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Tough guy law - ban mma

The history of the first Mixed martial arts law in United States – Tough Guy Law passed 1983

Question:  What was the first state to outlaw MMA mixed martial arts?

tough guy law

Answer:  The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania – 1983 with passage of the “Tough Guy Law”

Preface:  CV Productions hosted a “Tough Guy” mixed martial arts style event May 3, 1980 at the Cambria County War Memorial. Approximately one year later,   Art Dore promoted a “Toughman” boxing event on March 20, 1981 also at the Cambria County War Memorial.  The difference was Dore’s Toughman amatuer boxing show ended in a tragic death.

Ronald Miller’s death occurred after injuries sustained at Art Dore’s Toughman boxing event held at the same venue less than one year later. The similarity of names “Tough Guy” and “Toughman” along with the proximity of the independent promotions caused widespread confusion.

Soon SB 742 was introduced in direct response to death of Ronald Miller, but Toughman boxing which incited the legislation was absent from the bill and Tough Guy mixed martial arts was prosecuted.


Many believe the PSAC misrepresented the facts in a plot to protect the sport of boxing from box office competition.  Art Dore of was permitted to operate his Toughman amateur boxing events in different parts of the country and wasn’t mentioned in the bill.

Expert from Tough Guys – Birth of An American Sport:

Despite the Pennsylvania Athletic Commission’s temporary ban on CV Productions’ martial arts events, Ardore was still allowed to stage his Toughman contest in Pennsylvania, apparently because it was a boxing event and fell under the their “approved” jurisdiction. “It was totally egregious that we were placed in a holding pattern while Ardore got the a-ok from the Commission. It was nonsense! Nobody seemed to give a shit about Art Dore.  After all, he was part of the boxing clique. What a mistake that was. I hate to say I told you so, but…”

On March 20, 1981, a year to the day from CV Productions’ first event in New Kensington, Ardore began its two-day “First Annual Central Pennsylvania Toughman Contest” in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.  The regional fights were part of Ardore’s projected national boxing competition slated to culminate in finals in October in Pontiac, Michigan.  The winner’s purse: $50,000.

Among the competitors was 23-year-old Ronald Miller.  Unemployed, Miller saw the contest as a way to earn some much-needed money.  “I tried to talk him out of it,” said his father Robert Miller, “but he was desperate.  He needed the $500.  He thought he had a chance, but he was too small.”

A former Marine, Ronald Miller stood five-foot-seven and weighed in at 169 pounds, six pounds shy of Ardore’s stated minimum.  “It was an obvious red flag, says Viola. “He should have never been allowed to fight in the first place.  We never bent the rules.”

Miller won his first bout by knocking out his opponent on Friday night and returned for the elimination matches on Saturday, hopeful that he would win the prize money.  He won his first return match on Saturday, and his uncle Robert Law said, “The audience went crazy over him.  They gave him a complete standing ovation.  But following the fight, Miller became dizzy and was seeing double.  Law urged him to quit, but Miller said, “Don’t worry, Unk.  If I get hit once or twice, I’ll quit.”

In the second fight, Miller’s 250-pound opponent knocked him down several times and drove him onto the ropes. Miller told the referee he was “fine,” but the official finally stopped the bout when Miller’s nose started to bleed and he began vomiting.   He was taken to the Conemaugh Valley Hospital’s emergency room after doctors in the dressing room determined he needed attention after he “decreased in activity.”  Miller died the following day following surgery for a brain hemorrhage.

The Pittsburgh Press of March 23, 1981 quotes Cambria County Coroner John Barron as saying he was “sketchy on the details of the incident and was seeking to learn more from the contest’s producers, KomArdore Productions of Cleveland . . . . Not even the names of the participants could be determined.”  Barron said, as he understood it, the ordinary rules of boxing prevailed, although “contestants were not permitted to wear protective headgear.” He continues, “It was a slugfest type fight.  One guy wanted to wear headgear but was not allowed.”  Robert Law adds that “The coroner in Johnstown said that wearing headgear probably would have saved Ron’s life.”

“There was no criminal negligence involved,” says Johnstown police investigator Bill Smith, “But I’ll tell you, I wouldn’t enter one of those contests.”

Viola says that CV Productions made their fighters “wear the same type of headgear you see in Olympic boxing.”  He is quoted in the Greensburg Tribune-Review as saying that, “no one had been injured in the nine shows he and Caliguri promoted.”

“Ardore’s events were nothing like ours,” says Bill.  “His were strictly amateur boxing, whereas ours were essentially mixed martial arts.  We also put the safety of the fighters first, including dividing the competitors into weight divisions.  Ardore had one: 175 pounds minimum, 400 pounds maximum.  A competitor could end up in the ring with someone twice his weight.  Pro boxing doesn’t allow that, and neither did we.  It was a prescription for disaster.

“How the Athletic Commission ever allowed Ardore to put on a show without weight classes in the first place is beyond me.  I understand it was ‘boxing’ but at what cost?  Ardore’s single-weight class format went against the state’s own rules for boxing.  And when it was all said and done and someone got hurt, they pointed the finger at everyone but themselves.  Pot meet kettle.”

