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Brawling With Brooklyn’s All-Ladies Arm-Wrestling League

The all-women arm-wrestling collective in Brooklyn hardly has time for luncheons. That’s because the group of DIY-happy, sport-obsessed ladies love to brawl, for up to seven hours at a time. Sure, arm wrestling may be novel in terms of athletics, less “typically male” than “typically school-aged” in demographic. But since 2011, the 5Borough Ladies Arm Wrestling League — part of a international chapter of arm wrestlers that extends from Charlottesville, Virginia, to Sao Paulo, Brazil — has given women a space to flex their biceps. Competitions pit eight women against each other in rounds of full-contact, strength-testing matches. In the past, arms have been broken.

“It’s about allowing women to exercise strength in a way that’s usually frowned upon,” says Alie Cirgenski, the organizer of the most recent all-day competition at Bushwick’s Third Ward. It’s not an organization based on violence, she adds, but a social and theatrical space where members form a sense of a camaraderie while (very physically) working out the challenges of being a woman.

In person, it’s part competition, part burlesque show — with a dash of lucha libre absurdity. Even more important than brute strength, the biggest attractions are the high-camp alter egos of the 5Blaw wrestlers, along with their handmade costumes and names like “Rosie the Reamer” or “Killah Bee.” Each woman gathers her own excited entourages to gin-up bets from attendees, and all winnings go to charities. Recently, the Cut sent photographer Yana Paskova to shoot a tournament, so click through to see what it takes to win (persistence, a mean grip, and a nasty stink eye, it turns out.)

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Photo: Yana Paskova/Yana Paskova

Sarah “Sickfried and Royal Beatdown” Hymanson  

Introducing herself before round one, Hymanson chose “Sickfried and Royal Beatdown” as her persona. As she walks out to a mash-up of Kelly Clarkson and twisted circus music, she explains how Siegfried and Roy escaped to a castle, became one person, and came back to dominate ladies’ arm-wrestling brawls. Tiger included.

Photo: Yana Paskova/Yana Paskova

On a Stage

The brawl pits eight wrestlers against one another in three elimination rounds over seven hours at Brooklyn’s Third Ward. Spectators bet on which wrestler seems more powerful.

Photo: Yana Paskova/Yana Paskova

Brandi “Killah Bee” Wagner and Roni “Marina Abreakabitch” Ginach  

Host and emcee Alie Cirgenski preps Wagner and Ginach for their first match. How did you get involved with 5 Borough Ladies Arm Wrestling? “ I am pretty strong and I’ve never been able to flex my muscles like that!” Wagner explains. “I don’t lift weights or anything, but I’m a big girl who is a janitor so I am constantly lifting heavy bags of garbage and moving big pieces of furniture with my co-workers.”

Photo: Yana Paskova/Yana Paskova

Marina Abreakabitch

What’s your secret technique? “No secret,” she explains. “Brute strength. Determination. Getting a good stink eye down and some leverage don’t hurt, either.”

Photo: Yana Paskova/Yana Paskova

Mid-Round Entertainment

A group known as the Fly Girls performs during downtime in between the matches.

Photo: Yana Paskova/Yana Paskova

The Fly Girls Keep on Dancing 

“I don’t know actually what the piece is about. I have to be honest. I think it’s interpretive,” says host and organizer Cirgenski of their routine.

Photo: Yana Paskova/Yana Paskova

Resurrection Round

Ali “Sleaze Lightning” May bribes the audience for a second chance at victory.

Photo: Yana Paskova/Yana Paskova

… to No Avail

After three tough rounds against the Sleaze, Sickfriend and Royal Beatdown moves onto the finals.

Photo: Yana Paskova/Yana Paskova

Member of the Hive

Nicole Torquato, part of Killah Bee’s entourage, works the crowd to drum up bets for her wrestler.

Photo: Yana Paskova/Yana Paskova

The Final Round

After wiping the floor with Sickfried and Royal Beatdown, Killah Bee goes home with a trophy of sunflowers.

Brawling With the Ladies’ Arm-Wrestling League