Brawl for a cause

For one night only, it was biceps against biceps in the Red Stick.

The tough women of Baton Rouge Arm Wrestling Ladies were locked fist-in-fist in battle for a glittering trophy — and bragging rights — on the stage of the Spanish Moon club.

All eyes focused on the single table with two chairs, the scene of the Saturday night battle.

There were cheering crowds, a cross-dressing round card guy and painted faces and costumes at the Blunt Force Brawl, the first tournament for the fledgling league.

“Are you ready for the Blunt Force Brawl?” yelled the ring announcer, Raven Duncil, stretching out the last word for several syllables and waving her arms upward to fan the crowd into a fury.

“We’re all here to have fun, but let’s lay down some ground rules for the crowd,” she said. “This is a space for everyone to enjoy themselves and be free. That means we don’t tolerate racism, homophobia ... sexism.”

The Blunt Force Brawl was more like professional wrestling than the serious, muscle-bound arm wrestling tournaments seen on late night cable sports channels.

BRAWL is a divided league. One-third of it is sport, one-third is theatrics and another third is philanthropy, said Rebecca Stewart, founder of the league. The competitors adopt their own personas and recruit entourages to cheer them on and hype up the crowd.

“So it’s not styled like a normal arm wrestling meet, I guess you could say,” Stewart said. “Definitely different.”

As for philanthropy, the event benefitted the Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response Center (STAR). Organizers sold raffle tickets for prizes throughout the night.

Stewart, acting as referee, gave the crowd a quick explanation of the rules — start when the whistle blows, stop when it blows again.

“This is a legitimate arm wrestling league, OK? People are really able to hurt themselves, and we’re going to make sure that doesn’t happen here,” she said to the crowd.

In the first bout, One Dollar Baby, apparently worth considerably less than the boxer from “Million Dollar Baby,” arrived with pink boxing gloves and a sleeveless hooded sweatshirt to battle Rosie the Rioter, whose persona was a mix of the 1940s wartime worker and a 1980s punk rocker. They struggled to a stalemate, then switched to their left hands. Again they wrestled to a tie. One of the judges, a “Star Wars” Princess Leia impersonator, instructed them to a dance-off.

One Dollar Baby was voted the winner.

As wrestlers and their entourages climbed the stage, each came with her own tagline, created by Duncil.

For One Dollar Baby it was “If you call this girl cheap, she’ll give you buy-one-get-one smackdowns!” Minnie Mayhem, who wore Gothic white and black makeup along with Disney mouse ears, was “Walt Disney’s worst nightmare!” Betty Rage, adopting the persona of a 1940s-era model “may look like a pinup, but she’s ready to pin you down!”

Aside from the dance-offs and the costumes, women’s arm wrestling leagues provide a chance for women to show their physical strength and have fun, said Angharad Hollingworth, an organizer of New Orleans Ladies Arm Wrestling who competed in the BRAWL tournament.

“It provides a space for women to express themselves that is safe, accepting and powerful,” she said.

Cropping up in a few cities across the country, the leagues are similar to the sport of roller derby, where teams of women race and battle on roller skates. But women’s arm wrestling takes itself less seriously.

“Roller derby is more about the sport, and arm wrestling is more about the expression,” Hollingworth said.

The atmosphere was a little different from most fundraisers.

“It was very eclectic and more tongue-in-cheek than many events in Baton Rouge are,” said Racheal Hebert, the executive director of STAR, which received $1,200 from the tournament.

Wrestlers chose their personas from aspects of their personalities. Hollingworth, a special education teacher in New Orleans, became a sort of cosmic feminist superhero with blue hair, a cape and sparkling shorts, the Captain of the Sister Ship.

“I will push anybody out of my way who steps in front of it,” Hollingworth, still in character, said of the ship.

Brooke Salter, who performed as Minnie Mayhem, has loved Disney her whole life and collects mouse ears. She worked as a face painter in Lafayette, so she put the two together to become a demented Mouseketeer.

“The idea of Minnie Mayhem was a natural progression,” said Salter, a junior at LSU.

Arm wrestling sounded cool to Salter, “a really awesome thing — be weird for charity,” she said.

In the second half of the night, Hollingworth blazed through the competition, slamming down arms in a matter of seconds.

For the climactic battle she faced One Dollar Baby. Hollingworth approached the center-stage table, showed off her glittering cape, then took a seat. The match took less than five seconds.

“Taking it all, Captain of the Sister Ship!” Duncil screamed. “Winner of the Blunt Force Brawl, take a stand!”

Holding the silver trophy covered in blue beads, Hollingworth raised her arms, and the crowd cheered.