Boozy Suzy is the undisputed champion of the Pillow Fight League. When she’s not downing beers, she’s downing opponents with her dreaded hammer fist. Boozy Suzy is also Suzanne Carte-Blanchenot, an event coordinator who has been involved with the Pillow Fight League since its inception. She has watched the girls-only league grow from a local curiosity to an international sensation that has been covered by Anderson Cooper 360º, Good Morning America, and ESPN: The Magazine.
A few months away from its second anniversary, the PFL and its champion are feeling confident. With a Number One Contender Tournament headlining this Thursday’s PFL event at the Gladstone Ballroom, Carte-Blanchenot is assured of hanging onto her belt. We sat down with her on the second floor of the Gladstone Hotel at February’s PFL event. With organizers transforming the Gladstone Ballroom into a makeshift arena and a camera woman taping the interview, the woman known as Boozy Suzy talked about judging controversies, pillow fight training, online haters, black eyes and the girls that love ’em, and being in the midst of a media spectacle.
Torontoist: Were you involved with the PFL right from the beginning?
Carte-Blanchenot: Yeah, I was actually one of the originals but not one of the original fighters. I was actually the one taking all of the girl’s information. I was the one that was coordinating all of the auditions and the interviews. I met (PFL Commissioner) Stacey Case and we started to imagine what it could look like. Event coordination and planning was my background, so I felt comfortable in that element. So I started doing that and then once I saw the girls fight, I couldn’t help myself. I needed to do it, and then realized that I was actually kind of good at it.
How long did it take for the Pillow Fight League to evolve from an idea to where it is now?
It was pretty organic. It started with an event here. The Tijuana Bibles and the girls from Skin Tight Outta Sight had organized a pillow fight. I was doing an event across the street and heard about the Pillow Fight League. So I went to Stacey afterwards and said, “We need to make this thing real. We need to have this thing actually have legs.” And so then we moved into Stacey’s studio and started doing auditions.
What does the PFL look for in potential fighters?
Oh, we have that horrible saying: “Style, stamina and eye of the tiger.” But we’re looking for someone that will honestly come in. I think that we’ve had so many people come in and want to poke fun at what we do, and it is funny and we understand that, and the more serious that we take it, the funnier it gets. But there is a certain amount of respect that you have to have coming into it. Especially when we are training twice a week and we are working at a craft—because it is a craft—they have to show a little bit of respect coming in. And I think that a lot of the girls don’t realize that, so that’s what usually cuts out half of the people trying out. Because we say it’s an audition, but we’re really not going to tell anybody that they can’t come in if they’re honest about wanting to participate. It takes a lot of commitment.
This is my first time watching the PFL, and from what I’ve seen from video clips, the fighters really seem to enjoy it.
We really enjoy ourselves because it’s real. We wear what we want to wear and we say what we want to say. Nothing is prescribed, so it’s of our own devices basically. Since we started doing training in Muay Thai, jiu-jitsu, judo, wrestling, boxing, a lot of the girls have become more serious about their fighting. We pride ourselves on it now, whereas before it was completely show. Even though it was never about T&A and we never wore short skirts, we’ve been able to professionalize ourselves.
So over the past year and a half, have you noticed an increase in the quality of fighting?
Oh, definitely. It changes from fight to fight because you start to hone your skills like anything else. It first started out with a lot of ground games, then stand up, and as we get better, we also start to pull out different techniques from other girls. We start watching other fights to find out what’s happening and different skill sets that some of the girls bring to the table that you want to diffuse. So we’ve become skilled and a bit more tricky.
Do you remember your first official pillow fight?
Actually my first official pillow fight was on air. I was still doing the coordination and we were asked by Breakfast Television to go and do a spot. I think Stacey called them up and said, “I have three words for you—pillow fight league,” and they got us on the next day. We didn’t know what we were doing. It was about 5:00 in the morning and one of the girls didn’t show up so I had to run into it. I think I was wearing a horrible pink T-shirt, track pants, and winter boots too. It looked horrible, but it was only five seconds and from that moment on, I started joining in on some of the practices and doing some more of the live events. I was there for the first live event; I was fighting by that time.
As the champion you have to fight three 3-minute rounds. It must be exhausting.
It is. You wouldn’t know it, but swinging a pillow around your head for two minutes is exhausting. And that’s why we do train. I think that a lot of people at first find it quiet amusing that we train for two to three days a week. But to keep the cardio up, you have to. So there’s running and a lot of the girls do dance as well.
