The 54th Round

Last Thursday, the Texas state Senate approved a bill to ban “elimination boxing tournaments” – a measure squarely aimed at those events referred to as “Toughman contests”.

It didn't take long for the people from Art Dore's organization, the “Original Toughman Contest”, to swing into action.

On its website, the following form letter was posted, for anyone who wanted to pass it along to one of the Texas legislators who will be voting on this bill:

“Dear Representative:

It has been brought to my attention that there is pending legislation that would prevent elimination tournaments such as The Original Toughman Contest ® from being held in the State of Texas.

I oppose this pending legislation.

As a competitor, I have found the event to be professionally and safely organized with all of the State appointed officials. The Toughman Contest gave me an outlet to test my abilities in a controlled environment, which was overseen by the Texas Department of Licensing & Control.

The Toughman Contest helps competitors to build confidence and self-esteem. It also provides an opportunity to many young men & women an opportunity to develop good sportsmanship and to recognize and reward the value of competition.

I have also been told that The Original Toughman Contest pays substantial fees to the State of Texas to hold these events and that there would be a large loss of revenue to the State of Texas, if The Original Toughman Contest is not allowed to continue. Also, they bring in advertising dollars, rental fees, concession sales that contribute to the economy of Texas.”

Dore, the same man who brought you Butterbean, supplies the e-mail addresses of several members of the Texas legislature, asking fighters and would-be fighters, especially those within the Lone Star State, to send this letter directly with their signature.

Thanks for the addresses, Art. For my part, I think I'll send the following along.

The HBO program “Real Sports” is supposed to devote some time to Toughman contests tomorrow night. I have no idea what material is really going to be covered, and I'm not sure how much they paid attention to.

I've heard some people say positive things about Toughman contests through the years. From the consumer standpoint, one promoter, who has engaged in both pro boxing and Toughman, said, “In boxing, you can go to a show and almost all the time, it's blue corner versus red corner, meaning house fighters against opponents. You almost always know who's going to win. With Toughman, at least some matchmaker hasn't pre-determined who the winner is going to be.”

I guess there's some sense to that, although I could put together two pitbulls or two fighting cocks and create the same effect. The issue at hand that would be the most critical for boxing commissions, at least those with any sense of responsibility, involves safety conditions, or lack of same, that surrounds these events.

Relative to this, there are basically four kinds of commissions – those who allow Toughman-type competitions, usually referred to as “elimination contests”, and have rules in place to closely regulate them; those who allow them, and don't regulate
them so closely; those who don't address them at all, meaning they are not prohibited and certainly not regulated; and those who outlaw them.

Of course, most people who enter Toughman competitions don't get hurt. But with all due respect to those proponents who describe it as “the safest form of boxing”, as Toughman founder Art Dore has claimed, the events, as they are structured, actually can
run contrary to that.

The facade of safety is created by the presence of headgear and 16-ounce gloves. But, if we can agree that some essential elements to a proper atmosphere of safety include, at all times: (a) a physical exam that is somewhat more than just cursory; (b) an ambulance, and either EMT's or paramedics on hand at each event; (c) a licensed physician continuously present at ringside; (d) skilled cornermen who know what they're doing; (e) ring officials – namely referees – who also know what they're doing; (f) a process by which competitors of widely disparate weights will not be matched with each other; and MOST FUNDAMENTALLY, (g) two competitors who have had at least some training in how to defend themselves – then we must also agree that if standards even roughly similar to those of a responsible commission were enforced, Toughman contests, or any of their knock-offs (Wildman, Badman, King of the Hill, King of the Ring, etc.) would simply not be allowed.

That's because essentially what they're doing is taking some of the Kentucky-type regulatory practices, at or near their worst, and applying them to boxing. If I thought that was a GOOD thing, I doubt you'd have seen “Operation Cleanup”, much less its successor, “Operation Cleanup 2”.

Would anyone outside of, say, the states of Kentucky and perhaps Nebraska care to explain to me how this is productive?

I'd be the first one to tell you that Dore probably runs a tighter ship, and a safer ship, than most of his competitors out there. But the overall problem is not particular to his own organization. To me, it's the very NATURE of the activity that is objectionable, and possibly contrary to the public interest.

When you have two people who may or may not be suited to being in a ring, and you haven't taken extra precautions to prevent medical situations from being exacerbated, you're just asking for trouble.

You see, the difference between, say, the Ultimate Fighting Championships and Toughman is that, while there are other events that resemble “ultimate fighting”, and are run without much in the way of rules or supervision, the competitors in the most well-organized of the events (the UFC) are world-class athletes and educated martial artists who train specifically for the event. That is not the norm in Toughman.

I'm not as worried about head trauma as I am about cardio-vascular failure, dehydration, intoxication, or any pre-existing condition that, under normal circumstances, would be detected through the various pre-fight tests most fighters in responsible states must undertake – conditions that would absolutely preclude someone from stepping into a boxing ring on a competitive basis.

And the flipside to the aforementioned quote from that promoter is that while there may indeed be an element of mystery as to who is going to win each match at a Toughman, and that might supply some of the event's charm, there is also an inherent danger in having no information – or very limited information – about the background of the participants. At least matchmakers in pro boxing have that at their disposal, and ideally, when they don't abuse it, there is a check and balance system in place between them and the commission which is designed to ensure that a hazardous mismatch doesn't take place.

In Toughman, there is no such mechanism.

There is a wide range for competitors in the two weight classes – “light heavyweights” can be anywhere from 160-184 pounds, while “heavyweights” are from 185 to what they have designated as a limit of 400 pounds. How many boxing
commissions would approve a fight between a 160-pounder and a 180-pounder? I would venture to say that even Jack Kerns, at his most negligent, may not have done so.

And preferential matchmaking for “ticket sellers” or sponsored fighters is not uncommon in Toughman. As such, competitors who may be skilled in terms of throwing punches may be intentionally thrown in with opponents who have literally walked in off the street.

“Ringers” are not unusual in this thing either. There is a Toughman rule that prohibits competitors from outside a 75-mile radius from competing in a Toughman show. Yet, in one of the more highly-publicized deaths Dore's organization has had over the past year, a competitor named Scott Woods had come in from San Antonio to a competition in Mount Pleasant, Mich. If Woods hadn't been fatally injured in the bout, hardly anyone would have noticed that he was entered in the contest in violation of the Toughman rules.

Another thing that worries me is that if a competitor gets knocked out, then gets the bright idea that he wants to compete in another Toughman contest, or worse yet, in a sanctioned pro fight, within a month's time, there's is nothing definitive in place that would tell any jurisdiction that he had suffered that knockout. There are no suspension lists in Toughman. And that can lead to a severe “accident” – and tremendous liability – as a result.

Oh gee, I forgot – these guys sign “waivers of liability”. Well, you can take those waivers and stick them straight up your ass, basically. The very fact that Dore would lean on that waiver as a way of defending himself in litigation, as he has in the
past, is enough reason for ANY commission to ban his brand of event.

But you know what? I haven't even told you what my REAL problem with Dore and his organization is.

That's in the next chapter.

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