A women’s arm wrestling league looks to pin down some flamboyant fun while rounding up donations for charity.
Sitting on opposite sides of a small table, Brawlly Parton and Angela Death glare at each other, their elbows planted on the table, their hands intertwined in a tight grip. At the command of “Start!” the women grimace and strain as each tries to overpower the other. The audience screams for their favorite. It’s over in less than 30 seconds.
Death won by pinning Parton’s hand to the table. But the judges, who were distracted by wads of money that had been slipped to them, counted up the loot, then declared Parton the winner.
Was the match fixed? No question about it.
Was it fun? A lot of people wouldn’t question that, either.
The competition was part of an exhibition match for the Minnesota Arm Wrestling League for Ladies (MAWLL). The league has been in existence only since mid-January, and if the very notion of it gives you pause, the launch has been a success.
“My co-workers think it’s weird, my brother thinks it’s hilarious and my family just shake their heads,” said Ellyn Grothem, emcee for the matches.
Much more campy than competitive, the league has these objectives: “shenanigans, arm wrestling and philanthropy.” All three elements were on display at the match, which took place this month before a RollerGirls competition at Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul.
The antics start with the wrestler’s stage names, which include the likes of Helga Hammerfist (a k a Linda Tyler) and Babe, the Blue Ox (Liz Elton) as well as the aforementioned Brawlly Parton (Sara Larsen) and Angela Death (Angela Hershberger).
The names are accented by flamboyant costumes — skeletons, Vikings and — you might want to shield the kids’ eyes — a cantankerous take on Santa Claus. And it’s not just the competitors who are dressed up. The wrestlers are accompanied by entourages made up of friends, siblings and even a few good-natured spouses, who also are in costume.
“I love to perform,” admitted Amy “Short Stack” Siegel. “You can create a larger-than-life persona.”
Before they start wrestling, the competitors strut around, gesturing and calling to the audience in an effort to attract more supporters than their opponent. The spectators are encouraged to offer bribes to the judges, which the wrestlers’ entourages go into the audience to collect.
Once the payoffs are delivered, the judges are free to ignore the outcome of the match to declare a winner based on which one produced a bigger payoff. All the money goes to charity, with a different cause designated for each event.
An age-old endeavor
Arm wrestling has been around since the invention of bragging rights. Aficionados claim that pictorials found in Egyptian tombs can be interpreted as showing it. American Indians were doing it long before Europeans showed up.
In 1952, a promoter in California organized what is believed to be the first tournament (although he called it wristwrestling). The credit for the sport’s widespread popularity typically is given to the TV show “Wide World of Sports,” which broadcast the tournament’s finals for 15 years starting in the late 1960s.
Today there are amateur and professional leagues for men. A few women compete professionally as part of their roles in Mixed Martial Arts and Ultimate Fighting events.
MAWLL is part of the Collective of Lady Arm Wrestlers (CLAW), which has 18 clubs in the United States and one in Sao Paulo, Brazil. CLAW also is the acronym of the first club, the Charlottesville Lady Arm Wrestlers in Virginia. Admittedly launched as a joke in 2008, their matches became so popular that the Washington Post sent a reporter to see what was going on, and that attention led to other cities jumping aboard.