The Tournament

by Sasha S.

The Central Sports Facility was the appropriately vaguely named venue for the women’s wrestling league in town. Many of the things that happened there were more or less on the wrong side of the line that separates the legal from the illegal, but with the right connections and the right amount of money it was possible to convince the necessary set of cops to fail to notice an organization that kept a low enough profile. For this reason membership in the organization was kept to an elite few – those with both the money and the interest to pay their share. Rumors did of course occasionally leak out, but the league made sure that as many as possible of those in the know were happy and that those who weren’t were well informed of the consequences of betrayal. As a result, the rumors were limited to less reputable news sources in town, where they could easily be shrugged aside – a libel suit would have been a surefire win but would only have brought unwanted attention. Despite the relatively strict membership requirements, interest was high enough that the league resources were sufficient to ensure that those lucky few wrestlers who made a successful career in the league could pull in enough money to be set for life. Indeed, the occasional rumors helped to bring in potential new talent.
The league’s problem, of course, was that it needed to ensure that new talent both met the exacting physical and athletic requirements for entry and could be relied upon not to draw unwanted attention to the organization. For this reason, it occasionally sponsored membership competitions: it was possible to inform the participants that those who fared well in these competitions would secure entry into the league, while those who failed could be left with sufficiently imprecise and incomplete information to ensure that they would pose no threat. The events of this narrative took place at the time of one of these occasional contests, this time a four-round tag-team tournament, with the winner team assured entry into the league.

Amanda remained uncertain why she had allowed herself to be talked into taking part in the tournament. She had always been quieter than her friend and now tag-team partner Allison – willing to stay in the background and achieve success based on her talent and hard work. Allison, on the other hand, had always sought the quick route to money, success, and fame, and when one of the rumors she followed ultimately turned up something about the league, she was ecstatic. The only problem from her perspective had been that she had not counted on needing to find a partner. When she learned of that requirement, she immediately approached Amanda and started hounding her, trying to convince her to join in. Amanda was, after all, the logical choice – the two had been teammates in high school sports, where they had been the consensus best athletes in their school. Never close friends, they nonetheless respected each other’s talents and stayed in touch after graduation. Now 25, both were still extremely fit and had pretty faces and attractive figures gained from years of playing soccer – the attractiveness requirement for participation in the tournament posed no obstacle for either of them – and Allison figured that their conditioning and experience as teammates would put them in good stead once the competition began. Amanda took some convincing, but Allison’s forceful personality and the opportunity to prove herself in a new venue ultimately combined to convince her to sign on.

The initial hurdle had been the meeting in a somewhat shady bar with a thirty-something year old man. The exact purpose of this meeting was never stated, but it was obvious to both girls that the point was to ensure that they met the league’s requirements in terms of physical attractiveness. In the event, he took one glance at them through his sunglasses and informed them that they had passed the first test. The man gave them no details on the tournament itself but encouraged them to show up at an informal training session the following week. At that session, they learned the basics of the quasi-professional wrestling in which they would be engaging. The trainer went over a wide range of moves with them, encouraging them to practice further together. He also informed them of the rules for the tournament, which were standard but, he assured them, strictly enforced. Victory came through pinfall, submission while in a submission hold, or knockout; punches to the face, use of illegal objects, and a wide range of other activities were prohibited, with violations resulting in an immediate disqualification. Amanda found these rules reassuring – although the whole concept of wrestling in a ring in front of an untold number of onlookers remained daunting, the clarity of the rules and the thoroughness of the preparations convinced her that the operation, if not entirely legal, was legitimate. They had a month after that session, with one additional meeting partway through; during that time they had become surprisingly proficient wrestlers. The challenge of learning something entirely new had been fun, and the frequent practice sessions brought out the competitive fire in both girls, neither of whom had ever been willing to let the other consider herself superior.
As the date of the first match approached, however, the two girls’ emotions diverged. Allison was keyed up and full of energy, looking forward to her opportunity to seize success in a single swipe. In contrast, Amanda’s doubts returned: the thought of putting herself at the center of attention in this way made her feel slightly sick, while the novelty of the sport for both girls led her to entertain some doubts about Allison’s confidence in the inevitability of their victory. Having given her word, however, she saw no way out and thus looked forward to the first round with vague trepidation. The girls spent the days prior to their first match training lightly and entertaining various ideas for a team name, ultimately settling on “El Alamein,” which both recognized was rather hokey but which incorporated the first two letters of both their names (with Allison naturally coming first) and which allowed them to present themselves in a patriotic light in a way that Allison was sure would endear themselves to their audience. That the battle was won by the British and not the Americans was a minor detail: “After all,” Allison noted, “Britain might as well be our fifty-first state.”

