WWE tag team legends The Hart Foundation
Part 12 of an in depth look at the growth of women’s wrestling, from noted ring historian The Phantom of the Ring.
The Phantom of the Ring
Lipstick, Dynamite and Glowworms Part 12
How The Gaijin Gave Joshi a Shot in the Arm
What is a gaijin? In Japanese parlance it simply means “outside person.” Gaijin is a contraction of sorts of gaikokujin – gaikoku (outside-country) and jin (person) – in other words, anyone who is not Japanese (except for other East Asians, for whom there are other descriptive words). Usually, it is a reference to caucasians, since one of the meanings is “round-eyes.” It was once used strictly in the negative, but was watered down with time. However, the term has now been awarded the dreaded label of Politically Incorrect and is now avoided by most in the Japanese Media.
Except for professional wrestling, of course.
It is ironic because without the gaijin, professional wrestling in Japan would not have exploded as it did in the 50s. Nor would joshi puro have even gotten beyond the bars and strip clubs where matches were held.
Remember, women’s wrestling was looked upon as a cult phenomenon, considered too risqué for audiences, while men’s wrestling was making large strides due to the natural chauvinism of Japanese society. Rikidozan was importing American wrestlers to defeat and built up interest in pro wrestling. The women were still in the clubs – until Mildred Burke brought a contingent of six women wrestlers to Tokyo in November, 1954, where they performed for U.S. Army soldiers. Japan’s NTV, looking for programming, televised the matches as a novelty, and to their surprise, the matches garnered huge ratings and interest.
As we have seen the small Joshi promotions banded together, and at first, joshi puro was a hit. But the promotion of beauty and sex over talent led to a dissolution of the new confederation. There was also the problem of developing new talent. The market remained low until April of 1967 with the formation of the “Japan’s Woman’s Pro Wrestling Association.” Behind the promotion were the Matsunaga brothers, who made a sort of name promoting “Ju-Ken shows” (judo versus boxing, a form of mixed marshal arts). Knowing they needed an infusion of foreign talent to juice the gate, an agreement was reached with Vince McMahon whereby a four-woman contingent led by the Fabulous Moolah would come for a month’s tour. The tour, consisting of the four Americans and 18 Japanese women, held 29 shows during the month. The highlight came when Yukiko Tomoe pinned Moolah to win the World Woman’s title in Higashi-osaka City on March 10, 1968. Moolah won the title back in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka on April 2, 1968, which was the last day of the tour. The tour was a success, drawing near-sellouts every night, an amazing feat given the dearth of publicity.
It was the resentment of the dearth of publicity that led the Mataunagas to break away and form their own promotion: “All Japan Woman’s Pro Wrestling (Zennihon Joshi Puroresu).” The Mataunagas were astute enough to convince the publisher of The Daily Sports Newspaper, Shinji Ueda sponsored their new group. Not only that, they made him their commissioner.
But the problem of foreign talent remained. The Mataunagas knew that eventually they would have to control the promotion’s champions, but Americans were essential to the group’s success. Jack Britton and the Sheik (Ed Farhat) were looking for a booking venue for their new AGWA (American Girl’s Wrestling Association) and Japan seemed like fertile ground. An agreement was reached whereby Britton and Farhat sent Kay Noble (the group’s U.S. Title holder, and AGWA International Girl’s Champions, Mary June Mull and Lucille Dupree to tour Japan (Moolah and her crew were still obligated to the rival JWPWA). The resultant publicity brought Fuji Television into the fold and now the Mataunagas had a video publicity outlet. But although they garnered a great rating, the rival JWPWA bettered them because Moolah and her crew were better known to the Japanese fans.
Some of the headliners for AJW were as follows:
? Yukiko Tomoe – All Japan Heavyweight champion. She was the first woman’s World Champion in Japan.
? Kyoko Okada – a cousin of the Matsunaga Brothers and the All Japan Middleweight champion.
? Aiko Kyo – the All Japan Lightweight champion and later the first Japanese WWWA World Champion. She was the niece of Kenji Matsunaga’s wife.
? Mariko Akagi – later WWWA Tag Title holder. She was Kunimatsu Matsunaga’s wife.
? Miyuki Yanagi – wrestled, refereed, and coached.
