November 09, 1987 12:00 PM

As the last strains of “The Star Spangled Banner” reverberate in the background, carnival impresario Bruce Rosenbaum, 47, greets a crowd of nearly 800 gathered for the main event at the Allentown, Pa., state fair. “Y’all are in for a big treat tonight!” calls Rosenbaum, raising his voice above a chorus of catcalls as four swimsuit-clad girls from a local high school square off for a tag-team wrestling match in an arena slathered with 2,000 pounds of creamy peanut butter. Within minutes the winners are indistinguishable from the losers in the gooey mire. But no one seems to care, least of all Rosenbaum. “It’s fun, that’s the thing,” he tells anyone who asks. “There’s not enough fun in the world.”

Well, it takes all kinds to make, or muck, fun. For years female pros have been grappling in a variety of foodstuffs in tacky back-alley venues, but now wrestling in comestibles has gone mainstream. Rosenbaum proudly heralded the Allentown event in September as “the world’s first peanut butter wrestling match,” which may be spreading it a bit thick. For six years now, Rosenbaum, a pioneer, has been traveling throughout the Northeast and organizing wrestling face-offs between locals in all types of edible slime, including sweet potatoes, oatmeal, spaghetti, Wesson oil, Jell-O and chocolate pudding. Rosenbaum provides the ring, the ref and a setup and cleanup crew. The locals do the rest.

A Tennessee native who now calls Numidia, Pa., home, Rosenbaum was managing his wife Rita’s short-lived career as a country singer in the early ’70s when the couple encountered some lady mud wrestlers called the Milwaukee Hustlers. “Mud wrestling was considered pretty sleazy back then,” he says, “and I wanted to find a way to turn it into family entertainment.” He promoted a series of chocolate pudding matches by the Hustlers, and first drew amateurs into the fray when his daughter, Lori Michelle, now 16, asked him to stage a class fund raiser, and he featured her classmates and teachers. “We did Jell-O that night,” Rosenbaum says. “It was a huge success.” The wizard of ooze had been born.

Rosenbaum and Rita still stage bouts by a retinue of female pros, including the Arizona Amazon, the Florida Swampwoman and the Spanish Angel. But his biggest crowd-pleasers involve people known locally. In Allentown, a disc jockey named Uncle Bob is the main draw. Accompanied by pro wrestler Mad Dog Drake as a bodyguard and dressed in villainous black, Uncle Bob is loudly booed as he announces his terms: “Under no circumstances will there be more than one girl in the ring with me.” Within seconds the Spanish Angel has him yelling and kicking on the mat and the audience is getting pelted with flying peanut butter. Then, just before the bell, a gang of women, including the four high school girls who competed earlier, storms the ring. They pull in both Mad Dog and Rosenbaum, who barely gets his wrist-watch and shoes off before landing face down in the sticky mix.

“Some people think this is sick, and some people think it is cool,” says Cathy Edwards, one of the high school girls. “I guess I’m one of the ones who think it’s cool.” Cathy’s mom, Dawn, nods. “The kids aren’t drinking or taking drugs,” she says. “They’re staying out of trouble and having good, clean fun.” Then Dawn takes a good look at Cathy, covered head to toe in peanut butter. “Well, maybe not clean,” she says, “but fun.”

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