It’s a Girl Thing (part 1)By Drowgoddess · · 2 Comments
This is the first of a three-part series of articles focusing on womens’ wrestling in general and the TNA Knockouts division in particular. A new interactive (sort of) roundtable feature titled “Say What???” will also begin here, where you, dear reader, e-mail me your comments on a short list of questions posted at the end of the article, and I post them here on BWF. Anyone and everyone reading is invited to participate. Don’t skip to the end, stay with it!
TNA’s Knockouts division was once the company’s crown jewel. It was the closest thing to SHIMMER seen on western televised professional wrestling. The bulk of the division had excellent in-ring credentials, and were respected as something other than eye candy, though most were certainly physically attractive in one way or another. The portions of “Impact” featuring Knockouts and their matches consistently earned the highest ratings of the entire show. Which Knockouts wrestled almost didn’t matter, so the cynics who flippantly chalk up viewership to Velvet Sky’s backside or Traci Brooks’s rack miss the point. While WWE presented its Divas as PG-rated strippers without poles (despite the “smart, sexy, and powerful” moniker), TNA’s Knockouts were battling for respect and a title. This was one of the few things about which no one could legitimately complain regarding TNA’s programming.
TNA did not always have a Knockouts division. For several years, the only on-air roles for females were as manager/valets and backstage interviewers. Women aspiring to wrestle had to wait until the angle involving Christy Hemme and the Voodoo Kin Mafia (particularly Kip James) started. Hemme wanted to wrestle. James constantly belittled females as unworthy and incompetent competitors who were only good for cooking and sex. Hemme eventually got her division, though the in-ring founding mothers were Gail Kim and Awesome Kong. Angelina Love wasn’t far behind, and off we went. For female wrestling fans like myself, this was an unparalleled gift. We had something to which we could relate and aspire in TNA, much like the glory days of the Divas in WWE when Trish Stratus, Lita, Victoria, Jazz, and Molly Holly competed.
Unfortunately, upon the January 4, 2010 takeover, Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff decided, and publicly stated, that the women of the Knockouts division couldn’t work. Apparently what the women had been doing all this time prior to January 4 wasn’t actual wrestling, or good enough to warrant approval. The television presence on “Impact” of the very people who regularly drew the highest ratings on the program was scaled back to almost nothing, and any angles involving them were chalked up to typical inter-female catfighting. The sole exception to this decree seemed to be Hogan favorite (and participant in the disastrous Hogan/Flair tour of Australia) Lacey Von Erich. Hogan claimed that she, at least, “could be taught to work.” No one else, regardless of training and experience, appeared to be worth tv time. The ratings on “Impact” following this decision speak for themselves. That TNA’s president is a woman makes the situation even more incomprehensible. One would imagine that a female in a male-dominated business would want the women in her employ to succeed on all possible levels, and would understand that paying them as WRESTLERS of a certain caliber would be necessary. One would imagine so.
Below is a list of every woman who has ever been a part of TNA’s Knockouts division. A few, like Karen Angle and Sharmell, are not listed because they were more of on-air personalities than wrestlers, and not truly used as wrestlers on a regular basis, even if they had a match here or there. Some on the list were talented wrestlers worthy of better than they got. Some were not. Many no longer work for the company, either through release or by choice. In order to discuss the current status of the Knockouts roster, we must first take a look at where it has been. Many writers have commented that with a mere seven or so women in the division now, three title belts (one singles title and tag team titles) are far too many. This is true. Had TNA not made some of the extremely poor personnel management decisions that they have made over the past two years, the majority of this roster would likely still be with the company, and helping it to forge its own identity as a true alternative to WWE. The Knockouts division of TNA is a story of what might have been.
Awesome Kong: Released or left the company, reportedly over a pay dispute. How many chances at a legitimate unstoppable monster heel do women’s divisions get? Kong was one of the founding mothers of the division, and her matches against Gail Kim put the Knockouts and TNA on the map. Kong got a similar reaction to Samoa Joe, in a sense. Fans just wanted to see her hurt somebody, regardless of her heel status. No other company had a woman like Kong, and this could have translated into major money. Kong’s crime in TNA was apparently demanding repeatedly to be paid what she was worth, or at least on par with her male counterparts. How this is unreasonable, given what she provided the company, is a mystery.