? Yoshiko “Jumbo” Miyamoto — The first “monster heel.” A five-time WWWA World Champion and a cousin of the Matsunaga Brothers.
The Matsunagas realized they not only needed a new partner, but one with the name power to keep their promotion on top. At the same time they wanted to get away from the prevailing paradigm of Japanese versus foreigner and root the championship in Japan, rather than seeing the American take it back with her. Someone informed the Matsunagas that Mildred Burke, who was a legend in women’s wrestling, had founded a promotion in California called the WWWA (World Women’s Wrestling Association), but had nowhere to promote. The Matsunagas offered her a deal: they would invest in and buy her promotion – and its belts – and use her trained wrestlers on their cards. Burke sold the rights to the WWWA to the Matsunagas and sent her World Champion, Marie Vagnone, to All Japan Woman’s Pro in September 1970. After a short buildup, Vagnone dropped the belt to Aiko Kyo at Adachi Ward Gym in Tokyo on October 15, 1970. Thus originated the WWWA World singles title in Japan. To this day, the title (referred to as the “red belt” by both wrestlers and fans), remains the biggest symbol of woman pro wrestling in Japan. At first the AGWA International Tag title was defended, Miyuki Yanagi and Kyoko Okada defeated Mary Jane Mull and Lucille Dupree on September 1, 1968, so the belt was now, and would stay, in Japanese hands. The WWWA tag team title was added in 1971 when Jumbo Miyamoto and Aiko Kyo were made the first champions on June 30 of that year. Although some sources list Aiko Kyo and Kyoko Okada as the first WWWA world tag champions, they were in fact the last American Girls Wrestling Association champions until the title was abandoned in 1971 when Okada retired.
Even though the Japanese were now controlling their destiny, foreigners were still needed for feuds. The working agreement with Mildred Burke proved so successful that she was the primary source of foreign talent (heels). Even after Burke passed away, foreign talent was still needed to spice up things. Following are profiles of some of the foreigners I believe made a lasting impression on the joshi game. Dear reader, you may disagree or feel I omitted someone. If so, please write and either set me straight or start a debate.
One of the most influential foreigners in Japan was Rhonda Singh, aka Monster Ripper. Sing (her real name) was born on February 21, 1961, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She said in various interviews that she knew she would be a wrestler from an early age. She and her family were regulars at the Stampede Wrestling cards, and when she reached her teens, she approached the Harts about being trained as as wrestler. To her dismay, she was turned down, but that didn’t dampen her interest. “My mom used to go and took us if we had been good through the week,” Sing told Stephen LaRoche of SLAM! Wrestling. “She always had four ringside tickets for about 20 years. When I was five, I wanted to be a wrestler. I was in kindergarten beating up the other kids. Everyone who knows me in my neighborhood remember me telling them I was going to be a wrestler.”
It was while on a vacation to Hawaii that Sing saw her chance. Zipping through the television channels one night, Sing happened upon women’s wrestling from Japan. She told LaRoche, “They were hitting each other with chairs and everything! It was an all-girl company, and I thought it was the coolest thing. It sparked my interest. This was definitely what I wanted to do.”
A friend gave Rhonda a wrestling magazine that contained contact information for Mildred Burke’s training facility in Encino, California. She wrote to Burke and enclosed a short biography and photo. Burke wrote back, taking her up on her offer. “I cleaned out my bank account and told my parents this is what I wanted to do,” she said to LaRoche. “I said to my parents, ‘give me three months, let me see if I can do this.'”
After a few weeks of training with Burke, Sing was scouted by All-Japan. Despite her inexperience, they were impressed with what they saw, or rather with her potential. They brought her over to Japan, where they spent some time sharpening her limited skills. Jumbo Miyamoto was soon to retire and AJW wanted a new monster heel. As Sing stood 5’8” and weighed in the neighborhood of 250 lbs., they renamed her “Monster Ripper” (sounds like something out of a Japanese science-fiction movie) and debuted her with partner Mami Komeni (being in a tag team match allows one to hide some deficiencies) against the Beauty Pair (Jackie Sato and Maki Ueda) on January 4, 1979. She recalled it fondly to LaRoche: “It was my first match, and I won. The Japanese girls resented it because they never had to lose. If they lost, they lost to each other. They never lost to a foreigner. They literally kicked the s**t out of me,” she said. “I was the first foreigner they had to lose to, and they didn’t take it kindly. You were working seven, eight times a week. You had to roll out of bed and bit-by-bit get up because you were just dead.”
