"Think You're Tough? Prove it."

No, you're not back in sixth grade. That's just Peter Carroll's way of getting your attention. Welcome to a land of bluster and bravado, a place where men and women are measured by the clout in their fists, the blood they can draw and the blood they can shed without quitting.

Who is the toughest guy in the nation's capital? Who's the toughest gal? Promoter Carroll wants to know. He wants to see bar brawlers and bikers and kick fighters, ex-convicts and street bullies together Dec. 20 in the Armory/Starplex in a long night of cruel fighting, a night where anything goes and the winner walks out with $1,000 (men) or $750 (women).

The application for Carroll's Toughest Guy/Toughest Gal contest says "Prove It." The ad in the paper promises "the most action-packed fights you've ever seen" from "24 of this area's toughest, meanest, strongest, prettiest fighters." Carroll wants $20 a seat ringside to share in his bloody vision.

In April there was a Texas Tough Guys competition in Beaumont. Peter Le Blanc thought he was pretty tough at 6 feet 4, 210 pounds. But he got kayoed in the last round of a three-round bout and he toppled to the mat "like a tree," smacking his skull, say the people who were there.

Le Blanc, 29, unemployed, was after prize money. Now he's home recuperating from brain damage and partial paralysis.

From Esquire magazine's August issue, Bob Greene's report on a Tough-man contest in Dayton, Ohio: "Steve Caudill, a 23-year-old air freight handler, bled from his nose, mouth and eyes. The blood formed a mask over his face; with each breath he took the bleeding grew worse. As he moved to avoid getting hit one more time a paper cup full of beer dropped from the darkness and splashed his legs.

"'Kill somebody!' came a voice from high in the arena. . ."

Toughman; Texas Tough Guys; Toughest Guy or Gal in the nation's capital -- variations on a sad theme.

"I was at one in Richmond," said Gene Molovinsky, who manages some fighters in the Washington area. "It's not like professional fighting. They go in there and try to kill each other in the first round. Ninety-five percent of the fights end right there.

"The fans really get involved. They know the fighters. It's white vs. black, stuff like that. People would much rather see two people try to kill each other than two trained fighters try to outbox each other."

Richmond; Beaumont; Dayton; Wheeling, W.Va.; Sioux City and Flint; Greensboro, N.C., where sometimes they have shootouts to see who's toughest; Fayetteville and Youngstown. These are towns were the toughest have been tested. And now the nation's capital.

Victor Francois-Eugene, 29 years old, self-employed in retail sales, living in Northwest Washington. His application is in: "I think I am the toughest guy in D.C. I think I will enjoy the attention it could give me and the $1,000 could help me a little bit."

Francois-Eugene weighs 175, the minimum in the requirements for Toughest Guy competitors posted by Carroll and his partner, D.C. boxing promoter Nat Williams. "I'm at a great disadvantage," says Francois-Eugene. I'll have to be fast. I'm an ex-Marine. They gave me a bad conduct discharge. When I was a kid about 16 I was in D.C. jail, but nothing happened to me because I refused to let myself be intimidated.

"My experience in the Marines, in D.C. jail and on the streets has strengthened my confidence and I know I'm at my best when my back is against the wall."

The $1,000? "I don't think anybody wants to get in it just for the money. The way the ad read -- 'The Toughest Guy in D.C.' -- that's what caught my attention.

"There's not that many opportunities where a guy can just come in off the street and prove himself."

Toughest Guy/Toughest Gal. Here are the rules, according to Carroll, who previously confined himself to promoting trade shows, the most recent a computer show in Washington:

Sixteen men and eight women will be chosen from applicants. There is no entry fee. All the fights will be Dec. 20, starting at 7:30 p.m. The first eight men's fights will weed out eight losers; the winners go back for quarterfinals, then semis and finally two men for the finals.

The winner must win four bouts in all, each comprising three two-minute rounds. They wear 10-ounce gloves. The women follw the same rules (but wearing breast-protectors) through three bouts, since they start with eight contestants. Winners are by knockout or decision of the referee and two judges.

