What is Mixed Wrestling? (a brief history)

Google the term “mixed wrestling definition” and what comes up first is the Urban Dictionary. It begins:

“A form of wrestling which is sometimes faked where women ( and teenagers recently) dressed in bikinis and skimpy outfits wrestle men . It was invented to prove that women are stronger than men…”

Other definitions use the phrases “A porn but without the sex,” “The pairs doing it moan, breathe loudly and touch each other,” and “In mixed wrestling, the guys are the screamers…”

Google a video search of “mixed wrestling” and what you will see are more then 3.6-million results going well beyond “porn but without sex.” You will see high school matches showing boys wrestling girls; computer animations depicting a battle between a man and a woman; boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives in their living room or out on lawn rolling around and clutching each other; televised “intergender” professional matches featuring body slams and atomic knee drops; fit women wrestling a variety of men in a competitive fashion; and yes, pornography posing as wrestling. So perhaps it’s time to come up with a more accurate definition of the term.

At it’s core, mixed wrestling is a barehanded physical confrontation between a man and a woman seeking to impose their will by grappling for control. A sort of subset of humanity’s longest running conflict, the Battle of the Sexes, and all that entails; competition, power, control, domination and ultimately, sex. It’s a battle where men, because of their generally larger size and muscle mass, are seen to impose their will physically. Women’s weapons in the battle to gain control were traditionally seen as intelligence, whit and some would say ultimately, their sexuality. Mixed wrestling challenges that construct while never eliminating the element of sexuality. For some, the sexuality of the confrontation is heightened to erotic levels.

While through-out history there are examples of women and men engaged in physical confrontation; from mythic tales of Amazon warriors and the Greek warrior princess Atalanta, to carnival-type side shows offering 5 dollars to any man willing to step into the ring with a woman; little was made of the erotic nature of the battle. Mildred Burke, who would go on to be declared women’s professional wrestling champion, was one of those sideshow perfomers. During the 1930s she was said to have wrestled between as many as 200 men, reportedly losing only once. The same could be said of battles involving women fighting women. It was a contest. Most were viewed as oddities, a kind of “man bites dog” event. Even in pre-WW II films, scenes involving fighting women were generally used for comic relief.

PEAKING OUT OF THE CLOSET

It wasn’t until after World War II that the erotic nature of fighting women as an erotic fetish came to the surface. Irving Klaw and his sister Paula turned a struggling used bookstore on E 14th Street in Manhattan into a thriving mail-order firm supplying customer requested “damsel in distress” photos showing restrained women in various costumes. His sister Paula was often the model. Today we know these as bondage scenes. Klaw made sure his photos contained no sex acts or nudity so as not to run afoul of the existing pornography laws. What Irving Klaw had discovered was the sex fetish market. He was selling sex without actual sex. In the 1950’s, Klaw began making 8mm and 16mm one reel films exploiting the fetish market, many with his favorite model, Bette Paige. Among these one type became known as catfight films, showing scantily clothed women battling it out for the erotic pleasure of the viewers. Mixed battles, because of the pornography laws, were still illegal to ship through the mail.

Irving Klaw’s company also began publishing illustrated stories by artists such as Eric Stanton and Gene Bilbrew, two men whose work often depicted dominant females overpowering their male victims physically. The erotic nature of mixed wrestling was sneaking out of the closet. Bilbrew’s, and particularly Stanton’s women were superior to their men in a fight. They subject them to various wrestling holds, particularly leg scissors around the man’s waist or head, and finish them off victoriously, seated on their victims’ faces. Stanton’s work applied the trained hand of a cartoonist to capture a niche of the growing fetish market. Some of Stanton’s work was re-published in the mid-70’s and remain highly prized by mixed wrestling enthusiasts today.

MASS MEDIA TAKES NOTICE

So it was the button-down, sexually repressed Eisenhower 50’s that gave birth to the fetish wrestling underground. No longer were fighting women seen solely as an oddity, suitable at most for comic relief. For many, it was an erotically charged confrontation. As people began to slowly open themselves up to a variety of sexual adventures, more and more found stimulation at the sight of dominant women engaging in battle. As the sexually liberating 60’s evolved, even mass media was beginning to take notice.

