Here's mud in your eye--and in your hair and on your sweater and everywhere else--if you sit too close to the ring at Sam's Crab House, "the showplace of downtown Clinton," according to Sam's telephone recording.

On Tuesday and Wednesday nights you can dodge muddy missiles, chug beer and tap your feet to the sounds of Willie Nelson or Tanya Tucker while you watch the hottest new sport east of the Beltway: Lady Mud Wrestling.

It must be seen to be believed. Not since male go-go dancers came to the Hangar Club a few blocks away has there been so much to see on a weekday night in Prince George's. For $3 you can enter the smoky recesses of Sam's and watch leotard-clad women, most of them in their 20s, rolling each other around in an 8-by-8-foot vat of potting soil and water.

Referee (and Sam's nephew) John Genua directs the women to kneel -- standing is prohibited. The pregnant silence in the room is shattered by a loud bell. The woman in red grabs the neck of the woman in black and throws her to the ground. Arms, legs and mud flailing, the underdog rolls over as she tries to push her opponent's face into the muck. They both are slippery and black from head to toe.

Genua, meanwhile, tries to keep skulls from crashing into the side of the pit. The crowd goes wild. Obscenities abound.

"Get her, get her!"

Any moment you expect to hear Howard Cosell's voice rising above the din.

Why do they do it?

"It's fun," the women say. Vickie McCan, 18, the undefeated madame of mire, gyrates her hips and rolls her eyes. "It feels good," she says as her friends squeal with laughter. The women are amateurs, volunteers from among the restaurant's regulars. They do it for fun, or on a dare from friends.

"I never, never thought I'd be doing this," said Cheri Martin, 22, a singer, as she bounced nervously on the bench. "It's something new. After a while it'll go stale."

A few minutes later Martin entered the pit with Ella Atkinson, 24. In a matter of seconds, Martin's carefully curled brown hair, eye make-up and manicured nails were covered by the black, moist mush as she went down on Atkinson's shove. The bell sounded. Martin reached blindly for a muddy towel to wipe her face. Her lipstick was smeared.

When the bell started the next round Atkinson dove on top of Martin. Barbara Williams, an excited fan, jumped up to the ropes screaming instructions to Atkinson, her friend and coworker at Mike's Liquors in Oxon Hill.

Atkinson won the match and jumped out of the pit to clap two muddy hands to her friend's face. Williams bellowed, then said, "Well, I did promise I'd share half the mud with her." She explained, "I chickened out because I didn't see any fat broads in here. . . . If I lose 40 pounds, I'd do it in a minute."

The crowd loves it.

"I'll give you 50 on the big blond," whispered one laughing man to his buddy. A curly-haired man about 35, sitting on the sidelines, said watching women slither in the mud is "erotic." Besides, "they look better when they get all muddy than men do."

"It's fantastic," blurts a cowboy from Upper Marlboro who said only that his name was Rocco. "It's something to break the monotony around here."

"Check them faces out; aren't they gorgeous," rasps the proud "rassling coach," Virginia (Peaches) Farewell, who organizes the matches. Farewell, 33, a former go-go dancer, wrestled in the very first match about two months ago. She won, but says she has had a cold and a bevy of enthusiastic wrestlers ever since.

"Sam just figured I could handle the job," Farewell said. She explained that each night eight of her girls fight three two-minute rounds. The winner of two out of three rounds -- judged by Sam and the referee -- wins the match and goes on to fight another winner of similar size. The winner of each match receives $20; the loser gets $15.

"It looks easy till you get in the ring," restaurant owner Sam Habib told the crowd as he invited other women to sign up for the next night's fight. It's all for fun, said the portly Habib, who welcomes the occasional appearance of police officers to ensure that the crowd doesn't get carried away.

Habib, who was born and raised in the District, has had the club since 1966. He smokes fish in several side rooms, but he's pleased with this newest attraction. "No one else (in the area) has it," he said, adding that he soon may allow men to wrestle.

He said his wife saw something about mud wrestling on television several months ago, and told Habib about it. He was intrigued with the idea, traced the show to Chapel Hill, N.C., and made a trip there with his nephew to see it firsthand.

The matches at Sam's do not resemble the savage brawls that several patrons said they expected. The rules do not allow hair pulling, biting or mudslinging. There is a great deal of hugging between fights, as most of the women are friends. This may change, however, as the fad grows and teams are formed.

But there is never a dull moment in the pen. When Vickie McCan, a tough fighter, was declared the winner once again two weeks ago, a dainty woman with black hair piled high, Loretta Lynn fashion, emerged from the crowd and handed the victor a red rose as the crowd cheered. She was the club's own Valley Ray, who sings with her "Ravens" on other nights.

The cocky McCan accepted the rose, and was joined in the pen by Sam and Peaches Farewell for pictures. With a glint in her eye, McCan turned to Peaches and flung her headlong into the mud, white blouse and all.