A few days prior to the first round, the girls received instructions to arrive at a gym in the south part of town at 6pm on Saturday. They showed up a few minutes early, identified themselves to the only person they could find, and were promptly ushered to a locker room where they were allowed to change and warm up prior to their match. When they got to the area designated for them, they found a short note of encouragement, apparently from one of the girls who already wrestled in the league. The note said little and was signed only with the initial J, but the personal touch again helped calm Amanda. The girls changed into their uniforms – American flag jog bras and red spandex shorts – and awaited the call to the ring. Amanda tied her long brown hair in a ponytail where it would be out of the way. Allison, whose wavy blond hair reached just past her shoulders, figured that she could get away with leaving it unbound. As had always been the case before games, Amanda was quiet and contemplative, while Allison was bouncing off the walls; both had enough experience with the other not to let her partner get to her, however.

When the call finally came, it was still a bit of a surprise. A tall woman wearing a dark hood that obscured her face opened the door and ushered them to a ramp they previously had not seen. Once up the ramp and through the door they found themselves just in front of the ring. There was none of the fireworks and showmanship that accompanies professional wrestling on TV; instead, a disembodied voice announced their basic information over a PA system. Looking around, they found that they could pick out a fairly small crowd, which was veiled in darkness: consistent with the members’ desires to remain unknown, it was impossible for either of them to discern anything more than dark shapes in the chairs in the stands. When they looked to the ring, they found that their opponents had already entered. They were two girls who looked like they were just out of high school, if that old. Both looked moderately athletic, but Allison and Amanda both immediately saw that neither was as well conditioned as they were. On entering the ring, it also become clear that Allison at 5’10” and Amanda at 5’8” were both taller than their opponents, who both looked to be about 5’5”. One of the girls, who they quickly discovered was named Elsa, had bright red hair and pale, lightly freckled skin and was wearing a black two-piece swimsuit. Her partner, Melody, had black hair and a red suit that was obviously intended to contrast with her partner’s striking appearance: their team name, “Checkers,” simply made the point explicit. The referee – an undistinguished man in his late forties – called all four to the center of the ring, where he rearticulated the rules: no cheating of any form, with violations resulting in immediate disqualification. He then asked which girl on each side wanted to take the ring first for her team. Allison was the unsurprising choice for her team, while Elsa represented their opponents. Allison took the opportunity to throw out some quick verbal barbs against their adversaries; Elsa’s surprised response hardly lived up to the challenge. Back in their corner, Allison assured Amanda that everything was perfect: “these girls are wimps – we’ll roll them up and make them beg for mercy!”
Consistent with their pre-match plan, Allison went into a full-scale assault the moment the bell rang. She tackled Elsa around the waist, drove two punches into her stomach, rolled her over, and attempted to apply an armbar. Elsa was stunned but reacted quickly enough to escape the potentially match-ending move, but she was in no way able to take charge of the match. Having rolled away from Allison, she found herself pulled into a full nelson. After about fifteen seconds of that hold, Allison released Elsa and slung her to the ropes, meeting her with a solid clothesline on her return. Elsa rolled on the mat in pain until Allison hauled her up only to whip her toward the ropes again. This time Allison quickly lifted her opponent up and over, slamming her to the mat. A hard knee to the stomach increased Elsa’s pain. The smaller girl was stunned, and Amanda yelled to Allison to pin her quickly, but Allison, confident of victory, wanted to show off. She thus thrust Elsa toward the ropes where she tagged Melody, at the same time stepping over to her own side and tagging Amanda.
Amanda was slightly peeved to be forced to fight when victory had appeared readily available (consistent with her beliefs, Elsa rolled out of the ring and allowed herself to fall to the floor, where she lay huddled for the next couple minutes). Forced to fight, however, Amanda too took the offensive, dodging an awkward swipe from Melody and driving a knee to her gut. Melody gasped and doubled over, giving Amanda an opportunity to put her into a tight headlock. Melody was determined to put on a better show than her partner had and thus launched a few quick punches to Amanda’s back; irritated, Amanda released the hold by running her opponent shoulder-first into a turnbuckle. Melody staggered backwards, and Amanda used the girl’s momentum to toss her backwards in a quick suplex. To her credit, Melody rolled to her feet, but she was clearly winded, and Amanda was in no mood to give her an opportunity to recover. As Melody backed away in an attempt to regain her composure, Amanda charged quickly and tackled her, following up the same way that Allison had started the match with a few quick stomach punches. Allison wanted to glory of getting the pin and thus was yelling for Amanda to tag her; Amanda, always the team player and never over-eager for attention, was happy to oblige.

