The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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April 7, 2013

Cook remains a Toughman constant

Beckley resident has been a judge at all but 1 of 34 Beckley events

BECKLEY — There have been many changes and trends throughout the 34 years of the Southern West Virginia Original Toughman Contest, but one thing has remained the same.

Joe Cook has been around boxing since he moved to East Beckley in 1949.

“I had these neighbors of mine, the Tanners — these are the same Tanners that later would become sheriff and magistrate — the only sport they participated in was boxing,” Cook said. “That’s what started me down the road.”

Through the influence of his neighbors, Cook eventually started boxing in club promotions before becoming a judge.

“We were always boxing,” Cook said. “Someone would set up a fight or a bunch of fights and that’s where we started. There was the Golden Gloves, but I never fought in that.

“When professional fights would come to Beckley, I would judge them. I started judging in the late 1960s and have been doing it ever since.”

Cook has been a judge at the Toughman since its inception, missing only one event — last year, when he was on vacation.

Through the years, Cook has been a part of plenty of memorable Toughman moments.

“There were some outstanding fights,” Cook said. “Guys like Eddie Williams, who is the grandfather of several who are fighting this year, was in the championship match with Scott Morris. It was a very close fight but Morris won it.”

Seventeen years later, Cook would be a judge when Scott’s son, Matt would win the championship. Now he’s watching Williams’ grandkids Dell and Marissa Long compete for championships of their own.

“Boxing is something that’s just passed on in families,” he said. “Scott passed it on to Matt. Butch (McNeely) passed it on to his kids, Ashley and Hope.”

Not all of Cook’s memories come from classic brawls between two top fighters.

“There’s been some humorous moments. I can remember someone who came in with combat boots on,” Cook said with a chuckle. “Occasionally, I can recall where someone would try to jump over the ropes. Sometimes they would make it. Sometimes they wouldn’t.”

While tough fights and the occasional silly moment are what make the Toughman great, it’s more than that for the longtime judge.

“This is the only time of the year I get to see guys like (promoter) Jerry Thomas and (trainer) Carl Murdock,” he said. “Carl and I have been doing these things for decades.”

Cook hopes to continue the tradition for many more decades.

“I want to do this as long as I can,” he said. “I sure do.”

— E-mail: jrollins@

register-herald.com and follow on Twitter at @JDanielRollins.

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