By J. Daniel Rollins
Register-Herald Sports Writer
The night began just as it had 35 times before, with Jerry Thomas standing in the middle of the ring — sporting a red blazer and a microphone in hand — welcoming the thousands in attendance to The Original Toughman Contest.
Fighters from all around southern West Virginia came to the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center Friday night with one goal in mind –— to prove that they are the toughest man or woman in southern West Virginia.
With a host of area boxing legends sitting ringside, blood, sweat and tears were flowing during the preliminary round with fighters hoping to make their way to championship Saturday night.
n The night ended quickly for former Oak Hill Red Devil football player Mike Bays, who fought Tyler Robinson in the first bout of the evening. Robinson forced official Butch McNeely to stop the fight in the first round.
n The only returning champion from 2013, Robbie Belcher successfully defended his honor in the first round, despite being knocked down in the first round. Belcher came out in the final two minutes poised and defeated Ricky Cook by decision.
n “Superman” Casey Sadler made a name for himself early in the night by knocking down “The Bearded Beast,” Brandon Durett, with his very first punch. However, Durett proved his toughness, going the distance with Sadler, despite several hard shots from Sadler. In the end, Sadler advanced to tonight’s fights.
n The fighters in the ring weren’t the only ones being honored Friday night, as longtime boxing trainer Carl Murdoch of the Mount Hope Boxing Club was awarded a plaque by Thomas for his longtime dedication to the sweet science. Murdoch has trained more Toughman champions than any other trainer in the state of West Virginia.
n Also in attendance were Bobby Thomas Jr. and Eric Watkins. Promoter Jerry Thomas called tonight’s WBF North American Cruiserweight and West Virginia Cruiserweight title fight, “the Biggest fight in the history of southern West Virginia.”
n Christy Martin, formerly of Itmann, the 1988 Women’s Toughwoman champion, was also honored by Thomas. Martin retired in 2012 following one of the most successful women’s boxing careers in history. “The Coal Miner’s Daughter” entered the Toughwoman contest on a dare and later hooked up with famed boxing promoter Don King in Florida, winning the WBC Women's Lightweight championship and appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Martin finished her career with a record of 49-6-3.
n The heavyweight division should provide plenty of fireworks tonight as former Shady Spring wrestler Carlos “Rocky” McMillians joins 2013 runner-up Dell Long II, Rodney Woodson, Leon Swafford, Ralph Barringer, Hunter Harless, Josh Sluss, Glen Ullman and Joe Hill competing for the legendary black championship jacket.
n Avina Sedlock, who just turned 18 years of age, left many standing impressed following her unanimous decision over Rebecca “Stingray” Fisher in the women’s lightweight division. Sedlock is a member of the Fayetteville High School girls basketball and softball teams and will be joining the United States Marine Corp in June.
The fights begin tonight at 7 p.m. at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center. Tickets are on sale at the Convention Center box office.
— E-mail: jrollins
@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter at @JDanielRollins and #WVToughman.