Allison entered the ring, lifted Melody to her feet, and raised her for a full body slam. Melody bounced on the mat and lay still. By this point Elsa had returned to ringside, but, seeing the course that the match was taking, she was notably muted. Allison dropped a quick knee to Melody’s chest and then hooked a leg and went for the pin. Melody made a show of trying to escape, but she had no real desire to continue fighting in a losing cause. The ref slapped the mat three times and Allison leapt to her feet and started jumping around the ring, pointing at herself and, belatedly, at Amanda. Amanda stepped into the ring with a smile and permitted the ref to raise her arm along with Allison’s. As Melody slowly rose, Allison gave her a quick shove from behind, propelling her toward the ropes. Without a backward glance, Elsa and Melody scurried back to their locker rooms, never to be seen again in a CSF match.

Allison of course was ecstatic, and Amanda had to admit that she had enjoyed the experience of once again winning decisively in an organized competition. Back in the locker room, they found a congratulatory note from J – by its contents, it appeared that the established wrestler had been impressed by their performance. Both wrestlers had emerged unscathed, meaning that they were able to put in several days of hard workouts before again taking things easy prior to their next match the following weekend. This time they were told to show up at a different gym at 8pm. Upon arriving and following their guide to their changing room, they found a TV and another note from the mysterious J. The established wrestler again offered words of encouragement while also explaining the purpose of the TV – once turned on, it played a replay of their opponents’ match from the previous week. The note continued by offering some suggestions about their opponents, who both apparently had extensive martial arts training. J suggested that they follow a strategy similar to the one they had used so effectively the previous week: their opponents were apparently quick and skilled, but they were substantially smaller than both Allison and Amanda, and J was confident that as long as Allison and Amanda did not let their opponents repeatedly strike and retreat they should have no problems. The girls watched the replay, which showed their opponents winning with relative ease: they had weakened the first girl in the ring with quick strikes and combinations before one of them, who turned out to be named Grace, caught the girl in a brutal submission hold that she tapped out of almost immediately. Based on the tape and the note, Allison and Amanda agreed that they should not change their strategy from the week before. Amanda still had her competitive butterflies, but with one experience under her belt she felt far readier than she had the week before.

The summons matched the experience from the previous week. During their walk to the ring, Amanda again observed that the lighting allowed the audience to remain in anonymity while the ring was brightly illuminated; despite the difficulty of making things out, however, it was immediately apparent that many more people were present this week than had been there at their first match. This time on entering the ring they had to await their opponents, who were immediately announced and came jogging out to the ring. Consistent with their background and their team name – the Crouching Tigers – they were wearing karate outfits, which once in the ring they immediately shed to reveal practical if revealing blue two-piece swimsuits. The ref again called everyone into the center of the ring for the standard pre-match announcements. Grace stood on the left – she was much shorter than either of her opponents, standing only a few inches over five feet tall, but as she bounced around in her pre-fight routine it was clear that despite her thin build she was comfortable in the ring and knew what she was doing. She was Asian, with a striking face and long black hair tied behind her head like Amanda’s. Her partner Laura was a few inches taller but had the same thin build. She had a wry smile as she examined her opponents – it was clear that she was quite confident in her abilities. Her light brown hair bounced around her shoulders as she looked first at Amanda and then at Allison. When she turned to Allison, the brasher member of El Alamein responded with a few choice quips, ending with “pipsqueaks.” Grace and Laura did not reply but glared back as if to show that they were not intimidated. In a change from their strategy from the first match, Laura stepped out of the ring to let Grace take the first shot at Allison, who again started off representing her side.