Her youth and inexperience in the ring made life in Japan difficult for during her first few months there. Many of the established Japanese wrestlers refused to share their experience with the young Sing or help her with the hurdles. It was when she she ran into the Dynamite Kid (who was touring at the time) that she was able to learn the hows and whys of dealing with her fellow wrestlers. He told her that it was a matter of defending herself. Once she did that, she would gain respect; and with respect came fear. Given her size, that came easy.
Sing’s highlight while on that tour was winning the WWWA title from Jackie Sato on July 31, 1979 (a little over six months after her first match). She dropped the title back to Sato on September 13, 1979. On March 15, 1980 she regained it from Sato, winning on a count out after interference from the Black Pair (Mami Kumao and Yumi Ikeshita). The talk was that Sato didn’t want to do a clean job and the Black Pair were brought in to interfere in order to heighten their feud with the Beauty Pair. After another hard-fought battle with Sato on August 8, 1980, the Title was declared vacant. After Sing left Japan, Sato’s ego was sated when she was able to win the Title back in a match against Nancy Kumi.
She returned to Calgary after the Japan tour; giving her the chance to finally perform before the hometown folks. Stu Hart added an ‘h’ to her last name. After another tour of Japan, Singh returned to Stampede in November, 1987 and was named what would later become the IWA Women’s Champion. (Supposedly she had defeated Wendi Richter before coming back to Stampede.) She held the title until September 22, 1988. A tournament was set up for a new IWA Women’s Championship. Singh lost to Chigusa Nagayo in the final, with the title going over to Japan on a permanent basis. Over the next few years, Singh traveled throughout the world, wrestling for a number of promotions. She won Mexico’s World Wrestling Association version of the title from Lola Gonzales in December of 1991. The match itself is somewhat dubious, as it is listed has having taken place in Hungary. It would seem that Singh was awarded the title when she toured Mexico, and that when she left, the title was forgotten. (The next listed holder of the title is Akayo Hamada, who is reported winning it on March 23, 2003.
Singh also toured Puerto Rico for Carlos Colon, billed as Monster Ripper, and won the WWC belt from Wendi Richter sometime between May of 1987 and July 28, 1987, when Richter won it back. The belt was then vacated and Singh defeated Candi Devine in a tournament final on July 7, 1990. She lost it to Sasha on October 13, 1990 and won it back on November 10, only to lose it to Sasha on December 15. This time it took her until March 9, 1991 to beat Sasha before losing it to Candi Devine on May 11. But she regained it for the final time on September 7, 1991, before losing it for good to Sasha on October 5, 1991.
In 1995, Singh was contacted by the World Wrestling Federation, who were trying to build a new women’s division. However, to her dismay, she didn’t come in as Monster Ripper, but was repackaged as Harvey Wippleman’s trailer park-dwelling girlfriend Bertha Faye.
In all probability the original plan was for her to be part of an angle with Bull Nakano, with whom she had many savage battles in Japan, and the feeling was to try to re-recreate that heat in the States. Madusa was going away for breast implants and a nose job. She made her WWF debut on the April 3, 1995, episode of Monday Night Raw, participating in a sneak attack on Madusa and making it appear as if she had broken Madusa’s nose.
“Madusa was going away, and she was getting new boobs and a new nose,” she told LaRoche. “For three months, it was going to be Nakano and me. She was going to drop the belt to me, Madusa was going to come back after a while, we’d add a few more girls and make it a legitimate women’s division. Eventually, Madusa and I would battle for the belt and it was undecided from there. I had a two-year contract, so we were going to space it out over that time”
But that’s not how things turned out. Nakano was found in possession of cocaine and fired. This necessitated a change of plans. Sing, to say the least, was not pleased with the new storyline. She now found herself as Harvey Whippleman’s (Bruno Lauer) trailer park-dwelling girlfriend Bertha Faye, dressing in ridiculous school-girlish outfits and carrying a huge lollipop to the ring.
“The whole storyline went down the toilet,” she said to LaRoche. “The only way we could save it was if we were to hurt Madusa because she was still scheduled for surgery. We had to get rid of Nakano and get me in at the same time.”
