BOOK REVIEW: “The Woman Who Would Be King” by Debrah Miceli (with Greg Oliver)
To say that Debrah Miceli’s story isn’t told in a straight line would be an understatement. In the book’s introduction, Miceli notes that she tends to jump around when telling her life story which she says matches her personality. She tends to bounce back and forth between her wrestling career, her troubled upbringing, and the strained relationships it created as well as the many hats she wore following her time in the wrestling industry around the turn of the century.
Her difficult relationship with her mother Betty is one of constant strain. Debrah equates this to her mother never wanted to be a parent in the first place and throughout the years before Debrah began to form memories, she was told that her mother Betty had tried to give her away on several occasions. Somehow, things would get much worse as Debrah recounts stories of abuse and neglect on the part of her mother and accusations of rape against her stepfather. There is a particularly harrowing account of what would become of a friend of hers that she made through her early years that will likely stick with me for years to come.
In her formative wrestling years, she recounts AWA’s Verne Gagne originally rebuffing All Japan when they asked about booking Debrah for some dates. Gagne was convinced she wasn’t ready. Miceli finally had a match against All Japan performer Chigusa in the United States that endeared her to the Japanese star and led to her traveling to the far East to work for All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling. Outside of her work in Monster Jam years later, her time in All Japan comes across as the work she is most proud of. Can you blame her? It would take decades before women’s wrestling would be treated with anywhere near the reverence it garnered in Japan.
Much of her time in WWE was one of constant strife and frustration. Vince McMahon had brought her in during the mid-90s to be the face of a revitalized women’s division, but after only a short time, it was clear that only the slightest bit of focus would be placed on her role. She arrived just as The Kliq had Vince’s ear backstage and was among the most powerful group of performers in the industry. Their sophomoric behavior and actions behind the curtain made it difficult for her to navigate the already choppy waters of her role as the division’s prized performer. If you’re familiar with The Kliq’s actions during this time, it’s hard to imagine anything here will shock you, but she does reveal a rather unfortunate and upsetting event that happened during the tail end of her time with the company that had me reeling.
Her final years in wrestling (before her one-match return in 2018 following a WWE Hall of Fame induction) are mind-boggling. Her most infamous moment of dropping the WWE Women’s Championship in the trash during her WCW re-debut is covered, but in the months and years that followed, WCW and Eric Bischoff did not have much of an idea of what to do with her – once again, an exercise in frustration for a performer ripe with talent who had seemingly no way to show it in North America.
One thing I was not expecting to find as interesting as I did was her Monster Jam career. I would consider my interest and knowledge of the world of monster trucks pretty limited to say the least, but reading about the ins and outs of competition, the intricacies of driving (front and rear steering wheels as well as the Lexan floor to help her navigate where she is when leaping over cars) and her struggle to once again make it as a woman in a male-dominated industry.
THE WOMAN WHO WOULD BE KING is at times a very difficult read. Greg Oliver does a great job capturing Debrah’s unique voice and style of storytelling, which is what you want out of an author helping tell your story. Miceli doesn’t pull any punches, calling out just about everyone who had wronged her in the past and made her life difficult. Other than her time with All Japan Women’s Wrestling, it seemed like a constant uphill battle against management to be given a spotlight as an in-ring performer, especially during her later years in WCW and after making the move to Monster Jam.