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Q&A with Madusa, on her legacy in Japan as a trailblazer

1 year ago

Q&A with Madusa, on her legacy in Japan as a trailblazer

By: Fumi Saito & Thom Fain

There is no other like her.

And, if you ask just about anyone who’s had more than a cup of coffee in the wrestling business, they use a variation of the same word to describe Madusa, also known as Alundra Blayze: Awesome.

When listening to her stories, you sense how accurate that descriptor truly is. Across 40 years, her self-motivation led her to heights reserved for titans and legends. From being the first-ever Western women’s wrestler to receive a full-time contract to work in Japan, to revolutionizing women’s wrestling in America, and famously firing the shot that kickstarted the Monday Night Wars… to becoming a Monster Truck pro and a WWE Hall of Famer – the word “trailblazer” seems to barely do justice for Debrah “Madusa” Miceli’s full story.

On the heels of her new autobiography, The Woman Who Would Be King, Madusa sat down with editor-in-chief Thom Fain and our editorial advisor, Fumi Saito. Longtime friends and colleagues with roots in Minnesota, Madusa and Fumi recalled the magic of 1990s All Japan Women’s (AJW), where one shined as a star and the other worked to chronicle it. This was an industry-changing era without equal in the sport of women’s pro-wrestling.

Explaining how she went from Verne Gange’s AWA as a must-have talent for Rossy Ogawa in AJW, Madusa talks laying the groundwork for future champions like Toni Storm and Jamie Hayter. While living in Japan, she forged a lasting friendship with Fumi, and was excited to walk down memory lane with us to give MP readers a behind-the-scenes look at how her run in Japan came together, and how that impacted her career.

c/o Fumi Saito

Madusa: So basically my story starts in Minnesota, a girl going through nursing school who thought her life wasn’t great… I was introduced to a Hollywood stuntman, Ky Michaelson. And he told me I’d be good in the entertainment business! I thought, ‘Hey, I could be a stunt woman.’ And he said, ‘No… I was thinking pro-wrestling.’

I was offended. And I was thinking stuntwoman because I was a big jock, gymnast. And so then he introduced me to Eddie Sharkey. I worked with him for a few years, never got paid! You know, I got paid probably five bucks. And then after that, I was really doing well on the independents. I was kicking ass, but I was losing – I was basically living in my car by this time, with no real home or comfort.

And I was just like, “What am I doing?” Had my first come to Jesus talk going, “Okay, I didn’t come this far just to fail, so your ass is going to keep going. Just keep going.” And then I was living at my Granny’s at the time. I was staying with her, because I just was living in my car – so I think I stayed there once in a while. And I got a call and it was Wahoo McDaniel. And so Wahoo is the one that called me and said, ‘This is Wahoo McDaniel. Is Miss Miceli there?”.

I’m like, “Holy s**t, whoa!” Alright. “Yeah. This is, this is her.” “We’re looking for Madusa.” “Yeah. This is Madusa.” “Hi, This is Wahoo McDaniel and I work at the AWA with Mr. Verne Gagne, and Verne wants to know if you’d like to come in and would love for you to do a program with Sherri Martel.” And I went – my mouth just, like, dropped. I was like, “Oh s**t!” And he goes, “Are you available to come in for an interview?” You know, back then we had those big heavy phones with the rotary and whatever.

And so I was like, “Yeah, just a second. Let me check my schedule,” because I had those little paper daily planners back then. So I opened it and I’m like, “Oh yeah, just give a second.” And I’m like, fist pumping. Playing it cool, I said “Yeah, I’m available.” He goes, “Well, can you come into the AWA office tomorrow morning?” I’m like, “Yeah, that’ll work.”

So I went in, I met Verne – of course, a lot happened in between there on my end.

Monthly Puroresu: When you arrived, did he make you do the 100, 200 squats right there – the blowup?

Madusa: No, that was later with Brad Rheingans.

Monthly Puroresu: Brad Rheingans is at the center of training. A lot of these folks that came to and from Japan. Right?

Madusa: Yeah. He was amazing. He was a gold medallist.

Monthly Puroresu: And this is two different coaching styles – Eddie Sharkey, the easy-going one. And Brad Rheingans, is harder – he only trains you if you have talent. Whereas Eddie, he would take just about anybody who wants to be a wrestler.

Madusa: Yes. Eddie will take anything. He’ll take anything and any of their money.

Monthly Puroresu: Somebody mentioned he’d sell VCRs out of the back of his trunk or something?

Madusa: Yes! And he had, like, a trench coat with god knows what hanging on the inside, selling this stuff.

Monthly Puroresu: And whole golf club sets, and things.

Madusa: Hence his last name Shark – Sharkey… Anyway so I got hired, and I’ll tell you, Verne Gagne was very good. Verne was very, very good to me. So, I was hired, and Sherri Martel and I had our program. Sherri was going off to the WWF – but she didn’t let them know that she wasn’t going to drop the title to me. She was like, ‘This woman? I’m not dropping it to her,” nor did she. And Verne was very upset.

Monthly Puroresu: But you were a rookie then.

