Gladiatresses

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

Imagine the disappointment of Cory Brehm and David Turner, a couple of friends who had journeyed from Wilton Manors to Fort Lauderdale last week to see a smoochy, thong-poppin' cheesecake brawl at Beach Bums, a beer-splattered hangout on A1A, and instead were subjected to some actual wrestling.

"It could have been better," Brehm, 23, said grudgingly at 2 a.m. Friday, after sitting through four hours of female grappling. "We thought it was going to be better-looking girls."

The spectacle wasn't even authentic, Turner, 26, kvetched. "You smash the bitch on the ground, she shouldn't be all giggly and shit," he said.

"Hey, baby. Wanna wrestle?"
Colby Katz
"Hey, baby. Wanna wrestle?"

The two snickered.

But both were most concerned about the lack of a, well, combat medium. No mud, no oil, nothing.

"Jell-O wrestling. Even K-Y wrestling like in Old School," Brehm lamented. "Something."

The irony of this K-Y-less evening was that Women's Extreme Wrestling, the company that has brought several dozen female wrestlers to Fort Lauderdale on the beach, was taping for a pay-per-view show titled "Big Pimpin' Booty Kicks Ass" (and broadcast later as part of the Sunshine Network's regular 3 a.m. Sunday wrestling show). "Big Pimp" eventually will include X-rated material, as well as the earnest grunt-and-twist display. Call it carnage meets carnality. Nevertheless, the producers setting up at Beach Bums made sure their stars knew there were to be no breasts popping out during the matches. Not at this venue, even though bare flesh is often de rigueur for a sport stocked with such a hodgepodge of aspirant amateurs, reformed strippers, and a handful of bona fide wrestlers.

For a Fort Lauderdale beachside joint right out of a frat boy's spring break fantasy to be concerned about the possibility of errant bare boobs bespeaks a warped world. America's Venice, once South Florida's mecca of debauchery, ain't what it was in the 1980s.

The fans might not have known what to make of the women wrestlers, but they knew what to make of women. The most womanly of performers were a couple of New Jersey coeds sashaying about in nurse outfits. Tennille Black, the blond known as Nurse T, clad in a red bikini bottom and a white bikini top with red crosses, got into this gig through round-carding, the ritual of a scantily clad hotty carrying a numbered card around a ring to show what round is coming up. For this event, Tennille invited her friend Alese Baccello, known here as Nurse A, clad in a white, form-fitting nurse costume.

"It's great because now we have Nurse T and Nurse A," Nurse A said. "So it's like T and A."

Very much so, in fact. The only glitch -- besides, curiously, Nurse T having the slightly fuller A and Nurse A having the more striking T's -- is that neither had any clue about how to wrestle, even though they were due to be included in a 20-woman Battle Royal in the middle of the evening.

Before the show, old pro Dee Dee "Kat" Venturi stepped up to help give T and A a little grounding in the basics: When you get tossed over the ropes, don't break your neck. "You've got to lean, honey," Venturi said as she hoisted the waifish Nurse T like a pile of wet clothes. "Make sure you get the legs up and I'll place you over the ropes."

When the two medical marvels finally made their way into the ring, announcer Eric Gargiullo offered, to mild cheers, their professional training to the crowd, asking, "Does anyone one here need an enema?" Then he asked: "What about mouth-to-mouth?" Someone apparently late for his W.H. Auden appreciation group replied, "I need mouth-to-cock!" The crowd -- about 200 strong and 90 percent male -- roared.

Venturi, for one, isn't enthusiastic about fleshy, amateurish displays. The nurses, whose prime duty this evening is to toss Mardi Gras beads to men in the audience who have torn their shirts off, are not wrestlers, Venturi suggests, but eye candy. In her business, too many babes are willing to try to make it by submitting to bra-and-panties matches, or dildo matches, or some other gimmick. A tall, ropey veteran of WWF, WCW, and other wrestling leagues, she derides those performers as "couch wrestlers."

Venturi's profession requires passion -- professional passion, that is. "You hit the canvas once, you're hooked," the St. Petersburg-based wrestler says. "You have to be crazy to do this. Or you become a cheerleader."

Walking around the dressing room before the show, Venturi steps on a plastic hair clamp, crushing it. Then she gingerly picks up the fragments, worrying aloud about some unsuspecting soul without shoes cutting herself. It's a curious attention to physical safety. Later, in her match, Venturi proceeds to get clobbered by the following items: a folding table, a ladder, a hammer, a folding chair, a mannequin arm, a garbage can, a garbage can lid, two bars, a metal Rolling Rock bucket, and a beer pitcher. All of this before she spilled out of the ring, stumbled theatrically through the bar, and fell into Beach Bums' icy swimming pool, with the crowd stampeding behind her to shiver in the 50-something-degree night as they watch her get pinned in the water.

"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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