Tough Guys (2017 film)

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Tough Guys
Directed byHenry Roosevelt, W.B. Zullo
Produced byCraig DiBiase
StarringBill Viola, Frank Caliguri
Release date
  • 15 June 2017 (2017-06-15) (AFI Film Festival)
Running time
77 minutes
CountryUnited States

Tough Guys is a 2017 documentary film that explores the development of mixed martial arts as a mainstream sporting event in the United States from 1979-1983. The principal characters are Bill Viola and Frank Caliguri, who founded CV Productions together.[1] The film made its debut at the AFI Film Festival of 2017.[2] Its first network television showing premiered on Showtime, September 15, 2017.[3][4][5] Filming took place at 18 locations throughout Pennsylvania, New York, and Florida including Allegheny Shotokan Karate and Denny's restaurant.[4]


In 1979, more than a decade before the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), CV Productions created a new sport that involved an anything-goes fight league that recruited street fighters, wrestlers, martial artists, boxers and brawlers. The film chronicles the Tough Guys' first bouts and the cast of fighters who stepped into the ring.[3] The film documents the Tough Guy vs Toughman controversy.[1][4]

In the documentary, CV Productions becomes subject to political scrutiny that sparked a chain of events ending in the passage of the Tough Guy Law, Senate Bill 632, the first mixed martial arts ban in the nation. The sport then remained dormant until the UFC resurrected the concept in 1993.[4][6][7]


Tough Guys was inspired by the book Godfathers of MMA published by Kumite Classic Entertainment and written by Bill Viola Jr and Dr. Fred Adams. The book was featured in The Tough Guys exhibit at the Heinz History Center, which recognized Viola and Califuri as the co-creators of MMA, and caught the attention of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Robert Zullo.[5] After Zullo read the book, he connected Bill Viola with MinusL productions to produce a film about the history of MMA. Viola Jr. also re-released an updated version of his book re-titled and re-branded as “Tough Guys” to coincide with the film's release.[8][9][10][5]


  1. ^ a b McNary, Dave (2017-06-13). "Morgan Spurlock to Exec Produce MMA Origins Documentary 'Tough Guys' (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved 2018-05-30.
  2. ^ Page-Kirby, Kristen (2017-06-15). "AFI Docs is your ticket to 3 world-premiere films". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2018-06-07.
  3. ^ a b "Tough Guys | SHOWTIME". Retrieved 2018-06-04.
  4. ^ a b c d Scuillo, Maria. "Showtime documentary proves Pittsburgh-area early mixed martial arts fighters were "Tough Guys"". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  5. ^ a b c Harrop, JoAnne Klimovich. "'Tough Guys' traces MMA's roots right back to Western Pennsylvania". Retrieved 2018-06-13.
  6. ^ "From Pittsburgh roots, MMA, UFC have grown to staggering heights". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2018-06-13.
  7. ^ "'Tough Guys' documentary sheds welcome light on forgotten MMA tourney that pre-dates UFC 1". MMA Fighting. Retrieved 2018-06-13.
  8. ^ Bowen, Jessie (2017). Who’s Who in the Martial Arts, Legends Edition. p. 365. ISBN 1387161539.
  9. ^ Madarasz, Anne (Fall 2011). "Tough Guys". Western Pennsylvania History. 94 (3).
  10. ^ Whalen, William. "'Tough Guys' documentary profiles local creators of MMA Viola, Caliguri". Retrieved 2018-06-13.

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