It's hard to believe that it's been 30 years since Jerry Thomas introduced the Ohio Valley to Toughman fights.
And he has never stopped thinking of new ways to give the fans their money's worth.
"The Wheeling event is one of the top 5 or 6 Toughman Contests in the nation. It is also the oldest event in West Virginia," Thomas said Wednesday afternoon from his office in Clarksburg, W.Va. "For a long time it was the largest in West Virginia, but Huntington has taken over that distinction lately."
Thomas first staged his road show back in 1980. There was only one weight class - heavyweight - for the first two years. A lightweight division was added in 1983.
Half a decade later he introduced Toughman fans to Toughwoman fighting. He has also incorporated a handful of professional boxing matches, including former Steubenville fighter "Lightning" Manard Reed and Ohio Valley favorite Travis "The Terror" Clark, into the Toughman cards.
Then, to add more spice and action to the already entertaining event, men's professional kick-boxing was brought onboard last year when Clark made his professional debut.
Now, it's the women's turn.
Thomas, of West Virginia Sports Promotions, has announced that the first-ever women's kick-boxing bout will held as part of the 30th annual Budweiser Original Toughman Contest this weekend.
The event will be held at Wheeling's WesBanco Arena and features Monica "Fighting Ring Girl" Gray, of Wheeling, squaring off with Kayla "Honey Bee" Varney, of Moundsville, in a Hard Knocks Lightweight title bout on Saturday night's card.
Gray and Varney are both former two-time Toughwoman champions. Gray trains in Wheeling at the Bull Pen Fight Club with trainers Mike Napple and Ron Green, Sr., while Varney, a former Bridgeport resident, trains in Moundsville at the Moundsville MMA Gym with trainers Todd Carney, Barry Beresford and J.J. Corley.
Approximately 150 fighters have been confirmed to fight in this year's Toughman Contest. Gates will open at 6 p.m. and the event will kick off at 7:30 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday nights.
The event has been sanctioned and will be supervised by the West Virginia State Athletic Commission. It is also licensed by A.P.I., the National Toughman Promotions Company.
North can be reached at email@example.com