Meet CLAW: Champaign Ladies Amateur Wrestling

Jun 11, 2018

"The Thighmaster" holds up the belt being fought for
Credit Eric Rogers / NPR Illinois

A theatrical and punk rock venture in Champaign–Urbana has become an empowering part of the arts scene there.

Madeleine Wolske aka "Dewy Decimator"
Credit Rachel Otwell / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Madeleine Wolske, whose wrestling persona is known as Dewy Decimator, heads CLAW. Wolske explains her character as a "librarian from hell."

She says that, since its inception in 2015, CLAW has become a colorful part of the local community. "The majority of large shows we do are benefits," said Wolske. "We’re wrestling in order to give back to the community."

Luke Bergkoetter drums for the band Bookmobile! –which helps provide music for the matches. “CLAW is a very punk organization," he explained. "It's feminist women doing theatrical wrestling to a punk rock soundtrack and we provide that soundtrack."

The performances are campy and exaggerated, but they still are physically demanding. While the other bands played to a somewhat sparse dance floor, the second the wrestlers begin to prep their set, laying out mats on the stage, the dance floor got packed as onlookers clamored to get a good view of the performance.

Musician Kamila Glowacki was in the audience. She’s been to a handful of CLAW shows before, and a band she’s in even performed with them once. She’s education coordinator at the Krannert Art Museum, and a bit of a wrestling fan.

“It’s actually really interesting because, in WWE, there’s been a recent sort of empowerment and women’s wrestling is taken seriously,” she said. Glowacki says CLAW is a unique addition, building bridges within the central Illinois art and music scene.

Spooky Scully's official wrestling photo
Credit 217CLAW.COM

Isabel Skidmore has found involvement with CLAW to be personally empowering. “It’s pretty physically demanding," Skidmore said. "I was able to show I can put on a show and be funny and strong."

Skidmore's wrestling character, crafted as an X-Files reference, is named "Spooky Scully." Skidmore said one of the rewarding things about CLAW has been seeing the reaction from audiences. Skidmore talks about a match at one of the area’s "First Friday" art happenings, where young girls came up to the wrestlers after the show and got pictures with them, and told them about the impact they made.

While the shows may be intense and full of drama, it’s clear the members of CLAW have the same sort of camaraderie you see between sports teams and other performers – this time with that extra punk flair and with a message that wrestling, like much else, is no longer just a boy’s club.