Illinois Toughman contests banned

• Feb. 27-28 event in Rockford cancelled after state bans contests

Toughman contests in Rockford Feb. 27-28 and Peoria Feb. 20-21 have been banned under emergency rules by the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation (IDPR).

“We cannot, and will not, allow Toughman fighting in Illinois,” said IDPR Director Fernando Grillo, who added, “These competitions amount to organized street fights. The participants lack training, the rules are loose—at best—and the outcomes are often seriously damaging, if not deadly.

“From this point forward, only professional fights approved and regulated by the IDPR, amateur fights approved by USA Boxing and Golden Gloves, and bona fide kickboxing and martial arts tournaments will be allowed in this state. We will diligently pursue any events that fall outside the scope of these new regulations to ensure the safety of the public.”

Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a former Golden Gloves boxer, pushed the IDPR to take quick action on Toughman fighting after four deaths in the last 10 months.

A Detroit News investigative report last year revealed that 12 men have died and five others were permanently injured in the events or their spin-offs since Art Dore of Bay City, Mich., began Toughman in 1979.

In September, the family of a Florida woman killed in a Toughman contest sued the event’s promoter and others, calling the matches a “barbaric, vicious, unregulated, bloody slugfest.”

A Sarasota, Fla., man seriously injured in several Toughman bouts during the June event in Sarasota also sued, saying he suffered brain damage after being mismatched with better fighters.

The lawsuits each seek unspecified damages of more than $15,000 in the death of Stacy Young and the brain damage suffered by Tony Roten in the bouts at the Sarasota County Fairgrounds.

The lawsuits name Toughman founder Dore, his promotions company and the Toughman regulatory association Dore also founded and controls. The Sarasota County Agricultural Fair Association, which manages the fairgrounds, and Raymond Blackburn, the referee overseeing the matches, also were sued.

The Detroit News special report is one of several investigations into Toughman and Dore. The Wall Street Journal reported on Toughman last August, and even mentioned the Rockford event.

“In February, without informing the Illinois boxing commissioner, Toughman held a bout in Peoria. After Illinois Boxing Commissioner Sean Curtin learned of the event, he sent two investigators to Toughman’s next venue, in Rockford,” reported the WSJ.

“But when the pair arrived, they learned that the fighters had been told they could kick their opponents. The occasional kick that night put the event outside the jurisdiction of the state’s boxing commission, which doesn’t regulate kickboxing. The inspectors had no choice but to let the show go on, Mr. Curtin says, adding, ‘That was a real tricker.’”

The Detroit News report said Dore has become a millionaire many times over from Toughman.

According to tax records, Dore’s nonprofit foundation—the American Boxing & Athletic Association, originally named the Art Dore Boxing & Athletic Association—made just less than $1 million over the past two years. The foundation incurred expenses of more than $820,000, most of it in payments to Adoreable Promotions Inc., the company Dore founded and now is held in the name of his daughter, Wendy Dore.

Dore’s events draw crowds from as small as a few hundred to 1,200, and more for regional events leading to his $50,000 national championship. He pays 12 percent to 14 percent of the ticket money—$15 general admission and $25 ringside—to the arena, and sells $25 Toughman T-shirts and caps at the door.

Arenas sell $3 plastic cups of beer at a furious pace, said the Detroit report.

Dore has successfully fended off attempts by most states to regulate the contests. Idaho, Washington and Florida have tried to ban Toughman-style fights.

But Dore holds matches in all three states openly and without fear of state sanctions. For various reasons, when Toughman is banned, loopholes often allow the show to go on.

In Idaho, for example, Dore claims he needs no license or state oversight because his events are amateur, and for charity—although he is sole proprietor of the charity.

In Washington and other states, Dore has moved his shows to Native American-owned casinos to avoid rules set by the state. “Those are sovereign nations,” Dore said. “And when you’re in their sovereign nation, you go by their rules. They don’t have any rules.”

Only five states have banned or attempted to stop Toughman. In most others, commissions have little power over the sport, leaving critical areas such as appointments of ring doctors and referees in the hands of Dore.

Florida actually thought it had banned Toughman-style fights, but Dore operates freely there because quirky wording in the statute—referring to “a combination of fighting skills”—appears to give him an out.

There is, however, no need to doubt New Jersey’s stance on the blood sport.

New Jersey Boxing Commissioner Larry Hazzard is vested with the power to regulate all contests involving combative sports in his state.

That’s why he had no problem taking action when he watched Toughman’s first, and last, event in Atlantic City in 1993.

“We have not had any since because we didn’t like it at all,” Hazzard said. “We decided right then on that day that we would never allow Toughman back in New Jersey again. That’s the authority that our commission has.”

Dore, calling the injuries “bad luck,” insists he is concerned for the safety of his fighters. He said he grieves for the dead and injured in Toughman contests, “but it’s a dangerous sport.”

The Detroit News followed up on the woman’s death in Florida. Dore told the newspaper that no ringside physicians—just a physician’s assistant — were present at the event.

Dore said he thought a physician had been hired for the Sarasota event, but “I don’t know what happened, my staff messed up somehow,” he told the paper.

As an aside, Mark Silverman is publisher and editor of the Detroit News. He used to be executive editor at the local daily prior to 1991.

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