Blue collar brawlers 

Live from the Toughman Contest.

NO KNOCKOUT: Disappointing.
  • NO KNOCKOUT: Disappointing.

This weekend, I watched a man in a plaid kilt beat another man until the losing fighter waved his hands in front of his face and mouthed, “I'm done.”

That's right. The Original Toughman Contest is back. Amateur fighters — in real life, they are plumbers, lawn-care workers, even a Dale Carnegie-certified instructor — with nicknames like “Tiger,” “Tinkerbell,” “Kamikaze” and “Boogeyman” battled at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock Friday and Saturday nights.

There are only so many ways these fights can end. There's the knockout, which is what everyone wants to see. But Saturday wasn't much of a night for knockouts. One fighter was knocked out at the end of the first round; another fight was called by the referee (who, by the way, also had a nickname —“Night Stick”).

Then there's quitting, of which there was plenty. One fighter turned his back to his opponent in the middle of the round, grabbed the ropes and shook his head. Another just didn't get off his stool when the second round started. (But at least they made it into the ring. Several others backed out before their fight even began, leaving the organizers scrambling to make new match-ups.)

Finally, there's the decision. Two of the night's championship bouts were decided by unanimous decision. In the heavyweight division, Jake “Gladiator” Gentry, the kilt-wearer, defeated Robert “Too Tall” Davis, a swimming pool builder. And in the light-heavyweight class, Tim Johnson, a construction worker, beat Cary “The Revolver” Rainwater, a journeyman plumber and father of two little girls.

Middleweight champion Jason Webb, a physical therapist assistant, won a split decision over J.J. Bloomfield, who described himself as “semi-engaged.” Split decisions were almost as unpopular as quitters. After the first split decision of the night, the crowd booed. One man stood up and defended the decision to whoever would listen. “That's my son. He whooped his ass.”

The only championship bout of the night not won by decision was for the super-heavyweight division. Gene “Boogeyman” Spillers, at only 241 pounds, destroyed his 318-pound opponent, knocking him down early in the second round before the fight was stopped with only seconds left in the same round.

Toughman contests received much criticism following the death of a fighter from injuries sustained at a Texarkana event in 2008. At least one state legislator tried unsuccessfully to ban the sport in Arkansas.
Each bout comprises three one-minute rounds. The amateur fighters wear gloves and protective headgear, and doctors and EMTs are on site. Fighters, however, may fight several times in one night, which some say increases the risk of serious injury.

But the worst of it Saturday night appeared to be a few busted noses and some splattered blood, which “Night Stick” mopped up with paper towels.


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