Madusa the Wrestler
Following in the same footsteps of trailblazers like The Fabulous Moolah, Debra Miceli revolutionized female pro wrestling with a career that spanned more than two decades.
Her path to superstardom started at age 14 when the Italian born Miceli supported herself by working at a local Arby’s restaurant at $1.30 an hour.
Six years later, then a nurse, Miceli wanted more out of life and, ever the adventurist, decided to try her luck at pro wrestling. She trained with Brad Rheingans and Eddie Sharkey in Minneapolis. Sharkey had a solid reputation developing such stars as “Ravishing” Rick Rude and Jesse “The Body” Ventura.
Miceli, under the name Madusa Miceli, paid her dues traveling hundreds of miles on the independent circuit, only to make $5 a match. However, it was the experience she absorbed that made the effort worth a lot more.
Hard work paid off in 1986 with her big break with the American Wrestling Association, which had strong ties in the Minnesota area. It was there she had her first run-ins with the late Sherri Martel. The rivalry with the hall of famer would follow Miceli through the rest of her wrestling career.
When Martel left for the World Wrestling Federation, Miceli’s star continued to shine in the AWA. She captured the AWA women’s championship in a tournament final against Candi Devine. Along with her work in the ring, the blonde bombshell began managing big name talent including a young Curt Hennig. She also enjoyed successful tours of Japan, winning the IWA Japan women’s championship on two occasions.
In 1988, Pro Wrestling Illustrated recognized Miceli’s progress by naming her “Rookie of the Year”. It was the first time a female talent was given the coveted award. Instead of resting on her laurels, she traveled to the Orient to expand her reach in the business.
Miceli trained in Muay Thai, kickboxing and boxing. She adapted to the strong physical style All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling required of its competitors and was rewarded with a three-year deal with the promotion. Once again Miceli made headlines as the first non-Japanese wrestler sign to receive such a contract.
The Madusa name grew so much in popularity, it almost became a brand. Madusa action figures, posters, as well as her own music CD and music videos were a part of Japanese pop culture in the 1990s.
Miceli returned stateside in 1991 working dates with the Tri-state Wrestling Alliance. It was there she had one of her classic showdowns with Luna Vachon. The result had Vachon’s head shaved after losing a match teaming with Cactus Jack against “Hot Stuff” Eddie Gilbert and Miceli.
Later that year Miceli began working full time for World Championship Wrestling. She served as the manager of Paul Heyman’s Dangerous Alliance, the top faction at the time. Despite her lack of individual matches, Miceli wasn’t above taking the heels off, climbing a cage and getting physically involved when Rude or any other member of her team was in trouble.
The Dangerous Alliance started to unravel, leading to a man vs. woman showdown between Miceli and Heyman at a Clash of the Champions in 1992. The Macon Coliseum came alive as Miceli went the distance with her devious employer. The match would be the last time Heyman appeared for WCW.
The WWF brought Miceli the year later as Alundra Blayze and was the top face of its reestablished women’s division. She became the women’s champion after winning a tournament final against Heidi Lee Morgan. Her sole WrestleMania appearance came in 1994 against veteran Leilani Kai.
The fighting champion took on all challengers, but her best matches were with the feared Bull Nakano, who was managed by Vachon. The fans got behind Miceli in a series of memorable struggles. The two traded the women’s gold back-and-forth.
Another standout opponent during this period was with Bertha Faye. Miceli won her third and last WWF women’s championship defeating Faye on an edition of Monday Night Raw. At one of the high points of her popularity the company decided to retire the belt and let Miceli go.
Despite her release, Blayze was still in possession of the championship. WCW president Eric Bischoff exploited this fact in order to pop a rating in his Monday Night War with the WWF. He forced Miceli to drop the title in the garbage during a live edition of WCW Nitro in 1995 or she would lose her job. The controversial moment sent shockwaves through the industry and is still talked about today.
Miceli moved forward, competing against familiar opponents like Nakano and Martel. Before 1996 was over a tournament to crown the first ever WCW champion was held. Miceli made it to the finals before losing to Akira Hokuto at Starrcade. Whether it was interference from Hokuto’s manager Sonny Onoo or Vachon, Miceli never got a chance to wear the gold. She lost a career match with Hokuto at the 1997 Great American Bash.
She emerged again two years later in WCW by the side of the Macho Man Randy Savage’s Team Madness, with Gorgeous George and Miss Madness. Miceli returned to the ring and eventually won the cruiserweight championship against Evan Karagias during the Vince Russo era. The veteran split her time on the road making appearances and training upstarts at the WCW Power Plant
Miceli’s initial passion for the business was waning, as her interests in driving monster trucks and pursuing other business ventures grew stronger. Her last appearance on television for WCW was at Fall Brawl in 2000. Miceli came up on the losing end of a mixed scaffold tag match with Billy Kidman against Torrie Wilson and Shane Douglas.
In 2001, WCW was purchased by her former employer, now known as World Wrestling Entertainment. Miceli took this as a sign telling her it was time to leave pro wrestling behind. Her final match came against current WWE diva Beth Phoenix at an independent show in Arizona.
Earlier this year, almost a decade after her last match, WWE’s website approached her about doing a feature. The two-part story ran in the summer of 2010, allowing Miceli the opportunity to give her side of the women’s title controversy and catch fans up on her life today.
Since Miceli never officially lost the women’s championship, she leaves the door open for one last match to really close the book on a historic career.
- Scott Fishman has contributed to the Miami Herald pro wrestling page and several other publications for the past eight years. Twitter: smFISHMAN.
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