It was 9:45 last Saturday night inside a normally abandoned office building on the far west side. An older man in his mid-to-late 60s, dressed in a suit coat and striped shirt, was standing at the front of a rowdy mob gathered outside a room on the third floor. “You must let me in!” he pleaded in a thick eastern European accent. “I pay money! I demand! You let me in!” A butch woman about 40 years his junior, her chin covered in tribal tattoos, stood with her arms outstretched across the doorway. “I don’t care who you know, man,” she told him. “You ain’t getting in.” Doors had been open for less than an hour and the place was already at capacity. A young woman on roller skates made her way through the crowd, her flashlight the only illumination in the dark corridor. “Coming through! Security! Coming through!” she yelled as she passed, limbo style, under the bouncer’s arms. The mob grew surlier, craning their necks to see past the bouncer, because just behind her women were about to wrestle in mud.

The Mud Queens, a Chicago-based all-female mud-wrestling cabal, usually stages bouts only once or twice a year–and they tend to create havoc. This was their first appearance since the Around the Coyote Festival in September. Mud Queens organizer Meg Bell, 26, says she limited the amount of people let into the wrestling room “for safety’s sake” and, anticipating the overflow, set up a live video feed in an adjacent room to both accommodate fans and raise as much money as possible. All proceeds from Mud Queens events benefit the Young Women’s Empowerment Project, a local charity that seeks to help women and girls impacted by the sex trade and street economies. “It’s a benefit, and it’s only five bucks,” she says, justifying the setup. “If it was $15, we couldn’t do that sort of thing.”

But for five dollars these people expected to see muddy girls flipping each other over in the flesh, not on TV. One belligerent man, after demanding a refund, called the woman working the door a cunt and a fight broke out as security–all members of local roller derby team the Chitown Sirens–showed him the door.

Backstage the wrestlers made last-minute adjustments to their costumes and makeup. A woman named Sunshine, who wrestles as Velma Pompadour, touched up the fake black eye of her tattooed girlfriend, who wrestles as BT Bruiser. “It’s her first time,” she said. Bruiser took off her denim jacket with the Assuck patches to show her costume. Others oohed and aahed over Lexi Luthor’s costume–a vintage black girdle bra and hot pants–and her newly shaved head. “I even shaved my legs too!” she said with a big toothy grin.

There were seven matches scheduled, featuring 14 wrestlers. Announcer Billy Carter, of the Mud Queens’ house band, the Billy Carter Band, warned the crowd, “If you want to keep anything you are wearing, or ever wear it again, we suggest before the wrestling starts you take it off and put it somewhere far, far away, because it is about to get ruined.” The audience, which had little choice but to stay in the plastic-lined wrestling room all night–leaving meant forfeiting your spot–pressed closer to the stage. The knowing few had thought ahead and donned recycling bags or raincoats over their clothes; the others were either unconcerned or too drunk to care. It’d been nearly two hours since the local band Gays in the Military kicked things off, and the room smelled faintly of vomit because the singer for the Functional Blackouts, who also played, had barfed three times during his band’s set. Rather than clean it up, someone covered the puke with flowers that had been brought for the wrestlers, as if that would cancel out the stench.

Before the first wrestlers made their way onto the waist-high, tarp-covered wooden stage at the back of the room, a woman clad in fishnet stockings and garters sauntered through the crowd, a roll of tickets in one hand and a brown-bagged king can in the other. “Last chance for raffle tickets!” she shouted. “Win your chance to wrestle two-a these beautiful ladies tonight!” A middle-aged man bought 20, rocking on his heels as the girl doled the tickets into his hat. His date smirked as he turned and assured that the tickets were for her. Besides, he said, “It’s for a good cause.”

As the Billy Carter Band fumbled through a rousing medley of punk hits–pulling out “Blitzkrieg Bop” anytime the crowd started to flag–a man in a Mud Queens T-shirt poured two five-gallon buckets of watered-down artisan’s clay into a raised plastic ring. The crowd went nuts. Carter reached down, scooped up a finger full, and flicked it toward the front row, where it landed on the old man, who’d somehow managed to get in. “Don’t do that!” he yelled. “That’s my coat!”

The first wrestler to enter was El Bano, clad in a push-up bra with sewed-on lightning bolts and wearing a toilet seat with a towel affixed to it like a cape around her neck. Her competitor, first-time wrestler Cheerbleeder, made a lap around the ring and flashed her underwear at the crowd. Both took their positions and pushed in earplugs to keep out the mud. Cheerbleeder egged on El Bano, calling her a “drunken bitch,” and at the referee’s whistle they tackled each other.

“Mud wrestling is really intense,” Bell says. “It’s total sensory deprivation: The mud is in your mouth, your eyes, your nose. You can’t hear anything. And the mud makes it so slippery you can’t do anything but slip and slide around each other.” Nonetheless, the lady wrestlers went at it. The first match ended in a draw, but the audience pulled for Cheerbleeder, who–no pun intended–fought dirty, tugging El Bano’s bra half off.

Over the next hour and a half several of the Mud Queens exited the ring with their costumes ripped in half or off; spanking was deployed during submission holds; women in the front row pawed BT Bruiser, begging for kisses after her pummeling victory over Pippi Jawstopping; a pansexual make-out orgy took place ringside during the fifth match; people urinated in trash cans so as not to miss any action; and everyone in the front two rows got as soaked in mud as the wrestlers.

In the final round, the scrawny twentysomething raffle winner put a G-string with “drama queen” printed on the crotch over his boxers and let two wrestlers clobber him. The filthy audience then made their way out to the street. The old man from the front row giddily wiped mud from his suit as he made his way down the corridor, sandwiched between leather-clad punks. Uniformed police had just arrived and were standing at the front door. As he passed the bewildered officers, the old man hoisted his thumb and said, “It’s the best!”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Saverio Truglia.