In the early 1980s, Charlotte’s Toughman Contest enticed amateur boxers with prize money and the chance to go all the way to the national championships in Michigan. This story from September 17, 1980 profiles one local contestant. (And be sure to look at the slideshow for some fun old ads and more photos)
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Toughman Contest Makes Macho Pay
By Kathy Haight and Pat Borden, Observer Staff Writers
Never miss a local story.
Jack “J.R.” Reeves has a mean streak.
It doesn’t often show. But just out-wit the blue-eyed maintenance worker from Shelby at a game of Monopoly or crazy eights, and watch his fists fly.
“I don’t like blood,” he said. “I like to knock ‘em out and watch ‘em go down.”
Reeves, 24, 205 pounds and 6 foot 2 inches of boasting brawn, is looking to do just that at the Coliseum Friday and Saturday nights when the Toughman Contest hits Charlotte - tempting Metrolina macho-men with a $1,000 grand prize for showing their stuff.
Toughman is designed to get rank amateurs, street fighters and other gutsy types into the boxing ring for regulated brawling. Although Reeves said he’s no brawler, he plans to make his opponent sorry he ever laced on gloves.
“Competition’s what I like about it,” Reeves said. “What I’m thinking is, I’m gonna out-smart him. I’ve got more brains than he’s got. What he’s got, I’m gonna knock out.”
The Toughman Contest is not for aspiring boxers or professional athletes. “It’s more for the young guys who may have done some boxing in the back yard or watched it on TV and wondered how tough they were,” said Dean Oswald, vice president of Ardore Ltd. of Bay City, Mich., the originators and promoters of Toughman contests.
“And for the older guys, it’s kind of a last hurrah, to see how much the years have taken away from him.”
Matches have been held in about 72 U.S. and Canadian cities (including Charleston, Fayetteville and Greensboro) leading up to a nationally televised fight next month in Pontiac, Mich. There, local contest winners will compete for a $50,000 grand prize and the title of “Toughest Man in the U.S. and Canada.”
Pretty impressive, huh?
Reeves thinks so.
“Comparing himself to J.R. Ewing of TV’s “Dallas” (10 p.m. Fridays on WBTV Channel 3), Reeves couldn’t resist the challenge offered in an Observer ad for the contest.
“Fighters And Brawlers Wanted ... You Could Be the Next ‘Rocky’ ... If You’ve Got the Guts -- Sign Up now.”
“I love it,” Reeves said with a wide-open grin. “You release all your frustrations. You get out there and, hey, you’re ready to get it on.”
Sporting white boxing trunks with a red “1” on back and “JR” on front, Reeves, along with about 30 other contestants, will take up 10-ounce boxing gloves and regulation mouth pieces Friday night to fight three 2-minute rounds under rules from amateur and professional boxing.
The contest is authorized by the Charlotte Boxing Commission, which will provide officials. Bathing-beauties from the weekly swimsuit competition at the Roxy, a Charlotte nightspot, will carry numbered signs signifying rounds. Friday night’s winners return Saturday for the championship.
Steve Canton, 34, promoter of the Charlotte contest and a former professional boxer, says he makes sure all contestants are at least 18, weigh between 175 and 400 pounds, have no professional boxing experience and have won no more than five sanctioned amateur bouts in the last five years.
“It’s straight boxing,” he said. “There’s no hitting below the belt, no kidney or rabbit punches, no kicking, no biting, no wrestling and no karate.” A doctor checks contestants’ blood pressure, heart and lungs and makes sure they’re not using drugs. Canton said no one has been seriously hurt in Toughman Contests this year.
Several promotional companies have copied the Toughman concept, organizing fights with few or no rules and a greater potential for serious injury, Canton said.
If all this sounds as though a bunch of snarling, knuckle-dragging hulks will pound each other to bloody pulps next Friday and Saturday nights, listen to an opinion of Greensboro’s Toughman Contest last June: “It was the funniest thing we’ve had in a long time,” said John Bryan, assistant manager of the Greensboro Coliseum. “Sometimes those folks get in there with no experience and start flailing away. So many of them didn’t know what to do. Some of ‘em tried to get out of the ring.”
No one got badly injured, Bryan said. “A local boy won - Pete Osborne, one of the smallest guys who fought. But he’s one of the toughest little rascals I’ve ever seen.”
According to Ardore Ltd., Osborne is 35, stands 5 foot 9 and weighs 200 pounds. But Osborne says he’s 5 foot 5 1/2 and weighs 175.
Greensboro’s top Toughman started fighting on street corners when he was 18, beat some takers a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier, thanks to 13 years in amateur boxing. He hadn’t put on gloves for 10 or 12 years until the contest came along, waving $1,000 first-prize money in front of a lot of hungry eyes.
“The onliest reason I got into it was for the money,” said Osborne, a home-improvement contractor. “I hadn’t worked in six or eight weeks.”
The $1,000 in prize money didn’t last long. “It took me about 35 minutes to win it, and about 10 minutes to get rid of it,” he said. “It just paid three small bills, that’s all.”
Jim Chumley, 28, the $1,000 winner of Savannah’s Toughman Contest in April used his $1,000 prize to pay bills and take his wife and children to Six Flags Over Georgia.
The meanest thing about Chumley - 6 foot 3, 195 pounds - is what he does for a living. He’s an exterminator. But only of small flying and wood-chewing pests.
“The brawlers weren’t really that tough,” said Chumley, who suffered only a swollen nose for his efforts. “The people with boxing experience prevailed every time.”
Chumley said the difference between boxers and brawlers is know-how versus raw enthusiasm. “To me, boxing is a sport,” he said. “I look at it like a science, a technique. Boxers train and know the moves.”
“The brawlers, they’re trying for the knockout punch. They’re looking to kill you.”
Like Chumley, Jack Reeves plans to taste success. He’s been lifting weights, running, doing push-ups and sparring with a friend. He’s even postponed his 25th birthday party so he can fight Friday night.
“I want to win,” he said. “I don’t have no intention of losing. I’m not a good sport. The agony of defeat kills me.”
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WANT TO GO?
The Toughman Contest is at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Charlotte Coliseum. Tickets are $10, $8 and $6. For more information or to enter, call Steve Canton at 375-xxxx, ext. 1320, anytime. A contest will be held at the Asheville Civic Center 8 p.m. Sept. 26 and 27.
**Reeves won the contest and went on to the next (but I’m not sure how far he got). - Maria**