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A Review of Godfathers of MMA: The Birth of An American Sport

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By Dave Madden @DMaddenMMA

Photo credit to amazon.com

Prior to reading Godfathers of MMA: The Birth of An American Sport (2014), I’d recite the history of mixed martial arts as dating back to 1993 and three letters: UFC. Godfathers of MMA, penned by Dr. Fred Adams and Bill Viola Jr., travels readers back a decade further, situating them in the shoes of Bill Viola Sr. and Frank Caliguri, the dynamic duo who formed CV Productions, as they morphed the standard boxing ring into a stage inviting of all forms of martial arts, simultaneously. Defined best by Jim Isler in an article published by News-Dispatch (1980):

“The bout proper consists of three-two minute rounds of catch-as-catch-can action with elements of boxing, wrestling, karate, kickboxing, judo and mayhem mixed in.” (p. v)

The incredibly eerie parallels between CV Productions and present-day MMA, most notably the UFC, poked my curiosities to read on with a more steely vigor:

MMA is the sport of the 21st century: WOW Promotions popularized it, SEG Entertainment refined it, Zuffa LLC monetized it, but CV Productions created it. (p. 16)

What’s It About?

Godfathers of MMA is really a memoir chronicling the dramatic rollercoaster ride that was CV (Caliguri and Viola) Productions. This account, now legendary, is dedicated to preserving the historical lineage of modern MMA as a sport from its humble beginnings in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, through its tumultuous rise across the United States. (p. 8)

Writing Style

A dissertation’s worth of research bundled in beautifully written chapters. The clamor depicted amongst fans of MMA, before they knew it was MMA, mimics a similar buzz generated nowadays with marquee matchups:

As we reminisce about the chaotic rise and fall of MMA from 1979-1983, most fight fans don’t realize just how close they were to seeing a UFC-type entity thirty five years ago. CV had no interest in promoting a gimmick; it was supposed to be a game-changing concept from the outset. (p. 12)

As simple an idea as it is: throw men into a ring to participate in a free-for-all of martial endeavors, the theory of combining combative tactics was bred in Bill Viola Sr.’s dojo,

At the time, Bill held classes all week in Turtle Creek. On Wednesday evenings after the traditional classes ended, he held an informal open class in which all styles of martial arts were welcome to participate and share their knowledge. (p. 56)

To this day, people are enamored with sifting various fighting styles through the colander of hand-to-hand combat:

Caliguri and Viola Sr. sprouted, blossomed, and refined the promotion of martial arts tournaments and kickboxing shows in Western Pennsylvania. Then,

In September of 1979, Viola and Caliguri hatched the idea of a unique competition, a new sport, and they recall the genesis of the project with a fondness daVinci might express about his early sketches of the Mona Lisa. (p. 77)

The atmosphere of the early 1980s fostered a climate of openness for a tournament of toughness, reflected best, at that time, by an article in the Philadelphia Times,

“You could be a real life ‘Rocky.’” Bill remembers, “’Super Fighting’ was a legit shot at that stardom.” The paper continued, “Just think about it, how good would it be to take your frustrations [out] on someone in the ring. But remember, your opponent in the ‘Super Fighters’ may be missing his therapy session to fight you!” (p. 214)

Without spoiling the fun in unfolding the story of CV Productions for you, a quote used by Groucho Marks in the text enveloped their major roadblock:

“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” (p. 246)

Godfathers of MMA dragged me into another time and place to set the record straight on MMA’s lineage, layering new learning to my lust of the world’s most electrifying sport.

Sitting Cageside Before Cages

Of all the things CV Productions crafted comparable to MMA’s current landscape, I would have imagined a fenced enclosure erected in “The Steel City.” From the promotional vantage, creation of rules, focus on fighter safety, open-fingered gloves, judging, and on and on, until my cell phone alerted me of a new notification on a social media outlet and reminded me of the year, CV Productions and MMA of now are identical twins dressed differently.