Madusa: I was a rookie. Well, let’s see, I did independents for about three years. Sherri was already about ten years in the business. And, you know, after three years of me being in the business and her ten, she probably felt I didn’t deserve it. So…

Whatever her problem was, I’m not sure. But there was a lot between her and I – and I learned a lot. She wasn’t really a ‘wrestler’ per se – she was a brawler! Sherri was a brawler…

But, she knew her psychology of this business like nobody! This woman, her psychology and her timing, it was impeccable. So I do have to give her credit, and she was a great manager.

Debrah Miceli fights Sherri Martel in the AWA.

Monthly Puroresu: Understood.

Madusa: And there was a time we used to go to the Showboat in Vegas, and we used to wrestle out there a lot. And that’s where I got more knowledge of women’s wrestling, there was a bunch of scuttle. Even before then, I knew that once I got into wrestling, I’d dig deep and find out what this is about. So, I found out a lot of history of the women… Where and how they started – the 40’s, 50’s, you know, – everything I wanted to learn. And, then there was Fabulous Moolah’s stories, and her wrestling camp.

I was asked to come out to Moolah’s and I was really hesitant. I was like, “Oh, hell no. No woman is going own me or anything like that!” That’s how I thought back then… I was very independent. I didn’t know how, but I was very independent, and I did my own thing.

Monthly Puroresu: But still, it’s all pretty much run by Fabulous Moolah at that time.

Madusa: It was. And I’d be damned if I was gonna let myself get pinned down or anything like that. So, I just did my own thing. And I didn’t pay mind to any of the drama. But, it was then that I saw some old VHS tapes from Japan. and of course, I saw what the guys were doing there, I’d heard the scuttle through the boys. And the boys always said that Japan – Japan is it, and if you ever get asked to go to Japan it’s an honor, so you’d better take it.

And I made going to Japan my goal. Leading up to all of this, and before I was in the independents – before I even put my foot in a ring – I even trademarked my name Madusa, M-A-D-U-S-A.

Monthly Puroresu: Then you had a match against Chigusa Nagayo in Las Vegas. She was wearing a ninja costume and all of that.

Madusa: Yes, we’ll get to that in a moment.

So, they were testing the market, and trying to find a woman for Japan… And I don’t know exactly why, who I could have a program with. Thinking back to those VHS tapes from Japan, I remember watching the guys, and that night in Vegas I remembered watching one of the Japanese guys flying off the top turnbuckle onto the floor… And I’m like, ‘Whatever.’.

Fast forward, Chigusa and I actually were going have a match! I was green, I was beside myself, and I didn’t know what the hell to expect.

But all I could think about, from this VHS tape… was that dive off the corner turnbuckle onto the floor. Back then – we didn’t have mats. It was concrete. There wasn’t a mat around the AWA ring. And she was in a ninja outfit, so to speak, and she was badass. The crowd did not know her, or how to take to her. They didn’t know what was going on! All they knew is that, Chigusa Nagayo was serious. You could feel her presence and aura… it was just amazing, and I could feel it, like on my insides. I was just coming out of my skin, almost.

So we wrestled and there was one point that I said, “Okay.” I just threw her out and I ran up to the top corner turnbuckle, and I dove out on top of her.

And I guess Rossy Ogawa-san and the AWA people, I think it was Wahoo – said after the match, “They want to see you.” I went, “Oh man, I f***ed up before I even got hired.” You know? Like, “They don’t want me. Oh my God, what did I do?” And Ogawa-san said, ‘You like wrestling or something?’ I’m trying to speak half-English, half-Japanese. And I go, “Yes sir, that would be great. I want to come to Japan.” He goes, “You do?” And I’m like, “Yes. I’d love to go. I want to. I’ll move to Japan.”.

I remember just saying, “I’ll go, I’ll go.” And I didn’t think anything of it. And so I guess basically what Rossy said later is that when I came off the corner turnbuckle, he said they’ve never seen an American woman do that and they said, ‘There is guts right there.” But the truth is I was very, very green. But I ended up going over to Japan.

Monthly Puroresu: Right, 1989, the January tour. Then, the March tour.

Madusa: Yeah, it was like three or four times – it would be like four weeks, then six weeks, then four weeks… And so that last time I went over, they offered me a real contract. And, basically it was on a handshake. And then I had a lawyer write up the contract for a two-and-a-half, three-year

Monthly Puroresu: And you’re the first American woman to do so ever.

Madusa: Yes, yes. The contract did not include just tours, but actually called for me to move over there and work full-time. And, man, I’m telling you! My heart will always be in Japan.

Monthly Puroresu: Another reason Japan needed you, Chigusa was retiring. That’s why they wanted you. But she didn’t retire though, right after that contract you were given.

Madusa: Yeah, maybe she did for about a year. Wrestlers always come back, you know?

Monthly Puroresu: Like you said, you’re very independent.

Madusa: Very much so. And back then, I was hungry for learning. And it’s just like Fumi would say – the timing is everything… Timing is everything. So, I knew after two-and-a-half, three years that if I wasn’t doing something in the States, they forget about you. So towards the end of the contract in Japan, I mean, I knew it was time to get back to the States and reinvent Madusa. And that’s exactly what I did.

But, back to my time in Japan. When I first went there, of course I didn’t know what to expect. But I dove right in. I wanted to learn the language. I wanted to eat, sleep, breathe, do everything like them. Train. And you better be careful what you ask for, because the training is f***ing like, no other. Even today!