Viola recalls the moment he learned of Miller’s death.  “I had the TV on and a teaser ran for the evening news: ‘Fighter dies in Toughman contest in Johnstown.’  Once I got past the initial shock, my first thought was for the contestant, his family and friends, how devastating it must be.  Then my thoughts turned to outrage.

“Our first concern was always fighter well being.  We worked with the referees, the judges, the rulebook, and every other aspect of the competition to make the events as safe as possible.  We had weight classes, we provided safety gear to the fighters, and we had physicians ringside and in the locker room on the watch for physical problems with the power to stop a fight if they thought a fighter was in danger.

“The nature of sport fighting makes it easy to become injured, but our emphasis on safety regulations prevented major injuries in all of our martial arts events.”

The Athletic Commission was feeling the heat since this was a “boxing” event and it wasn’t the first time they had been questioned about safety procedures. Sports Illustrated pounded the PSAC in a December 1978 issue when William Legget wrote, “The embattled Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission…has taken a shot in the chops from the State Auditor Al Benedict.”  Benedict said that the Commission was “violating its own rules” in reference to the personal safety of participants.  He, “could find no evidence that post fight physical examinations were being performed, a violation of the Pennsylvania Athletic Code.  And the root of the problem appears to be that the Medical Advisory Board to the commission, which set the standards for physical examinations, had not held a single meeting in 18 years.”

Looking back, Viola shakes his head over it all, “That lack of attention to detail seemed to run rampant in those days.  Being a commissioner is a patronage position, and I guess some of those guys didn’t take that end of the job to seriously.”  Benedict further outlined examples of prefight anomalies such as reports from a Pittsburgh fight that showed 15 of 16 contestants with exactly the same blood pressure, 11 of those 15 with identical pulse rates, and all 16 contestants with a chest X-ray in 1975. The integrity of the Commission had been compromised, but there still wasn’t any distinct culpability. Once Ronald Miller died, that nonchalant attitude would change across the board.

Miller’s death made for sensational headlines, and CV Productions felt the fallout.  “All three Pittsburgh TV stations plus Johnstown’s NBC affiliate WJAC ran with the story, the newspapers picked it up, and then our phones began to ring.  We received over 100 phone calls that week from fighters, fans and of course the press.

“Because we had run a show in Johnstown the year before, some of the press got it all backwards and confused us with Ardore’s operation.  Our first show was called ‘Tough Guys’ not ‘Toughman,’ but the name similarity led the media to think we were responsible for Miller’s death.  One TV station actually used the name ‘Tough Guy’ by mistake in its report.

“Even the hometown papers (Pittsburgh Press) shared in the mix-up, and everyone we saw for weeks said things like, ‘I heard somebody died in one of your shows.’  I wanted to wear a sandwich board that said, ‘Not our show.  It was Toughman, not Tough Guy’ everywhere I went. Talk about a case of mistaken identity, it was truly ‘Murphy’s Law.’  Believe me, that mix-up still haunts us, although we had nothing to do with it.”

A few weeks after Miller’s death, his family organized a protest group and traveled to locations like West Virginia and Ohio to picket Ardore’s events, carrying signs with logos like, “It Takes a Tough Man to say no!  Boycott Toughman” and “Beware! A Toughman Could Become A Deadman!”  According to Kim Law, cousin of the late Miller, attendance at Ardore’s West Virginia show fell by half.

In an Akron Beacon Journal article entitled “Dead man’s family pickets show,”  Law says the group’s goals are to “put some heat on the company and to raise public awareness” through their protests.  “These promoters don’t go to places like Hollywood and Fairfax, Virginia where people are wealthy.  They go to areas where unemployment is high and men are willing to get beat up for money.”

Death and debilitation followed Ardore’s events around the country that year.  According to a New York Times article of May 18, in January Ken Meylan of Saginaw, Michigan was paralyzed, blinded, and muted by injuries incurred in a Lansing event and a few months later, Jesse Cortez received brain injuries in a Toughman match in Des Moines, Iowa.  Shortly after Miller’s death Art Dore told the New York Times, “If they want to stop us, they have to stop boxing.  They can’t stop us.”

“Tragedies like this could have been avoided,” says Viola, if proper rules were in place and control was exercised.  “We had over 200 matches in our competitions, and no one was seriously injured, let alone killed, but we were banned and Art Dore was allowed to stage his contest in Johnstown.  As far as I know, he never had another in Pennsylvania, but other toughman-type boxing promoters have, and he’s had plenty of other events in West Virginia and other nearby states attracting plenty of contestants from Pennsylvania.”

Pennsylvania Legislators were lining up left and right introducing bills to ban Toughman boxing, and rightfully so. Ardore’s guys were trying to make a quick buck and showed zero regard for safety.  Freshman senator Democrat Mark Singel, born and raised in Johnstown, was among the politicians who shared outrage with the protesters and constituents in his district.  He immediately took aim at Ardore and his operation.  According to Chet Czarniak of the Gannett News Service, the Senator was pushing for a 5-year jail term and his original proposal called penalties and fines up to $25,000.