Screen shot of Godfathers of MMA p. 158

Effective, though comical these days to imagine, Caliguri and Viola Sr. spread the word for an upcoming fight in the same manner a child seeks their lost pet: hanging posters. Just before CV Productions launched the MMA of yesteryear, they disclosed conversations they’d have with locals when attempting to attract attention to their kickboxing events,

“Every time we hung up a kickboxing poster, some smart ass would remark, ‘I know so-and-so who could kick the shit out of that karate guy.’ But no one ever challenged us personally.” He [Viola Sr.] says with a laugh, “It was exhausting to hear these guys with beer muscles claim that they or their buddies were the meanest, strongest, biggest bullies on the block. It was a constant verbal mishmash, and we really wanted to shut these egomaniacs up…” (p. 77-78)

Screen shot of Godfathers of MMA p. 88

Unlike the UFC, CV Productions never flinched at the possibility of inviting women into the fold,

“We advertised that we’d accept women’s applications, but only two women applied,” says Caliguri, “not nearly enough, so we scrapped the idea for the time being, but we saw potential from the start.” (p. 85)

I envisioned myself as a fan at a CV Productions event: ticket in hand as I enter the arena, eagerly perched on the edge of my seat for intense competition, and completely unaware of just how close Caliguri and Viola Sr. were to engineering a new sport.

Screen shot of Godfathers of MMA p. 208

Minus any support from the Pennsylvania Athletic Commission (PSAC), many of the requirements established by Caliguri and Viola Sr. in operating a combined fighting event are mandatory sanctions in today’s MMA. Some examples include:

“My general guidelines were set; fighters could win by knockout, technical knockout, submission or decision.” CV’s judges adapted the “10-point must system” to include ground fighting in the scoring system. (p. 99)

or

…”[O]ur rules stipulated illegal fouls, including ‘biting, head butts; strikes, punches or kicks to the groin; and strikes, punches or kicks to the spine.’” (p. 100)

When the bell personified a call to arms, I stood out of my reading chair while continuing to collect lines of action. The detailed play-by-play commentary and post-fight recap read like a top MMA website. In one example: After engaging in a grueling back-and-forth bloodshed, Frank Tigano emerged victorious from the second tournament hosted by CV Productions, potentially cementing the beginning of a legacy in his post-fight interview:

The media surrounded him, and KDKA Television asked him, “Why did you fight?” His response, “I didn’t do it for the money, I did it for the trophy?” It was a real Rocky moment, one arm around his trophy, the other his family. (p. 174)

Screen shot of Godfathers of MMA p. 174

The work of CV Productions was an absolute thrill ride, as a reader and a diehard MMA fan. As you’ll discover when you read Godfathers of MMA for yourself, the door was slammed shut on Caliguri and Viola Sr. before their new sport could grow out of infancy. A sigh of finality met me when CV Productions was rightfully honored for their contribution to MMA:

On June 23, 2011, an exhibit showcasing CV Productions and the origin of the sport of Mixed Martial Arts in America officially opened. Making History, the newsletter for the Senator John Heinz History Center (home of the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum), said, “Professional baseball, football, and hockey can all trace their history to Western Pennsylvania. But most local sports fans will be surprised to learn that our region is also the birthplace of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).” (p. 347-348)

Rating

Since Godfathers of MMA shined a spotlight on a shadowed fight history, invited me to every event held by CV Productions, and forged a bond with a new band of fighters, such as: Frank Tigano, Chuck Tursky, Kono Morosky, Rich Cahill, and many others, I couldn’t possibly give Godfathers of MMA anything less than five out of five stars.