Monthly Puroresu: So we have heard! What did you have to do? Run up the mountain to the temple? Bootcamp with a karate sensei on the island?

Madusa: Actually, yes.

Monthly Puroresu: You were on the island for one whole week, remember?

Madusa: I’m telling you even in today’s training world, even at the Performance Center for WWE – because I’ve been down there – It’s nothing like Japan. Nothing. And, I was even at AEW for a couple days, really to help give out the tag- team women’s award. I remember they had practice, and half the girls wouldn’t show up. Half of them said, “Oh, I got menstrual cramps.” And I’m like, “B***h if you were in Japan, I would’ve kicked you in that menstrual cramp.”

Monthly Puroresu: Speaking of AEW, do you think Toni Storm is kind of a good comparison to you, a modern day Madusa?

Madusa: Toni Storm’s hell of a wrestler. She’s a badass, great wrestler. She’s a badass, and was also a champion in Japan in STARDOM. And she deserved it.

Monthly Puroresu: She was Rossy Ogawa’s favorite, too.

Madusa: Yeah, I know. Isn’t that great? He knows how to pick ’em. Let me tell you.

I want to let the readers know about how it was back in the day. You know in dressing room, that the whole backstage situation… It was a whole bunch – you know, 40 Japanese women wrestlers. None of them spoke a word of English! And when I first got there, when I was there intermittently, like on the first couple tours, everyone was so kind. Everyone was so jovial and they were so ready to help.

As soon as they found out that I was there to live… the mood really soured. And it was like, “B***h, you’re on your own!”

c/o Fumi Saito

Monthly Puroresu: Both Crush Gals were retiring. They wanted to bring you as a top talent, so the timing was good.

Madusa: It was a great transition and I wanted to change the trajectory of women’s wrestling from where they were at, and to bring a little more life and… sexiness, in but still remain very athletic. I was a wrestler, dammit! And I was serious. But, I wasn’t there just to you know, just be another pretty face. I wanted to go there and truly hone my craft.

Monthly Puroresu: There was a difference in the environment, right? You know, women’s wrestling in America is always part of men’s events, and back then would receive maybe one match. Whereas you went over to the Japanese company, All Japan Women, the entire roster was, maybe 40 or 45 Joshi wrestlers.

Madusa: Let me tell you, it was incredibly different. It was a lot to take in. But it was, like.. I went there and there and, I was not shocked. The culture didn’t shock me. The people, the language… It’s like, I just molded right in. I was never bothered. Well, there’s a lot that goes with that because, I mean, I really didn’t have much to keep me in the States – no family situation or anything.

Monthly Puroresu: It’s very competitive in Japan.

Madusa: Very competitive. But I’m telling you, they were still kind… It wasn’t as if the joshis were vindictive, I mean, it was like, “Oh, okay. You’re here now? You’re one of us. Get it yourself.” You know, basically like that, like, ‘You’ve got to do it the hard way. We’re not here to pick up your s**t. “Oh, you broke your finger? Tape it up, b***h! Get it back in the ring.”

Oh, yeah. And that happened several times. A couple times, my fingers were dangling behind my hand. The coach took my fingers and ‘Pop, pop,’ then taped them. He said, “Madusa-san, go. Get back in ring.” And I’m thinking, “What?”

This would never fly in the States.’ I didn’t say it out loud. But, you learned real quick that in Japan, you do not complain.

Monthly Puroresu: And back then, the Joshi company would never put you on the plane. The talent would never take the bullet trains. They’d put you on the bus, wherever they went, always on the bus.

Madusa: Right. And when I went over there, I told Rossy, ‘Look, I don’t want to be treated any different. I want to start from the ground up just like anybody else. Because I wanted to earn their respect, right? I kind of saw how things were going the first couple trips, you know, behind the scenes. They had tryouts. I mean, girls from 12 to 14 years old try out. And back then, there were hundreds of girls in lines waiting to try out! It was incredible. I’m not exaggerating. We’re talking maybe a thousand, or thousands of girls wanting to wrestle.

Monthly Puroresu: The Crush Gals era.

Madusa: Yes. And it was – oh my God – just to be accepted for a tryout, was a big deal. And a handful of girls would be accepted each year. That’s it! To go through the AJW dojo to do, whatever. So what happens is once those girls are hired, they’re called New Faces. So you picture a ring, the setup – and these girls the New Faces… they’re the ones that are up first and they clean up the bus, they straighten out everything.

They’ll wash the top tier talents’ clothes, or they’ll make sure they’ll run into the hotel before the bus got there, make sure everything was all clear, make sure the food was done, make sure everything was laid out.

They’d get all the bags out of the bus, put them in each room. These are the New Faces we’re talking. I mean they were the last to go to bed. First up, last to go to bed. But they would put up the ring, take down the ring. They would clean – they were the last ones to get to eat.

They hung around together, and they would serve. They’d make sure you got rice, your tea, and everything was served. And then, they would be sitting there…

By the time they could even get an hour’s sleep, they’d be tired, waiting for everyone to finish and they’d be falling asleep. These poor kids. But they were there first thing, put up the ring and they would train just as hard, if not 10 times harder than anybody. And they were working their position and I was watching this. And then it’s… Back on the bus again tomorrow.

Monthly Puroresu: And they were running anywhere from 200 to 250 shows a year!

Madusa: It’s different now.