Viola says, “I think the Senator’s intentions were genuine.  He was going after the bad guys [Ardore], but was getting one-sided information—the wrong information. Accettulla seized the opportunity by launching a smear campaign behind the scenes that made CV Productions a public enemy.  Somewhere along the line the facts mysteriously changed and they targeted us. What started out as a crusade against toughman boxing transformed into legislation to squash mixed martial arts.” An aide for Senator Singel was quoted in the Gettysburg Times June 24, 1981 as saying, “The Pennsylvania Athletic Commission advised the Senator that legislation would be the most effective means of banning the contests in the state.” Viola continues, “Now it all made sense, the senator was getting slanted information from our now arch enemy, the Athletic Commission. It was a classic bait and switch slipped by the public and maybe even the Senator.” Caliguri adds, “The Athletic Commission had been looking for a way to get rid of us legislatively since day one. It was perfect timing for them; they saw an opening with the Ardore Toughman debacle and got other people behind it. It was calculated and systematic.”

The PSAC took advantage of the situation and pumped the media full of half truths.  The focus remained on Miller’s death, but attention shifted from Ardore to us instead.  That same newspaper article stated the proposed bill would “prohibit ‘tough man’ competitions” but then targeted fighters who “punch, kick and choke each other” instead of boxing.

Viola remembers, “Frank and I wondered, what the hell is going on?” Adore’s Toughman catastrophe was sensationalized in the press, but then completely absent from the bill’s language instead replaced with “Tough Guy” and “Battle of the Brawlers,” CV’s specific trademarks. Viola continues, “The real culprit [Toughman] wasn’t even in the conversation anymore.”

By July 1981, Senate Bill 742 had passed the Senate [44-4] and was moving to the House. Senator Milton Street (brother of the former Mayor of Philadelphia) countered Senator Singel by saying “The state has no right to tell people they can’t climb in the ring and fight for money.”

“Pennsylvania lawmakers were relentless,” says Viola.  “Our mixed martial arts format was singled out when another bill was sponsored by Representative William Telek and then another by Senator James Rhoades.”  Frank and Bill were stunned.  “Accettulla really got his hooks into all of them.  The politicians didn’t know the difference between CV Productions and Ardore and the Commission exploited that fact. It felt like a conspiracy and Regis was cheering on every move made by the Senate.

“All we could do was sit back and try to weather the storm. We were really hurting and the Regis and the boxing boys just couldn’t resist rubbing our noses in it.”  On November 6th, 1981, WBC Heavyweight Champion of the World Larry Holmes defended his title against Renaldo Snipes at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena, just a few blocks from the Stanley Theater. “It was exactly one year to the day after he threatened to arrest Frank and me in Greensburg. It’s easy to remember, since my birthday is November 5th.  What a way to celebrate.  We get blacklisted in 80, and then the next year they rub a title fight in our face.”  Boxing’s triumphant revival in Pittsburgh was a dream come true for Accetulla.  It was the first time the Steel City was center stage since Jersery Joe Walcott upset Ezzard Charles at Forbes Field, and he finally had his bragging rights.

Viola continues, “Looking back, I think the boxing community wanted to do everything they could to erase the memory of mixed martial arts.  They pulled out all the stops for the fight; it got a weeklong plug from the media.  It was primetime, broadcast on ABC TV.”

Bill and Frank were ringside to watch the Easton Assassin in action, a Pennsylvania-bred champion.  “Of course we went to the title fight.  Frank and I loved all types of fighting; it was other boxing promoters and the commission who didn’t like us.  We could have coexisted, and worked out a sanction, but they refused to learn about our sport.”

Allegedly the promoters had a difficult time moving tickets for the show.  It drew a good crowd, but not a sellout. Boxing’s crown jewel, the heavy weight title, couldn’t go SRO (Standing room only). “On one level, at least, we were a little flattered based on our success in Pittsburgh.” Caliguri and Viola had become hometown kingpins of the fight industry, and they did so with unknown fighters.  “Granted, we never got to rent the Civic Arena, but, boy, would we have loved the opportunity.”

Viola remembers, “Regis avoided us—didn’t even make eye contact.  We hadn’t seen him since the Monzo meeting and Frank and I would have loved to have a ‘little chat’ with him.  This was supposed to be ‘his’ big night stroking his massive ego, but we really didn’t see much of him. He was pretty much lost in the background.”

Snipes came within an eyelash of knocking out the champ in the seventh round, claiming Holmes was the benefit of a long count.  In the eleventh round, a controversial referee’s stoppage in Holmes’ favor ignited a ringside battle royal.  Viola recalls, “There was as much fighting outside the ring as inside that night.  It was funny to see a boxing match turn into a street fight among the trainers and corner men.”

The ringside rumble sharply contrasted the degree of control CV Productions had always maintained over their crowds, their contestants, and the fighters’ entourages.  “We kept the seconds and the corner men under control, even when things threatened to boil over, says Viola. “We were even able to keep Danny Moyak, Dann Carr, and the LEF Gang in check. There is no excuse for the mess at the Holmes fight, but then again they had no accountability either.”

