By J. Daniel Rollins
Register-Herald Sports Writer
There will be plenty of blood, sweat and tears at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center tonight as Jerry Thomas’ West Virginia Sports Promotions, Inc. and Power Country 105.9 present the 34th annual Southern West Virginia Beckley Auto Mall Toughman Contest.
The competition has changed dramatically over the last 34 years, said Thomas.
“Our very first event in southern West Virginia, I remember it very clearly, I wasn’t really sure if we would have enough fighters,” Thomas said.
The event had 22 fighters that year. This year, there are 154. There were more fighters rejected this year (33) than there were fighting in the initial year.
There’s been many changes to the event in it’s 34 years. In the formative years, only heavyweight men were allowed to enter. In the mid-’80s, light heavyweight division and women’s divisions were added. Today, there are four weight classes for both men and women.
Fighters initially wore 10 ounce gloves, and the headgear was optional.
“Back in the day, the macho guys would refuse the headgear,” Thomas said with a laugh. “We made that mandatory a long time ago.”
Even after 34 years, it’s hard to miss the excitement in Thomas’ voice as he and his staff prepare for the event.
“It’s been an amazing evolution over the years,” he said. “I really enjoy what I’m doing and love the sport and love this event. Quite honestly, when the lights go down at 7:30 and the bell rings, I’m just as excited as any other fan.”
The quest to find the toughest man and woman in southern W. Va. will begin tonight at 7:30 p.m. with the champions being crowned on Saturday night. Tickets are available at the convention center box office and online at WVToughman.com.
— E-mail: jrollins
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