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Getting down and dirty at the Great American Mud Wrestle event

On a private ranch in Sun Valley, the sun cast a dusky pink glow over the Verdugo Mountains last Friday evening as 19-year-old model Lily-Rose Depp jumped into a giant mud basin with a splat, tussling her friend to the ground in a ferocious celebrity wrestling match.

Guest judges Dog the Bounty Hunter and Vetements stylist Lotta Volkova cheered from the sidelines, perched atop bales of hay.

For the record:
5:15 PM, Sep. 07, 2018 This story and an accompanying photo caption reported that Dog the Bounty Hunter, a.k.a. Duane “Dog” Chapman, was a judge and in attendance at the Great American Mud Wrestle event in Sun Valley. An impersonator of Dog the Bounty Hunter was at the event.

The wrestling match was reaching a feverish height when the event’s co-organizer, Hollywood stunt coordinator Hunter Ray Barker, suddenly announced, “The LAPD is here because of noise complaints.”

Boos from the 250-person crowd — a hodge-podge of dewy-faced models, families with young kids, downtown L.A. skaters and young Hollywood types — turned into cheers and hoots as two actors, dressed in stripper-style LAPD costumes, appeared by the ring.

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Dog the Bounty Hunter was one of the guest judges at the Great American Mud Wrestle.
(Chuck Grant)

“We’re shutting this down,” one of the fake cops yelled, “because you’re not making enough noise!” Then he belly-flopped into the mud pit to tackle Depp as the crowd erupted into a roar.

This one-night spectacle, dubbed the Great American Mud Wrestle, was the freakish brainchild of Barker and model-casting director Walter Pearce, best known for his work with fashion label Hood By Air.

The line between artifice and reality was deliberately blurred throughout the event, which also featured country music by Willie Nelson impersonators, a petting zoo of squealing pigs and a kissing booth manned by a man in a Joker costume, who said he was a “gift from God” with a terrifying grin.

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“Half the contestants were lied to about what was happening,” said Pearce with a smirk. “They thought they were wrestling hot girls, but in the end, they had to face a drunk Sasquatch.”

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A look at the Great American Mud Wrestle event in Sun Valley.
(Moni Haworth)

Pearce and Barker cited their families’ conservative Southern roots as the origin of their obsession with low-brow Americana — and their tongue-in-cheek tribute to it.

“Mud wrestling is the sport that America turned its back on,” Barker said. “It’s the symbol of dirty backwoods America.” The pair hoped to bring their worlds together with a lighthearted event that brought to mind the theatrical artifice of WWE matches, the deadpan humor of MTV “Celebrity Deathmatch” and the prankster nature of “Jackass.”

“I’m glad people are doing this because there’s not enough campy culture in L.A.,” said fashion influencer Madeline Pendleton, founder of an online vintage boutique.

While mud wrestling typically involves, as Pearce put it, “dirty old men going to see hot chicks wrestle in mud,” he and Barker said they hoped to avoid the sport’s fetishistic sleaze by flipping the tradition on its head. They were particularly inspired by popular mud wrestling parties they heard happened at the infamous-but-long-shuttered Tropicana Motel in West Hollywood, where rock-‘n’-roll types such as Joan Jett, Tom Waits and Jim Morrison hung out and lived. “That was the last time [mud wrestling] was a special piece of Hollywood cultural history,” Barker said. “We haven’t seen anything like that again.”

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The Great American Mud Wrestle was organized by Hollywood stunt coordinator Hunter Ray Barker and model/casting director Walter Pearce.
(Chuck Grant)

Former Tropicana wrestler-turned-porn star Shelley the Burbank Bomber presided over the evening. Other judges included a legendary street performer nicknamed “Gold Man,” while another man named Fernando, known for advertising adult massages on Hollywood Boulevard, paraded around the mud ring with handmade signs with slogans such as: “You can body slam my ass anytime & gimme some.”

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By putting this cast of colorful Hollywood Boulevard characters on a judging table next to young Hollywood stars such as Jack Kilmer, Elizabeth Hilfiger and Charlie Wright, the Great American Mud Wrestle event was a celebration of wet, hot American freakiness in all of its forms.

“Those homeless guys I see on the street and interact with every day — those people are my celebrities,” Barker said. “There was no VIP area. The idea is that they’re the same.”

By the end of the night, it appeared that mud was a great equalizer that stripped away all pretension. Splattered in grey slime, everyone looked equally filthy.

image@latimes.com

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