Sojourner Bolt: Released. Brought in as a sassy, streetwise babyface (I still chuckle at her promo about beating up a guy who took her on a date and dared to take her to McDonald’s and tried to order her the cheapest thing on the menu), Bolt was rapidly turned heel for no real reason, and little attention was actually given to letting her connect with the fans. Her ring gear was unflattering to the point of distracting from her matches, and throwing her into the Kongtourage seemingly because of her skin color made no sense. Her ring work could have improved, but she was hardly as bad as some on the roster.
Traci Brooks: Released or left the company, shortly after marrying Frankie Kazarian and a failed Playboy photo shoot. Brooks was the “original Knockout,” and possessed much-needed veteran status. While more limited in the ring than some of her peers, Brooks could have provided stability and perspective to the division, as she had been in TNA from the start. Her position as “Knockout Law” really could have gone somewhere greater than it did, as having a woman to referee the Knockout matches and physically deal with those who stepped out of line made perfect sense. If men can’t lay hands on women on Spike TV or in TNA, let another woman do it. Brooks had much to offer, whether she competed regularly in her own matches or not.
Daffney: When she first showed up as “the Governor” and pranked The Beautiful People, everyone watching wanted the Scream Queen Daffney to return. Eventually, we got it. With almost no push from TNA, she still manages to be one of the most popular Knockouts on the roster. Daffney gets what I call the Lita Reaction. Part of Lita’s popularity stemmed from the fact that she didn’t look like anyone else, and didn’t wrestle like a typical Diva. Fan response to Daffney is strikingly similar. She has yet to get any type of sustained push, and is off tv more than on it, injuries notwithstanding. This is another potentially big-money talent who has yet to be effectively utilized. A Daffney/Roxxi tag team of “hardcore” Knockouts could have been fun, as both handled that sort of match well. For whatever reason, people love the zombie-hot Gothic Goddess, and TNA should respond appropriately.
Alissa Flash/Raisha Saeed: Left the company. Talk about leaving money on the table. When Raisha Saeed appeared as Awesome Kong’s handler and mouthpiece, little was expected of her. Few people wrestle under two completely separate personas for any length of time, but she pulled it off. Everyone secretly hoped (you know you did) that one day, Raisha Saeed’s shout of “Silence!” would be followed up with some version of “I kill you!” Why they never paired her up with Sheik Abdul Bashir, I shall never understand. Hey, that would have been gold! Seriously, though, when she introduced the Alissa Flash persona, she did what every wrestler and every promoter dreams of. She managed to get over with almost no push from the company at all. Fans loved Alissa Flash’s arrogance, brutality, technical prowess, and complete disdain for opponents and fans alike. She would have been the perfect female addition to Immortal/Fortune. Demanding to be addressed as “The Future Legend” Alissa Flash? How awesome is that? Like Awesome Kong, fans just wanted to see Flash hurt somebody. She could have easily become an Austin-esque anti-hero in a very short time.
Hamada: Rumored to have been released. Hamada is practically wrestling royalty, and she was hardly used. For a short time, she had good matches against Daffney and Alissa Flash. Her Japanese-Mexican hybrid wrestling style was unique in the Knockouts division, and she could certainly appeal to the portion of the fan base already attracted to Japanese and joshi wrestling. Most Japanese wrestlers brought to TNA over the past several years have not fared well. Make of that what you will. The tag team of No Limit, then Kiyoshi, and Hamada have all been used poorly, if at all. Almost as if someone assumes that Americans don’t care about seeing them.
Christy Hemme: Retired from active in-ring competition due to neck injury. Jumped ship from WWE, where she was the original Diva Search winner and a Playboy cover girl, but was one of the first females to do so. Hemme was never much in the ring, but was a great manager/valet for the Rock and Rave Infection.
Mickie James: Jumped ship from WWE. She has thoroughly dominated the entire division and been the face of it since the day she arrived. While she totally deserves the focus in every way, the ease and speed with which she climbed to the top is a bit much. Had she taken longer to reach that point and struggled more in the process, particularly against women who had never been part of WWE, the entire division might have benefitted. Mickie James is great, but the danger of fans feeling burned out on her is already there.
Rhaka Khan: Released or left the company following relationship meltdown with Kurt Angle. She was never much of a wrestler, but could have filled the manager/valet role well enough as long as she didn’t speak.
