had Toughman in Huntington for 31 years,” Thomas said Wednesday, Jan. 2, by phone. “It is hard to believe this is the 40th year for Toughman. There’s a lot of history and it is amazing to see how the interest has stayed with it. It has become a West Virginia tradition. West Virginia residents are tough by nature. When are talking military service we have the highest number of veterans per capita. Then you look at Toughman, and West Virginia has the highest number of Toughman events and fighters than any other state in the country.”
From doctors and referees to trainers and production staff, Thomas said there will be nearly 200 folks helping put on the event in Huntington an event where Thomas leaves an empty ringside seat for the late, great boxing writer and The Herald-Dispatch sports editor, Ernie Salvatore.
Like in the movies where Mickey Goldmill passed his knowledge to Rocky Balboa now down to Adonis Creed, Toughman has a legacy of trainers and personnel that keep the next generation trained up and ready to go.
“We have so many good trainers and guys running gyms and former champions and we try and overload a little bit because you can’t have too many good people there to help prep the fighters and talk to them and warm them up and calm them down,” Thomas said. “We literally have an army of trainers with guys like Noah Kirk, Terence Kelly, Rob Townsend, Steve Dotson, Stacy “Tootsie Roll” Thurmond, Corky Salyer, Jeremy “The Beast” Bates and Melvin “The Romantic Redneck” Russell. It is a good feeling of history, and in some ways it is like a reunion, of sorts, of fighters and boxing people. A lot of them I may only physically see them once a year, and it is at Toughman. You will see a lot of handshakes and hugs.”
While past years’ the fight nights have rolled after midnight and into the next morning, this year, Thomas said they are opening gates early at 5:30 p.m., and then starting at 7 p.m. with the fights starting after the Marine Corps presents the colors and after the singing of the national anthem.
“We changed that because of the large number of fighters and the event in the past has lasted so long so we are moving it up so folks can get out of there earlier and hopefully get home before midnight,” Thomas said.
Cindy Collins, general manager of the Big Sandy Superstore Arena, said that Toughman kicks off what will be diverse and busy winter and spring schedule at the Arena that includes everything from the Bridal Expo and Harlem Globetrotters to concerts, wrestling and cheerleading competitions.
“It’s Toughman to Globetrotters to wrestling to the Bridal Expo to the Boat Show,” Collins said. “We literally only one weekend from January to March that is free and that weekend (Feb. 2-3) we have Luke Combs playing a sold out show on that Friday night ... We charge through and don’t really slow down until after graduations in May.”
FIGHT NIGHTS AT THE ARENA
WHAT: West Virginia Sports Promotions presents the 31st annual Tri-State Original Toughman contest, during which amateur boxers battle for three one-minute-long rounds. Saturday night’s winners share more than $12,000 in prize money and bragging rights. All Toughman entries fight once Friday unless they get a bye. There are four divisions each for men and women.
WHERE: The Big Sandy Superstore Arena, downtown Huntington.
WHEN: Friday and Saturday, Jan. 4-5. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Bell time is 7 p.m., after the presentation of colors and the national anthem by Ellen Shaffer.
GET TICKETS: Tickets are $22 general admission, $27 reserved and $37 VIP Ringside at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena Box Office, online at ticketmaster.com or charge by phone 1-800745-3000. Note that the Box Office hours are extended until 6 p.m. Thursday.
WHO TO WATCH: Two of last year’s winners, Chris Miles and Scarlet ” White Lightning” Whitley, are back to defend their titles.
ON THE WEB: Go online at wvtoughman.com.