What can be said of the Don King promoted fight that hasn’t already been said?  The outcome was suspect, and police rushed to the scene to control the melee.  Pittsburgh Post Gazette columnist Bruce Keidan is quoted as saying the fight might become better known as “the heavyweight championship bout that finished boxing in Pennsylvania.”  As it turns out, he was right.  Pittsburgh has never played host to a Heavyweight title fight again.

“The Athletic Commission’s pet turned out to cause more violence and mayhem than ours ever did,” laments Viola, “but we were still the target.”

Viola continues, “Regardless, the match was over and final ceremonies (belt presentation) were about to begin.  It’s more or less a VIP photo op inside the ring and a chance to thank everyone involved.” Viola jokes, “It seems as if Accettulla’s feelings were hurt when the Chairman [Jimmy Binns] and the Philly crew grabbed the spotlight.” When the World Boxing Council presented the title belt, Accetulla and company were left in the cold. Regis didn’t get any credit for the promotion and was stewing.” They say in poker sometimes the card that makes you breaks you, and for Regis, his “all in” moment turned out to be a losing hand.  Accettulla had waited his entire career for this day and he and his boys (Chief Deputy Benny “Bucky” Palermo and James “Jim” Gruber) were ready for their fifteen minutes of fame. Instead they got hit with a bombshell.

Viola explains, “From what I understand Philly kinda pulled the old FBI/local police move, ‘we’ll take it from here boys’ earlier in the day. It was Accettulla’s turf, but he was ordered to stand down.  Everything from the weigh-ins to the officials was out of his hands and he just lost it.”

Accettulla flew off the handle and took aim at his own colleagues, telling reporters that Jimmy Binns wanted to humiliate the local commission and accused the Chairman of not following protocol and breaking numerous athletic codes.  His irate rant started a war of words in the media that escalated into a Pittsbugh versus Philadelphia rivalry played out on the front pages of the newspapers.

Bill Naab of the Pittsburgh Press reported on November 14th 1981, “Pittsburgh pounded its chest with civic pride a week ago after hosting its first world heavyweight championship in thirty years.  That same city pride has stirred a feud of heavyweight promotions within the Pennsylvania Athletic Commission.” Accetulla was quoted as saying, “He [Binns] looked to inflate his ego at Pittsburgh’s expense.  We were treated like minor-leaguers.”

Viola adds, “This played out in the news for a long time.  Accettulla had no intentions of letting this so-called ‘disrespect’ go, but really he just got a taste of his own medicine.  He tried to muscle us out the same way, and now he was paying a similar price.”

According to Pete Wevurski of the Pittsburgh Press, “’Bucky’ Palermo and Jim Gruber were relieved of their commission appointments after a seven-month war of accusations, denials and vitriolic correspondence.” Why?  The reason stated, “Conflict of Interest.” Wevurksi reports that Curt Ashenfelter, (public relations director of the Department of State) stated, “To terminate a deputy, a simple majority vote of the three-man commission is required.”  A furious Accettulla told the Pittsburgh Press he was not involved in any hearing or vote, claiming the dismissals were illegal and accused the commission of using “underhanded tactics.”  Viola jokes, “Karma’s a bitch and this fight was just getting warmed up.” However, while the commissioners were busy slamming each other, the Senate still had CV Productions in their crosshairs and moved forward with the bill to ban mixed martial arts.

In a bizarre twist, Senate Bill 742 (designed to ban CV Productions) was amended to include anti-abortion legislation. It would seem certain parties tried to manipulate the “toughman” outrage in an effort to mask a controversial abortion agenda. Regardless of its intention, politicians clashed with opposing views.

tough guy lawRepresentative David Richardson was quoted in the December 9, 1981 Legislative Journal stating, “I would hope that each and every individual would recognize the injustices that were done in this bill.  Not only is it not germane, it is unconstitutional and the committee process has been violated by invoking this into SB 742, which was a ‘Tough Guy’ bill and not an abortion bill.” Viola remembers, “The nickname stuck because even the New York Times referred to the Senate adopted legislation as ‘The Tough Guy Bill’ when they reported the story. We were making national headlines for all the wrong reasons.”

CV’s events were now oddly center stage alongside the abortion issue, a totally unrelated topic that had deeply divided the nation. The bill embarked upon a rollercoaster ride passing the House and Senate only to be terminated by Governor Thornburgh’s Veto on December 23, 1981(even though Thornburgh was a pro-life advocate, he found the legislation unconstitutional). Viola says, “The state lost a bid to outlaw us. I guess you can say we dodged a bullet, but they still had plenty of ammunition.  I have no idea why abortion was piggy-backed onto a mixed martial arts bill.  It makes no sense, but then again does any of the laws targeting us?”

Eventually the abortion legislation was reformulated and passed by the Governor under the “Abortion Control Act” in 1982. Opposition mounted and the case was ultimately heard in front of the United States Supreme Court [Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 476 U.S. 747]. Viola recalls, “This was a major case. President Regan asked the justices to overrule Roe v Wade.  It sure was a strange way to be associated with a Supreme Court ruling, but all the documentation cites the ‘Tough Guy’ inspired bill as the origin of the act.”

