When PILLOW FIGHT LEAGUE ladies rumble, feathers fly in the fiercest of competition
Alexa Stanard / Special to The Detroit News
Trevor Roberts / PFL
The Pillow Fight League
John T. Greilick / The Detroit News
Sailor Gerri will face an uphill battle tonight as she takes on strongwoman Champain for the title of Pillow Fight League world champion. But she's ready for the challenge.
"Champain is really good at pillow swinging, so I'm just going to go for her knees," says the Sailor. "I'm going to take this whole thing to the mat, and I'm just going to sit on her and hope she can't get up."
The two pillow brawlers are among 16 women who will swing it out tonight during PFL 8 at the Boom Boom Room, a nightclub in downtown Windsor. The event is the latest for the flying-by-the-seat-of-its-pants league, which got its start in Toronto in May and since has garnered international media attention for its melodramatic flair and deadpan-serious treatment of pillow fighting as a legitimate sport.
"Pillow fighting -- everybody's done it, everyone knows what it is, but no one's ever created rules and regulations for it," says Stacey Case, league founder and commissioner.
Fighting like a girl!
Oversight for those rules falls to league senior official and head referee Matt Mullen. Pillow fighting is a women-only sport, Mullen explains, and any offensive attack is permitted, so long as a pillow is the point of contact.
A fighter defeats her opponent by making her surrender or by pinning her shoulders to the ground for a 3-second count. The referee can terminate a fight due to timidity, and if no clear winner emerges, a three-judge panel decides the fight, judging fighters on style, stamina and "eye of the tiger," a phrase that rolls off the tongues of those in the league as though its meaning should be obvious to all.
Eye of the tiger is best defined as "a finesse," says Sailor Gerri. "It's using your style to put on a good show as well as obliterate each other."
No lewd or lascivious behavior is permitted, Mullen says. Instead, the fights are about "spectacle, athleticism and sport."
Indeed, spectators hoping to see tarted-up women playfully whack each other as feathers fly will be sorely disappointed. PFL fights are no-holds-barred events.
The women cultivate bravado-laden costumes and personas -- with names such as Betty Clock'er, Eiffel Power and Lady Die -- to rival WWE wrestlers.
A fight begins with Mullen asking each woman if she wants to fight. After each shouts her agreement, Mullen commands them to "Fight like a girl!" and the brawl is on. Each fighter darts onto the mat, picks up one of two large, weighty pillows from the center and begins pounding on her opponent.
The bouts have a 5-minute time limit. The fight is exhausting even to watch. By the time Mullen announces the winner by thrusting her arm into the air, each fighter looks disheveled and drained.
A whirlwind history
The league's blend of tongue-in-cheek humor, dedicated fighters and serious organization has taken it from inspired idea to international phenomenon in less than one year.
Case hatched the plan for PFL while on tour in Austria with his band, the Tijuana Bibles, he says.
"The vision was to make a pillowcase with a logo and watch two girls have a pillow fight and say we were the Pillow Fight League," he says. "Then it happened."
The league debuted on May 11 with 14 fighters at a bar in Toronto. The event was "sold out and insane," Case says, but he assumed it was a fluke. But then PFL 2 happened, then PFL 3, and so on, with each event held before ever-larger crowds.
PFL 6, in Brooklyn, New York, in January, incited a media storm, with TV crews from around the globe packing in for two sold-out shows. The event was "a magical whirlwind of craziness," Case says, and took the league to a new level, bringing in book and TV offers and opportunities to hold events throughout the United States.
The league's 25 fighters train at least twice a week in its Toronto studio. Fighters must audition, and acceptance into the league means entry into a tight-knit group that leaves its rivalries on the mat.
"When I tried out I thought it was the most fun I'd ever had," says Kilkelly, a Gaelic football player who sports a jersey and kilt during her fights. "I stay for the women -- we're a community. Plus, I like fighting."
For women outside Toronto who are itching to pick up a pillow and start swinging, Case and Mullen envision franchising the league, with chapters in major cities throughout North America.
But for now, it's all about tonight's fight. At a press conference last week, Sailor Gerri, the league's No. 1 contender, brandished her pillow-fighting trophy, flexed her muscles and informed the media that she was looking forward to taking down Champain.
The world champ, for her part, delivered a taunting message to Gerri via video, promising to protect her championship belt from all challengers.
"We'll fight to the end for this belt," she sneers. "And I'll keep it."
Alexa Stanard is a Metro Detroit freelance writer.