When the bell rang, Allison again rushed her opponent, but Grace was in no mood to let Allison dictate the pace of the match. She landed a quick kick to Allison’s side and spun out of reach. Allison’s second attempt achieved basically the same result: Grace landed a solid shot to her upper leg before retreating. Allison stepped back for a moment to consider her strategy and then closed more slowly, trying to cut off Grace’s escape route to force the smaller girl to close with her. Grace landed another two quick shots to Allison’s legs, but this time she had nowhere to go and was forced to grapple. Once they had locked up, it was quickly apparent that Allison had a significant strength advantage. She pulled the Asian girl to the mat, where the smaller girl would have less of an opportunity to use her advantages in speed and balance, and quickly applied a hammerlock. Grace winced but otherwise gave no indication that she was in pain, instead working frenetically to get free. After a few seconds she managed to spin around and away, but Allison was determined not to give up her advantage so quickly. She dove and, catching Grace around her knees, drove her opponent to the mat so hard that her body bounced most of the way back to a sitting position. Grace was momentarily stunned, and Amanda took advantage, spinning her over and going for a single-leg Boston crab. Grace again found herself in a predicament, and this time it took her more than a few second to engineer her escape, in this case by grabbing a handful of Allison’s hair and yanking hard. After releasing her opponent, Allison kicked her in the chest; Grace used the momentum of that kick to roll in Laura’s direction. Allison considered trying to prevent the tag but instead turned and tagged in Amanda.

Amanda had learned from Allison’s experience and made sure to pin Laura in a corner before closing. Laura too tried to land a few quick kicks, but Amanda blocked the first and caught the second, allowing her to dump her unbalanced opponent on her back. Laura scrambled back to her feet, but trapped in the corner she didn’t have the luxury of retreating backwards while doing so, and Amanda met her with a solid knee to the stomach the moment she rose. Laura’s martial arts training had taught her to instinctively flex her abdominal muscles in preparation for an unavoidable attack, and thus she limited the effects of Amanda’s blow, but it was still painful. Amanda lowered a shoulder and drove her opponent back into the turnbuckle, then grabbed her arm and executed a quick hammer throw. Laura bounced on her back but took advantage of the opportunity to escape into the open ring. The two wrestlers sized each other up, and this time Laura was the one who decided to initiate contact, launching a running drop kick that landed a glancing blow against Amanda’s shoulder. The downside to that move, however, was that it left Laura once more on the mat, and Amanda made sure to take advantage, dropping behind her opponent and putting her into a half nelson while applying a body scissors. Laura was in some trouble, as her free arm was partially pinned against the mat and hence useless; it took her almost a minute to work herself free from the nelson, at which point she was able to throw a few telling elbows to Amanda’s legs, forcing her to abandon the hold. The respite lasted only a moment, however, as Amanda stood quickly and grabbed her opponent around the waist as she started to rise. Amanda gave Laura no time to launch a counterattack, picking up the smaller girl quickly and firing her full-force to the mat in a powerful body slam. Laura rolled over onto her knees and started to crawl toward Grace, who was encouraging her to make a quick exit. Amanda was in a less altruistic mood than Allison had been, however, and she swiftly kicked Laura in the stomach to get her flat on the mat before jumping on her back and applying a camel clutch. Laura was now in serious trouble – her arms were basically useless, and Amanda’s size advantage defeated her attempts to get her knees under her and escape up out of the hold. Moreover, she was in serious pain – Amanda sensed victory at hand and was in no mood to leave her opponent with any doubts about her willingness to inflict maximal discomfort until she submitted. Laura struggled gamely, but as time passed her face registered both her increasing pain and her recognition that the only way out of the hold was through a submission. After a little over a minute in the hold, she tapped out. Amanda immediately released her, allowing her to collapse to the mat, and turned to her partner, who leapt into the ring and enveloped her in an ecstatic hug. Polite applause emanated from the audience – the match had been sufficiently one-sided that most of the onlookers had not gotten particularly excited about it. In response, Allison jumped up on the ropes and confidently predicted that she and Amanda would continue their domination straight through to the finals. That pronouncement got a bit more of a reaction, satisfying Allison’s desire for public acknowledgement of her showmanship.