Monthly Puroresu: AJW was different from today, we can say, like with the STARDOM, AZM’s and the Starlight Kid’s… although they’re training up at a young age. It’s different, because STARDOM is part of a big company. They don’t run 250 shows a year. Just run on weekends, take bullet trains, not on the bus. crammed bus. Madusa, would they fit all 40 girls on the bus?

Madusa: We had about 40, 50 girls on a double decker Mercedes bus. And the top talent among us, we were upstairs. And the New Faces along with everybody else, were downstairs. And then, on the outside down below is all the beds.

Monthly Puroresu: Like a private section?

Madusa: Sort of. All the top talent was kind of, like, in the back of the bus. Right?

So I was like fifth row from the back. And you had your Bull Nakano and the bigwigs were all in the back, and we each got two seats and then all as it went down in rank, they all got one seat. But you had two girls in one seat sometimes. We got two seats all the way up to the five rows. And my lengthy 5’10” body had to curl up in these two seats. And you know, we drove 10 hours sometimes! It was just incredible.

And, we’d hand wash our clothes, we’d hang them up as soon as we got on the bus, take them out of this plastic bag thing. So imagine, you’ve got all these bras and panties hanging in this bus… It was crazy.

But it was, you know, an all-girl bus.

Monthly Puroresu: Like in that era, everybody had their Walkman’s on?

Madusa: Yeah. We had Sony Walkman’s on with the cassette tape. It was true, oh my God. That’s too funny.

Monthly Puroresu: Did you have any favorite towns in Japan? Like any towns where you really just loved that the crowd, kind of really fed off of your energy?

Madusa: I love Sapporo. Sapporo was great. I love Sapporo, and Okinawa.

Monthly Puroresu: Because you’re from Minnesota?

Madusa: Yeah, whatever. Sapporo’s beautiful. You’re talking country, it reminds me of the United States. So absolutely beautiful. And then, I loved down in Kyushu Island and Okinawa.

Madusa: So those were my two favorite tours. I loved Tokyo and stuff. But the thing is, when I was there, I mean, I got my own condo. I was probably there five times a month. All the rest was on the bus. And we wrestled sometimes twice. Probably what, 300 something days a year.

Monthly Puroresu: Also, your contract came right after Crush Gals’ retirement. Rossy wanted to have you sing in the ring, like Crush Gals was doing.

Madusa: Yeah. He was still stuck in the old ways when I signed. Singing in the ring, the image videos, the picture books, etc. It was crazy. So, I had music videos and picture books. In Japan, they were the best marketing people I ever had for me. WCW didn’t do s**t with me. WWF didn’t do much with me.

Monthly Puroresu: Well, they made you Alundra Blayze.

Madusa: They made Alundra Blayze, but I had one t-shirt, you know what I mean?

Monthly Puroresu: You weren’t even Madusa in WWF. When the Crush Gals graduated from All Japan Women, those younger fans who enjoyed the singing, dancing disappeared too.

Madusa: Yeah. We were trying to transition and change it — they thought that bringing… An American, blonde, big boobed woman – that would bring boys to the crowd. Well, it did. It started to bring some boys in.

Monthly Puroresu: They also had to wait for the rise of Bull Nakano and Aja Kong.

Madusa: Yes. So, they came out with this picture book and I was like, “Oh my God.” But how they did it was like – I’ve never had experience in any other federation, like how Japan treated me. This is why my heart will always be in Japan and I consider it like my second home. And so, I absolutely love it. So whenever I go there, they–

Monthly Puroresu: They treated you like a star?

Madusa: Not just a star… They treated me like family. And, I just never felt so loved and so accepted in a place than I did Japan.

Monthly Puroresu: In fact, the company was run by one family, the Matsunaga brothers – four brothers running it with their wives, and cousins, nieces and nephews, and all that.

Madusa: Oh, it was a family affair all right. I mean, a deep family affair. And they ran restaurants too.

On my days off, I stayed in the condo, but I also had to go train, which was at the dojo and everything in the office. And the restaurant was there. I worked in the restaurant. So not only that, I served food and then we trained on our day off. And then once in a while, I got to sneak out and go to Roppongi district of Tokyo and do my thing at night. And I would just go by myself. I’d get a taxi and go.

Monthly Puroresu: They sent you to a Japanese language school, too.

Madusa: Yes. And after a while, they sent me to a school named Berlitz, and it really helped. It really helped a lot. I really started getting it, you know… of course, everything starts to come together when things are coming to an end. So, I was just starting to write the Kanji and it was just so… I tell you, there’s nothing like Japan. I’m thinking of going over in 2024.

Monthly Puroresu: But, this is about three years into your time in Japan.

Madusa: Right, I gotta talk about what happened there! So, Rossy goes “Madusa, do you box? I go, “What do you mean box?!” Rossy said, “Box, you have to, you’re going to box.” I go, “What do you mean box?”

He goes, “You box. We think you’re a boxer.” I go, “I never boxed in my f****ing life. What are you talking about?” And so, they started having me train boxing and doing all this crazy stuff. And, I was a natural. Dude, I was good at it! I was really good at it. And then they started putting me in these boxing matches. And they figured, “Let’s put her with Aja Kong.”

Monthly Puroresu: During a wrestling match. It’s not a work. Aja Kong vs. Madusa under kickboxing rules. No high spots.