At SummerSlam ’95, Faye defeated Blayze for WWF Women’s Championship and held the title until the October 23, 1995 episode of Monday Night RAW, which saw Blayze regain the title. Sing found herself unimpressed with Blayze’s ring skills and later said they had few good matches together.
It was said that fan interest in women’s wrestling sunk, but from this vantage point, it looks as if the WWF’s interest in women’s wrestling had sunk. Aja Kong, brought in to feud with Alundra Blayze (as Madusa was renamed in the WWF), was sent packing and Blayze herself was informed her contract would not be renewed. After another year of humiliation as Bertha Faye, Sing asked for her release. She returned to Japan, but found instead a different world, with no guaranteed pay outs.
In late 1999, she made a brief return with World Championship Wrestling and appeared on several telecasts to generate some interest in a women’s division. But while she said she enjoyed her time there, her Bertha Faye days came back to haunt her and she was not taken seriously. While her stay was brief, Sing appeared to enjoy her time with the promotion.
Rhonda Sing retired in 2001. She died from a heart attack probably brought on from overweight.
Though her reputation was tarred by her stint in the WWF, she must be given the credit for creating the brutal monster heel – the role model for Devil Masami, Dump Matsumoto, Bull Nakano, Bison Kimura, Aja Kong, and Amazing Kong.
Debra Ann Miceli (born Debra Lewandowsky on February 6, 1963) made her fame under the name better known as Madusa. To allay any speculation, this is not the Greek woman of myth whose gaze could turn men to stone (Although Debra’s gaze could turn men’s knees into jelly; Dusty Rhodes, however, for some reason, used to refer to her “Methuselah”.), but rather shorthand for MADe in the USA.
A native of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Miceli had an athletic background in gymnastics and track. While working as a nurse, she was introduced to Minneapolis independent promoter-trainer Eddie Sharkey. She trained with Sharkey and, after her training was completed, she quit her nursing job to wrestle with Pro Wrestling America on the independent circuit.
In 1986, Miceli got her big break when she was signed by the American Wrestling Association, where she made her debut as Madusa Miceli. (Eventually she would drop her last name.) Though the AWA was dying by this point, Madusa gained national exposure due to the promotion’s television contract with EWTN. She began as a heel manager for the likes of Kevin Kelly, Nick Kiniski, and AWA World Champion Curt Hennig. Gradually the AWA shifted her focus to wrestling. When then AWA Women’s Champion Sherri Martel left the AWA for the WWW, the AWA held a tournament to determine a new champion. Miceli triumphed in the final, defeating Candi Devine on December 27, 1987. She then feuded with Devine and later Wendi Richter, to whom she lost the belt on November 26, 1988. Also in 1988, Miceli was the first woman to be awarded Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s Rookie of the Year.
Looking to broaden her horizons, and realizing the AWA was doomed, Madusa accepted an invitation by AJW in 1989 to work a six-week tour of Japan. To do so required a personal decision. Madusa had posed nude for Playboy; however, she never signed the release for the pictures to be published due to the fact that she was scheduled to begin work in Japan. Because AJW had very strict rules governing conduct for female wrestlers at the time (part of the downfall of Mimi Hagiwara), Miceli opted for wrestling over modeling.
Micelli won the IWA Women’s title from Chigusa Nagayo on January 4, 1989, in Tokyo before dropping it back to her the next day. Realizing that she was in need of more specialized training, she accepted an invitation from the AJW dojo and learned the Japanese wrestling style.
On September 14, 1989, she defeated Beastie for the IWA Title, vacant since Nagayo retired in May. In late 1989, she returned to the US and wrestled for the LPWA, a women’s promotion owned by Tor Berg that operated from 1989 to 1992. The LPWA tried to combine the T & A approach of GLOW with the sports-entertainment style of the WWF. Madusa wrestled such names as The Nasty Girls, Leilani Kai, Sheba, Black Venus and The Goddess (Candi Devine). The highlight of her LPWA stint was losing a two out of three falls title match to LPWA Champion Susan Sexton. She returned to AJW for a one year contract in 1990 (becoming the first North American woman to be given a full time contract with the promotion). Because she had been away so long, she was forced to vacate the IWA title.
