The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

March 27, 2014

Toughman returns tonight for 35th year

By J. Daniel Rollins
Register-Herald Sports Writer

— Tonight will be a night like none other for West Virginia Sports Promotion’s Jerry Thomas.

The Original Toughman Contest returns to the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center tonight, 35 years after Thomas and company first staged the amateur exhibitions in Beckley.

For Thomas, it seems like only yesterday.

“It’s went so fast,” he said. “It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been 35 years. I have the paperwork to prove it!”

There have been more than 30,000 fighters who have stepped into the ring at Thomas’ event since 1980 when Mark Fertig won the first Toughman championship.

This weekend, a handful of those champions will be gathered around the ring to see a new generation of fighters engage in battle for the chance to join their ranks.

“If you go on our website, you can find a list of all our former champions,” Thomas said. “It’s a long list, but the nice thing is I can look at that list and I can remember all those people. I can recall certain things about them and the year they fought. It’s really been amazing to have the number of people pass through the doors, and we’ve made a lot of great friends.”

Butch McNeely, who won the 1983 light heavyweight championship, will return as the chief referee, while 2010 heavyweight champion and former Marshall Thundering Herd standout Matt Morris will act as the ring supervisor. His father, Scott, the 1983 heavyweight champion, is expected at ringside, as is 1988 women's lightweight champion Christy Martin — a Mullens native considered by many to be the greatest female boxer of all time.

The always professional Thomas was emotional when he thought of the family reunion-like atmosphere that this weekend’s festivities will bring.

“I honestly think this is going to be a great event,” Thomas said. “It’s our 35th year. That’s a giant milestone in my career. That excitement and enthusiasm has spread throughout the Toughman community, and I think it’s going to be a special year.”

The event promises at least three new champions in the men’s division, with only middleweight champion Robbie Belcher returning. All of the women’s championships are up for grabs, with 22 females competing to take home that famous black Toughman jacket.

The excitement won’t be limited to the ring, as Woodrow Wilson football hall of famer and current Buffalo Bill Doug Legursky will be on hand as a guest of honor. In addition to Legursky, star of The History Channel’s “Appalachian Outlaws” Mike Ross will be signing autographs on Saturday night.

The United States Marine Corps will once again be hosting the pull-up contest, while the National Guard will offer a pushup competition.

Toughman sponsor Whitesville Bank will also be on hand with a booth selling repossessed vehicles.

Tickets for the event can be purchased at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center box office. Prices are $15 for general admission, $20 for reserved and $30 for VIP seating.

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Tonight’s professional bout between Wyoming County’s Mike Harless and George Oiler of Beckley has been postponed. Harless was forced to withdraw due to illness.

— E-mail: jrollins and follow on Twitter at @JDanielRollins.

Get updates from the event at #wvtoughman.