WHEELING - It's that time of the year again to find out who are the toughest males and females in the tri-state area.
The 34th annual Ohio Valley Toughman Contest kicks off its two-day stay inside downtown Wheeling's WesBanco Arena on Friday night. The first bout will begin at 7:30 sharp.
According to promoter Jerry Thomas, of West Virginia Sports Promotions, Inc., the registration for the event was once again overwhelming.
"We had more than 300 requests (to fight) and we ended up with 191 fighters," Thomas said. "That number is not only a Wheeling record and not only a West Virginia record, but a national record. There will be between 50-60 bouts on Friday night alone."
He said the entry list for male competitors if full, but they are still accepting female entries. The old record was 182, set last year in Wheeling.
The entire list of fighters entered as of Monday can be found on Page B4 of today's edition.
So why the big interest in the traditional event?
"I think the UFC and all the mixed martial arts stuff has had some bearing on it," Thomas explained, "but, honestly, I think we are deep into the second and third generations of people who have fought here before.
"There are grandkids of guys that fought here when we first started," he added. "There have been so many people involved that it's kind of become a family tradition for some."
According to Thomas, more than 30,000 people have participated in toughman contests across the Mountain State in their 35 years.
"We just did four events in the month of January alone," he said. "It was a really busy time and a challenge, but we got through it and are looking forward to an exciting weekend in Wheeling."
He said to expedite things a little more, WVSP has added more employees and equipment.
"We've tweaked the system as much as possible to keep it moving along," Thomas noted. "Last year we instituted the paddle system for our judges and it worked really well. We figured that it saved us about a minute per bout. When you've got 50-60 bouts, you're talking about an hour."
He said that instead of having eight fighters gloved and ready to step into the ring, they've doubled that total this year. There will also be a ring supervisor.
Each bout will consist of three 1-minute rounds, if needed, and a minute rest between rounds. It is a double-elimination event with the three knockdown rule in effect, as well as the standing eight count. The scoring is done on a 10-point-must system.
According to Thomas, only two defending champions have entered this year. They are Sasha Wallace and Josh Fisher.
There are four weight classes for each male and female competitors, those being Lightweight (up to 139 lbs.); Middleweight (140-159); Light Heavyweight (160-184) and Heavyweight (185-400).
Prize monies up to $12,000 will be distributed. There will also be a ring girls contest, with that winner receiving $1,000. Second through sixth places each receive $200.
In addition to the toughman fights, midway through Saturday night's card a professional boxing match between the Ohio Valley's own Travis "The Terror" Clark and Rocky Burch will be held. The 4-round bout will be in the heavyweight division and have 3-minute rounds.
The event has been sanctioned and will be supervised by the West Virginia State Athletic Commission. Commissioner Jim Frio will be at ringside.
North can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org