Photo credit to Google Images

Conclusion

Investing every free moment into collecting facts about MMA, Godfathers of MMA refocused my vision onto a truer history of the sport,

As recently as November 9, 2011, USA Today erroneously stated that New York is “the first state to ban MMA” when by definition they were really only the first state to target the UFC. (p. 344)

A quote of John Lennon’s embedded in Godfathers of MMA emblematically synced with my new stronger grasp of MMA’s origin,

“Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.” (p. 271)

Get your own copy of Godfathers of MMA at:

Paperback: godfathersofmma.com 

Kindle: www.amazon.com/Godfathers-MMA-Birth-American-Sport-ebook

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Announcement

Felice Herrig vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz in the works for UFC 223

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UFC 223 looks to add a variety of intriguing bouts. With Paul Felder vs. Al Iaquinta reportedly set for the unannounced UFC 223 card, the promotion looks to add a high stakes female flyweight match-up. According to MMANYTT.com, sources confirmed a bout between Felice Herrig and Karolina Kowalkiewicz, is in the works for the pay-per-view card.

 

Assuming the match-up does come to be, both women have much to gain from a victory. For Herrig, she currently sits on a four-fight win streak. A streak in which the strawweight contender defeated Kailin Curran, Alexa Grasso, Justine Kish, and Cortney Casey. The MMA veteran, Herrig, began fighting professionally in 2009. As of late, her issues with the marketing machine that is the UFC have intensified.

After demonstrating her technical prowess over Justine Kish at UFC Fight Night 122: Chiesa vs. Lee, Herrig put her emotions on display. She stated at the post-fight media scrum, “Sometimes, I feel like, I’m not young and beautiful enough for the UFC to want to promote me. And it’s sad because I’ve really worked so hard to be here and it’s hard to see these people who’ve not been through what I’ve been through. Who just got into the UFC at the right time. They’re getting all these opportunities and I see how hard I work to get here and it’s just like, it doesn’t matter. I just feel like, ‘I’m not pretty enough and I’m not getting any younger'”.

A frustrated Felice Herrig then spoke to MMAJunkie.com in December. She claimed, “Aside from (former UFC women’s strawweight champ) Joanna (Jedrzejczyk), I’m the only strawweight who’s gone on a four-fight winning streak. That’s a fact. At this point, I want to fight someone in the top 10. It doesn’t really make sense for me to keep fighting girls that are ranked below me. That’s the whole point. If I want to keep working my way up. I fight the most dangerous girls outside the top 10”. The #9 ranked women’s flyweight has a point. In her UFC career, she recorded one loss in six appearances. Yet, she has one co-main event booking, while fighters like Michelle Waterson, booked the main event in her second UFC bout. In Waterson’s third bout, she received a co-main event scheduling. Understandably, Felice Herrig is upset with her situation.

Later in her interview, Herrig brought up Kowalkiewicz as a potential next opponent. “For whatever reason, I really want to fight Karolina. I just think that would be an exciting fight… Stylistically, I really like that fight. She’s ranked above (me), and it may be a good gauge for me,” she stated. Right now, it looks like Herrig is close to getting what she wants.

Kowalkiewicz last fought in her native country of Poland on the UFC Fight Pass card, UFC Fight Night 118: Cowboy vs. Till, in October. The Polish star defeated Jody Esquibel, after losing consecutive contests to former UFC female strawweight champion, Joanna Jedrzejcyk and Claudia Gadelha, respectively.

A win for either makes a good case for the next or an eventual title challenger. Kowalkiewicz holds a victory over current division champion, Rose Namajunas. While a win for Herrig would further establish her impressive win streak and undoubtedly give her the boost in the rankings she deserves.

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Bellator

Douglas Lima found out about change to co-main event at Bellator 192 from the internet

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Bellator 192 fight card has gone through a shake-up over the past week. Bellator president Scott Coker revealed last week that the scheduled welterweight title fight between Rory MacDonald and champion Douglas Lima will now be serving as the co-main event and the heavyweight matchup between Chael Sonnen and Rampage Jackson would instead take top billing. At the time no explanation was made for the change. Monday Douglas Lima was a guest on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani to discuss this change.

