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The most terrifying sound in athletics is that of a bone breaking. The joy of playing is gone, replaced by immediate and all-consuming pain. Then the fear creeps in, the awareness that you might never do something you love ever again. Lastly, the reality of the danger of what you do is driven home, the risk of both short-term injury and long-term disability (like a concussion in football keeping you out of a game, but multiple concussions throughout a career leading to everything from addiction to Alzheimer’s Disease).
All these thoughts and more flashed through the mind of Sophia “Naughtia Nutcracker” Wasserman, age 22, at the time the newest member of the Boston League of Women Wrestlers (aka BLOWW). It was just over a year ago (July 26, 2009), at Great Scott in Allston, MA, and she was fighting in her first match ever as a BLOWW girl. That night, in a tag-team championship featuring four wrestlers all at once, her comrade-in-arms Green Line Greta broke both of her wrists. The wrestlers got through the fight, improvising to account for their suddenly disabled teammate, and Greta was promptly taken to the hospital.
One could understand the urge to run after witnessing such a horribly devastating injury, but for the fearless female fighters of BLOWW, it brought them closer together. They all admit that the incident was scary, but it made them feel hardcore as well: if the injuries were real, then what they were doing was real as well. They were the same as more traditional athletes, injuries and all. Injuries have become like fuel for the BLOWW girls, pushing them to channel pain into energy, to recommit even harder to their fights. They are also badges of honor, as BLOWW wrestlers will frequently compare bruises in an effort to one-up each other. But the women wrestlers’ reveling in their own pain is just the tip of the iceberg that is this strange and wonderful group of women.
It was 2003 when Christina “Muffy Winters” Sartori came across a Craigslist ad calling for women wrestlers. It had been posted by Kayt Hansen, who had moved to Boston from Michigan and was looking to rebuild her old group, KPOWW (Kalamazoo Precinct of Women’s Wreslters). Sartori joined up and took part in BLOWW’s first wrestling match, which took place on April 24, 2003, at TT the Bear’s in Cambridge. Since that time, numerous women have come and gone through BLOWW’s roster, usually finding the group through a combination of Craiglist ads, the team website, and friend referrals. To this day, Sartori, now 29, remains the only wrestler currently on the roster who was there at the group’s inception.
The only other mainstay of the group is Nash Deville, described by Sartori as both “the ringleader” and “the mouth.” Sporting a cowboy hat, dark sunglasses and a-shirt (commonly known as a wife beater), his job is to get the crowd going early and often. His strategy is simple: anger, insult, and outrage. At the Great Scott show mentioned above, he told the crowd “you’re from Allston: you’re already depressed!” The reaction is almost universally positive despite his negativity. During matches he acts as play-by-play and color commentator all in one. He will frequently redirect his attacks to the wrestlers themselves, making fun of them as they perform stunts that he could not dream of performing himself. The end of each match sees him receiving a merciless beating at the hands of the BLOWW girls, allowing the crowd a cathartic release as the man who has offended them all night is summarily destroyed. The BLOWW girls compare him to George Costanza, the “Seinfeld” character you love to hate, as well as G. Gordon Liddy, the man who organized the burglaries of the Democratic headquarters at the Watergate Hotel during the Nixon administration.
Background music is provided by the BLOWW Twins, Ethan M. (bass guitar) and James W. (drums) (last names withheld for privacy). This “swinging little duo out of art school,” as Ethan describes them, is characterized by a relatively austere and withdrawn stage persona, acting in contrast to the flashiness of the BLOWW wrestlers. Ethan, for example, plays every show sitting cross-legged on the ground, almost hidden behind the BLOWW girls. They begin each show with Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” (made famous in “Rocky III”), and continue with driving instrumentals that amplify the intensity of each fight, building to a powerful crescendo in the end as the wrestlers gang up en-masse against the referee and Nash Deville.
When Sartori joined BLOWW, she was told to base her character off of typical female stereotypes. A fan of Buffy Summers, the titular character of the 1992 movie and 1997-2003 television series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” she chose a cheerleader as hers. Thus was born “Muffy Winters,” whose signature move, the “muff dive,” involves her diving face-first into the abdominal area of her opponent.
The character-creation process is somewhat paradoxical. Characters are simultaneously “something close to your heart” and “our own antithesis,” according to Jaime “The Pennsylvania Dutchess” Knudsen, age 25. Her character, for instance, stems from her Pennsylvania origins and her desire to play an Amish wrestler. However, the character is simultaneously her opposite. On stage her character is quiet and subdued (as much as a wrestler can be, that is), sporting drab and formless brown and turquoise clothing. In real life, Knudsen claims she loves technology and will frequently don flashier garb.
