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Toughman Contest test Tri-State’s grit

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — This weekend fighters from across the Tri-State will flock to the Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington, W.Va., for the 26th annual Original Toughman Contest.

The amateur boxing contest provides residents of the Tri-State with a chance to tap into their inner Rocky Balboa as they show off their grit in the ring.

“I always wanted to box,” said Josh “Ziggy” Staton, from South Point. “This is the closest you can get around here. I just want to push myself and see how far I can go.”

Participants vary in experience; some like Staton have fought in the contest before, while others like Ironton’s Dominic Murphy are new to the ring. However, Murphy says that while he may not have experience as a boxer he does have experience as a brawler.

“I love fighting,” Murphy said. “If I can get away with it, and maybe get paid for it then I’m going to fight. I’ve never fought in it before but I’ve done a lot of street fighting in my past.”

For some the contest is just a source of entertainment and isn’t considered a representation of boxing as a sport. While these amateur participants may not have the skill of their professional counterparts, Staton said spectators would be surprised by the talent and endurance those who advance do have.

“Those one-minute rounds feel like forever,” Staton said. “You definitely need to train. You’ve got to have the air for it. It’s just very physically challenging and a lot of these guys who win are good.”

The contest in Huntington is one of many held throughout the country and is governed by the West Virginia Athletic Commission. The contest boast a rich history that has seen many of its participants use it as a springboard to the professional ranks. Toughman alumni include former world champions Eric “Butterbean” Esch and Tommy Morrison. More recently, the Huntington area contest produced Christy Martin the first female alumni to turn pro when she signed to Don King’s promotions.

“There has been some people who’ve fought in this who made it,” Murphy said. “They kind of used this to put them on the map.”

Staton and Murphy are among 27 fighters from Lawrence County that will be participating in this year’s contest.

The two-night event begins at 7:30 p.m. Friday and concludes on Saturday with a professional bout featuring Huntington native Jason Pettaway. Winners of each weight division are awarded with $1,000 and a championship jacket.