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New Sports Museum Display Explores Local Roots of Mixed Martial Arts

birth of an american sport

New Sports Museum Display Explores Local Roots of Mixed Martial Arts

By: Anne Madarasz, co-director, Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum

Professional baseball, football, and hockey can all trace their early history to Western Pennsylvania.  But most local sports fans will be surprised to learn that our region is also the birthplace of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). The first “Battle of the Tough Guys” took place at the New Kensington Holiday Inn on March 19, 1980. Promoted by Bill Viola, a black belt karate instructor, and Frank Caliguri, also a black belt and owner of the Academy of Martial Arts, the first bout of their multi-day event featured car salesman Mike Murray against laborer Dave Jones in the lightweight division. Jones defeated Murray by technical knockout in the third round in what has been identified as the first MMA match of its kind in the United States. Caliguri and Viola developed rules and regulations to guide their “Tough Man Contest,” described as “the martial arts way of fighting as it’s done in the Orient.” The Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum recently unveiled a new display on the early roots of Mixed Martial Arts featuring uniforms and protective gear as well as original programs, posters, photographs, and ticket stubs. The collection, donated by Murray and Viola, provides documentation of the organization of the sport, as well as the promotion of competitive amateur events in the early 1980s. For more information on the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum, please visit www.heinzhistorycenter.org

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About the author: Bill Viola Jr. is Amazon best-selling author and creator of the award-winning Sensei Says® life skills curriculum. He experienced the "Golden Era" of MMA firsthand as his father, Bill Sr., is credited as the co-creator of the sport of mixed martial arts in 1979. His book Godfathers of MMA inspired the critically acclaimed SHOWTIME film Tough Guys where he acted as a producer alongside an Academy Award accredited team. The Viola family owns and operates Allegheny Shotokan Karate in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania now celebrating their 50-year anniversary (1969-2019). He is currently the President of Kumite Classic Entertainment Corp.

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