Viola remembers, “The state had aggressively pushed bills through the House and the Senate, but so far so good. Nothing was on the books. Frank and I thought maybe we could begin staging Superfights in some of the other states around us while Pennsylvania was sorted out.  We already had written confirmation from all the states we contacted as far away as Washington. When we contacted those states about our intention to do shows there, we were told immediately, ‘You’re on hold, pending further review.’  The good old boy network was in high gear once again.”

It was a depressing “would have been, could have been” atmosphere around the CV Productions office.  Adding insult to a fresh injury, Rocky III (released May of 1982) featured a tongue-in-cheek exhibition mixed-fight between Rocky Balboa and pro wrestling star Thunderlips, played by Hulk Hogan.

The match was a signature moment in film, and interesting enough, Balboa executed a submission reminiscent of an MMA rear naked choke to survive the fight.  The scene helped launch Hogan’s real-life career and Hulkamania was born, but sadly Mixed Martial Arts would continue to sit idle.

Viola and Caliguri continued with other promotions.  “Once Frank and I were asked to provide some kick boxers for a pro-wrestling show in Butler, Pennsylvania.  Black Jack Mulligan and Ivan Putski were the headliners, but some of the talent didn’t show and they needed our help to fill the card.

“The wrestlers were walking up the aisle from the ring to the locker room when a guy dressed in a pink suit – not a pink running suit, an actual pink suit – stepped out of the crowd with a paint paddle that has straight pins pushed through it.  He zapped one of the wrestlers in the leg with it.

“The wrestler roared in pain and started swinging and throwing people.  Chairs were flying.  In no time about 30 people were involved in the brawl.  Frank and I thought it was part of the show and we marveled at it – until we realized it was for real.

“The promoter was terrified because he thought he’d be sued.  I told him what to do:  pass out free tickets and t-shirts, and thank everyone for helping out with the show.  It worked; nobody sued.

“One of the wrestlers watching the kick boxers said to me, ‘This kick boxing shit is crazy.  Someone could really get hurt.’  Once again, their security and crowd control paled in comparison to ours.  I’d like to think the quality of our staff had something to do with it.

“We started to feel a little better about things. Our full contact shows began to thrive and we were building momentum again. We thought maybe just maybe if enough time passed maybe we would somehow negotiate a truce and work towards regulation. It wasn’t meant to be.”

The wheels of government turn slowly, but attorney Louis Ceraso’s prediction came true.  The wheels rolled right over Bill and Frank.  “We were legislated out of existence.”  In the 1983 session of the Pennsylvania State Senate, Bill 632 was introduced by Senators Mellow, Singel, O’Connell, Fumo, Musto, and Fisher, “PROHIBITING TOUGH GUY CONTESTS OR BATTLE OF THE BRAWLERS CONTESTS; AND PROVIDING A PENALTY.”

“Miller’s death and its publicity gave Accettulla the extra oomph to shut us down for good.  The commission used public outcry to push the bill through, but it was misrepresentation; it was like banning football because of baseball injuries.  They harped on Ardore’s ‘Toughman’ fatality but banned the ‘Tough Guy’ competition.  This was the same Commission that allowed Ardore to host his disaster.  We saw it as a personal grudge against mixed martial arts.”  Boxing, which caused the death, was conspicuously absent from the bill.

“What a bunch of hypocrites. A boxer was killed in a boxing event, so their logic was outlawing our sport.  It was a complete farce, but a tragic one, capitalizing on Miller’s death to make political hay.”

The bill amended the existing Pennsylvania Athletic Code, established in 1955 to read:


In essence, CV Productions’ events were specifically banned by their servicemarks, “Tough Guy Contest” and “Battle of the Brawlers.”  Ardore’s claimed servicemark “Toughman” was noticeably absent from the bill’s language.  “Frank and I didn’t know whether to be outraged or flattered.  With all of the problems Pennsylvania had to deal with, unemployment, crime, the economy, the Harrisburg bigwigs found the time to single us out by name.  Were we being persecuted?  Judge for yourself.”

The bill specified that not only would the promoters, but any participant could be arrested.  That included the venue operators and even the fighters.  The media were exempt should they engage in news coverage of any such event or advertising.

Viola says, “It’s interesting that the bill all but defines modern mixed martial arts in its description of prohibited competitions.”


“That highly specific language banning what constituted our bouts should dispel any doubt that in 1980 we pioneered league competition in mixed martial arts.”

Exemptions to the prohibition include contests staged in connection with athletic training programs, amateur or professional contests of the martial arts, and collegiate or scholastic boxing, wrestling, or martial arts contests.  The exemption that most rankled Viola and Caliguri reads: AMATEUR OR PROFESSIONAL CONTESTS SANCTIONED BY THE PENNSYLVANIA ATHLETIC COMMISSION.  “So, if they get their cut and you kiss their ass, you’re golden.”