Back in the changing room, the girls again found a note from J. This note again congratulated them on their victory and betrayed a growing fondness for the girls – it was clear that the unnamed wrestler had gone from an assigned contact to a genuine fan. She warned, however, that their opponents the next week – who called themselves the Russian Invasion – would be different and tougher breed. The note also informed them that the remaining matches would be at the Central Sports Facility itself, a sign of the growing confidence in the wrestlers who had survived to this stage as well as the increased interest among the members.

Amanda and Allison again returned to their standard training routines while talking about possible strategies for their upcoming match. They had frustratingly little information about their next opponents, but the little they had indicated that they couldn’t count on enjoying the size advantage that they had used to such great effect in their first two matches. When Saturday finally came, Amanda was again a bundle of nerves, while Allison remained upbeat and confident. After arriving and being taken to their changing room, the two girls perused the expected note from J, which again wished them luck while encouraging them to make good use of the video from their opponents’ first two fights. The videos revealed two toned, athletic women who simply outclassed their undersized and relatively unskilled opponents. In the first match, the first girl in the ring, who they quickly learned was named Anna, dominated her opponent, repeatedly slinging her around the ring before leaving her spread-eagled and stunned in the center of the mat. When she tagged out to her partner, Natalia, it was already clear that the match was for all intents and purposes over. Natalia entered the ring, body slammed the poor girl, and then put her in a wrenching abdominal stretch; the girl wasted no time in submitting. In their second match, the pair had less of a size advantage, but the outcome was much the same. Anna worked over a girl a few inches taller than her for a couple minutes, taking almost no damage in the process. When the girl escaped and tagged her partner, Anna also tagged Natalia. Natalia, who appeared to be about six feet tall, clearly intimidated her shorter opponent, who went into a defensive shell. Natalia wasted no time breaking through the girl’s defenses, simply storming forward and pinning her against a turnbuckle, where she landed attack after attack to her opponent’s stomach and chest. When she finally decided to let up a little, the smaller girl took advantage of the opportunity to curl up into a fetal ball. This momentary respite aside, Natalia was not going to let up on her attack for long, and after a few quick kicks to the girl’s body she lifted her up and slammed her twice to the mat. She appeared to briefly consider a reprise of the brutal submission hold that ended the first match but apparently decided to go the easy route, simply placing a foot on her opponent’s chest. The girl made no attempt to escape, and the ref quickly counted out the pin.

These girls were clearly far better than anyone that Allison and Amanda had faced to this point, but Allison’s confidence was unaffected. “They’re not that quick, and they both have the look of schoolyard bullies – I bet once we put them in a little pain they’ll be begging for mercy.” Amanda was less confident, but that, she reminded herself, was how things frequently had been prior to their high school games, and Allison’s confidence usually had turned out to be warranted. When the bell rang to summon them to the ring, she took a few deep breaths to calm herself and then bounced up the walkway with a smile.

It was good that she had stiffened her nerve, because she was unprepared for the scale of the main arena at the CSF. The facility occasionally hosted major boxing matches, and it had the requisite seating. On this occasion, most of the seats were empty, but a significant crowd sat shrouded in darkness on the far side of the ring. In contrast to their unheralded entries in their first two matches, this time the girls were accompanied by some unidentifiable patriotic music, clearly chosen to fit their team theme. Their opponents were already in the ring, from which they glared at Allison and Amanda with apparent disdain. Determined not to appear intimidated, Amanda followed her obviously unintimidated partner into the ring, where they proceeded straight to the center for the standard pre-fight warnings. Consistent with what they had seen on the videos, Natalia was a full six feet tall. Her long blond hair was tied back to keep it out of the way. Anna was a few inches shorter – about Allison’s height – but was impressively fit. The clearly-outlined muscles on her arms and legs demonstrated her strength plainly; both girls obviously worked out zealously and had attained the maximum strength they could get without it detracting from their significant attractiveness. Anna’s light brown hair was also tied back. The two girls copied Allison and Amanda in wearing jog bras and spandex, although their suits were both black. When the referee finished his standard discussion of the rules, Allison took advantage of the opportunity to launch her standard pre-match diatribe. Her barbs – “ignorant Russkis” and “lumbering oafs” among them – clearly hit home better than either she or Amanda had expected: the two girls were obviously incensed over some of Allison’s comments. Whether that was a good thing remained to be determined.

