Before the WWE Women’s Revolution, before swimsuit competitions, evening gown matches, and Divas, there was Madusa. Fine-tuning her craft in the AWA, being a force in Japan, standing as a prominent figure in the Dangerous Alliance, and carrying the WWF Women’s division through the mid-’90s as Alundra Blayze, Madusa paved the way for the women that would follow. Great matches, memorable moments, and iconic belt trashing, Madusa led a trailblazing career. Hers is a tale of changing the wrestling landscape, inspiring others, and, ultimately, monster trucks. This is Madusa, and here is her story.
Madusa – Early Beginnings in the Wrestling Business
Born Debra Miceli in Milan, Italy, Madusa grew up in Minneapolis. Athletic from the start, Madusa took part in gymnastics in her early years before entering into wrestling in 1984. Trained by “The Trainer of Champions” Eddie Sharkey, Miceli took her first steps into the business in the same way as other legendary names such as The Road Warriors, Ravishing Rick Rude, Nikita Koloff, and Bob Backlund, just to name a few. After working on the independent scene for a short time, Miceli found herself quickly employed by Vergne Gagne’s AWA promotion.
In a similar way to Eddie Sharkey’s training school, the AWA was responsible for the development of numerous wrestling legends. After arriving in the AWA, Miceli started working with the iconic Sherri Martel. Multiple hard-hitting matches would follow, with Miceli later stating that working with Martel taught her a great deal. Looking back on the Madusa/Martel matches with modern eyes, one is almost stunned by the stiffness and physicality on show.
Madusa would go on to capture the AWA Women’s Championship on one occasion, winning a tournament in late 1987 after Martel vacated the title. Madusa would also replace Martel in another role on television, as Sherri departed the AWA and Miceli stepped into her former foe’s position as manager to Kevin “Mr. Magnificent” Kelly, later known as Nailz in the WWF. A short time later, as we enter 1988, Miceli was managing another future WWF star in the shape of Curt Hennig. Hennig, then the current AWA World Champion, led to Madusa being involved in matches very high up the card and often in the main event of shows.
Late 1988 would see some changes for the Madusa character in the AWA. The Women’s title got dropped to another name linked heavily wth the then-WWF, Wendi Richter, in November. Miceli and Hennig would then join Diamond Dallas Page’s “Diamond Exchange” stable, and Madusa would participate in a mixed tag match with other Diamond Exchange members on the only pay-per-view the AWA produced, SuperClash III.
Due in part to her intense ring showings and excellent character work, Madusa became the first woman to be awarded the Pro Wrestling Illustrated “Rookie of the Year” accolade. In hindsight, this shows that even here in 1988 (and only a few short years into her career), Miceli was breaking glass ceilings in the wrestling world.
As the AWA struggled against the promotional machine that was the WWF in 1989, Miceli traveled to Japan for a short tour with All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling. Impressing as always, Miceli received a three-year deal with the company. Previously, All Japan Women had only offered contracts of this ilk to Japanese performers. Still, Madusa’s obvious talents led to yet another change in the traditions a promotion would typically adhere to. While in Japan, Micelli would also train in Muay Thai and kickboxing, influences seen in her matches when she would later return to the United States.
However, her Japan experience was not all positive. As explained on the excellent WWE Network documentary covering her career, Miceli was saving as much money as possible during her run overseas. In a nasty shock, it would turn out that the management company Miceli was using at the time had effectively cleared all of the hard-earned wages from Madusa’s account. In her own words, Miceli “had nothing.”
Madusa in WCW
Enter old friend Paul Heyman. A close colleague from Miceli’s AWA days, Heyman was now working for WCW and was assembling a stable of his own in the company. Working under the name Paul E. Dangerously, Heyman and WCW were busy constructing a group of heel wrestlers in a similar format that had worked so well for the Four Horseman the previous decade. This group, to be named “The Dangerous Alliance,” consisted of some of the most exceptional workers of that generation.
Headed up by Dangerously himself, Madusa was joined in The Alliance by U.S. Champion “Ravishing” Rick Rude, perennial tag team wrestlers Arn Anderson and Bobby Eaton, a pre” Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and The “Living Legend” Larry Zybysko. Madusa herself was always frequently involved in Dangerous Alliance matches, but was more symbolically linked with Rude than the other members and seconded “The Ravishing One” to all his title defenses. Indeed, Madusa herself played a large part in Rude winning his U.S. title from Sting at Clash of the Champions XVII in November of 1991, just days before the formation of the group.
