Madusa and Monsters

The successful female wrestler takes on torque, power and payback


We are living in what the fortune cookies call interesting times. North Korea is running nuclear tests, the Pope just “resigned” (presumably with Papal Infallibility intact) and gas prices are surging. Despite the maelstrom of geopolitical uncertainty, we still have our traditions — the things that make us American, as they go in the 21st century. One of those is roaring to Jacksonville yet again: the Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam.

This isn’t for everyone. There's no need for a corporate suite at Monster Jam. It's highly unlikely that super-agent Drew Rosenhaus and other sports celebrities will attend. There won’t be many stretch limos out front. The monster circuit isn’t about that.

It’s about torque. It’s about big trucks with big tires and big names, crushing or totaling anything in their paths, bringing to life in vehicular-metaphorical fashion the aspirations of both little kids and grown men with Napoleon complexes.

It’s about power. As monster truck driver Scott Buetow told the Chicago Sun-Times, “Monster trucks are about 10 to 11 feet tall and weigh about 10,000 pounds. And there’s about 1,500 horsepower under the hood.”

And all of us need something, somewhere that convinces us, in some capacity, of the individual’s ability to triumph over adversity and absurdity. If we spend our days taking orders, as most of us do, don’t we, on some level, need to see narrative payback, a sort of illustration of the principle of eternal recurrence? And while the monster truck narrative isn’t for everyone — indeed, most folks in my social set shun monster trucks and the Monster Jam — it definitely resonates with its target audiences: kids, parents and the young at heart. Luckily for promoters, there are a lot of numbers in these groups.

Virtually everyone who's a fan of the sport — and, yes, it is a sport — has a favorite monster truck or driver. I’m no different. My favorite driver is the “Queen of Carnage” herself: Madusa.

I grew up watching Madusa in a different arena, one with parallels to the monster game in many ways: professional wrestling. In the 1980s, Madusa was a popular fixture on the ESPN telecasts of the American Wrestling Association.

Madusa’s shtick back then? She was blonde, angular, beautiful and billed as being from Milan, Italy, to convey a glamour and sophistication that the corn-fed rubes in the front row could only imagine. Her matches? Passable. They wouldn’t put anyone in mind of Lou Thesz vs. Karl Gotch. Nor were they meant to. Women’s wrestling was essentially “eye-candy,” a special attraction on par with the “midgets” in most promotions. Yet Madusa made it work.

She moved to the WWF and became Vince McMahon’s women’s champion — her second world title. Then, during the height of the “Monday Night Wars,” in which the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling (Ted Turner’s Atlanta-based outfit) battled for market domination with dueling primetime shows (“Raw” and “Nitro,” respectively), Madusa showed up on WCW with the WWF belt. After burying her former boss and company, she dumped the belt in the trash on camera.

Now that’s good TV. And that beats the hell out of any resignation letter I’ve seen.

Women’s wrestling is not a game for the old, and by this time, Madusa was aging. Still, she had some decent matches and was a quality WCW performer, even though it was almost immediately clear her principle utility to the company was bringing over the prop — the belt — to toss in the garbage.

Many wrestlers don’t have second acts. Mickey Rourke’s “The Wrestler” was quite accurate in terms of worst-case scenarios that befall wrestlers once they can’t get booked. The best of them learn the carny game well. And Madusa figured it out, going on to excel in two industries as phallocentric as they come.

She had this to say about her fans last month: “You know a lot of them come up, and it just tears your heart when they say, ‘Oh, my gosh, Madusa, I want to be just like you’ when they are coming through the autograph line and the tears start coming and I got to be this macho girl.”

If that isn’t female empowerment, I don’t know what is.

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