Originally posted on www.TNAwrestlingnews.com on 2/10/09.
A New Top Babyface
Given all the noise being made lately about TNA officials searching for a new top Knockout babyface to oppose Awesome Kong I thought it was important that we take a column to examine their potential candidates as well as the manner in which they’re going about this process.
Talon Thorne made an excellent point recently in the TNA 101 column where he said that finding a new top female babyface would be difficult. The problem is that they’re looking for someone who can fit the bill immediately. Realistically, there are very few women out there who could pull that off. Of course, TNA wouldn’t be in this predicament now if they had bothered to build up some of the other Knockouts over the last year and a half, but they didn’t. This is what happens when you put all the focus on one person and then let that person walk out the door. Not that I’m still irked about that or anything.
They tried creating a new top star once before with Taylor Wilde. She debuted, quickly upset Awesome Kong for the title in a shocking victory and was quickly pushed to the top of the card over everyone except Gail Kim. But the excitement about Taylor didn’t last long. Despite her excellent work in the ring a lot of the fans just weren’t buying into her as the champion.
And why? Everyone has their own theory; mine is that it was simply too much, too soon. Instead of building Taylor up first, the creative team put the title on her immediately and then tried to get the fans to connect with her afterward. It rarely works like that, if ever.
And now they’re looking for someone who can do what Taylor couldn’t manage: get an instant reaction and be a credible opponent for Kong that the fans will accept in the top spot -- not an impossible feat, but definitely a very difficult one.
Whoever this person is that TNA is looking for, there are two crucial X-factors they’re going to need:
1) to be an acceptable replacement for Gail Kim she has to be a good worker, and I mean DAMN good. She has to be able to believably hang with Awesome Kong skill-wise, or else people aren’t going to buy into it. This is an absolute must and narrows down the candidate list considerably.
2) the audience has already connected with Awesome Kong. If this person is going to have any chance of stealing away the crowds’ support then she’s going to need an already established fan base. It needs to be someone that at least a portion of the fans are already familiar with and would be willing to support before Kong.
Taylor Wilde had the first X-factor, but lacked the second. Unless you knew her from her time in Deep South Wrestling then odds are you had no idea who she was. TNA needs someone who has both or it won’t work.
They seem to have the right idea at the moment -- reports are floating around of numerous members of the Shimmer roster being evaluated over the last few weeks. This is a smart move as Shimmer has quite a cult following and probably the best roster of female talent you’re going to find anywhere outside of Japan. But they need to take it further. Only the best of the best and the most well known are going to have a chance of filling the role TNA needs.
[Please note: Trish Stratus isn’t going to happen. So don’t even bother suggesting it.]
I recently conducted polls about this topic on two different websites. Judging from the feedback, at the time of this writing, there are four clear frontrunners that people want TNA to pursue:
1) ‘the American Angel,’ Sara Del Rey
Pros: The candidate with the most support, well known and respected by ROH fans, regarded by many as the best woman wrestler alive and with good reason. Not only does she have the size and strength to match Kong physically, but she can wrestle circles around pretty much anyone you could name.
As an added bonus, because of her look and athletes' build, the WWE would never pursue her, nor would she want to work for them as she objects to their superficial hiring practices of valuing looks before ability in potential new Divas. She values being the best wrestler over looking pretty while she’s wrestling. Del Rey is the complete antithesis of the WWE Divas and thus perfect for the Knockouts division.
Cons: Her promos aren’t the best, but that might not be a huge factor. Gail Kim was never exactly scintillating on the mic either – she often came across as whiny and heelish – but she was so impressive in the ring that the TNA fans didn’t care. If Gail won them over with her wrestling, Death Rey certainly could.
2) ‘Dark Angel,’ Sarah Stock
Pros: As far as support in the polls I conducted, she’s a close second. Wrestling-wise she’s in the same league as Del Rey, but her mic skills are better and she’s a bit more photogenic.
Cons: She lives in Mexico and TNA has had issues with work visas as recently as the World-X Cup last summer. She’s also a mainstay in CMLL, which TNA has been trying to cultivate a working relationship with (I'm not sure why); pursuing Stock could jeopardize that even though they’ve reportedly been interested in her for some time.
3) Daizee Haze
Pros: Perhaps not quite on the level of Del Rey & Stock (that’s hardly a criticism though. Few people are.), but easily the best on the mic. Plus, Haze has something few people in the business have – acting ability. She can put over the emotional content of a storyline better than most. Put in a brutal-looking submission hold, she can sell it by crying tears of pain. A lot of people don’t appreciate how effective that can be. Plus, she’s worked for TNA in the past so she has to be on their radar.
Cons: She’s pretty well ensconced in ROH these days. But with them having financial problems and scaling back the number of shows they run she might be open to a change of scenery and a bigger paycheck.
4) ‘the Latina Sensation,’ Mercedes Martinez
Pros: She’d fit in perfectly with LAX and would be an upgrade from Salinas, who was very nice to look at but not much of a wrestler. She’d also add some ethnic diversity to the Knockouts, which they don’t have as much of as they used to. TNA reportedly gave her a tryout match a few months ago that was very well received.
Cons: She might not have the following the other three have, which as we just discussed, is very important.
Four potential candidates that could fit the bill. Which one should TNA go after? Well, here’s a suggestion that just might be crazy enough to work: let the fans decide.
Even if those four women aren’t necessarily available, that’s okay. Why not put together a list of the top ten or fifteen female independent wrestlers you're considering and put it on the TNA website? You could even make it part of a storyline: post an article saying that with Awesome Kong’s path of destruction continuing unabated, Knockout Law, Traci Brooks, has been searching for someone to oppose her. She’s been looking at audition tapes and is giving the power to the fans to decide which women they want to see be a part of TNA to fight against Kong.
Let the fans vote for whoever they want. Then, if possible, try to round up the women with the most votes, put them in the ring for a match on iMPACT, then just sit back and gauge the crowd reactions – see who the people respond to. If they cheer for Daizee, that will tell you something. If they chant, “Sara’s gonna kill you!” that will tell you something too. Whoever gets the best response, offer that person a short term deal, put her in the mix and see what happens.
What better way to figure out who the fans will support than letting them decide for themselves? If she doesn’t work out, she doesn’t work out. But you can use the time that she feuds with Kong to properly build up someone from the current roster to feud with Kong next while you keep looking for someone.
Drastic? Sure. But with your top babyface gone and your last chosen replacement, Christy Hemme, on the shelf and not being anywhere near ready for the spot in the first place, then maybe it’s time to get drastic.
Give it a shot, TNA. It couldn’t be worse than bringing in Torrie Wilson or Sirelda. And it wouldn’t make the fans vomit like that would either.