Gail Kim: Left the company, reportedly against her wishes, after being low-balled in a contract dispute. Is now doing absolutely nothing in WWE for more money. Kim was the first Knockouts champion, and the division originally revolved around her and Awesome Kong. You don’t let the person get away around whom you have built an entire division, and especially not over money.
Rosey Lotta Love: Released after one tv match, supposedly because she was too green and not ready to be on tv yet. The same can be said of Rob Terry, and TNA not only kept him on, but pushed him to the moon and gave him a title run. Therefore, the supposed reason for her release rings extremely false, particularly in light of her being a student at Team 3D’s wrestling school. The gimmick of a portly Las Vegas stripper made me cringe when she entered, but by the time she exited the ramp after her match, she had won me over completely. Here was someone completely comfortable with herself and her persona, and she carried herself with the confidence of a veteran. She was not given a fair chance.
Angelina Love: The best worker of all members of The Beautiful People. Love has been in the spotlight a great deal, and was the focus of the Knockouts division on multiple occasions. Her biggest problem came when she returned from her visa-related absence as a babyface and feuded with the new Beautiful People. Love’s persona, and that of The Beautiful People in general, is quite heelish. Something has been missing from Love ever since her return, and that something is the hateful, catty, self-centered bitchiness that made The Beautiful People so much fun to watch. Despite what some say, Love is a good wrestler. She has done a great deal for TNA, and can certainly do more. She would just be better at what she does if we could hate her.
“The Pride of Tennessee” Miss Jackie Moore: Released or left the company. The former Jacqueline was by far the most experienced and knowledgeable woman in the business, and was renowned for her toughness and utter fearlessness. She came up training with men “back in the day,” and could have been the anchor for the women in the company for much longer than she was. Her run with Beer Money as their business manager was the best work I had ever seen from her, and she really had no reason to stop that. Budgetary reasons may have been cited as grounds for her removal, but the long-term investment of keeping a woman of her caliber with the company as head of the Knockouts division would have proven much more sound than the ways in which TNA has chosen to part with their money.
ODB: Released and rumored to be retiring from wrestling. Hogan supposedly wanted Cody Deaner and ODB out because he felt that low-class redneck gimmicks made the company look second-rate. Second-rate? Oh, where does one begin? When ODB first came to TNA, she was more of a rough brawler, a bar fighter, and a complete anti-Diva. The cartoonishly over-the-top, boob-pounding, Andrew Dice Clay-sounding ODB that we later got was not what she started as, nor was it all she could have been. There was definitely a place for her at the table. She was one of the only Knockouts who could reasonably go toe-to-toe with Awesome Kong from a physical point. She was indisputably over, and that should have counted for something.
Madison Rayne: The current Knockouts champion. She has improved by leaps and bounds since her arrival, and has settled into a really fun screechy brat persona. Her ring work is much better than it was, though she does still have a ways to go.
Roxxi: Released from the company, brought back, then released again with no notice. After a woman has bled and shaved her head bald for your company, it’s truly in poor form to bring her back, put her in a match, then tell her at the last minute, “Oh, by the way, it’s a ‘Loser Leaves TNA’ match, and you’re losing, so you won’t be back.” The Voodoo Queen Roxxi Laveau persona never clicked, but she herself said in an interview that she wasn’t given much guidance or advice on that. She was quite over as a plucky babyface, and “the Hardcore Knockout.” After being kicked out of the Voodoo Kin Mafia by Kip James, she was tremendously over with fans. I remember crowd chants of “Foxy Roxxi!” after she shaved her head. She was so likable, and people familiar with her indy work know what she was capable of doing in the ring. She deserved so much better than what she got.
Salinas: Released or left the company. She wasn’t much of a wrestler, but her work as the vampire valet Ariel in WWECW with Kevin Thorn was great. The gang-banging Latina gimmick could have been tweaked a bit, and I’m not convinced that she was a lost cause. Every manager/valet doesn’t need to be a good wrestler. Miss Elizabeth proved that.
Sarita: Brought in with great fanfare, then sort of dropped. Her heel turn came out of nowhere, on a mostly unseen show, and she hasn’t really been allowed much time to connect with the audience since her introduction. Like Hamada, Sarita is an international star who could bring a great deal to the table if given the time and presented effectively.