Madusa: No high spot. So, they never told me if it was going to be a work or not! They never told her either, because… of course, Bull and I spoke later in life, and no one really told her it was gonna be a work or not. So, Aja and I are going to get in there thinking that ‘Oh, you just, you know, let’s just give a good show. It’s probably a work.’ And I didn’t know. No one knew. They didn’t tell us. So, we get in there and we didn’t know. We just kind of tested each other.

You can kind of tell, you walk in there, you’re scared s**tless. You just go, ‘ding,’ you know. Okay, that didn’t hurt. And she comes up to me, ‘ding.’ Nothing, All of a sudden, ‘ding,’ and all of a sudden, ‘bang’. And I went, “Well, f**k this.”

Boom, boom, boom, boom, and started laying it on her. And then she comes up, and gets one of these spinning kicks. My f***ing nose is split, blood is everywhere. I’m like, “This b***h is getting her ass kicked!”

Monthly Puroresu: It was not a work, that kickboxing match with Aja Kong. It was, in some ways, for the new audience too. But the entire locker room was watching.

Madusa: Well, this is where I earned the respect. I just – hands down, in the locker room, in the back were nothing but all women.

Monthly Puroresu: And, most thought you were Rossy’s favorite…

Madusa: Well, yeah, they didn’t like that. Right? They thought everything was catered to me. But, until I started showing them like, “Hey, I’ll get down there and clean the ring. I’ll help put it up and down. I’ll ride here, I’ll stay up, I’ll do whatever.” They finally understood. And then, when I got in that kickboxing match they knew I wasn’t just a prissy girl and, hey, I was ready to fight. You know, Chigusa Nagayo came up to me. It was amazing. Absolutely amazing, because I think she was on commentary.

And I remember one of my matches, I got my bell rung so bad, that this is right when I got my hair cut. My hair, my blonde hair was really short. This is why the New Faces stay around the ring, they duck down so their eyes are there. This way, they watch everything that’s happening. They know what the match is. They know each girl has a set of moves, and they know the finish. So, when they know something’s wrong because the girls are hard-hitting and there’s a lot of knockouts – and girls’ are getting concussions back then.

Monthly Puroresu: That was not a known problem back then, before all the new medical research.

Madusa: Anyhow, I got my bell knocked so hard, I didn’t know where I was, but I remember I kept going like I had an idea of what I was doing. And I remember one of the New Faces, “Madusa-san dropkick out of corner, dropkick corner.” And I get up there, and I do my thing, and they walked me all the way through the rest of the match. When I got back to the dressing room – remember I told you I just got my hair cut.

I remember sitting in front of the mirror and I’m staring at myself, and I remember looking around at all the other girls and I started screaming, “So who cut my hair? Who cut my hair?” And they go like, “Madusa-san, are you all right? Daijoubu. Madusa, daijobu?” I’m like, “Who the f**k cut my hair?” And they’re like, ‘Oh, doctor. Doctor, we need a doctor.’

Monthly Puroresu: Probably Aja’s group or somebody ran and got the doctor.

Madusa: It was crazy. And so in the dressing rooms, there are two sections in Korakuen Hall. There are two sets of stairs on two different sides of the building. The one set, where everyone on the media and everyone got to come down. And then, you had one big dressing room and that’s where all the younger talent was, and the mid crowd. Then the smaller one where there was the main event girls. That was it. And so, um, I’ll never forget that. That was, wow… just, like, yesterday man! It was so, it was a crazy time.

Monthly Puroresu: Only one American girl in the entire dressing room, you know? Forty Japanese girls against you sometimes. That’s just the way it was. But, you had your place in that dressing room. Were you sad to leave? You were ready to go back to the States for the next chapter of your career, too.

Madusa: I know I needed to do it for my career and reinvent Madusa. But it was at the end of my contract, and the times and things culturally were changing there too.

Part Two: Madusa Leaves AJW and Cements Her Legacy

Madusa: It was time [to move on] I guess. And they started bringing other girls. I think Reggie Bennett started coming over. I think this after Reggie, Debbie Malenko and all of them tried it as well to stay there and stuff. And just intermittently they’d come in waves.

Monthly Puroresu: Well because you did this, it made more American girls want to come over. A lot of girls after you wanted to come in full time, unlike in Leilani’s days or Monster Ripper’s days. Back then they would come in one month or so, and go on.

Madusa: It brought hope. And that’s what I wanted to do is change the trajectory of women’s wrestling (again).

Monthly Puroresu: Some changes during that time were interesting, like those very complicated six-woman tag team situation.

Madusa: I hated those because it was always like, “What’s going on?”

Monthly Puroresu: Manami Toyota would come up with stuff for 20 minute long high spots.

Madusa: Manami! How is she doing? What is she doing now?

Monthly Puroresu: She finally retired. Only just a couple years ago. Her lower back is pretty bad.

Madusa: Oh, I’m sure. It happens to all of them. Wait until they get older. That does catch up to you.

Madusa: Even Bull Nakano said her health depleted bad, because of all the bumps she had taken and alcohol she drank.

Monthly Puroresu: It is a lot of pain you all have had to deal with, so. Maybe she did that.

Madusa: Maybe, yeah… Whereas American wrestlers, it was more popping pills.