The starters on both sides were the same as in the first two matches. Allison bounced confidently around her corner, and when the bell rang she was prepared for Anna’s angry charge. Learning from her opponents in the previous match, she caught Anna with a quick kick to the stomach, driving her winded opponent backwards. Anna circled for a moment and then charged again, this time sidestepping Allison’s kick but failing to connect with her own, giving Allison an opportunity to send her spilling to the mat as she passed. Allison followed up this success with a few more choice comments, and Anna charged again. This time both girls connected in their attacks, with Allison’s knee catching Anna’s hip at almost exactly the same time that Anna’s punch landed on Allison left breast. Both girls disengaged, but Anna had had the better of that exchange and followed up quickly. This time she managed to catch Allison around the waist and drive her to the ground, where her head hit the mat sharply. Momentarily dazed, Allison was too slow to get out of the way of a hard elbow to the stomach that left her winded. She tried to roll away to catch her breath, but Anna saw no reason to let up and attacked again, this time with a knee to Allison’s right breast as she rose. Allison flopped away and this time was able to rise without being attacked. She ducked Anna’s charge and flipped her opponent over her shoulder, where she landed awkwardly on the mat. Allison followed this attack up with a hard kick to Anna’s right leg that sent her opponent scrambling toward the ropes, where she tagged Natalia. Allison was feeling in fine form, having fought off the girl who had dominated everyone she had faced to this point; she saw no reason to tag out yet and instead showered Anna with abuse, finding several different ways to call her a coward and a slut.
Natalia stepped into the ring, glared at Allison, and announced, “You’ve been playing with fire, and now you’ve crossed the line – I’m going to make you cry!” Allison laughed and rushed her opponent, eager to keep the taller girl off balance. Natalia proved more nimble than Allison anticipated, however: she deftly sidestepped the charge and propelled Allison on toward the corner. Allison caught herself on the ropes, but Natalia wasted no time in taking advantage of her vulnerability. She charged forward, using her greater weight to drive Allison forward into the turnbuckle. Taking a step back, she then lifted the smaller girl into a reverse bearhug. Allison struggled for several seconds to loosen the grip of the arms wound around her body before shifting her focus to attack Natalia’s body. A few quick elbows did no real damage but convinced the larger girl that a different tack would be more productive, and she unceremoniously dumped Allison in the corner. Grabbing the smaller girl’s wrist, Natalia slung her towards the ropes; Allison’s attempt to stop her rebound by grabbing the top rope proved unsuccessful, and she was met with a brutal clothesline on her return. Natalia immediately yanked her to her feet and lifted her up for a powerful body slam. A few solid kicks to the chest and stomach had Allison in some serious pain, and she tried to roll toward the ropes for a tag. Natalia was not in a forgiving mood, however, and she hauled the girl to her feet once more and Irish whipped her once more to the ropes, meeting her on her return with a hard knee to the diaphragm that left the smaller girl gasping futilely for air. Natalia immediately pulled Allison to her feet and flung her toward the ropes to set her up for some unknown finisher. Allison’s path brought her close to her partner, however, and Amanda stretched as far as she could to just nick Allison’s hand as she went by. The observant ref immediately stepped between Allison and Natalia to prevent a follow-up attack and allow the change to take place. Allison rolled out of the ring and collapsed to the floor, where she lay gasping for breath.