However, The Dangerous Alliance sadly did not last as long as it maybe should have. Potentially the most memorable interaction the group had was the War Games match at WrestleWar ’92, widely regarded as the best War Games contest held by WCW. At one stage, Madusa actually climbed to the top of the cage to try and assist her Dangerous Alliance cohorts, before being confronted and ran back down by Sting. This crazy, blood-soaked contest would see the beginning of the end for the Dangerous Alliance, though, as an error on Zybysko’s part led to Paul E.’s group losing the match.
Watch: Dangerous Alliance vs. Sting’s Squadron at WCW WrestleWar, May 17, 1992
As the group crumbled, Dangerously kicked Madusa out of the Alliance at Halloween Havoc ’92. Stating that he could not tolerate her any longer, Paul E. went on to make various disparaging remarks about women in general, including statements on being inferior to men and subservient. As Dangerously stated over and over that Madusa was fired, he went as far as to push Miceli, before she responded with a sharp kick to Dangerously’s head. This moment brought a massive reaction from the fans in attendance before officials separated the pair, leading to the “Battle of the Sexes” contest at The Clash of the Champions show later that month.
In what would be Paul Heyman’s final appearance on WCW television due to a contract dispute, Dangerously and Madusa fought to a time limit draw. This does not tell the whole story of the contest, however, as the audience’s hatred for Paul E was so strong after more sexist interviews earlier in the show that the crowd reactions for anything Madusa did was amplified. An impressive body slam and some more high kicks to Heyman’s head were high points in this short encounter worth going back and revisiting.
Much like her manager, friend, and then on-screen foe Paul Heyman, Miceli’s time in WCW was up. An opportunity up north emerged and was too good to turn down.
Alundra Blayze in the WWF
In 1993, Vince McMahon decided to resurrect their Women’s Championship. Holding a six-woman tournament built mostly around Madusa, Miceli went on to win the title defeating Heidi Lee Morgan in the final on an early episode of Monday Night Raw. Two things were very prominent in Miceli’s switch to the WWF, the first being no reference to the name Madusa. Shortened from “Made in the USA”, Miceli had used the name her entire career and had the foresight to trademark the moniker. McMahon, with a penchant for wanting to own the terms used on his television, decided to rename Miceli. Eventually, the name “Alundra Blayze” was decided upon. The second issue that stood out was the lack of competition for someone of Blayze’s high skill set. This led to the WWF bringing in talent from Japan at Blayze’s request, the clearest standout being Bull Nakano.
After making her WrestleMania debut against Leilani Kai in 1994, Miceli went on to feud with Nakano, and the pair were an excellent combination to watch. Their contest at SummerSlam ’94 stands out as one of the best women’s matches in the U.S. of that era and is well worth watching below to give another view.
Blayze and Nakano would face off over the WWF women’s title in late ’94 several times, most historically at an All Japan Women’s event in the Tokyo Dome, in front of over 32,000 fans, before Blayze moved on to a series of matches with Bertha Faye the following year. The lack of depth in the WWF women’s division was still noticeable, and as Vince McMahon looked to cut costs in late ’95, Alundra Blayze was released.
Dumping the WWF Title in the Trash – Madusa Returns to WCW
An offer to return to WCW arrived reasonably quickly after Miceli’s release, and the former Alundra Blayze signed back with the Atlanta outfit in December. However, this created a unique situation. Miceli, now going by Madusa again, was still in possession of the WWF Women’s title belt. Still the champion upon her release, Madusa did not have the opportunity to return her title. The new head of WCW, Eric Bischoff, caught wind of this unusual situation and asked Madusa to bring the title to television. In one of the most iconic and controversial images of the 1990’s, Bischoff convinced Miceli to dump the WWF title into a trash can live on Monday Nitro.