Among the six sponsors of the bill, Vincent Fumo was jailed for federal corruption charges, Raphael Musto has been indicted on federal corruption charges, and on January 18, 2013 Robert Mellow began his prison sentence on federal mail fraud and income tax charges surrounding illegal campaign activity.

The Senate Bill was officially amended on May 25th 1983 enroot to setting the first legal precedent for mixed martial arts—ever.  Viola laments, “Honestly, I was still holding on to a slight glimmer of hope until that day. The only thing that could save us would be a veto from the Governor.”  Just five days earlier, 20th Century Fox celebrated Art Dore and his operation by releasing the movie Tough Enough, starring Dennis Quaid. Viola says, “He takes an old sport, makes it unsafe, people die and Hollywood rewards him with a movie deal. He was treated like a hero and we are still cleaning up his mess in Pennsylvania. What a bunch of bullshit!”

Viola continues, “Soon after the bill was set into motion to ban mixed martial arts, shit really hit the fan for the Athletic Commission.”  Senator Frank Pecora called for a senate committee to investigate, “irregularities and improprieties” by the three-member commission.” Senator Pecora was quoted as saying, “The State Athletic Commission would be investigated to determine whether there is a need to ‘clean house.’” On October 12th 1983, the Pittsburgh Press revealed that Regis Accettulla had been the subject of a twelve month investigation that included three state agencies. State Attorney General LeRoy Zimmerman’s office in particular had begun examining Accettualla after a letter was passed on to the agency from Commission Chairman James Binns of Philadelphia.  Agents for the Bureau of Criminal Investigations began questioning other boxing officials about Accettulla’s activities.

John Larrick (President of Allegheny Mountain Association of the United States of America Amateur Boxing Federation) told investigators that Accettulla was absent from at least 21 amateur matches that he sought expense money for.  Soon after Larrick made those allegations, he was punched and threatened by a boxing coach who told him, “I want you to lay off my friend Regis Accettulla, or I’m coming down to kill you.” According to an affidavit prepared by Larrick, “The assailant left in Accettulla’s automobile.”  Likewise, Charles Runzo the Vice President of the Allegheny Mountain Association also received death threats following complaints about Accetulla. Runzo claimed he was contacted by an anonymous caller who threatened to kill his 13-year-old daughter. The Pittsburgh Press reported that, “The caller described Runzo’s farm and his child’s horseback riding route in detail.” The allegations were chilling.  The animosity between Binns and Accettulla had been brewing for years, but the grudge had finally reached a boiling point as the state sought an indictment. Viola explains, “After the commission scandal, Accettulla was essentially powerless, but the damage he did to us was already done.”

The political machine powered forward and The House passed Senate Bill 632 (196-0) and the Senate concurred (50-0). Governor Dick Thornburgh approved the amendment November 3rd 1983 and so the Act 1983-62 (aka the “Tough Guy Law”) became the first piece of mixed martial arts legislation in history. Pennsylvania was officially the first state to ban the sport and CV Productions was officially out of business. “That was it for us, in Pennsylvania,” says Viola. “We didn’t have the financial resources to fight them, so we were cut off at the knees. It’s a slap in the face I will never forget.  Two days later I turned 36. Once again a birthday ruined by bad news.  The timing was uncanny.

It was a really tough time for Frank and me.  We were stressed over the legal problems and some were still looming.  Our attitude was, screw the Pennsylvania politics; we’ll set up shop elsewhere.  But no state athletic commission would accept ‘Super Fighters’ after the Pennsylvania shutdown.” Caliguri recalls, “For example I flew out to Chicago with my brother Darcy to talk with the Illinois Commission. It was a very productive meeting. I showed them the gloves, explained the rules in detail and emphasized our attention to safety. They gave us full cooperation and approval. After Pennsylvania pulled a fast one, I was told ‘Don’t bother coming to Chicago.’ I couldn’t believe it. It effectively crushed our dream.”

Viola adds, “So much excitement and enthusiasm snuffed out by the government; not just ours, but the fighters, many who had high hopes for the finals in Vegas. The doors slammed one after the other in every state, it was a domino effect. I guess the good ol’ boy network was in full swing.”  As for CV’s nemesis Regis Accetulla, he was forced to resign as Commissioner amidst controversy surrounding the State probe (agreeing to repay the state the disputed expense reimbursements). It was an exclamation point on his stint as Athletic Commissioner, but his actions delayed the progress of mixed martial arts for a decade.  He changed the course of sports history and didn’t even know it.  Instead of an MMA revolution, Pennsylvania law makers coddled boxing and set a precedent for other states to follow.

If you don’t think interstate cronyism exists, take a look at Ohio’s official definition of mixed martial arts; it pretty much describes our events verbatim. As per the Ohio Administrative Code Athletic Commission Chapter 3773-1-01 Definitions, the sport is described as, “any competition that involves any physical contact bout between two or more individuals who attempt to knock out the opponent by using boxing, kicking, choking techniques, martial art tactics or any combination of such techniques and tactics.” “Sounds familiar,” says Viola. “It’s basically a cut and paste and you don’t have to look far for its origin. (Previously the definition described a tough guy contest in Ohio, a direct jab at CV productions events. Later it was amended word-for-word to define MMA by merely removing “toughguy” and inserting “mixed martial arts,” solidifying its true meaning).