What is the training process like?
We have a great trainer, he’s fantastic: Eric Yu. He comes in twice a week. He does jiu-jitsu with us, but the first hour is all strength training. And then from that point on, we do ground, and now he’s starting to work more with the striking now. And as I said before, a lot of the girls are starting to take Muay Thai as well.
Is it like wrestling where each fighter has their own finishing move?
We used to have more girls that had finishing moves. And now, each fighter has their own signature moves or things that you know to look out for. Lynn Somnia, who I’m fighting, has a great ground game, so you don’t want to get her down. Some of the girls had more exciting moves and the crowd would yell it out, so mine is usually the hammer fist where I hammer my opponent’s face. [Laughs.]
So do you do a signal to the crowd when that’s about to happen?
No, we haven’t really been able to master the art of getting the crowds involved to that extreme like they do in professional wrestling. The audience is great because they will pick a favourite even though they’ve never seen anyone. So you come in and they automatically like or dislike you. And if they hate you, they hate you real bad.
What’s your reception like?
I get a lot of cheers. Well, “Boozy Suzy”—come on, we’re doing it in a bar, so of course. Everybody there is half in the bag anyway, so as soon as I get out, they’re pretty excited by the end of the night to see another booze hound there. I won Fan Favourite of the Year last year when we had our first Awards Ceremony.
What was the first PFL event like and how has it grown to this?
The first night was in the basement at The Vatikan. I didn’t think that the floors had ever been washed since it was opened and the mats were so tiny. So we were getting thrown into the crowd all of the time, hitting the cement floor. And then our change room was the sub-basement and the toilet didn’t work. All of the girls were still smoking at that time, so we’ve changed a lot of habits… Well some of them, but at least we had a makeup artist. We had a masseuse for some reason and then we had our second one there.
It all just started to fall into place when we got to New York last January, and ever since that, we were having gigs at the Court House where there were 600 people there, and we had the Comedy Network there doing an episode with us. So it was the media that hyped it up and we were able to come back to Toronto and say that this is where we are from, this is where we were born, and will continue to put on great events here.
How was that trip to New York, because there seemed to be a ton of media coverage?
Yeah, the media spectacle was amazing. I think there was one point where I walked into the club and there were 25 girls that came to fight. Every single one of them had a photographer and a microphone in their face from everywhere. We had people from Montreal, Toronto but also people from Japan, Korea, Germany, and Australia there. And then, of course, a lot of New York papers were there.
Even then, some things with the venue didn’t change. Our change room was a hallway that was in between one stage and the other. So only one girl could fit in at a time, so we had to go down in a line. There was a hole in the ceiling and it was snowing that night, so we had to go around the hole and it was absolutely freezing.
It was also the first time that we did back to back events too because we had sold out our first show and they told us that they would push back their Saturday event if we did a second. So we lost a lot of girls on the first night because a lot of injuries happen. So we had a couple of teeth through lips, one girl broke two of her fingers, and actually I think it was Paulie that cracked a rib where they couldn’t fight the next night. So our fight roster just shrunk so we all had to fight two three times the second night. I couldn’t walk for a day afterwards. Getting out of bed was quiet painful.
I know that you’ve had a separated shoulder from a pillow fight. What part of your body would you say is the most aching the day after a match?
Your arms and your shoulders. Mostly arms and shoulders and with me, for some reason, I seem to fall hard on my knees and my elbows, so they get bruised. But again, it’s one of those things where you’ll call the girls the next day and everyone has war wounds. And you’re quite proud to show them off. Girls come home with black eyes, broken noses, and busted teeth, and we’re all pretty happy about them.
What’s the feeling like after you win a match?
Exhilarating. I don’t want to lie; I hate losing. I’ve lost a couple of fights.
Do you remember those losses?
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. I lost in New York and it actually won best fight of the year but I lost. It was against Sailor Gerri and Lynn Somnia, and they ganged up on me. It was not nice. It was a three-way match. What we did was we had to fight until one person was down and the other two fight for another three minutes, but you can continue to fight with three people on the mat until someone went down. So I think we went for like ten minutes until both the girls jumped on me. And I also lost my very first pillow fight against Champain at the Vatikan. Those were painful losses. I don’t like losing.
What’s the camaraderie like between the fighters? The fights are intense, and is it one of those things where you are able to leave things on the mat?
