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History of the "Toughwoman"

Tough women
2012 Toughman tournament. Photo from Winconsin Rumble

Русская версия


The Toughman concept was conceived and originated by Michigan businessman Art Dore in 1979 when he got fed up listening to armchair pugilists boast about how "they could have beaten up that guy." So one weekend he rented a local arena and opened it up to all of those guys with guts. In 1996, Art Dore threw women into the fray, adding a Toughwoman contest to the Toughman circuit. “It’s crazy how people want to see women fight!” he rejoices. The Toughwoman contests have been a huge success both with spectators and the pay-per-view audience. Since that time men and male and female pairs fight on the same but for short the tournaments are often called just "Toughman".

The first Toughwoman championship was won by former "TV gladiator" (a participant of the athletic TV show "American Gladiators") Shannon Hall (“Dallas”) who had not boxed a day in her life until she won the title. She was just tough (see the animation below). She then moved on to land the IFBA Platinum Championship in 1998 and fought for the I.B.A. Women's Heavyweight Championship of World being defeated by powerful Suzette Taylor. In the final of the second Toughwoman World Championship, "Terrific" Tiffany Logan, 30, knocked out Becky "The Specimen" Levi, 36, in the third and final round (see the animation below). In subsequent years, Alabama's “Dangerous” Dottie White and Mary Jo “K.O”. Sanders (who managed to defeat in the 2000 final an opponent who was 90 pounds heavier her) all held the title of “Toughwoman World Champion”. Many famous female professional boxers (like Christy Martin) started in the Toughman/Toughwoman Contests. In the 2002 final robust Becky Levi was defeated again by Leah Stuker ("The Stripper") giving away six inches in height, 73 pounds in weight and five years in age. Stuker won a professional boxing contract and $10,000. The first woman who managed to defeat the Toughwoman world champion Stuker was Shelley Burton (26) from Montana. The 2003 final started but didn't finish being put on hold due to a tragic incident that happened on it.

This is how an announcement of a Toughwoman World Championship sounded in 1999: "The toughest women from across the United States compete in a single elimination contest of three one-minute rounds of boxing, until only one woman remains. She is crowned Toughwoman World Champion and takes home $10,000. Anything goes, except biting, kicking and spitting."

The main advantage of such tournaments is that brave men and women have an opportunity to come into the ring and measure their strength, skills and courage against any other volunteer. As far as girls and women are concerned, they demonstrate exceptional courage on the ring breaking old prejudices about the "weaker sex". Some of female contestants are mature women having children entering the ring just for fun, even not for money. Since the most of participants in Toughman/Toughwoman are unskilled, some of them manage to win just by aggressive and assertive behavior. For instance, a short well stacked woman called "Big Mom" defeated bigger opponents just by going straightforward and waving arms.

Appearance in such contests might be illusory and mismatches are common in Toughman/Toughwoman fights. The most common participant type is a person who has some "street fighting" experience. But that doesn't automatically mean that the person would be successful on the ring. Big guys and girls who look frightened in bar brawls turned out to be toppled in the ring by smaller but more athletic opponents. In the most cases being robust simply means that the person is overweight and therefore more defenseless in a regular fist fight. For instance, spectators have a lot of fun watching a slim fit woman making mincemeat out of a weighty untrained lady who is dropped on canvas like a sack. But such a fun just seems to be a fun...

The problem is that any kind of mismatches and underestimations may lead to serious traumas and even to lethal outcomes. For example, a 30-year-old mother of two died after entering a Toughman competition in Sarasota, Florida in June 2003. She was the tenth contestant (and the first woman) to die in the 24-year history of Toughman. 240-pound Stacy Young looked superior over her 180-pound opponent but she was overweight and not fit, so her lighter opponent not only easily defeated her but just killed her. The attorney of the Young's family said she never would have agreed to fight if she'd known people had died in previous matches.

A lot of skepticism and critics exists about such amateur contests. These tournaments are banned in several states. Officials in other states have attacked the fights as not having adequate safeguards. The negative feature of the Toughman/Toughwoman contests is that referees in Toughman matches are not required to have the same formal training or pass the same strict exams as referees in professional matches or sanctioned amateur bouts; the only organization that sanctions Toughman competitions, the American Boxing & Athletic Association, is a foundation Dore created and controls. Besides, ringside doctors also have poor qualification in the boxing matter.

Veteran Michigan fight doctor Michael Sherbin, former head of the board that regulates boxing in that state, said Toughman competitions are fraught with danger. "These are big fat guys who are at a bar, they aren't in shape, they can't fight except a street fight," he said of the majority of participants. Sherbin said the contestants' physical exams are questionable. "The officials don't know what ... they are doing," he said. Sherbin said untrained physicians can't recognize when a fighter is in trouble - they don't know to look for the glassy eyes, slow legs and lack of defense that indicate a fighter has taken too many blows to the head.

The well-known boxing announcer Mark Beiro has called scores of professional and amateur fights in his career, but he refuses to be ringside at "Tough man" bouts. "The competitions, pitting inexperienced fighters against each other in unregulated bouts, billed as 'brawling for fun,' appeal to the 'uncaged savage' in all of us," he said. "Tough man loosens about every restriction that boxing currently has and makes it that much more dangerous," added Beiro, one of the nation's best known boxing announcers. "Personally, I am surprised more people haven't been permanently injured or killed in it." Criticism of the events flared up again when the tragedy in Florida happened.

Actually, after the laud scandals related to the tragic outcomes of "tough" men and women fights the future of these competitions is under a questionmark. If strict measures are taken against the promoters, the competitions from fights between volunteers will transform into a regular amateur sport, so they might lose their particular features and even will be suspended.

January 2004
Modified in February 2013


Tough women However, the idea of boxing contests between "regular" guys and gals is very popular and durable. In fact, "tough men/women" tourtnaments are held regularly, in many places in the USA and beyond it, even though they are named a little differently. A recent example - series of local "West Virginia Toughman Competition" being held every year in many WV towns, including women's events (left photo and video below). Boxing competitions between local celebrities and "local moms" are also very polular.


                                          Parkersburg, West Virginia. 2007 Toughwoman Contest. Final fight.

Famous tough women of the past



Shannon Hall



Becky Levi



Tiffany Logan



Leah Stuker



Shelley Burton



Shannon Hall (left) in an action



Tiffany Logan knocks out Becky Levi


Videoclips from Youtube


1998 Toughwoman championship. Heavyweight bout: Lesley Lopes Vs. Becky Levi


2008 Toughman championship. Lightweight Final 3rd round


2010 Toughman/Toughwomen championship. Middleweight bout. Clarksburg, Massachusetts


2012 Tough Man/Woman fight. Flats Canon, Georgia


More tough women fights


Big girls


Local girls. Quick victory.


Local moms. Knockout.


"Mother Boxing" Event. Bout between Local Celebrities.


>> Amateur boxing

>> History of Combat

>> History of contemporary female combative sports


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