Natalia was irate, barking at Amanda, “Don’t take the fall for your partner’s stupidity.” Anna was calling to be tagged back in so that she could atone for her initial mishaps, and Natalia complied. Amanda now faced a dilemma – for the first time she was up against an opponent bigger than she was. She decided to apply the same strategy that Allison had used to good effect, waiting for Anna to rush forward to try to land a few good shots – if she could take control quickly she might be able to end the match without permitting Natalia to ever reenter the ring. Anna advanced more cautiously this time, however, forcing Amanda to take more of the initiative. With both guarding against quick strikes by their opponent, the two ended up locking up in the middle of the ring, and here Anna quickly demonstrated her strength advantage. After forcing Amanda to take a couple steps backwards, she released the pressure and swiftly stepped behind her opponent to apply a hammerlock. Amanda fired a couple elbows with her free arm but was unable to hit home and after a few seconds rolled to the mat to force Anna to release the hold. Releasing the hold was not the same thing as relinquishing her advantage, however: Anna rolled on top of her opponent and snuck an arm around her neck to apply a headlock. Amanda had more freedom in this hold to twist around, however, and she was able to land a hard elbow to Anna’s ribs that forced the taller girl to fall back. The two wrestlers rose and faced each other, both breathing hard. This time Amanda rushed her opponent, but she received only a hard kick to the ribs for her effort. Anna took advantage to grab Amanda’s wrist and sling her to the ropes, but Amanda ducked the follow-up clothesline and again turned to engage her opponent. Anna was getting a little annoyed with her opponent’s ability to dodge the worst of the punishment she aimed her way, and she launched a concerted assault, firing a series of kicks and body punches. Amanda dodged the first two and blocked the next to set herself up for a counterattack, but when she stepped forward to deliver a hard punch aimed at her opponent’s left breast she strode directly into a kick to the stomach that she never saw coming. Unprepared, she had the wind knocked completely out of her, and she crumpled slowly to the mat. Anna immediately went on the offensive, yanking her up by the hair and lifting her up and slamming her down on her back. Amanda was further stunned by that move and did not even move to dodge as Anna dropped a knee to her stomach and followed it up with two quick punches to the ribs. Anna again lifted her first to her feet and then into the air for a body slam. She then lifted Amanda up and put her in the same abdominal stretch that Natalia had used to force a submission in the first round. Amanda immediately found herself in severe pain but was determined not to give up without convincing herself that escape was impossible. She first tried to wriggle out of the hold but discovered that Anna was simply too strong for her. Changing strategy, Amanda started throwing elbows behind her, hoping to connect with something. Anna had positioned her body well to avoid such tactics, but Amanda got lucky on one of her attacks, with her left elbow catching Anna’s left arm exactly on the funny bone. Anna’s left arm immediately went numb, and she released the hold with a grunt. She was still in control, but exacting a submission would be difficult when she only had one usable arm available. She thus kicked Amanda in the chest once more to try to get her to stay down and retreated to her side to tag in Natalia.

Amanda recognized that this was likely her final chance to escape – Natalia was unhurt, while she was in no position to continue fighting. She thus pushed herself to her feet and stumbled to her corner to tag in Allison. The beating that she had taken from Anna, while extensive, had taken no more that a couple minutes, however, and Allison was still on one knee recovering from the pounding she had received from Natalia. Amanda screamed out Allison’s name, and Allison’s head jerked up and she stood and reached toward her partner. At the same moment, however, Natalia grabbed Amanda and yanked her back into the middle of the ring. Allison immediately began to scream at Natalia, calling her a bitch and ordering her to release her partner. Natalia gave no visible sign that she heard and simply lifted Amanda up for yet another body slam, but as she pulled the battered girl back up to her feet she whispered in her ear, “I told you not to take the fall for your bitch of a partner – now you’re the one who’s going to pay for her big mouth.” She then fired Amanda toward the ropes, this time making sure that her opponent’s path took her nowhere near her partner. As she hurtled toward the ropes, Amanda mentally planned to take the same evasive maneuver that she had used against Anna: duck under or dodge around the coming attack and then use her momentum to sprint for her corner. The crowd had grown more vocal in anticipation of the final move, however, and Amanda did not hear Natalia running up behind her. Thus, when she turned and rebounded off the ropes she hurtled directly into Natalia’s bent left arm.

