Historic Toughman Contest returns to Hara Arena
By Gary Spencer
Fast forward to the 21st century and the simple act of fighting has been fine tuned to a science. With the continued popularity of boxing and the surging mainstream acceptance and practice of mixed martial arts, fighting has become an art form of sorts. But sometimes you have to go old school and get back to the basics of what made fighting so appealing to spectators in the first place. This sort of appeal might explain the continued success of the Original Toughman Contest that will be ready to rumble this weekend at Dayton’s Hara Arena.
Founded in 1979 by Art Dore in Bay City, Mich., the Toughman Contest began simply enough. Apparently, Dore – a lifelong boxing fan – had grown tired of hearing guys saying they were tougher than the boxers seen on TV. So, one night Dore decided to rent a local high school gym and let local competitors duke it out in front of an audience to find out who was truly the toughest guy in town. The experiment was wildly successful.
Soon, other Toughman contests were being held all over the country, culminating with an ultimate contest of champions from around the country held at the Pontiac Silverdome in 1980. Thirty-five years later, Toughman is still going strong, selling out local arenas and on pay-per-view, and over 100,000 people have competed in the contest during that time. The upcoming event at Hara Arena will mark the 36th time the Toughman Contest has been held in the Gem City, and according to event promoter Steve Coppler, Dayton is the perfect matchup for holding this storied event.
“Dayton is a blue collar town, [and] Toughman is a tradition,” Coppler said. “Dayton has a Toughman tradition not only for fighters, but huge crowds. Back in the day, there were often more fights in the crowd than in the ring. It has evolved from a boys’ night out into a family show. Nowadays, people yell, scream and cheer on their favorite men and women along with the ring girls. Toughman plays annually in over 100 cities from coast to coast, but nothing is quite like fight nights at Hara.”
So how does the Toughman Contest work? Fighters must be aged 18-34 and fighters compete against others in their weight class. No professionals are allowed. After passing a pre-fight physical, competitors square off in three one-minute-long rounds Friday. The winners from Friday night are then invited back the next night and fight until there is a decisive winner in each of the five weight classes. Winners will be awarded a cash prize based on the number of fighters in their weight division, with more than $3,000 being awarded among each weight class’s champions. Winners then advance to an upcoming World Toughman Championship show for the title of Toughest in the World and a chance at $50,000. Many famous athletes made their names initially through the Toughman Contest such as Mr. T, Butterbean and Tommy Morrison.
But what if you’re not the fighting type? Coppler said there is plenty of entertainment value to be had by attending a Toughman contest.
“It is the most action-packed entertainment experience allowed by law,” Coppler said. “Over 20 fights per night for a ticket as low as $15 in advance. [You can] come support the local fighters you know or become a fan of someone new. You identify with the fighters as you see them compete over and over. You either come out to watch them win or get their butt kicked! The announcer entertains by prodding fighters to fight harder and spurring the crowd to cheer for a knockout! The Ring Girls from the Living Room also entertain and we do fun contests like ‘Who Can Do the Most Pushups’ and other fan-friendly activities.”
Fighters are instructed to sign up in advance of the show by calling 989.450.6099 or by visiting the Toughman website (toughmancontest.net). Both men and women are encouraged to sign up and compete. Again, even if you’re not aiming to step in the ring, the Toughman Contest promises to pack more than a fistful of entertainment punch.
“If you have never been to the Toughman before, come check it out for yourself!” Coppler said. “You have heard the good, the bad, but until you see it live for yourself, you cannot believe what fun it is.”
The Original Toughman Contest will take place Friday, Jan. 24 and Saturday, Jan. 25 at Hara Arena, 1001 Shiloh Springs Rd. Advanced tickets range from $15-40. For more information, please visit haracomplex.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Gary Spencer at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com.