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Tunica Tussle

Bar brawlers and amateur boxers fight for cash at casino.

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On a recent Friday evening, ring girls lead a parade of "Tough Man" fighters around the ring at Sam's Town Casino. Several of the fighters have beer bellies and man boobs. Some of them are covered in carpets of chest and back hair.

Whether these competitors know how to box or not is uncertain.

"If you came here thinking you're going to see jabs and uppercuts, you know, great boxing skills, then you came to the wrong place," Tough Man president Stephen Coppler tells a packed Sam's Town River Entertainment Center before the quarterfinalists take the ring.

Tough Man has developed a cult following. Roughly 50 times a year, the tournament draws men and women to fight in three one-minute rounds. When the bell sounds, they rush into a frenzy of fist-pounding, pushing, punching, and, occasionally, running away.

Of the 44 heavyweight and light heavyweight competitors in the two-day event last weekend, only a small number have formal boxing training. The rest are fight hobbyists looking to knock heads and win a grand while they're at it.

Mike Lane, a 28-year-old FedEx dock worker, becomes the weekend's heavyweight winner. He boxed as a teenager and won his last Tough Man competition in Corinth, Mississippi, nine months ago. Following his victory Saturday night, he tells friends how he wanted to fight certain opponents because the majority of his weight class were hobbyists who thought being big and tough were enough to win.

"Knowing my skill level, not to be arrogant, I knew I could win this," he said after defeating a 23-year-old from Huron, Tennessee. "Most of these guys walk in trying to make money."

Guess his opponents should have stuck to the slots.

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