Velvet Sky: Presented from Day One as the most perfect example of female beauty in the universe, Sky was pretty awful in the ring until recently. While improving considerably, she’s still far below her peers in wrestling ability, and has much work to do if she hopes to be respected in addition to desired. Like Angelina Love, Sky is a natural heel. She just isn’t clicking as a babyface. TNA’s creative team should stop concerning themselves with what goes on in Sky’s actual personal life and just let the original Beautiful People go back to doing what they did so very well.
Tara: Jumped ship from WWE. She came in as a surprise babyface challenger to Angelina Love’s Knockouts title, and has flip-flopped alignments for no real reason ever since. That she is saddled with the “cougar” gimmick involving Generation Me is disgraceful, as it’s nothing more than a rip-off of Vickie Guerrero’s gimmick in WWE. Tara doesn’t NEED it. She’s better than that. If she’s going to do it at all, it should be built towards through backstage interactions and segments over the course of several weeks. Just trotting Tara out with a “cougar” t-shirt and smacking Generation Me on the backsides doesn’t cut it. Like Mickie James, Tara has received a considerable amount of focus since returning to TNA for a second time. As good as she is, and as much as she deserves a spot at the top of the division, one wonders if she would have gotten it without having WWE on her resume.
Miss Tessmacher: Showed up as Eric Bischoff’s trampy personal assistant. So far, she’s been nothing more than a pretty face and a gigantic pair of breasts, so if she actually returns from “training” and wrestles, we shall have to see how that goes.
Taylor Wilde: Rumored to have been released. Brought in as a fan who defeated Awesome Kong in an open challenge for the Knockouts title, “the Upset Queen” improved greatly in the ring over time. She won tag team titles with Sarita after her singles title reign ended, and did so a second time with Hamada before both were never seen again. Wilde was popular enough and talented enough that she would have been an asset to the company. There really was no good reason to release her.
Winter: Jumped ship from WWE. She hasn’t been around long enough to do much yet, so comment is withheld for the moment.
Lacey Von Erich: Left the company of her own volition. She showed up to replace Angelina Love when Love was out dealing with visa issues. All reports pointed to her being released for unprofessional behavior and general worthlessness in the ring, but as soon as Hogan and Bischoff took over, she was not only kept around, but got more screen time than most of the Knockouts roster. One really has to wonder that when WWE (a company known to hire and heavily push swimsuit models whose photo shoots appeal to the Head of Talent Relations) releases a woman this stunningly hot for being difficult backstage and terrible in the ring, that perhaps there might be something to the claims. She supposedly left because she decided that she was not and would never be a good wrestler, but would be happy as a sportscaster. If that is true, more power to her. All I have to say is that I had never heard fan chants of “You can’t wrestle!” directed at a beautiful woman before, and I haven’t heard them since.
Now it’s your turn. Yes, you. That’s right. Below are several questions relating to the article above. E-mail your thoughts and comments to email@example.com and I shall organize and post them right here at www.boredwrestlingfan.com for all to see. Feel free to be as long-winded and detailed as you like. All readers are invited to participate. Responses will be accepted until Monday, December 20th. Hopefully, this will become a regular feature.
1. Of all the Knockouts who are no longer with the company, who was the biggest mistake to release / allow to quit, and why? How would you have booked / used her?
2. Of the currently active Knockouts roster, who is the most ineffectually or poorly used, regardless of the amount of screen time given? How / why? Describe how to better utilize this person.
3. If you were Dixie Carter, and suddenly woke up one morning with your head on straight, who are the five women in all of pro wrestling whom you would desperately try to sign / persuade to return? Explain your plans for each of them, and how they would fit in to the current Knockouts division, as well as TNA as a whole.
I’m very much looking forward to hearing opinions and ideas on this. Be vocal, be heard, and be serious.
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I think you've broken down the issues quite well here to introduce discussion on the state of the obviously superior female division. There is many women in the list no longer employed by either of the major federations that truly shine. I'm working on my responses for the SAY WHAT??? section of this piece, and will happily be commenting on the overall consistant highest rated portion of iMPACT shortly.
Loving this series….
Great idea Jana! And great column too! I'll have some ideas noted down in response to your questions pretty soon myself. Womens wrestling has long been a popular issue for us fans to bicker back and forth about. This will surely spark some debate!