Rules? The ad says anything goes but there is dispute about that. Carroll said kicking, wrestling, judo and karate are permitted. But York Van Nixon, who heads the D.C. Boxing and Wrestling Commission, which granted the permit, says no.

"They can't use their feet. That's what we're saying. They won't be able to use those (karate, wrestling) tactics. They'll have to fight under the rules of the commission, the same rules that apply to any pro boxing match.

"Otherwise you're making a mockery of boxing. We couldn't permit that. Mr. Carroll better get in touch with the commission if he thinks we're going to permit that kind of crap in the ring."

Victor McGonegal, 43, 6 feet 3 and 230 pounds, is still wondering whether to apply. "I thought it was funny," he said. "It's an excellent ad."

McGonegal has a first degree brown belt in karate. He's been to many regional karate tournaments. "I think the people who stand a real good chance of winning are crazy people -- animals.

"I think there's going to be a lot of bloodletting. It's not really the $1,000, it's the fun of the thing. But I'm worried about how many animals they let in. It may just be the craziest guy who wins, depending on how much they let them get away with.

"I might have too much invested in my dental work. The initial appeal was the humor ot if. Frankly, if they had a senior citizen category I might do it."

Says Carroll, originator of the Annapolis In-The-Water Boat Show and successful promoter over a quarter of a century: "People feel this is a revival of the depression-era traveling carnival with a tough guy that took on the toughest guy in town.

"Wrestling today is theater, just a show. And for boxing, it costs $50 to go see it on a TV. You're so far removed from it.

"Well, here's a guy from your neighborhood that you work with or drink with or fight with. They're getting in there and mixing it up just the way you did on the way home from sixth grade. . ."

Early this week Carroll had only one woman who had expressed interest in competing, he said, a Veronica Gudger, from Washington.

"No Veronica Gudger here. You mean me, Vernon Gudger. Tough Guy. Not the Tough Girl."

Oops.

Vernon Gudger, 18, senior at Wilson High, 5 feet 4, 140 pounds.

A hundred and forty pounds?

"I know it. I can handle 'em. I'll just tell them at the weigh-in I lost weight before the thing came up. I'm not worried about the big guys. I beat some of them out on the street."

Is Vernon Gudger fighting for the money?

"Just for the fun of it, man. I watch wrestling on Saturday morning. I was thinking I might get noticed if I did this. Me and my brother, we want to be a tag team."

Then there's Ernie Seger, weightlifter from Cheverly, member of the Pagans motorcycle gang. He wants to fight the toughest guy from the Phantoms. "I could use that $1,000. But win or lose, it's something to do."

Toughest Guys/Toughest Gals springs from a nationwide competition called Toughman, on which the Esquire article was based. Toughman runs regional contests all over the country, then a big $50,000 finale for the winners, which Carroll and Williams attended last month in Michigan.

Toughman official Joe Goldring is angry with Toughest Guy/Toughest Gal. "Our attorney says if they call it Tough Guy, Toughest Guy or anything similar and run the same type of program, they're infringing on our trademark."

Toughman attorney Paul Rosenbaum: "There is no way in the world we're going to let them hold that fight. We will spend whatever is necessary legally to protect our rights. We have too much at stake."

Toughest Guy/Gal copromoter Nat Williams: "I spoke to the U.S. attorney's office about this. They said the free enterprise act will prohibit Toughman from coming in here and stopping a local guy like that. We consulted with our own attorneys anddecided to go ahead.

"I'm not going to let any strongarm guy tell me no. You know, fighting is what we're all about."

Mark Yarbrough, 18, 176 pounds, living at home in Northwest Washington and ready to fight: "I been fighting I had my nose broke. I think I'm tough. I ain't going to try to kill nobody. I know everybody wants that money.I'm going in there and try to protect myself and if I win, I just win.

I'm not going in there to get my nose broke.I'm kind of a little guy though. I don't know what they're going to do with me. They're going to say, 'What we gonna do with that little guy?'"

The $1,000? "I might just splurge with it. Get my mom something. You know, get my pop something."