For Ivonne “Ninja Ho” B., originally from Miami, FL, her character was taken from a 1999 film entitled “Shaolin Dolemite.” The character is described as a “hoochie from Miami,” but one who boasts multiple Ph.D’s from Harvard University. Once again there is this theme of simultaneous similarity and contrast. Ivonne later came up with a second character. Not wanting to offend her mother (interestingly, it is her father who gave Ivonne her Ninjitsu uniform), who sees BLOWW as “gymnastics with hitting,” Ivonne came up with “Mami Salami,” a warmer, more family-friendly character. She also takes a fair amount of her style from Hayabusa, a Japanese/lucha libre wrestler from the mid-90s. Both his style and hers tend towards the more extreme, heavily reliant on props and a sense of the bizarre (when Ivonne dons her “Ninja Ho” garb she also dons a set of fake teeth that are warped and monstrous).
Many of the BLOWW girls describe professional wrestling as being a formative part of their childhood. In particular they cite the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW), a syndicated all-female wrestling show that aired in the latter half of the 80s. For Lauren “Suzie Screw” T., age 30, Hollywood Hulk Hogan was also a major influence. She describes him as bad, glamorous, and over-the-top. Her character, a 1980s heavy metal groupie (Lauren loves 80s hair metal, especially Poison), tries to match Hollywood Hulk’s style: aggressive and fast. She states emphatically: “I always play to win.”
The BLOWW wrestlers’ interest in professional wrestling is on full display as I interviewed them. Passing around a book of finishing moves in the WWE, they come across a move called the “Camel Clutch.” Within moments they start gleefully reminiscing about their own version of the move, “the Camel Toe Clutch,” a BLOWW staple move.
When I ask this question, Sartori responds “why not?” instantaneously. All of the other girls echo the same sentiment. Everyone of them cites a different reason for doing it. On its most basic level, BLOWW is a means to relieve stress and get exercise that is far more fun than just going to the gym. All of them also thrive on the performance element of it. They love the stage and the lights and the crowds chanting their names. For some, this is their only means to perform, citing a lack of musical talent. For all of them, however, the camaraderie is what truly keeps them coming back. They describe it as a sisterhood in the truest sense of the word: they love each other, but they fight all of the time. However, the friendship between them is evident. Jenna “Skank Williams Jr.” Henson (a Texas native who wanted to create a “poor white trash” character), 36, describes them all as having the same “demented sense of humor.” This is made clear when all at once they turn to watch the Red Sox game playing on a screen behind me. The game, all but ignored up until this point in the interview, has turned ugly, with both benches clearing and a brawl seeming imminent. NOW the BLOWW women are interested!
As I explained in my analysis of roller derby, any time women’s athletics meets violence there will be an issue of “validity.” There will always be those who come to BLOWW matches with nothing more than a desire to see women beat each other up. For them, it is the 21st Century’s answer to mud wrestling, a fact which BLOWW is all too happy to exploit to drive ticket sales (their referee will frequently begin matches by shouting “are you ready to see some violence!?”). They more than recognize that female stereotypes exist, however in turning those stereotypes into wrestlers, a sport typically seen as belonging exclusively to men (as proof, see how many male professional wrestlers you can name, then see if you can name even one female wrestler), they flip them on their head. In this way, it is an act of empowerment. For those who can recognize this, they will see just how much good organizations such as BLOWW can do. BLOWW has carved out a specialized niche in Boston, a city whose high proportion of college kids and young professionals gives rise to numerous subcultures. There is something inherently “punk” about watching BLOWW perform, in part aided by the BLOWW Twins, and this in part explains why their Allston shows are always packed. But there is also something artistic in the choreography (Wasserman, who has studied dance for many years, incorporates ballet components into her moves) of the BLOWW fights, something beautiful in the holds, slams, and dives. It is sport and art (what dance isn’t?), music and spectacle, all rolled into one. Boston is made all the richer by having a group such as BLOWW, one that not only puts on a great show but also provides a circle of great friendship for those who seek it out.
Every BLOWW member has a slightly different image of what BLOWW’s future could be. For Wasserman, she would love to see BLOWW become “a Boston staple, like going to a (expletive deleted) Red Sox game.” She would also love to see BLOWW go on tour, to which Sartori comments “getting PAID to go on tour.” Knudsen, meanwhile, envisions BLOWW as a franchise, sporting video games and comics and everything. To this end, BLOWW is working on a calendar that should be available soon. However, stabilizing their roster may be the first step in achieving any of these goals. As of now, BLOWW is actively seeking new recruits, which Sartori describes as “tough girls who like to drink and get punched in the face.” Those interested can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
BLOWW’s next shows will take place August 20 at Ralph’s Diner in Worcester, August 21 at the Road Devil’s Car Show in East Bridgewater, and then September 9 at the Middle East Upstairs in Cambridge.