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Men, women compete in toughman contest

February 25, 2006|By PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG -

In one corner, Jonny Ullvan, a native of Sweden and a mechanical engineer at Volvo Powertrain North America, bounced, wriggling his gloved hands, and eyed up the one Toughman Contest competitor he said he feared the most.

When the first bell of the 15th Annual Parsons Ford Toughman Contest rang Friday, the first-time fighter pounded on his light heavyweight rival, knocking him down to the mat before the one-minute round ended, sending about 80 of his coworkers into roaring cheers.

Ullvan, 31, of Hagerstown, will compete today as the sold-out contest, held at the Berkeley 2000 Recreation Center at Lambert Park in Martinsburg, concludes with the crowning in each class of the "Toughest Man in the Shenandoah Valley," a title that carries a $1,000 prize and comes with a Toughman jacket, contest promoter, Jerry Thomas, said. Winners will have the opportunity to try their mitts at a national Toughmman competition, he said.

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The contest - a single elimination boxing tournament - is open to men and women 18 years old or older with "little to no" boxing experience, although no women were set to fight Friday because too few signed up, Thomas said. The matches were made up of three, one-minute rounds. Fighters wore 16 ounce gloves, protective headgear and mouth pieces.

At least 80 people signed up for the contest and the arena was filled to capacity with 1,400 people.

"It's machoism at its best," Thomas said. "It's the chance for the average person to be "Rocky" for the night."

John Hargett, of Warrenton, Va., was dressed for the role. Standing 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighing in at 225 pounds, Hargett, draped loosely with a black boxing robe, jumped in place, shifting his weight between his feet, as he walked the prematch loop to the "Rocky" anthem, "Eye of the Tiger," with at least 80 other fighters.

"I just wanted to look nice to make me feel nice about myself," he said before the contest began. "Win or lose, I'm not mad. I just ask God to give me the guidance."

He was only in one bar fight in his entire life, but was training the past 14 years for the big one. Hargett, who was picked on at school, said he bought a speed bag and set a personal goal to fight his hardest before he hit age 40.

Like Hargett, many fighters came out to test their strength. Some said they had no idea why they were sitting on the bleachers, all wrapped up and ready to go. A couple lost bets. A few heard it about it on the radio and said they figured they'd give it a try.

For Dana Jensen, The Toughman Contest is a ritual. He compared its followers to "a cult." A few years ago, he proposed to a woman in the ring, but he said they're not together anymore.

After turning 30, Jensen, of Winchester, Va., said, this year, "I wanted to prove I'm not old."

"There are so little opportunities when you can get away with hitting people in the face," he said. His strategy, he said: "Get punched in the face as little as possible."

Friends Jessica Breeden, 16, and Krissy Barrett, 16, both of Martinsburg, W.Va., showed up Friday to figure out whether they'll test their fighting skills in two years.

Barrett said she wrestles boys at Musselman High School and, looking around the room, said she saw some men she figured she could fight.

"They may be strong, but they ain't this fast," she said and laughed. "I'm not cocky, I'm just playing."

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