She was placed into a feud with Aja Kong, the culmination being a “Shoot Kickboxing Match” in May, 1990, which ended in a draw. Kong then defeated her in a “Street fight” match July, 1990, after which the two hugged out of respect, and to set up an angle where Madusa turned heel and joined forces with Kong’s stable along with Bison Kimura. At the end of 1990, she was honored by being voted AJW’s Inspirational Wrestler of the Year.
Madusa became a very popular figure in Japan; her popularity transcended wrestling. (Being blonde didn’t hurt, either.) At 5’10” and about 145 lbs., she cut a striking figure. AJW cashed in by issuing Madusa posters, action figures, music videos and even a CD that was titled Who’s Madusa? Also while in Japan, she began studying several forms of martial arts, which led to AJW putting her in several kickboxing-type matches.
In 1991 she returned to the US and the LPWA, where her gimmick was that of a psycho heel with a serious personality disorder. This “disorder” caused to to dress in different attires and gimmicks each week. Predictably, the gimmick fell flat and Madusa briefly returned to Japan to work with Jackie Sato’s JWP.
In the fall of 1991 she married Eddie Gilbert (who had divorced Missy Hyatt) and the two of them worked for the Tri-State Wrestling Alliance promotion in Philadelphia. The highlight of her stay was her feud with Luna Vachon, which resulted in Mixed Hair vs. Hair Tag Team Match in September 1991, with Madusa and Gilbert facing Vachon and Cactus Jack. Madusa and Gilbert prevailed with Luna Vachon having her head shaved. Madusa’s marriage to Gilbert broke up a short time later.
Her next stop was WCW in late 1991, where she had brief feuds with Bambi (Selina Majors), Judy Martin, and Lady Blossom. She then became a valet, becoming involved in an angle where she helped manager Paul E. Dangerously (Paul Heyman) form his “Dangerous Alliance” (Arn Anderson, Steve Austin, Bobby Eaton, Rick Rude and Larry Zbyszko). Her job was to interfere in their matches and she was most often seen accompanying Rick Rude to the ring. At Beach Blast 1992 (June 20, 1992), she lost a bikini contest to Missy Hyatt. In October, 1992, Dangerously threw her out of the Dangerous Alliance, which led to a revenge match against him. She won by a count out, after he ran from her, on the November 18, 1992, edition of Clash of the Champions.
In 1993, the WWF decided to reinstate its Women’s Championship, a division that had lain dormant. Madusa was signed as the new division’s linchpin. To join the WWF, she had to vacate the ICW Women’s Championship that she had been awarded on May 7, 1993. Also, of course, she had to be reinvented; McMahon couldn’t see the fact that Madusa was a well-known brand name with the fans. He decided to rename her “Alundra Blayze,” (which, predictably, confused the many fans who knew her as Madusa) and she debuted in a six-woman tournament to crown a new women’s champion. She pinned Heidi Lee Morgan to win the title, then defended the belt against Morgan, Leilani Kai, Debbie Combs, and Luna Vachon. She also toured Japan, defending the title against Kyoko Inoue, Sakie Hasegawa, and Bull Nakano. Her most significant loss during the tour was to Bull Nakano in a non-title match, a match that set up a future angle.
Nakano joined the WWF roster in the summer of 1994, and began a feud with Madusa. Their first encounter on Monday Night RAW was a double-count out. Madusa defeated Nakano at SummerSlam, but Nakano won the belt at the AJW Big Egg Wrestling Universe on November 20, 1994, in Tokyo. Madusa regained the title from Nakano on the April 3, 1995, edition of Monday Night RAW. Immediately after her victory Bertha Faye attacked her, and the angle was that Bertha had broken Madusa’s nose. In reality, Miceli left to get breast implants and a nose job. (Her nose had been broken four times over the years and it was becoming difficult to breathe during matches.) Madusa made her return to the ring in August, 1995, and lost the women’s title to Bertha Faye at SummerSlam on August 27. Two months later (October 23) Madusa defeated Bertha Faye to win the title for a third time.
