Gladiatresses

Without a little mud or oil, the grunt-and-twist spectacle can give you the blahs

"I've got a cold," Venturi said afterward, stalking back to the dressing room. "I couldn't breathe."

But when it came time for the Battle Royal, it was Venturi who hoisted the nurses to relative safety, chucking them gently over the rope to the ramp.

Francine Fournier, the general manager of Women's Extreme Wrestling, a leggy, top-heavy vixen whose website features her wearing a skimpy tank top that says "size does matter," actually does quite well playing up her, uh, physical gifts. Like Venturi, she's a pro. She's been through wrestling school, in Philadelphia. She's been smashed through tables and actually punched in the face by rabid fans.

But Fournier sniffs disapprovingly at the seamier side of her profession. Fans like Brehm and Turner who can't appreciate the event without seeing nipples? "That's not a real wrestling fan," she says before the show. "If that's what you want, go watch a porno. Go to a strip club, if you're into that. We're in Fort Lauderdale, for God's sake."

That said, it was hard not to notice the titillating little heart, drawn in glitter on her right breast, when she appeared in the ring.

Legitimate women's wrestling -- and we use the term broadly, so to speak -- has few outlets, and few devoted fans, but they do turn out. Clad in a jean jacket and a faded Batman T-shirt, Mike Crilly of West Palm Beach arrive to watch the wrestlers pay their dues. Politics in wrestling, he says, is skewed against the girls, many of whom suffer indignities the men don't face.

"Can you see asking the Rock to go through a bra-and-panties match?" masonry worker Crilly asks.

There were serious fans like Crilly present, but they weren't the most vocal. The squeaky wheels, naturally, were the most craven, bless 'em.

"You're going to pop an implant!" someone hollered.

Then later, predictably: "Show your tits!"

Near the show's end, "Kick her in the ovaries!"

And, most redundantly, "The nurses rule!"

Maybe they were all just waiting for a brief, you know, make-out session. Nothing says good sportsmanship quite like it. One thing the display at Beach Bums showed: Even if you're cruising for some girl-on-girl action, babes bouncing around a ring in tights can be less than smashing.

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