Amanda closed her eyes in expectation of a vicious clothesline, but she quickly found that she had misjudged Natalia’s intent. Rather than drive Amanda to the floor, Natalia caught her opponent and pulled her back-first towards herself. She positioned her right elbow on Amanda’s shoulder and used it to anchor the left arm’s grip around Amanda’s neck by grabbing the crook of the elbow with her left hand. She then used her right hand to push Amanda’s head forward and to the left, into the constricting pressure of the left arm. It took Amanda a few seconds to recognize the move as a sleeper hold: at the first training session the trainer had taught them the move, but she and Allison had agreed that there were more practical ways to achieve victory and so had ignored it; it had never occurred to her that she might find herself the victim rather than the perpetrator of the move. Fortunately for her, Natalia was still a rookie, and her execution of the move was imperfect – she bore down on Amanda’s throat with considerable force, but she had positioned her arms so that only a small portion of that force had the relevant practical effect of closing off the carotid artery and thereby inducing unconsciousness. Nonetheless, Amanda started to panic. She bucked forward in an attempt to throw Natalia over her shoulder, but the bigger girl barely moved. Yanking at the constricting arms did nothing, and she was no longer able to put enough force into heel stomps to prove anything more than a nuisance. She thrashed around wildly for several seconds before mentally conceding that escape was impossible and that she should tap out.

She looked at the ref, waved her arm for a moment, and then started tapping her hand on her leg in a clear signal of submission. At this point, however, she ran into a facet of the rules that neither she nor Allison had ever fully appreciated: victory through submission was possible, but only when one’s opponent was in a submission hold, and the sleeper was considered not a submission hold but a knockout hold. The ref glanced at Natalia, who vehemently shook her head – she was determined to exact payback for the verbal abuse Allison had hurled at her team. Amanda’s eyes widened, and she started to tap harder and faster, but the ref indicated that the match should continue. When she recognized that her submission would not be accepted, Amanda panicked completely. Natalia’s left arm was directly under her chin, making speaking difficult, but Amanda started to plead: “I give, I give – you win! Let me go! Please, let me go! I don’t want to go out! I give!” Recognizing her partner’s plight, Allison figured that the match was lost and that disqualification would be preferable to the direction things were currently headed, so she leapt into the ring to come to Amanda’s aid. At this, Anna smiled – under the rules, Allison’s act opened the door for Anna to enter the ring without fear of disqualification. Natalia had trapped Amanda close to her side’s corner, and thus Anna was able to step past the two girls before Allison could reach them. Intent on her target, Allison ducked to avoid Anna’s attack, but Anna simply aimed lower and jerked the girl backwards into a sleeper hold of her own. Allison’s penchant for invective did not escape her even at this point – she commanded Anna to let her go and the ref to accept the submission. Neither target proved the least bit refractory, however, and Allison too soon discovered that it was easier to get into a sleeper than it was to get out. By this point Amanda was sobbing, her continuing pleas going unremarked while black spots started to form in front of her eyes. Anna proved more proficient at the hold than Natalia had, and Allison was rapidly approaching the same point. Recognizing that declarations of submission were worthless, both girls put all their energy into fighting to escape, thrashing wildly in all directions with no clear plan. Anna forced Allison down to her knees, and the blond girl soon found her arms growing heavy. With tears of frustration and embarrassment in her eyes, she looked up at her partner and mouthed, “I’m sorry. . .” Amanda continued to beg for release and to struggle on in the vain hope that some she might find some form of escape. By this point, the crowd had reached a loud roar, but to her the sound was becoming increasingly distant. As her struggles slowed, she saw the ref lift Allison’s arm and let it drop lifeless to her side. They conducted that exercise twice more, and then Anna released her partner, who collapsed to her side on the mat. By this point, Amanda’s struggles had ceased, and her pleas had been reduced to a mumbled and incoherent “Give, give, please. . .” Her eyelids slowly shut, and she lost consciousness.

The next thing she knew, she was lying on a cot in the changing room. Allison had awoken first and was by her side, caressing her arm with tears in her eyes. When she saw Amanda awaken, she started apologizing profusely, repeating over and over, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry – I never imagined. . .” Despite her desire to escape the place of her humiliation as soon as possible, it took Amanda almost an hour to be able to rise. When she did so, the girls found a short, unsigned, typewritten note, which stated simply, “Tough luck, girls. Good luck in whatever you do.” That final period on her plans proved more than Allison could bear, and she launched into a screaming tirade against the CSF, Natalia and Anna, and the world in general. When that energy was spent, the girls staggered painfully out of the building, vowing never to return.