The success of Madusa’s angle with Nakano whetted the WWF’s appetite for more monster heels and Aja Kong came in from Japan. They first met at the 1995 Survivor Series, where Madusa, Kyoko Inoue, Sakie Hasegawa, and Chaparita Asari, faced off against Bertha Faye, Aja Kong, Tomoko Watanabe, and Lioness Asuka. The finish saw Kong pin Madusa to be the sole survivor. The following week on RAW, Kong and Watanabe defeated Madusa and Inoue when Kong pinned Inoue. Kong then defeated Chaparita Asari a week later. This match was the last women’s match in WWF for a few years — the Madusa/Kong feud never materializing, even though it had been plugged by the WWF as one of the matches at the 1996 Royal Rumble.
Miceli was informed by the WWF that her contract was not going to be renewed when it expired on December 13, 1995. The claim was that the women’s division was failing to garner fan interest, but the truth was that the women were never given a push by the WWF, which was feeling financial pressure from competitor WCW. Had the WWF gone over to a more Joshi style and publicized it as it should have been publicized, the women’s division might well have garnered interest. Instead, the WWF was going to deactivate the Women’s Title. Miceli quickly signed a contract with WCW and in one of the most famous incidents in wrestling history, showed up on the December 18, 1995, edition of WCW Monday Nitro where she denounced the Blayze gimmick and threw the WWF Women’s Title Belt in a trash can, reclaiming her Madusa handle. (It has been widely speculated that this incident was the motivation for the notorious “Montreal Screwjob” of Bret Hart in 1997.)
In WCW, Madusa was lost almost from the start. WCW also had no clue as to how the women should be promoted. She briefly feuded with Sherri Martel because Sherri supposedly stole Col. Rob Parker from her and even interrupted their wedding vows in Las Vegas. Instead of putting Madusa over in this feud, Martel pinned her on WCW Monday Nitro, ending the feud and almost ending Madusa’s heat with it.
Trying to find a workable formula,WCW brought in Bull Nakano to feud with Madusa. They fought a “Loser Gets Their Bike Bashed” match, which generated almost zero interest, at Hog Wild 1996. The angle was so weak that even though Madusa lost the match, Madusa chased away Nakano’s manager, Sonny Onoo and bashed Nakano’s bike. Nakano went back to Japan and retired from wrestling shortly afterwards, leaving Madusa alone in the company. WCW now decided to create a WCW Women’s Championship, striking a deal with GAEA Japan to supply wrestlers. In the Autumn of 1996, a tournament was held, the result of which saw Madusa lose to Akira Hokuto. Madusa’s other big feud during this time was with Luna Vachon, the reason being that Vachon frequently interfered in Madusa’s matches with Hokuto. The climax of all this was a retirement match at the 1997 Great American Bash (June 15), with the result being that Hokuto pinned Madusa.
Madusa’s retirement didn’t last long as she returned to WCW in April, 1999 as part of Randy Savage’s faction “Team Madness” (Gorgeous George and Miss Madness), but Savage kicked her out after a dispute in July, 1999.
Madusa took three months off, but decided to return to WCW on the October 18 edition of Monday Nitro. The mysterious “Powers That Be” (Chris Russo and Ed Ferrera) that were now running WCW ordered Madusa to participate in a “New York” Evening Gown Match” with Mona (Mona “Molly Holly” Greenberg). As the angle went, Mona was fine with the stipulation, but Madusa believed it was beneath her to wrestle in an evening gown. The match itself saw Mona come out in a blue evening gown and Madusa wearing a casual “Tommy Sports” dress with shorts on underneath instead of panties. That was the highlight. The match deteriorated from there and Mona stripped Madusa down to her sports bra and shorts. Madusa then grabbed the microphone to complain; telling everyone to kiss her behind.
Now “The Powers That Be” came up with a new idea to make Madusa’s life “miserable” by making her shill the new WCW cologne (wonder if anyone except collectors bought the stuff) in a tiny red bikini at Halloween Havoc 1999. Madusa complained about her treatment and emptied the bottle over announcer Bobby Heenan. The following night on Nitro, Madusa was entered into the tournament for the WCW Championship belt. The tournament was being held because it was felt that the title no longer belonged to Sting. The tournament pairings were shown and Madusa’s opponent was marked as a question mark. Her opponent turned out to be the monstrous Meng, who easily fended off her attacks and ended the match with his “Tongan Death Grip.”