“I was little bummed, but it is what it is, it’s business you know. I was pretty excited you know? Being the main event, having Rampage fight as the co-main event, I was happy there. Then I was bummed out that they changed it back to the co-main event. It’s not going to change a thing for me, I’m just focusing on the fight.”

Lima has been notoriously looked over in the eyes of fight fans. A longtime member of Bellator and a two-time champion has not gotten the notice he deserves and hopes to get.

“I found out through the internet, nobody tells me anything, I didn’t know. the same thing happened in New York, I thought my fight would be before the two main events there, but it ended up being the first fight of the night on Pay-Per-View. Hopefully, it doesn’t take anything away from the fight, you know spotlight and stuff.”

Lima is looking to make all the naysayers take notice at Bellator 192 that takes place at The Forum in Inglewood, Califonia on January 20th.

“This is the fight I’ve been waiting for for a long time. To get my name out there, to get people to know who I am. I’ve been delivering a lot of good fights, fights fans like to watch but no attention yet. I’m hoping though that after a win over Rory this week it will really put my name out there and show all these welterweights out there that I am for real.”

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Fight Announcements

Al Iaquinta vs. Paul Felder rescheduled for UFC 223 in April

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MMA fans around the world wept in deep sorrow when Al Iaquinta withdrew from a bout scheduled for UFC 218 against Paul Felder. Weep no more, for Paul Felder faces Al Iaquinta at UFC 223. Rumblings behind the match-up, first reported by FloCombat.com, came Sunday night before MMAFighting.com confirmed the bout scheduled for unannounced pay-per-view card, later in the evening.

 

The original bout fell through due to a severe knee injury to Iaquinta. He spoke to BJ Penn Radio about the injury nearly a week before the December 2nd, PPV event in Detriot. The Long Island real estate agent claimed, “I tore my PCL and my MCL maybe three or four months ago… for me to really put in a full training camp and do what I need to do, I would’ve had to just focus on fighting and physical therapy… it was the kind of thing where all roads led to me not kind of taking a risk and fighting on December 2nd”.

Iaquinta went on to say, “I kind of accepted the fight, but I never signed a bout agreement… I was kind of told I had to give them an answer pretty quick. It was a fight I thought I really wanted. I thought it was a good stylistic match-up for me, so I accepted the fight, and then thinking about it over the course of a day, we realized it probably wasn’t a smart decision for my health, for everything”.

An outspoken lightweight, he is not the first of his kind. Al Iaquinta is no stranger to idly waiting on the sideline for the UFC to make a move. Contract disputes and other bad strokes of luck left the Serra-Longo with three octagon appearances since 2015. The feud between Iaquinta and the promotion comes as a surprise when looking at the credentials of the aforementioned fighter. With an octagon record of 8-2, he earned notoriety as one of the best lightweights in the world. During his time in the UFC, he defeated Kevin Lee, Ross Pearson, Joe Lauzon, Jorge Masvidal, and most recently Diego Sanchez.

His opponent, “The Irish Dragon”, Paul Felder, holds an impressive UFC record of his own. At 7-3, Felder defeated tough competition as well. His record notes wins over Daron Cruickshank, Jason Saggo, Stevie Ray, and Charles Oliveira. Even more impressive than his record, his knockout ratio. At this stage of his career, Felder knockouts 55% of his opponents (10 knockouts in 18 career pro bouts).

Like his opponent Iaquinta, Paul Felder has a separate career outside of fighting. As many should notice, Felder found a role as a color commentator with the promotion he fights for. Following the footsteps in a long line of fighters before him, Felder announced multiple events alongside another new addition to the UFC broadcast team, Brendan Fitzgerald.

PPV card, UFC 223 and its location are not official yet. Despite a lack of an announcement, the event takes place in Brooklyn, New York at the Barclays Centre, according to multiple reports. Currently, the card features no official bouts. Reports state Felice Herrig vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz (per Jim Edwards), and Evan Dunham vs. Mairbek Taisumov (per Farah Hannoun) are both in the works for UFC 223.

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