Columns and stories of life from the Fredericksburg area.
Ladies get a grip on arm wrestling
TRENDS: AMATEUR BURLESQUE PICKS UP STEAM
BY JONAS BEALS
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
With the very first ladies’ arm wrestling national title on the line, Amy Smackhouse and Heather Weizen stomped and twirled on stage in an awkward attempt to win the crowd’s favor.
It was an amateur burlesque of big-boned proportions, with Smackhouse trying desperately to push up assets that were approaching the limits of Victoria’s Secret technology.
Weizen stroked the flanks of her vinyl dirndl, courting cheers with bedroom eyes and awkward tongue gyrations. In all likelihood, the best dancer would be the 2012 national ladies arm wrestling champion.
It wasn’t supposed to end this way.
By some counts, Championship Ladies’ arm Wrestling is the fastest-growing sport in the country. On Jan. 1, there were eight leagues. There are 17 today.
Portland, Maine, has Superhero Lady Armwrestlers of Portland (SLAP). New Orleans has New Orleans Ladies Arm Wrestling (NOLAW). There is the Chicago League of Lady Arm Wrestlers (CLLAW), 5 Borough Ladies Arm Wrestling (5BLAW) of New York and the Collective of Lady Arm Wrestlers in Austin (CLAWstin).
PHENOMENON IS BORN
No cultural trend is complete without Portland, Ore., which has Rose City Arm Wrestling (RAW). But it all started in Charlottesville, where Jennifer Tidwell and a couple of friends took a joke too far and held the first Charlottesville Ladies Arm Wrestling event in the back room of the Blue Moon Diner in 2008.
Interest forced subsequent matches into a tent in the diner’s parking lot.
On June 16, hundreds of people paid $25 to witness the first SuperCLAW national championship at the Jefferson Theater, about a mile down the same street where CLAW was born.
As a philanthropical, theatrical league, CLAW owes a debt to World Wrestling Entertainment, the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling and countless fly-by-night promotions that have entertained millions with feats of staged athleticism and scripted ringside drama.
CLAW wrestlers have stage names, overblown identity-revealing personas, costumes, theme music and entourages. Everything about a CLAW event suggests arm wrestling is an afterthought, or perhaps an excuse for extroverted women to indulge their dramatic sides.
HOME TEAM ADVANTAGE
Representatives from the eight original CLAW leagues faced off in a single-elimination tournament of showmanship. Smackhouse, from Washington’s D/CLAW (and purgatory, apparently), was a saucy diva with a bottle of Jack in her fist. Weizen represented Hudson Valley’s BRAWL by curling 10-pound salamis and swinging sausage links over her head.
There was Ze Dirty Butcher, a scantily clad meat maven with a questionable Eastern-bloc accent and stage-blood dripping down her arms.
Armageddon, eventual winner of the fans’ “least favorite” trophy, was a hissing, spitting, radioactive psych ward patient from Chicago. Brooklyn’s Copaphelia was an oversexed Earth goddess or maybe some sort of wood nymph.
Pain Fonda, from Austin, sported requisite fluorescent spandex and spent her downtime spanking men in the audience. Sistah Mary Slammer of New Orleans pulled off a nun-meets-streetwalker look, casually imposing ash crosses on the foreheads of her willing converts.
But almost everyone in attendance was pulling for the hometown favorite to take the championship cape. They were there to see The Homewrecker.
Each wrestler took her turn in the spotlight, marching through the crowd as music blared and her henchmen cleared the path of overzealous fans and overprotective referees. But nobody owned the moment like The Homewrecker.
The crowd was in her favor, and she proved to have top-notch mic skills during a pre-match smack-talking session. Although she was chosen as the Charlottesville rep based on her fundraising, she is a formidable woman, especially dressed in tool belt, boots and hard hat.
Her skills extend beyond the wrestling table—she is purported to be an equal-opportunity cuckolder with a penchant for destroying relationships. That persona has been put to good use by CLAW promoters, who produced Internet videos showing the strong-armed brawler stealing men from their scrawnier girlfriends.
WHERE’S THE SCRIPT?
Obviously, the ending had been written—the local girl was destined to climb over her foes as she marched to the top of the ladies arm wrestling mountain. The crowd was with her, belting a barbaric roar with every mention of her name.
So why was she struggling to get any advantage over the relatively unknown Weizen in her first-round match? Down one fall in a best-of-three, the comeback was imminent, right?
Until that moment, it had been easy to see where things were going. Questionable refereeing had pushed each opening-round match to the third fall, predictably building drama. A stalemate between Fonda and Butcher resulted in a gimmicky shimmy-off.
When The Homewrecker fell to Weizen for the second and final time, the response was at once deflating and confusing.
Both competitors seemed apologetic. The Homewrecker tried to explain just how good Weizen was.
And we believed her. Weizen sheepishly left the stage, victorious but no longer pumping salami.
The crowd had to come to terms with a surprising dose of reality. Weizen had annihilated the leading face of ladies arm wrestling without breaking a sweat.
This was an event ripe for an unexpected heel turn, or an unlikely Hulk Hogan-esque comeback.
Surely, The Homewrecker would watch from the sidelines, eyes widening and nostrils flaring as some other broad marched to the title that rightfully belonged to her. Maybe, like Hogan vs. Yokozuna at WrestleMania IX, The Homewrecker would issue an immediate challenge for the title at the end of the tournament and win the cape for her hometown.
FIGHT TRUMPS SPECTACLE
Once upon a time, SuperCLAW fans assumed everything was scripted, but a funny thing happened on the way to The Homewrecker’s coronation. It got real.
It became clear that all the makeup and fake blood in the world can’t make up for a weak wrist, and the matches took on greater urgency. Each starting whistle was met with applause for the fight, not the spectacle.
The fervor reached a crescendo in the final, as the two legitimate strong arms—Smackhouse and Weizen—faced off across the table and locked hands. Twice the starting whistle blew, and twice the grapplers strained against each other without conceding an inch.
Twice the 25-second time clock expired without a decision. Instead, there was that unfortunate dance-off and another, similar stunt that led to a 1–1 tie.
The rubber match was more of the same—a Cold War-style stalemate between two world powers.
Rather than taint the championship with another silly dance-off tiebreaker, the competitors consulted with officials and agreed to share the cape. It wasn’t the most satisfying moment in sport, but it legitimized the event in a way no preconceived comeback could have.
The Homewrecker took it in stride, crushing the remains of a Pabst Blue Ribbon as she mounted the stage to claim her crowd favorite award.
SuperCLAW 2012 could have gone according to script. Instead, it ended with two smiling women standing side-by-side, sheltered under the same championship cape, an outcome as unlikely as the event itself. If there is a future for CLAW, it will be built on the backs of two strong, beautiful, creative and slightly unhinged champions.
I stepped out of the theater and onto Charlottesville’s downtown mall, thinking of the strong women in my life. I had a Hudson Valley BRAWL onesie tucked into my back pocket. The size 18-month outfit should fit my 10-month-old daughter. She’s a big girl.
Jonas Beals: 540/368-5036