SAMSULA , Fla. -- No one complained about the lack of carrots in the cole slaw.
It was wrestling time.
More than 50,000 spectators -- most of them bikers -- gathered in this tiny one-crossroad town Wednesday afternoon to see Coleslaw Wrestling in the sprawling field behind the tiny Sopotnick's Cabbage Patch Bar.
It took more than 2,000 pounds of cabbage -- shredded quickly with a wood chipper that takes down trees -- and 20 gallons of cooking oil to prepare the ring/pit/stage for the most popular off-track event at Bike Week in nearby Daytona Beach.
Held annually since 1988, the event has grown to almost mythical proportion, a combination one-day Woodstock and country fair with 12 women in a double-elimination wrestling tournament.
Although the event is built around the sex appeal of oily bodies grappling -- a take-off from the mud/jello wrestling once popular in bars -- there was nothing phony about competition as the women fought with gusto for cash prizes and the right to be a champion.
"We used to put carrots in the slaw, but then realized no one cared,'' said Roger Luznar, whose father started the event more than 20 years ago and whose family once worked the cabbage farm where the event is now held. "It's a family tradition.''
Local favorite Heather Spears, a single mother of two and former nurse's aid, successfully defended the title she won for the third consecutive year, but it didn't come easy this time.
Among her competitors were Casey Shonis, the 37-year old former biology professor with a PhD at Bloomsburg University; Melissa Labuz, a nurse from Binghamton, N.Y.; and Teresa Whitney, a merchandiser in Gastonia, N.C. All were competing for the first time, and all came to Florida for Bike Week.
"Maybe I'm crazy, but I just thought it would be a fun thing to try, and something I could tell my kids about,'' said Shonis, who came with her husband and was staying at her 91-year-old grandmother's condo in St. Augustine. "Grandma thinks I'm crazy.''
Bobbi Jo Browne, the 25-year-old from Bristol, Conn. -- home of ESPN -- came with her father, just a year after her mother's death. Her mother, a biker, had come to Daytona several times to watch this event, but never wrestled.
Browne, after her third match, was covered with scratches. There was slaw in her hair and slaw down her suit. And she was smiling.
"My mother always told me to give it a try, and I'm having a great time,'' Browne said. "She'd be so proud of me. It's a family tradition, I guess.''
Once an event in itself, with a eat-and-drink-what-you-brought attitude, Coleslaw Wrestling here has spawned a huge, fair-like atmosphere with a well-focused group of vendors. They were selling handgun holsters, trailer hitches, tattoos, leather clothing and knives.
A local news helicopter flew overhead. Planes pulling advertising banners circled the field. Although it was once more decadent than it is today, it still is aimed at an adult audience. The entertainment is a mix between R and PG rated. There was nothing you don't see or hear on cable television today.
Halter tops were pulled off occasionally both during and after the matches, but bare breasts were the extent of the R rating. There were good luck handshakes before each match, and congratulatory hugs afterward.
"I think we have a wardrobe malfunction,'' PA announcer Doc Holiday said at one point in describing the action. "It's all in good fun.''
"No hair pulling, no biting, no choking,'' referee Wes Westberg told the women to start the event. "Almost everything else is okay.''
The intensity of the wrestling was surprising. Matches lasted anywhere from 30 seconds to 10 minutes, ending only when one competitor was pinned in the slippery slaw.
Making it through a double-elimination tournament tested both the strength and endurance of some of the wrestlers. It ended with Spears raising her arms as champion once again.
"If you go out to dinner tonight and the restaurant offers you cole slaw with your seafood,'' Holiday told the crowd, "you might be wise to take something else.''