By Thomas Gerbasi
When looking at the history between the Brooklyn Bombshells and the Manhattan Mayhem, one that has seen the two teams trade Gotham Girls Roller Derby home team titles over all but one of the last five years, while engaging in bouts over the previous two seasons that have been decided by a combined six points, it’s safe to say that when the blue and orange clash this Saturday at John Jay College gym in NYC, it’s going to be a fight.
Brooklyn’s Tail Gunner Flo disagrees.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a fight,” she said. “It’s a bloodbath. For every second of that game.”
If that doesn’t get derby fans amped up for the 2016 season opener, nothing will. But it’s not just hyperbole from the six-year veteran, who – along with her teammates and the Manhattan squad – have the bumps and bruises to show for it. Simply put, in a league where every home game is a pitched battle, Brooklyn and Manhattan have taken it to a new level in terms of intensity, with last season’s 153-148 nail biter just the most recent example.
“That particular game was really hard-fought against Brooklyn,” said Mayhem newcomer Miss US Slay, who has a unique perspective on the rivalry, first as a spectator and now as a participant. “I know it was really tight, there were injuries and ejections for Mayhem.”
Mayhem captain Bonita Apple Bomb was lost for the season, ROCKS! hit the sidelines as well, and star jammer Bruzin’ Brody was ejected. But with Brooklyn holding a commanding 130-97 second half lead, the shorthanded Mayhem crew roared back, eventually taking a 148-137 advantage. But they would not score again, with the Bombshells regaining the lead and holding on to it for good en route to an unbeaten season and their second league championship. There’s no time to bask in the glory, though.
“We have to look at this as 0-0,” Flo said. “We’re not going in as undefeated champions, but we’re going in with the intention of winning this game. I think our ability to stay calm, keep your head on straight and not get rattled will be an absolute advantage. Manhattan has an uncanny ability to rattle the cages. They create a lot of chaos, they’re loud, and that’s their thing.”
They also have a core group of veterans that has been through the wars together, and with newcomers Slay and Kid Vicious added to the mix seamlessly, they will once again be a strong contender for 2016 title honors.
“Even though it is so early in the season, joining Mayhem, which is a team that’s already so cohesive, it feels like we’re gelling really well as a team,” Slay said. “So it’s really encouraging and exciting to go into the game already feeling that way. Mayhem is really fun and together on and off the track. That was immediately apparent for me as soon as I joined the team. This team enjoys playing together and also spending time with each other, and if you get to know people and have a good rapport with them off the track, then that’s something that can translate to game play, and one of the amazing things about Mayhem is that everyone is a real leader in their own right.”
The ladies in orange also have their share of GGRD All-Stars, with Bonita, Roxy Dallas, Cork Rebel and Violet Knockout all taking the track for the five-time world champions. They have some counterparts in blue though, with Sexy Slaydie and Miss Tea Maven both donning the black jersey for the renowned road team.
Yet the beauty of Brooklyn vs. Manhattan, a rivalry that is deadlocked at 4-4 since 2008, is that it’s not about the All-Stars on both teams or having the most talented squad; it’s about so much more, with the stage set for either a perennial All-Star or the 15th person on the roster to step up and make a statement.
“I don’t think it’s going to come down to who has the better level of skill, who has a better jammer or better offense and defense,” Flo said. “We’re all from the same league, we all represent Gotham, we’re all trained in a specific way of how to skate, and I think that’s what makes our home team games so good. The level of skill, energy and commitment that we have as a league to one another and to getting better and always improving.”
And when two teams are evenly matched, the winner is usually decided by whoever does the little things right.
“We’ve been trying to work on engaging really tight and controlling the walls right from that first whistle,” Slay said. “So it’s a matter of taking it one jam at a time and kicking things off right from the start. It (the rivalry) is a lot to live up to, but we’re ready for it. Bonita is back, we’ve already been gelling really well as a team and our jammers are also multi-faceted. We have such an impressive mix of strength and agility, and I know the team is totally up for the challenge.”
“Derby is a very intense sport, and it’s crazy,” Flo adds. “You have people racing through the pack, you have people playing offense and defense at the same time or switching from offense to defense or defense to offense in seconds, based on where the pack is moving or where the jammer is. And one thing that Brooklyn does really, really well is that we have this uncanny ability to find peace in the chaos. We know, going into this game, it’s gonna be a fight, it’s gonna be physical, and it’s gonna be really hard.”
So what happens on Saturday?
“The way that we practice, we’re ready to play an intense game and turn the intensity up every single time,” Slay said. “We can only get better and gel even more. So we think it’s going to be a really good year.”
“It’s gonna come down to simple things, but at the end of the day, there’s gonna be one winner and one loser,” Flo said. “And the winner’s going to be Brooklyn and the loser is going to be Manhattan.”
Let the games begin.