Monthly Puroresu: Which decreased both the pain and increased their appetite.

Madusa: Bull might have needed to drink. I mean, that was her gimmick though. Her shtick was being big. So when I did the boxing and then they did the whole picture book, and AJW had me singing, and I was riding in a helicopter – I’m like, “I was never treated like this in America.”

Monthly Puroresu: Oh, we almost forgot about the CD.

Madusa: Yep. The boss said, “Okay, Madusa, now you’re gonna sing.” I’m like, “I can’t sing even in the shower!”

Monthly Puroresu: AJW really had a pretty strong marketing arm back then.

Madusa: They did. They were amazing when it came to marketing.

Monthly Puroresu: Channel 8. Fuji Television. The network influences are in there too.

Madusa: Fuji Television. That’s right. Who just bought Stardom again?

Monthly Puroresu: Bushiroad. Same company that owns New Japan. It’s a big game company; they bought both companies. Bushiroad runs New Japan and Stardom. It’s a big company, not sure how many people work in the offices here in Tokyo. Hundreds?

Madusa: So one company, Bushiroad, operates both of them.

Monthly Puroresu: Yeah, but they have a division that runs in New Japan. They have a division that runs Stardom. They don’t really mingle. Well, they’re starting to. They gave Rossy Ogawa the executive producer role. But they still want him to be creative so all the creative shoots stay with Rossy.

Madusa: Rossy knows the business like nobody.

Monthly Puroresu: When non-wresting people start taking over the creative, that’s bad news.

Madusa: That’s when that goes down the drain. I hope that doesn’t happen. That’s what happened in WCW.

Monthly Puroresu: Yeah. Turner Television.

Madusa: That and the writers. It was ran by men completely. And you had all these men that claimed that they were great writers. They thought us wrestlers were only as good as our writer. “You’re only as good as the ring. You’re only as good as your opponent.” So it took a team to become this great character. Right. If you didn’t have good material, a writer or story that then you were left out. WCW didn’t know what to do with me, it was horrible.

Monthly Puroresu: Some of your work with Bull Nakano over there in WCW, you guys were trying to recapture that magic that you had in AJW and WWE.

Madusa: I mean, she and I didn’t lose anything. It was the flair there. I mean, WCW was just like, “Just do the same things, girls.” We’re like, “You know, there’s much more we can do here.”

Monthly Puroresu: You also have to point that out, that All Japan Women in the ’70s and ’80s, into the ’90s, they expected you to retire at 25-years-old. It was like, you were expected to leave. But then Bull Nakano, shortly after, she left and went to Mexico and then went to WWE. Bull Nakano wanted to leave the company too because they’re pushing Akira Hokuto, Manami Toyota, the younger Aja Kong, and Kyoko Inoue.

Madusa: So me coming into Japan, All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling at my age was like a sin. And that was another reason why the girls felt the way they did. How is this old lady at my age back then – I was not old, but to them it was. It was retirement age for them. But here I am, starting my career in Japan at an age where those women were retiring. I had to earn their respect hard.

Monthly Puroresu: You were getting paid pretty well in All Japan Women’s, but you had hired a management company which really messed it up. When you came back to the U.S., the money was gone.

Madusa: Yes. So what happened legitimately was that I hired a management company in Minneapolis and I wired all my money back and I kept a small amount each month. All the rest of the money got wired up. I just lived in Japan off this small amount of money that I kept. So, I wanted to fly my family out to Japan. And when I went to do that, there should have been plenty of money to buy two round trip tickets and pay for their hotel.

Monthly Puroresu: What happened?

Madusa: Well, it became a fight when they told me, “You don’t have that much money. You have all these bills.” I didn’t have any bills! Really. In fact, I had a poster that I put together and shot that was being sold in Target stores before anybody did anything like that and marketed myself. My very first poster, and it was sold in Target stores. I had my own workout video, which I did without any WWF or anything like that. And so all of that was supposed to be handled through this management company, right?

Well, everything got lost somehow. And by then I owed taxes for their mess up, my accountant said, “Look, you just, you don’t have any money, Debrah.” And I again, then I had to start all over again when I went back to the states

And it was a rude awakening. That’s my experience with the management team. And I never hired a management team again. I did it, I learned my lesson and did it myself.

Monthly Puroresu: Do you know what happened to them after that?

Madusa: I’m not sure, but I believe in karma.

My experience in Japan, they could not take that away. No money could even buy that. And so I was happy that I had that. And so that’s when I knew I had to go back to the states. That was part of it. At the end, it was time to reinvent Madusa and get my ass back there and you know, get my name out there because again, I didn’t come this far to lose my ass again, you know, and quit. I was not a quitter.

Monthly Puroresu: They seemed to really try when you got back to help bring in some of these Japanese talents to work with you and some, even some of the men and stuff.

Madusa: At first with WCW, you saw some things happening and stuff only because I had to push the issue, push the issue, push the issue. You know, when I first came back, I went on a sabbatical for a year and just chilled and did some independents; came back with vengeance and worked in some other places like LPWA and stuff.

I started working and all the girls were like, “Holy s—t, what is this?” Because I knew when I came back to the states that I needed a Japanese style and an American style and I needed to combine that together and bring something back that no one’s ever seen.

Monthly Puroresu: I think you introduced American women doing the German suplex.