While the comedic view of fighting women could still be found in movies and TV shows like “The Beverly Hillbillies,” the roles of women in society were beginning to change. A new woman was emerging; strong, attractive, willing to fight to gain control, and most of all, sexually alluring in her strength. When British TV, looking to tap into the James Bond spy craze, put together a series about 2 government agents battling the evil villains of the world, they cast Honor Blackman, a beautiful blonde judo black belt in the role of agent Cathy Gayle. Dressed in her standard tight black leather body suit, she used her martial arts skills to subdue the bad guys. When Blackman moved on and was replaced in the series by classical trained actress Diana Rigg in the role of Emma Peel, the black leather body body suit remained, almost a declaration of power. And when that wasn’t enough, Rigg was seen to don various costumes, like the tight corset, black stockings and knee high boots of a dominatrix, in order to carry out her mission. When aired in the US, “The Avengers” became an instant cult classic, aided no doubt by the sizzling erotic black leather appeal of it’s powerful heroine.

On the big screen, films such as “Modesty Blaise” and “Goldfinger” wove intergender battles into the story lines, while B-movies such as Russ Meyer’s “Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill, Kill” and “The Million Eyes of Sumaru,” based on a series of novels by Sax Rohmer, appealed directly to viewers interested in seeing dominant women physically over power men. The official movie poster for “Sumaru,” in fact, featured a scene of a woman executing a male prisoner between her legs with a headscissor hold, an erotically charged come-on to fetish wrestling enthusiasts. The popular James Bond series offered viewers perhaps the most famous and widely seen on screen headscissor scene, when actress Lola Larsen, in the role of the gymnastic Bambi, traps Bond in her crushing thighs.

Men’s magazines tapped into the scene as well. Widely read publications, such as “Playboy,” “Penthouse” and “Oui,” featured photo spreads depicting male and female models squaring off against each other in wrestling matches. Smaller publications such as “Cavalier” and “Nugget” featured monthly “Fight Time” letters, supposedly written by readers who had actually engaged in battles, both FvF and FvM, in real life. The public had an appetite. By the mid-70s, the image of strong, physically daring and dominant women could be found in almost every medium.

Celebrities began to become linked to the fighting women club. Following his death, a trove of women’s wrestling videos was found in the bedroom of Elvis Presley. TV host Regis Philbin and heavyweight boxing champ Ken Norton were rumored to be big fem wrestling fans.

THE MIXED WRESTLING MARKET GROWS UP

For diehard mixed wrestling fans, the glimpses offered by mass media were exciting, but not nearly enough. By the mid to late 60’s, 2 companies started producing and marketing films specifically for the market. On the East Coast, the fetish artist Eric Stanton began producing gritty, apartment-based battles offering more then a hint of female domination. His models, often dressed in panties, garter belt and stockings, over powered their victims to emerge victorious, generally by way of a facesitting pin. Stanton was offering live-action films reflecting his earlier artwork involving dominant women. Clips involving a sweet-faced Toni Liddell in particular are still being sought by fans today.

About the same time on the west coast, California Supreme began offering a product as different as New York is from Los Angeles. California Supreme matches took place in a wrestling ring or an empty room covered with padded mats featuring pretty, often blonde california girl types. The girls proved to be skilled in a variety of professional wrestling maneuvers and holds, including throws like snapmares (flipping an opponent over ones shoulder) and monkey flips (using ones legs to launch an opponent over head), bouncing their opponents off the ring floor. Though often ending their matches with a pin, the girls would just as often lock their helpless victims into submission holds; scissor holds, boston crabs and camel clutches being popular; to gain the man’s surrender.

Other film makers soon followed. Mildred Burke, the venerable veteran of the carnival circuit in the 30’s and former world’s champ, produced films out of her professional wrestling school in California. Her girls were tough, professional wrestling types who took on their male opponents in the schools ring, often with a referee present. Triumph Studios gave it’s fans slim, pretty model types in scripted matches that stressed the sexiness of the girls as well as their wrestling abilities. The matches took place in apartment settings or sometimes, poolside. Judell DuLong pitted fresh-faced girl next door types against similarly sized males on the mats or in a ring, the action seeming less scripted and more competitive then other production companies. While Curtis DuPont emulated the Stanton style, with models often dressed in stockings and garter pummeling their opponents.

By the end of the 70’s, enough companies had entered the market to offer almost every variety of action. From seemingly competitive contests of skill to obviously scripted and staged performances, the market sought to exploit every aspect of the fetish. The battles took place indoors and outdoors, in apartment living rooms and bedrooms, poolside or on beaches, in wrestling rings or on gym mats: pratically any place a fight could be staged, it was. Some would play to the sexual elements of the battle with costumes and setting, others seemed to down play it. Some would offer storylines to set the stage, others would just pair off a man and a woman and wrestle. By the end of the 70’s, companies had positioned themselves to take advantage of a coming technological revolution. A revolution that would explode the production and availability of mixed wrestling.

to be continued…

The author of the article is Buba, a devoted fan of underground wrestling.
The article was first published on FightPulse.com on 12/Sep/2015.

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