Ardore’s “boxing” however was met with little resistance by comparison, and as recently as 2010, contestants have continued to suffer serious injury and death at Toughman events.  In Oklahoma City in February 2010, 23-year-old Nathan Johnson sustained severe head injuries, including irreversible brain damage as his pregnant fiancée, mother, and sister watched.  Paramedics rushed Johnson to the Oklahoma University Medical Center where he lay in a coma for three days before succumbing to severe brain trauma.

“Oddly enough, though, no one was killed or crippled in our competitions,” says Viola, “but Toughman was allowed to keep running. I remember in the ‘90s Pennsylvania permitted toughman contests like the ‘Steel City Street Fight’ simply because it was boxing and they got a cut. It’s unbelievable but true. In nearly 400 rounds of fighting we had a perfect track record, no serious injuries, but we were banned.  Toughman just had a show in January [2013] in West Virginia just next door.  Go figure.”

“Back in early 1980s, winning our title was really about street credit,” says Viola. “All of a sudden paper champions and fake tough guys couldn’t run their mouths any more.  We provided the judge and jury, but the Athletic Commission ended up being the executioner.”

The Act

An Act amending the act of August 31, 1955 (P. L. 531, No. 131), entitled “Pennsylvania Athletic Code,” regulating kick boxing; further regulating amateur boxing; establishing a State boxing register; providing for medical training seminars; requiring certain emergency medical equipment to be at situs of certain events; further providing for suspension; further defining referee’s role in boxing contest; prohibiting tough guy contests or battle of the brawlers contests; and providing a penalty.

first state to outlaw mma


Referred to STATE GOVERNMENT, April 13, 1983 Reported as amended, May 25, 1983 First consideration, May 25, 1983 First consideration, May 25, 1983 Second consideration, with amendments, June 14, 1983 Third consideration and final passage, June 15, 1983 (47-0) In the House Referred to STATE GOVERNMENT, June 21, 1983 Reported as amended, Sept. 19, 1983 First consideration, Sept. 19, 1983 Laid on the table, Sept. 19, 1983 Removed from table, Sept. 27, 1983 Re-referred to APPROPRIATIONS, Sept. 28, 1983 Re-reported as committed, Oct. 12, 1983 Second consideration, Oct. 17, 1983 Third consideration, with amendments, Oct. 19, 1983 Final passage, Oct. 19, 1983 (196-0) (Remarks see House Journal Page 1606), Oct. 19, 1983 In the Senate Senate concurred in House amendments, Oct. 26, 1983 (50-0) Signed in Senate, Oct. 26, 1983 Signed in House, Oct. 26, 1983 In hands of the Governor, Oct. 27, 1983 Last day for action, Nov. 6, 1983 Approved by the Governor, Nov. 3, 1983 Act No. 62

After the veto of SB 742, Senators Mellow, Singel, O’Connell, Fumo, Musto, and Fisher introduced SB 632 without the abortion amendment,”PROHIBITING TOUGH GUY CONTESTS OR BATTLE OF THE BRAWLERS CONTESTS.” The new version of the “Tough Guy Bill” was passed and approved by the Governor, Nov. 3, 1983 effectively banning mixed martial arts


No. 632 Session of 1983

 APRIL 13, 1983



 1  Amending the act of August 31, 1955 (P.L.531, No.131), entitled
 2  "An act permitting and regulating wrestling and boxing
 3  contests and exhibitions; requiring licenses and permits;
 4  conferring powers and imposing duties upon the State Athletic
 5  Commission; providing for the granting, suspension, and
 6  revocation of licenses and permits issued by the Commission;
 7  preserving the rights of existing licensees and permittees;
 8  prescribing penalties, fines, forfeitures and misdemeanors;
 9  requiring bonds and insurance; creating a Medical Advisory
 10  Board; providing for rules and regulations; and making
 11  appropriations," regulating kick boxing; further regulating
 12  amateur boxing; establishing a State boxing register;
 13  providing for medical training seminars; requiring certain
 14  emergency medical equipment to be at situs of certain events;
 15  further providing for suspension; and further defining <--
 16  referee"s role in boxing contest; PROHIBITING TOUGH GUY <--

 19  The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
 20  hereby enacts as follows:
 21  Section 1. Section 202 of the act of August 31, 1955
 22  (P.L.531, No.131), known as the Pennsylvania Athletic Code,
 23  amended June 18, 1976 (P.L.393, No.85), is amended to read:
 24  Section 202. Boxing and Wrestling Regulated.--Amateur or
 25  professional boxing or wrestling contests or exhibitions