After the match Evan Karagias assisted her backstage, setting up yet another lame angle, where “The Powers That Be” allowed Madusa a mulligan by placing her back into the championship tournament. They then paired her off against Karagias. In a pre-match interview, Karagias said that Madusa was “hot” and that he wasn’t sure as how to wrestle a woman. The match quickly deteriorated into lame romantic sex play, as the two felt each other and exchanged kisses. The ending came when Madusa smothered Karagias with a large kiss while pinning him for a victory. Karagias did not mind the loss, instead making Madusa his manager, as they developed a romantic relationship. Madusa was eliminated from the championship tournament the next week on Nitro when Jeff Jarrett interfered and caused Chris Benoit to get the victory. Madusa’s focus was now on Karagias, as she frequently interfered in his matches and “led” him to the WCW Cruiserweight Title.
If it was thought things couldn’t get any worse for Madusa, they did. A fallout with Karagias ended with Madusa winning the WCW Cruiserweight Championship. (Much as Chyna had won the WWF Intercontinental title. WCW was bereft of ideas.) Madusa lost the belt to “Oklahoma” (Ed Ferrera doing a ridiculous impression of Jim Ross) on January 16, 2000, at Souled Out 2000.
As it became increasingly obvious that WCW really had no plans for her, Madusa accepted a role as an instructor at WCW’s training facility, called “The Power Plant.” Her last hurrah before the company’s collapse was a feud with Torrie Wilson and Shane Douglas, which culminated in a mixed tag team scaffold match at the September 17, 2000, Fall Brawl. Madusa and partner Billy Kidman lost to Wilson and Douglas in only 5:01.
After leaving WCW Madusa wrestled only one match, facing Nikita Fink at an independent show in Arizona in May 2001. Shortly later, she retired from wrestling. She found a new career driving monster trucks. Madusa drove a monster truck of the same name for Live Nation in their Monster Jam series. She was released by the company over contract issues, and on May 12, 2006, announced that she had signed up to drive a Madusa truck for Team Bigfoot and the Major League of Monster trucks. She is also said to be working on an autobiography.
Debbie Malenko (born Deborah Killian on March 10, 1971, in Orlando, Florida) is, despite her short career there, considered by many as the best American woman wrestler to work in Japan. Standing 5’6” and about 145 lbs., she was trained at the Malenko School of Wrestling and made her debut on the Florida independent scene in February, 1990, as Debbie Drake. The following year, she was recruited by AJW, who re-christened her Debbie Malenko (supposedly with the blessing of the Malenko family, to whom she was not related). She made an immediate hit in Japan due to her skill and strong work rate.
Beginning her career as a member of Jungle Jack, Debbie soon broke free of the group, participating in the 1991 AJW Japan Grand Prix, where she lost to Kyoko Inoue in the first round. She formed a partnership with Sakie Hasegawa and won the AJW Tag Team Titles from Takako Inoue and Mariko Yoshida on January 5, 1992 in Tokyo. They lost the titles back to Inoue and Yoshida on April 25, 1992 at Wrestlemarinpiad IV in Yokohama when Inoue pinned Hasegawa after 18:13.
Her next triumph was winning the AJW Singles Crown from Kaoru Ito on February 10, 1993. She had to vacate the title in July because of a bizarre injury that ended her career. On March 11, 1993, she was wrestling Manami Toyota when Toyota landed a top rope plancha on her. Debbie’s foot was twisted 180 degrees from the move. It was hoped that she would return after a few months, but the injury proved to be so serious that it effectively ended her career at the age of 22.
In the late 1990’s, Debbie was reportedly living in seclusion in Alaska. She was booked for a comeback match in Tor Berg’s 2000 PPV, Superladies. Others booked on this super card included Chikako Shiratori, Akino, Chapparita Asari and Hamada from Japan, former LPWA Champ Australian Susan Sexton, Australian Champion Amy Action and her tag team partner Raya Riot (The “Lady Kangaroos”) former LMLW Champ Bambi, former AWA and WWF women’s champ Sherri Martel, plus Sweet Destiny and Missy Hyatt. The PPV deal fell through; Debbie was not heard from again until she appeared in a five minute exhibition match on ARSION’s November 25, 2001, show against Bionic J (Jessica Soto). She was also involved in the Ohmukai versus Hasegawa match on the same show when she came out to help her old partner Sakie Hasegawa in an angle where Ohmukai refused to sell. ARSION soon folded due to financial problems, and Debbie left wrestling for good. Debbie was rumored to have died of AIDS on December 31, 2005, but I could not find confirmation of that fact anywhere I looked. So, let’s leave it at that.
