After nearly a decade of brawls, dance parties, burlesque and drag performances and thousands of dollars raised, New Orleans Ladies Arm Wrestling is coming to an end.
The NOLAW collective will host its final brawl at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10 at One Eyed Jacks.
“As far as wrestling goes, this is the end of an era,” says organizer and emcee Katie Hunter-Lowery. “Now feels like a good time to say goodbye.”
NOLAW’s anything-goes brawls and events engage intersectional feminism through a kind of campy theatrical sports philanthropy, deflating gender norms through an outrageous and energetic venue for expression, “whatever that means to you,” Hunter-Lowery says.
Small bills for betting and bribing are shoved in hands, and motley crews of wrestlers, their entourage, the audience, referees, round-card carriers and myriad performers and spectators filing the stages and the crowd “get to be what they want to be,” particularly for women and nonbinary people.
“Arm wrestling is so approachable,” Hunter-Lowery says. “It’s an accessible ‘sport.’ The way we do it — where wrestlers have a persona and entourage and a theme song — allows for the character development and the stepping out into who you feel you are or want to be for the night.”
Among those personas: first-ever winner The Viper, peoples’ champion Lefty Lucy, rodent-tailed Justin Beaver, chef-inspired Vagitarian, and perennial crowd favorites Slamrock O’Hagan, who crowd-surfed to the stage to “Shippin’ Up to Boston,” and Grandma Foots, who, along with a matching entourage, tossed aside pajamas and walkers to reveal neon rainbow tutus.
Then there was the nutria-clad Swamp Thang, The Denominator (formerly Cry Baby), Lady Liberty, the Cosmic Crusher, comedian Kristen Schaal (briefly), and dozens other wrestlers and their hype-building entourages, spanning 25 brawls raising thousands of dollars for women-focused organizations across New Orleans.
The national network launched in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2008, then spawned chapters in New York and then New Orleans, which opened in 2009. After postponing the inaugural brawl that year following Mid-City floods, NOLAW held its first brawl at Finn McCool’s Irish Pub in 2010. With that debut brawl, NOLAW opened one of the few spaces in the city that was “queer- and lady-focused,” Hunter-Lowery says. “That space felt so necessary.”
NOLAW hosted bouts at AllWays Lounge, The Howlin’ Wolf, One Eyed Jacks and Handsome Willy’s, where brawls filled the bar’s tiny back patio. “It felt like we were all randomly in an alley and had all showed up there,” Hunter-Lowery says, "with all these bodies pressed up against each other cheering for an old school hip-hop DJ persona and a Ninja Turtle."
Its final brawl also features drag performances from Napoleon Complex and Gayle King Kong, among others, and “celebrity” judges, along with some returning champs and newcomers. Admission is $10, and proceeds benefit the New Orleans Abortion Fund.
“We’re all sad to let it go but intend to keep doing things and raising money as a collective,” says organizer and emcee Katie Hunter-Lowery. “With this medium we also wanted to lay it to rest on our terms and not let it fade away.”
When New Orleans Ladies Arm Wrestling (NOLAW)founder Nina Feldman first arm wrestled in upstate New York back in 2009, she thought she was goi…