 1  including kick boxing shall be held within the Commonwealth of
 2  Pennsylvania only in accordance with the provisions of this act
 3  and the rules and regulations promulgated hereunder. Such
 4  contests or exhibitions may be held on Sundays.
 5  Section 2. Section 204 of the act, amended May 24, 1956
 6  (1955 P.L.1693, No.574), is amended to read:
 7  Section 204. Physician to be in Attendance.--A physician
 8  shall be assigned to every boxing or wrestling contest or
 9  exhibition by the Commission. He shall observe and continue to
 10  observe the physical condition of the participants and [advise
 11  the member of the Commission or deputy in charge and the referee
 12  in regard thereto.] be authorized to stop any contest or
 13  exhibition at any time to examine a contestant and to terminate
 14  a bout when in his judgment severe injury could result to a
 15  contestant if the contest or exhibition were to continue. The
 16  Commission shall establish by rule or regulation a schedule of
 17  fees to be paid such physicians for their services. The
 18  physician"s fee shall be paid by the promoter of the online casino reviews contest or
 19  exhibition attended by the physician.
 20  Section 3. The act is amended by adding sections to read:
 21  Section 204.1. Medical Training Seminars.--The Commission
 22  shall conduct frequent mandatory medical training seminars, at
 23  least three (3) per year for all ring personnel, Commission
 24  personnel and for other persons employed by the Commission and
 25  designated to attend.
 26  Section 204.2. Register.--The Commission shall establish and
 27  maintain a register for all professional boxers licensed in
 28  Pennsylvania. The register shall include a photograph of the
 29  boxer. In the register, the Commission shall record the results
 30  of each boxing contest or exhibition the boxer is involved in,
 19830S0632B0879 - 2 -

 1  including technical knockouts, knockouts and other boxing
 2  related injuries, as well as the dates of each contest or
 3  exhibition and online casino the record of wins and losses.
 4  Section 204.3. Medical Equipment.--No professional or
 5  amateur boxing The renewable energy Production Tax credit annual report levels the playing field for wind power and other renewable forms of energy with subsidies for conventional fuels that have been around since the light switch was invented 100 years ago. event shall be started unless there is on the
 6  premises:
 7  (1) an ambulance, together with emergency equipment; and
 8  (2) a portable resuscitator with oxygen and appropriate
 9  endotracheal tubes, and a qualified operator.
 10  Section 204.4. Suspension.--For sound medical reasons and to
 11  protect the individual boxers, the Commission shall establish
 12  mandatory license suspensions of those persons who sustain
 13  certain injuries. The Commission may suspend a casino online  boxer"s license
 14  for up to sixty (60) days for a laceration of the face, up to
 15  thirty (30) days for a technical knockout with minor injuries
 16  and up to forty-five (45) days for head injuries. Boxers
 17  receiving a knockout may receive up to a ninety (90) day
 18  suspension and shall receive an EEG within twenty-four (24)
 19  hours of the knockout.
 20  Section 4. Sections 208 AND 210 and 250 of the act, amended <--
 21  or added May 24, 1956 (1955 P.L.1693, No.574) are amended to <--
 22  read:
 23  Section 208. Gloves.--When the boxers are lightweights, as
 24  defined in the regulations, or in a lighter class, they shall
 25  wear boxing gloves weighing not less than five (5) ounces each.
 26  When the boxers are [in a heavier class than lightweights,] over
 27  one hundred sixty-five (165) pounds, they shall wear boxing
 28  gloves weighing not less than [six (6)] ten (10) ounces each.
 29  Section 210. Attendance of Referee and Judges; Scoring.--At
 30  each professional boxing contest or exhibition, except an
 19830S0632B0879 - 3 -

 1  exhibition held solely for training purposes, there shall be in
 2  attendance, at the expense of the promoter, a duly licensed
 3  referee designated by the Commission who shall direct and
 4  control the contest or exhibition.
 5  There shall also be in attendance at every boxing contest, at
 6  the expense of the promoter, [two (2)] three (3) licensed
 7  judges, each of whom shall[, together with the referee,] render
 8  his individual decision, in writing, on a scorecard supplied by
 9  the Commission at the end of every boxing contest which
 10  continues for the scheduled number of rounds. Each judge [and
 11  the referee] shall have one (1) vote and a majority of the votes
 12  cast shall determine the winner.
 13  The Commission shall by rule or regulation prescribe the
 14  methods of scoring.
 19830S0632B0879 - 4 -

 8  SECTION 6. SECTION 250 OF THE ACT, ADDED MAY 24, 1956 (1955
 9  P.L.1693, NO.574), IS AMENDED TO READ:
 10  Section 250. Mandatory Eight Count.--Whenever a boxer is
 11  knocked down, he shall be required to take a count of eight,
 12  even if he has regained his feet prior thereto, and the referee
 13  shall not permit the contest or exhibition to be resumed until
 14  the count of eight has actually been reached, except in
 15  professional championship boxing contests and exhibitions. A
 16  referee may give a standing eight count in those instances where
 17  he deems necessary.
 18  Section 5 7. This act shall take effect in 60 days. <--






Bill Viola

Bill Viola Jr. is an award winning author who experienced the Golden Era of Mixed Martial Arts (1979-1983). As an historian of MMA, he's published the best selling books "Godfathers of MMA" and "Tough Guys," and produced the Showtime documentary film Tough Guys.

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