East Ohioans put up strong showing at 32nd Toughman

How tough are you?

A total of 178 men and women from the tri-state area found that out over the weekend as the 32nd annual Ohio Valley Original Toughman Contest wrapped up at WesBanco Arena in downtown Wheeling.

When the 42nd bout had concluded very, very late Saturday night, only five individuals donned the coveted black leather jacket, signifying a championship in their respective weight divisions.

However, only one of those titlists was from Eastern Ohio – that being Yorkville’s John “Kuz” Kazemka.

The “Fighting Fireman” captured the middleweight classification with a unanimous decision over Cameron’s Mike “The Machine” Cain. The 6-0, 159-pound Kazemka defeated Martins Ferry’s “Joltin” Josh Nolan in the semis.

St. Clairsville’s Seth Callarik wasn’t as fortunate.

The former Red Devils’ two-sport standout was forced to fight three times in the very crowded, but highly competitive, lightweight bracket Saturday night.

The “St. C. Sniper” was up to the task in the first two bouts as he claimed a unanimous nod over Proctor’s Cody “Big Pansy” Steele in the quarterfinals. In the semis, the 5-9, 139-pound southpaw earned a hard-fought unanimous decision over Wheeling’s Joel Cerritos in a match that left both fighters bloodied.

Callarik met another Wheeling fighter, Kenny “The Killer” Wilson, in the finals and both competitors went toe-to-toe for the entire three minutes, with Wilson being awarded the close, but decisive decision.

Cameron’s Roger “The Swamper” Kupfer won his second Toughman title when he scored a close split decision over Steubenville’s “Fearless” Chris Kovach in the lightheavyweight class.

The 5-11, 180-pound Kupfer, an accomplished wrestler for the Dragons, was a titlist in 2008. Kovach, 5-11, 173, was making his Toughman debut.

More than a few in the crowd of a couple thousand disagreed with the three judges’ ruling, as did yours truly.

Wellsburg’s Jessie “Bam Bam” Riggle ruled the heavyweight field as he battled through four tough opponents before donning his championship jacket.

The 5-11, 210-pound former Brooke Bruin defeated Moundsville’s John Bonar in a rugged second round bout before dispatching Wheeling’s Richard “Big Dawg” Hall, a former Wheeling Park and Akron University gridder, in the quarterfinals.

In the semis, Riggle, who resembled his nickname on the Flintstones cartoon, took out Barnesville’s Wes Rataiczak, a former Shenandoah High School athlete.

That matched him with Jack Silla, of McDonald, Pa., who also tipped the scales at 210 and stood 6-2. The 19-year-old Riggle took the championship with a close, but unanimous decision.

In women’s action, Hayley Bishop, of Mt. Claire, W.Va., claimed the middleweight crown with a unanimous nod over Cameron’s Brandi Wood.

A special attraction women’s kickboxing bout was held as Moundsville’s Kayla “Honey Bee” Varney won easily over Charleston’s Laura “Bad Girl” Byrnes in three rounds.

Promotor Jerry Thomas announced during Saturday night’s card that history will be made in Wheeling on June 2 when Mixed Martial Arts action debuts in the Northern Panhandle. In addition to cagefighting, there will also be kickboxing and pro boxing, as well.

Headlining the card, which is still in the planning stages, will be undefeated MMA competitor Travis “The Terror” Clark. Also expected to vie is Bridgeport’s undefeated Todd “Jiu Jiu” Bevan, who is expected to make his professional debut in Pittsburgh some time in mid-April.

Stay tuned to The Times Leader for more information on the June 2 card.

North can be reached at knorth@timesleaderonline.com