The last wrestler we are profiling in this article is the powerful Reggie Bennett (born January 24, 1961, in San Diego, California). Though she began her career in the US, she is best known for her work in Japan, where she was known as a power heel famous for her finishing moves, the Global Bomb and the Reggie Rack.
She began her career in 1986, wrestling on the independent California circuit. She was said to have worked for David McLane’s GLOW and slightly less silly POWW as well (though I have no confirmation of this). Soon after, however, she was signed to the Ladies Professional Wrestling Association, participating in the LPWA Japan Title tournament during the February 23, 1992, pay-per-view LPWA Super Ladies Showdown. She pinned Yukari Osawa (aka Jen Yukari) in 6:19 of the first round before losing to Denise Storm in 8:27 by disqualification in the semifinal round.
Reggie also worked in Japan, signing with the JWP. All Japan Women (AJW) dominated women’s wrestling in Japan at the time, Though JWP was a very distant number two to AJW and did not have a television show, Bennett nevertheless became a celebrity after appearing in a few TV commercials. Her considerable build and ample chest made her stand out on Japanese television.
This newfound celebrity led to a contract with All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling in 1994, where she worked for several years. When Debbie Malenko, who was being groomed for a big push, retired due to her injury, Bennett became the focal gaijin wrestler in AJW. Not only large, she was also agile and skilled, a talent one needed to get over with the astute Japanese fans. She frequently teamed with fellow monster heel Aja Kong and worked a number of matches with top star Kyoko Inoue.
On 11/20/94 she appeared on the biggest female wrestling show of all time, the AJW Big Egg Wrestling Universe show at the Tokyo Dome before 42,000 fans. In her match, she put over Chigusa Nagayo, who was doing a heel routine as a veteran star who had returned to wrestling and didn’t like the changes and the new fans.
On May 15, 1995, she defeated WWWA/IWA Champion Manami Toyota for the IWA World Women’s Championship (the WWWA Title was not on the line). She lost the IWA belt on December 4, 1995 to Takako Inoue, then went on to capture the All Pacific Championship by defeating Mariko Yoshida and then Kaoru Ito in a tournament on June 22, 1996. She lost the All-Pacific belt to IWA Women’s Champion Takako Inoue on November 21, 1996.
It was also in 1996 that Bennett entered the world of shoot fighting, participating in the U*TOP tournament, part of a two-night show by AJW at the Tokyo Budokan. In the first round she defeated Dutch kick boxer Elma Wayhoff in a match that went over eighteen minutes. In the second round she lost to eventual Tournament winner Rosina Elina, a Russian judo champion who put Bennett away with a wristlock in a little over nine minutes.
Returning to the US, Bennett was one of the featured speakers at a banquet honoring Terry Funk on April 12, 1997. It all seems to have been part of an angle, for on the next night, at ECW Barely Legal, she appeared as a member of Raven’s Nest interfering in the ECW Heavyweight Championship match between Funk and Raven, by smashing Funk with a chair and then planting him with a Liger Bomb before running out of the ring. Funk, however, recovered enough to pin Raven for the ECW Title.
Bennett left the financially strapped AJW and signed with ARSION on November 14, 1997. She was paired with American newcomer Jessica Soto, who was billed as Reggie’s younger sister Jessica Bennett. (Soto would later be repackaged as Bionic J). They were one of the featured teams in the Twinstar of Arsion 1998 tournament.
In August, 2000, Bennett married Japanese musician Kenji Ishihara and cut back her schedule. Later that year she decided to retire, and on March 4, 2001 at an AJW show at Tokyo Korakuen Hall, she wrestled a five-minute exhibition match with Manami Toyota for her final match. As of this writing, she is living in Japan.
TRIVIA: Bennett also had small roles in a number of films, appearing in Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983), Vendetta a 1986 prison drama), the 1987 Sylvester Stallone film Over the Top (cameo role), and Mask de 41 (2004, as Subzero Bennet).
— The Phantom of the Ring
You can write to the Phantom care of Karen Belcher