Last year, a friend interrupted our Temptation Island
viewing with a videotape, "You've got to see this!" Our cries of dismay
turned in a moment to the primeval
grunts and sounds men make when watching Rocky
movies, RealTV, or contestants eat buffalo testicles
on Fear Factor
... we were being treated to a tape of Tough Bowl - the national finals of the Toughman Competition
Toughman is a contest where amateur men (and women now) strap on gloves and attempt to pound the guys next door into the ground. The entertaining thing is: these aren't the finely-honed prize fighters you catch in a Showtime boxing event; this isn't the glamorous WWF, where shiny wrestlers engage in a complex series of moves that leave you doubting their claims of authenticity. Most of these out-of-shape guys are virtually wheezing and doubled over before the first round is over. There is no technique or training here - you just see a flailing of arms, which will sometimes connect in a beautiful knockout, eliciting the noises mentioned above. This is where Mr. T and Butterbean got their starts. This is where you find the beer-crazed Homer Simpson prototypes dotting the venue when the local monster truck show is out of season. Oh, and did I mention the ring girls in thongs? It's no wonder that the televised shows boast an 80% male audience.
Art Dore, a former Golden Gloves boxer, launched the Original Toughman Competition in 1979 in Bay City, Michigan. A boxing promoter at the time, legend says Art grew tired of hearing spectators claim they could do as well as guys in the ring. Dore rented a local arena to let the hometown boys battle it out for the title of "toughest man." Fans covered in snow stood for over an hour in two-degree weather to purchase tickets, and the first Toughman contest was standing room only both nights.
Dore's daughter Wendy is the president of AdoreAble Promotions, Inc., the company which currently promotes the contest. Her father Art still serves as the ring announcer for many of the shows.
The rules are simple. Fighters compete in three 60 second rounds (vs. the 12-15 rounds in professional boxing). The contestants wear specially designed headgear, mouthpieces, groin protectors, and sixteen ounce gloves (vs. the twelve ounce gloves worn by pro boxers). Three judges determine the outcome of the fight using the standard 10-point scoring system and standard boxing rules.
A usual event involves 32 fighters (16 light heavyweights - 160-184 pounds, 16 heavyweights - 185-400 pounds). They battle for the top position through a series of single-elimination rounds, hoping to claw their way through the local levels to the national pay-per-view event - the Tough Bowl, where the top fighters compete for prize money worth over $100,000.
Toughman came to the FX network in October 1998, and can currently be seen in the 10 p.m. Friday night timeslot. More information at http://www.toughmancontest.com