Sporting names like Betty Clock-er, Digit Jones and Persian Princess, and tipping the scales at approximately 120 pounds and 5 feet 5 inches, the female fighters of the Toronto-based Pillow Fight League aren't particularly intimidating upon first glance.
But, clad in short skirts, clingy leggings, midriff-bearing tank tops, and armed solely with a pillow, though, these fighters are a mystifying melange of sex appeal and strength.
"We have all the spectacle of professional wrestling," said pillow fighter/referee Sarah Bellum, "but our matches aren't choreographed or predetermined. Our fights are real."
The Pillow Fight League was founded in February 2004 by 38-year-old T-shirt printer/musician Stacey P. Case.
It started with a few mats on a stage, and since then the PFL has evolved into a full-blown sport with a stable of fighters and a dedicated and growing fan base.
As they begin a three-month international tour with stops in New York City; Austin, Texas; Windsor, Ontario-Detroit, Mich.; they are finding that the sight of women pummeling each other with pillows attracts a crowd.
"It's our first official fight outside of Toronto," Bellum said.
So far, they have sold out a venue in Brooklyn, N.Y., and added events to accommodate the demand.
The PFL is an entertainment sport, but don't brush it off as some fake, powder-puff version of the World Wrestling Entertainment.
There are no smoke and mirrors, phantom punches or scripted wins, but there are rules: no men, no hair-pulling, eye-gouging, lewd behavior or "pillow-loading," a PFL term for stuffing your pillow with hard objects like books or bricks.
"Every attack must incorporate the pillow somehow," Bellum said.
Fighters can win the old-fashioned way by pinning their opponent for three seconds or by forcing them to submit. They can also win by using the "smother approach," a maneuver exclusive to pillow fighting that involves wrapping the pillow around your opponent's face until they give in.
If, after five minutes neither competitor has submitted, the winner is determined by a panel of three judges.
As with professional wrestling, the PFL has a commissioner, Case; an official announcer, Don "The Mouth" Lovranski; and a referee, Matt Harsant, who dons the last name "Patterson" in the ring.
The PFL does not use a rope or cage to protect its fighters, or its audience for that matter. It uses a regulation size pillow bought from Honest Ed's, a department store known as "the Harrods of Toronto."
The real stars of the PFL, however, are the fighters, the personalities, and the creative techniques they bring to the bouts. Despite their cutesy names and skimpy outfits, these women are here for the fierce competition, the thrill of victory, and the bragging rights from a win.
They may also go home with an injury. Dislocated shoulders are a common ailment along with bruises, scrapes, whiplash, and the occasional tooth through the lip.
After it's all over, though, they remain friends.
"We'll beat the crap out of each other in the ring and then go backstage and hug," Bellum said.
The PFL evolved out of a burlesque show on New Year's Eve 2004, in which the troupe staged a mock pillow fight in between sets.