Tough Enough (1983) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • An aspiring country/western singer, whose money is disappearing faster than his career opportunities, enters a "Tough Man" amateur boxing contest to earn some cash to pay his bills. Amazingly enough, he wins it, and is picked to go onto the national finals. He's torn between his first love, music, and the glitz, glamor and money of the "Tough Man" world.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • At Torreyson's nightclub in Fort Worth, Texas, fight promoters James Neese (Warren Oates) and Tony Fallon (Bruce McGill) judge a wet T-shirt contest. They select three young women to serve as "ring girls" at the following night's "Toughman" event, in which amateur boxers compete for a $5,000 prize. Afterward, country singer Art Long (Dennis Quaid) takes the stage, but his performance is interrupted by a group of hecklers. Art knocks out all three with a single punch as the crowd cheers in approval. He returns home to his wife, Caroline (Carlene Watkins), who suggests he forsake his musical aspirations and focus on his lucrative job as a tree-trimmer. Art storms out of the apartment and spends the night playing his guitar.

    In the morning, Art vents his frustration to his father, Bill Long (Wilford Brimley), who agrees with Caroline. However, Art believes he is too young to abandon his dream and chooses to quit his job instead. To earn money, he enters the Toughman contest, and is dubbed "the Country and Western Warrior" by James Neese. Art telephones Caroline to say he will be home late with no further explanation, but assures her that their marriage is not in jeopardy.

    At the Cowtown Coliseum, Art meets fellow musician Paul Thomas "P. T." Coolidge (Stan Shaw) in the locker room. P. T. compliments Art on the previous night's performance and gives him advice on how to win the Toughman competition. As the event begins, Neese introduces the 32 contestants, sixteen of whom will compete the following night for the local championship. Both Art and P. T. emerge as finalists, but when Art returns home, Caroline expresses concern that he is risking his life. Their toddler son, Christopher (Christopher Norris), interrupts, saying he had a nightmare, and Art comforts the boy with a humorous song.

    The next day, Neese and Fallon determine Art to be their most "marketable" contestant and decide to eliminate P. T., the only serious contender, on a technicality. Although P. T. is disappointed by the decision, he coaches Art to victory against an Albanian giant named Tigran Baldasarian (Steve 'Monk' Miller). However, when Art collects the prize money, he declines Neese's offer to enter the national championship in Detroit, Michigan, for a prize of $100,000. Neese argues that Art has commercial appeal, and promises him the opportunity to sing on national television. Art is skeptical until the promoter explains that he needs "a singing Toughman" to sway public opinion against the politicians and boxing commissioners who oppose the competition.

    Outside the Coliseum, Art encounters P. T. and his girl friend, Myra (Pam Grier). He invites P. T. to coach him in Detroit for a percentage of the winnings, and Myra, a Detroit native, offers to board them at her family's home. Myra and P. T. spend the night in Art's van, while Art shares the news of his victory with Caroline. She is overjoyed at seeing the prize money, and despite her opposition to boxing, she agrees to make the trip to Detroit.

    In the morning, Caroline leaves the apartment to run errands while Art sleeps. When she enters the van, Myra mistakes her for an intruder and screams, while P. T. tries to calm the situation. Later, the two couples laugh about the incident over breakfast, and Art gives P. T. 20 percent of the prize money. After leaving Christopher with his grandparents, the four travel to Detroit, where Art and Caroline join Neese on a television talk show with several other contestants and their spouses. Neese uses the show as a platform to defend his enterprise against its detractors, but also keeps his promise to Art by allowing him to perform a song.

    On the first night of the championship, Art faces a tough opponent named "Grappling" Gay Bob, and he wins on a technicality. The next day, Art signs a contract with Crystal Records, prompting Caroline to suggest he forfeit the championship. When Art refuses, Caroline accuses him of having a violent nature and refuses to support his decision. That evening, Art defeats three opponents before facing a powerful contender named Truman Wall. Neese advises Art to intentionally lose the fight or risk serious injury, which would reflect badly on the promoters. He produces a copy of Art's recording contract and reveals that Crystal Records is a subsidiary of James Neese Enterprises. Despite his disillusionment, Art is determined to face his opponent.

    As he enters the ring, Art is reassured by the sight of Caroline seated with his father, Bill, in the stands. During the opening round, Art's concentration is compromised as he composes a song in his head. He endures two punishing rounds until the song is complete, then knocks out Truman Wall in the third. After he is declared the winner, Art staggers into the crowd to embrace his wife and father.

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