If you haven’t yet seen CLAW — Champaign Ladies Amateur Wrestling — in action, you’ve been missing out. Big time.
Picture an enormous slice of pizza doing battle with a hyperactive aerobics buff; two fighters throwing cheese puffs wildly at each other while ignoring the warnings of the referee; and elder anger embodied, complete with a loose bathrobe, hair scarf, and a secret stash of dangerous dust hidden in her bosom.
Those images should give you a sense of what you’re in for tonight, when CLAW takes on their biggest venue yet — the Highdive — at 8 p.m.
CLAW, according to wrestler Christina De Angelo, is “a group of awesome ladies who get together to wrestle and work out our aggression. CLAW is also a group that works together regardless of different abilities and strengths.”
“We are pro-wrestling, and we also embrace the absurd,” she said.
Cher Nobyl (left) and the Dewey Decimator
Rusty Bazongas (left) and Virginia Dentata
As a “a Pandora’s box of caged female fury unleashed,” CLAW confronts and mocks societal expectations that women should regulate and contain their emotions. De Angelo said that demonstrating and experiencing the strength of women is one of the joys of wrestling for CLAW’s members.
“Women are often portrayed as supporting characters in pro wrestling,” said De Angelo. “Most of the time, the women you see in pro wrestling are afterthoughts or not part of the main event. We wanted something where wrestling was run by, led by, and wrestled by women in a way that didn’t necessarily focus on our femininity or sexualize us unless we decided to do that ourselves. As far as aggression and the aggressive nature of wrestling, I think it gives a lot of us an outlet to learn about the strength that our bodies have. It is obviously a violent endeavor. But doing this is something that shows strength and be in charge of what strength looks like for us.”
CLAW’s differences in persona are matched only by the differences in fighting technique.
“When we first started, we all have very different backgrounds in terms of athletic backgrounds and physical capabilities,” said De Angelo. “CLAW also has a wide age range. For those reasons, the first training we receive is fall training. We learn from a local martial arts instructor about how to fall properly, without hurting ourselves.”
Training involves lots of studying videos and trying out new tricks on the mat. “Some of our members dance, cycle, or practice yoga, so they will pull from those areas when they’re trying to incorporate new specialties,” said De Angelo. “There’s also a lot of trial and error as we try out different moves we’ve seen in the wrestling we watch. We have a base repertoire that we all practice together, and we meet more regularly leading up to matches to spar and figure out what we can realistically do.”
CLAW’s initial shows — the most recent of which took place during Pygmalion weekend — were met with uninhibited enthusiasm from the audience, particularly when wrestlers ignored the ref.
“Each wrestler has a few of her own signature moves or weapons. Some play dirtier than others,” said De Angelo.
In addition to wrestling, Friday’s show features music from three bands. Los Despeinados, a surfer rock band that sings in Spanish, joins CLAW from Bloomington-Normal as will Jorts, an intergalactic disco trance-pop band from Urbana. Bookmobile!, CLAW’s house band, will also be in attendance.
In short, don’t miss tonight’s CLAW. It’s going to be bigger than ever before, with a total of six match-ups. And, in De Angelo’s words: “it’s going to be badasser. All the wrestlers are super fired up.”
Doors open for CLAW at 8 p.m. The first band starts at 9 p.m. Tickets are $12 + fees in advance and $15 at the door. The last show was sold out, so don’t wait to get your tickets. Check them out online and on social media @217claw.