Originally created 02/10/00

Two seek tough man monikers



Zachary Day is the mortgage banker you probably would not want to default your loans with. As Mike Carlson, Day's Augusta Martial Arts Academy trainer suggests, you may get repossessed.

And if you're dining at Ryan's steakhouse on the Bobby Jones Expressway, allow me to offer this culinary suggestion: Don't send the steak back. There you'll find manager Jack Nilsson, a former Marine, a holder of four black belts and a frequent entrant in the no-holds-barred Ultimate Fighting Championships.

Day and Nilsson, both 35, claim the titles of Augusta's two toughest men.

Don't agree? Think you've got a little Jackie Chan in you to take either man? Well, I suggest you scout the duo this weekend and realize that conquering croquet may be a tad easier.

The mild-mannered-looking Day, at 5-foot-10 and a lean 175 pounds, is one of 16 light-heavyweights national finalists of the fX network's World Toughman Competition, airing this weekend on pay-per-view from The Palace of Auburn Hills, Mich.

To earn the Toughest Man Alive moniker, and $50,000, the "Zack Attack" needs a win today and three more Friday. Fights are three ferocious one-minute rounds with boxing's rules, 16-ounce gloves and ringside judging.

"There's no time to faint and jab," Day said. "If you faint, you'll probably get floored."

Just how does one become a Toughman contender, you ask?

Day dabbled with the Augusta Boxing Club as a teen and earned a tae kwon do black belt. Karate contests, though, turned into nothing more than glorified tag games for him.

When Carlson opened his academy in the fall of 1995, he trained in kickboxing and the more physical martial arts. Enamored, Day and Nilsson became Carlson's first two enrollees. For Day, three national kickboxing titles in two federations followed.

"He's completely tenacious," Carlson said of his first pupil. "I think we were able to tap into something that he was craving."

And when Day read an advertisement for a local Toughman contest in April 1998, he entered and blistered five foes. He advanced to a Biloxi, Miss., casino, where 64 Toughman qualifiers were bracketed in an NCAA-tourney style in December. Day survived two fights there to make his way to the Toughman's not-so-Sweet Sixteen.

But Day, with only one loss in his kickboxing/Toughman/submission career, admits he's no Justice Leaguer, he only looks like one. As branch manager of Equicredit, a division of Bank of America, Day helps those with bad credit secure loans.

On his Toughman bio, Day wrote that "he wants to prove that white collar workers are not all wimps."

"I'm always coming to the office with bruises and black eyes," Day said. "But I've only been hurt once, and that was in practice when someone broke my nose."

Nilsson, more visually intimidating than Day with his shaved head, his 240 muscular pounds encompassing his 6-3 frame, headlines this weekend's Winter Wars at Fort Gordon with an anything-goes match against Augusta's J.J. Wilson.

Nilsson moved to Augusta five years ago from Savannah as a restaurant manager and rabble rouser. In Carlson's academy Nilsson found a way to channel his aggression and further his training.

Saturday's fight will be his fourth with no-holds-barred rules, where the object is to make your opponent give up.

"It's not like I want to hurt people," Nilsson said. "To me, this is just a competition. This type of fighting is no different to me than tennis or chess. We're trying to outthink and out-perform our opponent."

Yeah, but in chess, the bishops don't jam a thumb up your nostril and try to rip your nose off, as one UFC opponent did to Nilsson.

At least I know where to turn for bodyguards.

Reach Rick Dorsey at (706) 823-3219.