Madusa: Thank God for the Japanese girls because that’s where I honed my craft.

Monthly Puroresu: And that’s where you learned German suplex with bridge.

Madusa: And I was like, “Oh my God, there’s not a woman – how devastating is this?” But you really need to learn it and nail it because if you don’t, you’re gonna get hurt.

Monthly Puroresu: Yeah.

Madusa: Yeah. We know how that goes. And then your opponent can get hurt really, really bad. That’s why it scares me every time I see Brock Lesnar try to do a suplex. I cringe every time. Brock does that… whatever he calls a German. I yell every time. I’m like, Suplex City my ass. That is no German suplex!

But yeah, so that’s where I did it. And I kept with it with the German suplex, bringing it back to the states. Women were scared to wrestle me is what happened. And I’m like, I don’t know. I take care of my opponent. I was very snug. I was very stiff because that’s base – Remember I came from green and independent straight into Japan. This is my base. This is my style. This is me. I get back and I look at all these fluff women and I’m like, “Oh, these b***hes need their ass kicked or something.”

Monthly Puroresu: Get the s***t beat out of them.

Madusa: I mean, I’m like, come on, if you’re gonna hit me – I kept saying, “Lay it in, hit me. Give me a reason to sell.” And that’s how I always said it to women. So when I came in and my spinning round offs, my spinning kicks were just on point. And women didn’t like it. So when I got in the States, no one would wrestle me. We had to bring over the Japanese girls.

Monthly Puroresu: And, the next time we saw you on video it was the following year, WCW Halloween Havoc or something, you were standing right next to “Ravishing” Rick Rude.

Madusa: Yes. And then I went into management in an on-screen manager role.

Monthly Puroresu: That brought you back to Japan. New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s 1992 G1 Climax.

Madusa: Was there another woman that was able to go because I remember people telling me like, there’s never been a woman at New Japan. Fumi, I think you’re the one that told me that. And you’re like, “You know how special this is?”

Monthly Puroresu: They had never brought female managers into the New Japan environment up until then.

Madusa: That’s a good point. I think it was you Fumi Saito. He’s the conduit to not just me, but most wrestlers that would go from America to Japan. He is the reason. He’s the one that actually made it happen. He’s the conversation. He’s the conduit. He’s the everything, the glue. Fumi and I basically were in the same playground, in Minnesota. Like he went to Robinsdale High School. I went to Robinsdale. Graduated, and lived Minnesota. So there was a great connection. I mean, isn’t it funny how the world is?

Monthly Puroresu: Masa Saito lived in Minnesota too.

Madusa: Masa too. That’s right. Yeah,

Monthly Puroresu: Then also Masa was booking New Japan at the time. That’s why you and Rick Rude were brought together. G1 Climax final. Rick Rude vs Masahiro Chono. People like Dusty Rhodes and Bill Watts came in town too to attend the G1 Climax Final, so that was a big deal. It wasn’t a match you wrestled. But actually you were in a New Japan ring too.

Madusa: I was. I was. And then, you know what was really cool was I knew that after I left Japan, I always wanted to go back. And then of course my schedule took me to WCW to WWF back to WCW.

Monthly Puroresu: You had a WWE tour in Japan too: Mania Tour ’94; You, Macho Man Randy Savage, Bret Hart, Undertaker, Yokozuna, Owen Hart, Bam Bam Bigelow, Bob Backlund, 1-2-3 Kid, Head Shrinkers, Doink, The Smoking Gunns, a pretty good crew.

Madusa: So we all came to Japan. Was that not at The Big Egg?

Monthly Puroresu: No, no. That was still years before All Japan Women’s Tokyo Dome show, WWE had their own tour. It didn’t draw that well. But you were in it, Macho Man was, Bret Hart was, and you had to bring in Japanese women as your opponents. You wrestled Kyoko Inoue, Sakie Hasegawa, Bull Nakano, Kyoko twice maybe.

Madusa: Kyoko, maybe. Right? Something like that.

Monthly Puroresu: Then that Survivor Series you brought eight Japanese women to WWF Survivor Series. Then you and Aja Kong were going to have a program, the following Royal Rumble, but that never happened because you left.

Team Alundra Blayze vs Team Bertha Faye at Survivor Series in 1995.

Madusa: Well, I didn’t leave.

Monthly Puroresu: You got fired?

Madusa: Yeah, they gave me my walking papers.

Monthly Puroresu: But then again, if it wasn’t for you, they weren’t going to keep the women’s division.

Madusa: They weren’t. They had no idea what they had.

Monthly Puroresu: There was no women’s division in WWF at that time. It’s not like today where there are 40 women on the roster. Alundra Blayze and your opponent, that was the entire women’s division.

Madusa: That was the roster. It was me and whoever I was up against.

Monthly Puroresu: So you were just like treated like Fabulous Moolah was years back.

Madusa: Basically. It is so true.

Monthly Puroresu: That’s how American promoters look at women’s wrestling – back in the ’90s, just one match out of the men’s show. If you don’t like women’s wrestling, that’s time to go to concession stand.

Madusa: Well I remember being told that, “Hey, you’re just an enhancement. You’re just, you know, whatever.” It pissed me off every time I heard that.

Monthly Puroresu: So when you think about it, women’s wrestling in Japan was like way ahead of time.

Madusa: By like 30 years.

