Once a professional wrestler, she now smashes things into oblivion with a monster truck. Oh, and she's single, too.
By GRAHAM BRINK, Times Staff Writer
Published January 21, 2005
[Times photo: Chris Zuppa]
Debrah Miceli poses with Nathan Patterson, 4, right, while Logan Farmerie, 4, left, and his brother Drew Farmerie, 6, admire Miceli's truck at a Lakeland business Thursday. She's the only woman who will compete Saturday in the Superbowl of Motorsports at Raymond James Stadium.
TAMPA - Debrah Miceli is tall and blond, with glacier blue eyes and bee stung lips. She's gifted in the art of flirting. An easy laugh. A quick brush of an arm.
Still, Miceli says, she's looking for love.
"For some reason, I intimidate men," she said Thursday. "Maybe it's the headlocks and body slams."
Miceli is a former professional wrestler turned premier monster truck driver. She goes by the trade name Madusa, as in "Made in the USA." She competes in a 10,000-pound, 1,500-horsepower Ford emblazoned with the stars and stripes. She's the only woman competing in the Superbowl of Motorsports on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium.
"I'm the only one with the (guts) to get out here on a regular basis and drive over all the boys," she said.
Miceli thinks for a moment.
"Maybe that's why I have so much trouble with men," she surmises.
Miceli's a study in contrasts.
She's an icon for female empowerment, but trashes the women's liberation movement.
She has broken down gender barriers in the sports entertainment world, but doesn't believe women need to barge in on every all-male bastion, like boys-only schools.
She's thriving in a macho, testosterone fueled world, but also owns a pet shop and grooming business.
She's a self-proclaimed gear-head with a feminine side.
"I can be a girlie girl," she said with a flash of her perfect teeth. "But girls like big toys, too."
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Miceli, 41, began her career in sports entertainment in the mid 1980s wrestling on the independent circuit for $5 a bout. The grind tested her spirit - she had many "Come to Jesus" moments, she says - and nearly left her bankrupt.
The American Wrestling Association signed Miceli in 1986, her first big break. She wrestled under the name Madusa Miceli, eventually dropping her last name. She wore a red, white and blue outfit that evoked images of Wonder Woman. Pro Wrestling Illustrated named her rookie of the year, the first woman to garner the honor.
Miceli, born in Milan, Italy, landed a three-year contract to wrestle in Japan, a hot-bed for the sport.
Action figures, posters and a music CD soon followed.
"I can't even sing," Miceli said.
By the mid 1990s, she was back in the United States, winning the World Wrestling Federation's women's title, fending off the likes of Monster Ripper (a.k.a. Bertha Faye).
Miceli gave up wrestling about four years ago.
The tour was turning into a "bra and panties" spectacle, she said. She also longed for some real competition, not the fakery of wrestling.
"If I want to prance around in my undies, everything all hanging out, I'll do it in the privacy of my own home, in front of my boyfriend," she said. "If I had a boyfriend."
Miceli traded in her bulging biceps and exploding legs for a leaner, softer look. She doesn't lift heavy weights anymore.
She's not afraid, though, to tease a little.
"Sex sells. I'm no dummy," she says. "I'll show some skin. But there's a line there not worth crossing. It's there somewhere."
* * *
Miceli broke into monster truck driving under the tutelage of motorsport guru Dennis Anderson, the legendary driver of the Grave Digger truck. She wanted to learn the ins and outs of driving, not just be a celebrity name. She knew the promoters wanted to tap into her large wrestling fan base.
"As it turned out, I could drive these things," said Miceli, who now lives in Citrus County. "You have to have no fear."
Miceli plunked down $200,000 for her own truck, which stands 10 feet tall. Each 66-inch high tire costs $3,000. Her crew, which she credits with much of her success, keeps the beast purring throughout the main season, from January to April.
The crowds are even bigger than in her wrestling days. More than 75,000 in New Orleans, 66,000 in Atlanta. Miceli enjoys the family atmosphere and the saucer-sized eyes children get when they see the trucks for the first time.
Miceli has had her share of success, winning the freestyle event at the Monster Jam in Las Vegas last year. She has become known for creative ways of crushing cars and motorhomes and once smashed an airplane with her truck, much to the delight of fans.
And the money's good. Miceli controls the trademark to the Madusa name, which allows her to market herself mostly on her own terms. She says she makes a "very healthy six-figure" income.
The sport, though, dishes out a lot of physical abuse. Miceli said she gets more banged up driving, and occasionally rolling, her monster truck than she did in the wrestling ring. She figures she has seven or eight years of driving left.
"Maybe then I'll settle down," she said. "Heck, my grandma is 80. She's a hot mamma, dating a guy 15 years younger than her. I should have that kind of luck."
The Superbowl of Motorsports takes place Saturday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. Gates open at 5:30 p.m. for a 7:30 p.m. start. All tickets cost $14 plus a $1 facility fee. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster outlets and the Raymond James Stadium box office or buy online at Ticketmaster.com or charge by phone at (813) 287-8844.