It is difficult to overstate how this one moment changed the face of professional wrestling at the time. The “Monday Night War,” as it would become known between the WWF’s Raw show and WCW’s Nitro, was still in its infancy. Yes, the first moment in this ratings battle was Lex Luger arriving on the inaugural episode on Nitro in a huge shock. However, WCW was still a distant second at that time. By the date of Madusa’s return, the gap had closed slightly. With new eyes on the Nitro product and a literal trashing of the rival’s brand on live TV, Bischoff had fired a massive shot across the bow of the WWF ship. The “Monday Night War” was now very much underway and would rage on for many years. This moment also caused issues for people who sat in the old school category. Whether involved in the business directly or as fans, this gesture of defiance and disrespect to a championship caused an uproar.
In all of this, Madusa felt regret. Often expressing remorse for this moment in interviews that have followed, Miceli found herself blacklisted by the WWF. Feeling coerced into this act by Bischoff, Miceli has also very honestly explained that she could have said no, of course, but was concerned about her new job. Looking at how Eric Bischoff terminated other employees during his WCW tenure, those concerns may not have been without substance.
On a more positive note, Madusa’s return to WCW led to a reunion with former opponents Sherri Martel and Bull Nakano. Miceli faced off with the latter at Hog Wild ’96, a pay-per-view with a motorcycle theme and based at the Sturges Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota. Victory for the Harley-riding Madusa meant she was permitted to destroy her opponent’s motorcycle. In quite the image, Miceli smashed up Nakano’s bike as the pro-USA crowd at Sturgis cheered her on.
Similar to how Madusa’s arrival sparked the WWF Women’s title to become revived, her return to WCW caused the advent of a Women’s Title for the southern promotion. An eight-woman tournament bolstered by talent from Japan crowned the first champion, Akira Hokuto when she defeated Madusa in the final. However, the division was very short-lived, with there only being two recognized champions; it spanned just over a year in existence. In a glaring difference from the WWF Women’s Title a few years previously, Madusa never held the championship, despite having several title opportunities. One of which, at the Great American Bash in 1997, had a stipulation requiring Madusa’s retirement if she was not victorious. Hokuto retained the title, and Miceli left WCW for close to two years.
Returning in the spring of 1999, Madusa found herself aligned with Macho Man Randy Savage, Gorgeous George, and “Miss Madness” for a time as Savage formed “Team Madness” to assist in his pursuit of championship gold. Madusa wanted to wrestle, however, and with no real women’s division to speak of at the time, Miceli found herself facing off against the men.
Still creating history even at this later stage of her wrestling career, Madusa won the WCW Cruiserweight Title at Starrcade that year. Before this moment, no woman had won a championship in WCW, and in hindsight, it was hugely fitting that this accolade went to Miceli.
Madusa continued to wrestle sporadically into 2000 as well as train younger talent at WCW’s “Power Plant” training academy before picking up an injury in a match at Fall Brawl that year. This injury would sadly signal the end of Miceli’s WCW career, as while she was off TV, Vince McMahon purchased the company. Due to the previous incident with the WWF Women’s title, Miceli decided to leave the company before a full takeover went through, and eventually retired from wrestling altogether in 2001.
Life After Wrestling
Debra Miceli’s impact on traditionally male-dominated sports did not end with her wrestling retirement. Having ventured into the Monster Truck business a couple of years previously, Miceli returned to that world driving her own truck (aptly named Madusa) and was an almost instant success. Miceli has gone on to win an incredible two World Championships, again being the first woman to do so.
In 2015, Debra Miceli got inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. In a memorable moment, Miceli produced the WWF Women’s title from a trash can during her highly entertaining speech and declared it as “being back home.”
It is impossible to exaggerate Debra Miceli’s impact on the wrestling business, and possibly sports as a whole. From being influential in her early days in the AWA, breaking ground by becoming the first overseas competitor to earn an All Japan Women’s contract, having an entire division built around Alundra Blayze in the WWF, stoking the fires of the Monday Night War, winning men’s titles in WCW, training a future generation of stars such as Molly Holly, and becoming the first woman to win Monster Truck World Championships, Miceli is a true role model and icon across two very different fields.
The role Alundra Blayze / Madusa had in inspiring women wrestlers, and women in general, cannot be overstated.
Before the Women’s Revolution, before swimsuit competitions and evening gown matches, and before there were Divas, there was Madusa. There was Debra Miceli, and she was phenomenal.
If you enjoyed this piece, be sure not to miss the following articles on our site:
- Dangerous Alliance | Their Short Yet Impactful Influence on WCW
- Rick Rude – More Than Ravishing
- Remembering “Sensational” Sherri Martel