Yeah. Sometimes there are certain things that are aggravating afterwards. But you know when you’re on the mat, it’s completely different. We always say that there’s no apologies or sorries when you’re on the mat, and everything that happens there is completely different. We are careful and we don’t want to necessarily go out and hurt each other intentionally and sometimes it happens. And sometimes you do things to win when in the moment you know are going to hurt, but I think that once we come off, we’re all really good sports about it. Shake each other’s hand, give each other a hug, a slap on the back because you have to work with these people afterwards. So I don’t want to harm them.
Do you have a pre-fight ritual?
No, I usually get really nervous before a fight. I don’t have any superstitions or anything like that, I just try to not drink so much.
Do you have to do any mic work as a pillow fighter?
We try to practice our mic skills but it’s not fun. Also you get all tense and worked up before the event. We usually like to have a couple of girls that can go up, but it usually breaks into fights. Sometimes it’s planned and sometimes it’s not. You find that some girls get more nervous around the mic and don’t know what to do. So the easiest thing to do is to grab hair or a shirt and start to fight. I’m a little hesitant on the mic. I don’t feel confident on it, but I usually have to do it once a show.
Do you have any catch phrases?
No, I actually don’t think I do. I think the only one that I do is when they ask the fighters, if they are ready to fight, and I usually just smack my chest and yell hit me. That’s about it.
Is that something that’s planned?
Adrenaline takes over. I wish I could pre-plan what I was going to say or do or anything like that. Most times, I’m so nervous because the worst moment—the worst moment before a fight is: when you get in the ring, you’re around the mat, you’re parading and your music is on and the crowd’s going crazy and then everything goes really quiet and you’re waiting for it. Just right before the ref yells, “fight like a girl,” I feel my stomach just go, “Oh, God, I just want to win.” That and you also think this is going to hurt for a good six minutes.
On the other side, how long does it take you to calm down after a match?
Usually because I’m having to fight last all of the time now, I just want a beer immediately. And usually because the bar is going to close soon, I find someone in the crowd to get me a beer right away.
The ritual is that Eric usually gets me a beer and then I end up doing some autographs, which is something that we never thought was going to happen. It just seemed so silly, the notion of giving autographs out to any potential fanbase. It just seems like a funny notion. But it happens and that’s exciting too, to see that other people are enjoying what you’re doing. It makes it worthwhile.
You name your nemesis as Champain. I’ve seen a clip of her fighting, and she’s pretty tough.
She’s the one that I had to beat in Montreal to get the belt, and she’s the one who also handed me my first loss in my first fight and I’ve never forgave her for that. Because she’s tough, she comes in all nonchalant like it’s no big deal, and she’ll relax with some drinks. I think before we fought in Montreal that she drank half a bottle of wine, and she still almost kicked my ass. They called for another round because it was so close.
How are most of your fights decided? Is it through decision?
Three-count pinfall, submission, or judges’ decision. Actually most of them go to decision, almost all of my recent ones have. My two losses were two pins.
Has there been any controversy with judge’s decisions?
Oh, yeah. The one in Montreal no one thought that I really won because I kneed Champain in the back a couple of times. The last one against Lynn, there was a whole lot of talk too, which is why I’m going out to fight her again tonight. There was a whole bunch of talk afterwards that I wasn’t using the pillow enough and that we were doing more grappling than we were anything else. And so tonight we’re going to swing for the fences.
It must be surreal hearing those criticisms.
Oh, it’s funny. It’s funny how worked up some people get up over it. Once again, going online and seeing comments and some people just hate me. Other people say that I’m not the real champ, I’m the people’s champ and I didn’t win the first fight. There’s a whole bunch of other things too. There’s a rematch tonight between Scrapula and Rosa because Rosa’s shoulders weren’t on the mat. But then we had a shit ref too for the last one. I don’t know what he’s doing back showing his face in this place. So of course everyone hates the ref, you’re supposed to hate the ref. We’ve got Polly Esther, who is an ex-fighter too, who will be the ref and she’ll be fair but I know she’s going to annoy me.
So tonight, will you solidify yourself as champion and end all of that talk about being the people’s champion?
I think I’ve proven my point so many times that I don’t know if I have to do it again. All hell can’t stop me now.
Do you get to take the belt home with you?
I do. I sleep with it, I shower with it. [Laughs.]
All photos by Ian Munroe. Photo illustration by Marc Lostracco.