Going to a Chicago Mud Queens match is a little like watching the Netflix show G.L.O.W., but with beer, guitars, a much bigger mess, and less sexual harassment. The league, which has been around since 2003, aims to reclaim the raw power of women's mud wrestling, without the over-sexualized image. What started as a goofy fight among friends evolved into a legit organization that hosts indoor matches from April through October at music venues and bars throughout the city. Since 2004, the team has donated profits from their events to charity.
The provocative, witty, and aggressively skilled women who sling mud (and occasionally slime, lube, or spaghetti) at each other have earned the Mud Queens a cult following in Chicago. The biggest match of the year takes place every Halloween at Reggie’s Rock Club in Chicago's South Loop. The mud is swapped out for fake blood (though the recipe for the slick stuff stays secret). It's a combination of punk rock, feminism, contact sports, and activism that embodies the Windy City's gritty, DIY ethos.
VICE checked out this year's Halloween event with photographer Danielle Scruggs to meet the Mud Queens and get a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to throw a bloody good wrestling match.
Kira Elliot, a.k.a. Brownie Bruiser
"I’ve been in Mud Queens for eight or nine years. There are a lot of reasons I do it. My favorite part is the women involved in the organization. They’re hilarious, and there is an amazing sisterhood in the group. Everybody just really enjoys each other. We all live these buttoned-up lives, and it’s cool to let loose and do something that’s off-the-charts wild and crazy. Every year, after our final show, we give a lump sum of our earnings to the Chicago Women’s Health Center. I think it’s really important to take care of people, especially women with reproductive needs. Chicago is competing against New York and Los Angeles, and there is something gritty about Mud Queens being here. It gives Chicago a bit more of an edge and reputation of being badass and hardcore."
Erica de Marco, a.k.a. Ultimate Whorrior
“I came to Chicago alone, when I was 21 and didn’t know anybody. I came across a flyer for a Mud Queens show and texted the founder and said, 'I want to do this. How do I get trained?' She texted back and said, 'We had a girl drop out. You're on tomorrow at 7 PM.' She put me up against one of the largest fighters, and I lost very hard. I lost every fight for the next four years straight, and it wasn’t until my fifth year that I won my first fight. It’s a really good feeling when you look out into the audience and people are cheering. It’s a feeling I’ve grown addicted to. We’re breaking stereotypes. When you think of mud wrestling, you think of girls rolling around seductively, but we bring strength to it."
Mark Macoun, a.k.a. the Ref
“My buddy Megan wanted to do jello wrestling, but we didn’t know where to store that much jello, so we made mud. I’ve been doing this since 2003. I’ve been doing it so long that I don’t know why I would stop [laughs]. Mud Queens is unique to Chicago. We're underground, but we've been around for 15 years. It has to be one of the city's longest running shows at this point. I love the community aspect—people showing up and putting on a show together—a band of brothers and sisters, that sort of shit."
Kim Kozak, a.k.a. El Baño
“There is nothing else like Mud Queens. It’s badass women who are taking back mud wrestling. It's a piece of Chicago culture other cities really don't have. It's a grassroots effort that's badass, crude, and brash—like the city itself. Our first show was at a birthday party in someone's apartment, put together as a joke, but everyone had a great time. All of our friends' bands played, and we started doing more shows from there. The first four or five were stopped by police. There were a couple times they were called for noise complaints, and the cops would stay and watch [laughs].
"I didn’t think we'd ever be allowed in a legit venue. When we were on loading docks, we had to move dumpsters and someone was scratched by a rat. It was pretty ramshackle. We never thought we would ever do a ‘real’ show. We started charging at the door to make up the money for supplies, and we ended up with more money than we knew what to do with, so we thought the best thing to do was give it to charity. The Chicago Women’s Health Center has been our charity from the start.”
Ingrid Hansen, a.k.a. Calamity Pain
“Before, there was no venue. We wrestled in warehouses or on the street. There were no real rules. We had rules for safety, but if someone's top fell off, we weren’t in a public establishment. The costumes have gotten more intricate, and the organization itself is more organized. We’ve adapted. It was only mud in the beginning, but the founder created a recipe for blood, and we decided to use slime. The creative members of Mud Queens are always adding elements to the show."
Carly Huizenga, a.k.a. Babe Brute
“There’s a stereotype that women aren’t as strong—that women have inner strength, but not physical strength. All of us are strong women trying to help other women. We’re all different sizes and shapes. You are welcome with us. I’m not a loud person. I’m not very confident in my normal, regular life. That is completely different when I’m wrestling. I get to push my body and express all my energy, more than when I'm just working out. After I've let out all that aggression, I feel calm."
The Mud Queens are always looking for “new blood,” fresh faces, and big characters. The 2018 season is over, but wrestling will pick back up in the spring. Follow them on Facebook for more information.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.