Monthly Puroresu: An all-women company. Think about it.

Madusa: Way before its time.

Monthly Puroresu: So it completely had a different kind of evolution. You know, it’s all women. Now Stardom is the number two promotion in all of Japan. Right behind New Japan.

Madusa: You’re sh***ing me.

Monthly Puroresu: Ahead of all. Rossy’s company above all the other mens’ groups.

Madusa: That’s awesome.

Monthly Puroresu: Fans in Gen Z in the 19, 20, 21-year-olds, they, they love it. They thrive watching joshi puroresu. But you’re really a pioneer, in the fact that you’re Toni Storm before Toni Storm. You were doing stuff with all these women now do, and you were able to execute at a very high level in the ring.

But going into that in-ring stuff, do you have maybe a top five opponents or top five feuds that you could let our readers know about? Opponents you recall memories of, being under those lights and feeling the energy of All Japan Women’s that may mirror the energy that we’re having right now, this boom period in joshi wrestling?

Madusa: I was ahead of my time when I came back to the States. I was so ahead of my time. So my type of wrestling, my wrestling era is now is today’s women’s wrestling. And so when I was in Japan, what really stuck out the most, or the opponents was: number one, the ring. The ring itself was very different. It was as stiff as the concrete. Let’s just put it back. There was no give. The ropes, it’s like running into a stiff concrete pole.

I was more nervous working with the new faces because they had everything to prove, and they were there to beat your ass. They did not let up. They hit a punch. They threw a punch. They were there to contact you. Of course, I wouldn’t let them see me sweat. My opponents, it was really great to work with [Mitsuko] Nishiwaki because she — not only did she know some English, but she would help me and understand what I was doing wrong. And she was, “Madusa, no no no.” And she’d keep me back in the corner whenever I was in a tag, when I was f****ing up something and she would go in to finish it.

And then she’d put me in a spot where I needed to learn or do or overcome something to see what I could do. I know she hated working with me, but I mean, she was really good with me. I will tell you, there were a lot of girls that their patience with me were so kind, and I don’t know how they did it. But I was probably on the level of a new face in Japan as far as wrestling. That was my ability when I came in.

It was a new face level. I am not kidding. But you couldn’t see that in my face. I was there determined and I was learning fast, quick, quick, quick. And I would not stop. But they knew that they had to abide by their rules and listen to the boss men – the Matsunaga brothers. And because I was there to do a job and I wasn’t gonna take no, or back down either.

I owe everything to Chigusa Nagayo. She’s the one that discovered me. Basically. She doesn’t get enough kudos, but she’s the one that basically came to America to find me. Not that she was looking for me, but she found me. And she’s the one, if it wasn’t for Chigusa there at the Showboat, we wouldn’t be sitting here right now. And Chigusa, I would love to see her. I want come to Japan so bad. So when I’m there in 2024, I want to hook up. I want to try to do something with Stardom.

Monthly Puroresu: Chigusa runs her own company called Marvelous.

Madusa: Yes. And I would love to go over there and just surprise her. Fumi will have to set some things up.

Monthly Puroresu: Aja Kong is important, too.

Madusa: So it was Chigusa that started all of this. My next was really with Aja. And so my heart is always big for Aja, always will be. I know her and I were probably thinking, “What the hell are we doing hitting each other in the head this way, you know?” Then, we had this street fight that was phenomenal.

I just heard people talking about the other day, like, “No one hardly even has seen that street fight… We didn’t even know this existed.” So that street fight between, Aja and I is like primo.

Monthly Puroresu: Well, the shoot kickboxing situation evolved into a wrestling program, which was good.

Madusa: Yes. And it worked. And then came Bull Nakano. She and I were like, like an international feud. We were just like the perfect marriage, you know?

Monthly Puroresu: You had 28 single matches in one-month period. In America, Alundra Blayze against Bull Nakano, 28 title matches in a one-month period traveling. and you didn’t have exact same match. You changed it.

Madusa: It was so beautiful. And I keep telling people, with Bull – I mean she knew some English by then, right? But if you could watch our match, we never spoke to each other. We never spoke to each other.

Monthly Puroresu: How does that work?

Madusa: You do a move, you go with it, you counter it, and I know you can see some things that don’t mold or anything, but it’s like real wrestling then, you know what I mean? It’s like catch wrestling, right? There’s a few things that you do to the other person without talking so they know that, “Hey, I’m, I’m coming back on a high spot or something” without even talking.

So like, if I go to throw somebody in the ring, right… Or, let’s say I’m pushing Bull Nakano into the ring – and I always have my hand on their chest. Or, when you’re pushing someone back and the other one’s hanging onto their hand, and I’m pushing back, and then I go to push ’em off. Then my hand goes behind their neck, and you give ’em a little eggy to kind of scratch the back of their neck. And then they know to reverse the situation and put the heat on them.

Monthly Puroresu: But you were doing it almost intuitively.

Madusa: It was just so natural. I couldn’t even, I can’t even tell you how graceful some matches. Now there’s some girls today, very few – There’s one in Bayley vs. Sasha Banks [Mercedes Mone] that matched that level. But I have seen very few matches like what we were doing going on today.

They’re very few that you find that chemistry with somebody. I mean, you can have good matches with people, but there’s that once in a lifetime where that beautiful chemistry with that one person.