The Original Toughman Contest returns to Hara Arena
By Mark Luedtke
The Original Toughman Contest swings back into Dayton’s Hara Arena Friday and Saturday, Jan. 18-19. The Toughman Contest is exactly what it sounds like: two contestants get in a ring and slug it out until one wins a decision or knocks out his opponent. The winners advance to fight again until one fighter is crowned champion. And this contest is not just for tough men. It’s for tough women as well. This is an opportunity for the toughest people in Dayton to get in a ring and prove their toughness to their family, friends and the entire city and take home a portion of the almost $3,000 in prize money.
Promoter Stephen Coppler has worked for Toughman since he graduated college. He traveled the world for 16 years with Toughman and boxing star Butterbean, who got his start in Toughman. Coppler explained why Toughman is a Dayton tradition: “[Toughman in Dayton] started in 1979, and this will be the 35th event held at Hara. We have sons and grandsons of former fighters competing.” To celebrate this event, ten former local champions from Dayton, Springfield, Middletown, Eaton and Richmond, Ind. will attend the fights on Saturday.
Coppler described what spectators can expect at the show: “Fans can expect the most action-packed entertainment experience they will ever see live. With three one-minute rounds, the fighters don’t have time to dance. Toughmen go straight forward. We bill the event as a great competition, like in the Wild West or gladiator days, man versus man, who is the Toughest in Town!” Not to mention the ring girls.
But Coppler pointed out the event isn’t just for adults, “It is definitely a family event as younger siblings of the fighters, mom, dad and grandma and grandpa come along with co-workers to support their favorite fighters. With fighters wearing 16-ounce gloves and headgear, there is little blood, and the State of Ohio Athletic Commission provides doctors and all officials to oversee the event. The Toughman Contest is basically ‘Golden Gloves for grown-ups’ and is designed to give the armchair athlete a chance to test himself or herself in a boxing ring.”
Toughman was started in 1979, and over 100,000 contestants have fought in the contest. Almost one-third of all boxing matches in the U.S. are Toughman fights. And because of the equipment supplied by Toughman, rules and professional staff, the organization boasts the best safety record in boxing. Coppler explained why: “Toughman uses shorter rounds, bigger gloves, headgear and groin and kidney protectors. State of Ohio doctors conduct pre-fight and post-fight physicals and do drug testing. Toughman has been safer than pro boxing and amateur boxing over the same time. Just like high school football, auto racing and even cheerleading, Toughman is a contact sport, however we, along with the state, do everything to make it safe by utilizing the best officials and rigid rules.”
According to Coppler, profession is no limitation: “Fighters come from all walks of life, including police officers, firemen, teachers, bar bouncers, farm boys, etc. The fights are very competitive with, as we often say, not who can throw a punch, but who can take a punch. Some nights there are plenty of knockouts, and some nights most of the fights are decided by the judges.” Judges score fights based on boxing’s 10-point must system.
However, there are limits to who can compete. Contestants must be between 18 and 35 years old, inclusive and in good health. Those over 35 can request special consideration. Anyone who has won five or more amateur fights in the last five years cannot compete. Anyone who has ever fought professionally cannot compete. Previous champions can only compete against other champions.
Toughman has launched many professional careers besides Butterbean’s. Promoter Jim Morris told a story about the most famous Toughman alumni: “Mr. T came to Dayton to help promote the event and we had a little time, so we went to Dayton Children’s Hospital. At that time he was very famous from the “Rocky” movie and the TV show “The A-Team.” Mr. T met with the kids that were able to come to a meeting room. He gave pep talks and signed autographs. There was one young man – maybe 5 or 6 years old, very smart but very sick with cancer – who would not leave Mr. T alone. He asked question after question and tugged at his pant legs. Finally Mr. T put one of his chains around the boy’s neck and put him on his shoulder and went room to room. We stayed for five hours. We did not leave until he went to every room in that hospital.”
Morris described a public service announcement Mr. T recorded for the hospital: “‘I pity the fool who does not help these kids. Dig deep and dig now,’ he said. It was very powerful to see this grown man with tears running down his cheek, a huge TV star, pleading with folks to help these sick kids.”
Maybe this event will launch another career. As of this writing, the promoters are still taking applications for fighters. One woman, Anna Stevens, has signed up. She plans to use her MMA skills to win prize money to make an album, so she’s looking for competitors.
The Original Toughman contest takes place Jan. 18-19 at Hara Arena, 1001 Shiloh Springs Rd. Fights begin at 8 p.m. both nights. For registration and ticket information, call 937.278.4776 or visit haracomplex.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Mark Luedtke at MarkLuedtke@daytoncitypaper.com