Originally posted on www.TNAwrestlingnews.com on 6/09/09.
the Rebuilding Process
For the last 9 months or so, most people have been citing the departure of Gail Kim as the reason why the Knockouts division has been struggling so much. While this theory isn’t wrong, necessarily, I’ve never completely agreed with it. In my opinion, the downswing of the KO division wasn’t caused by the loss of Gail, it was caused by the booking and presentation of the division falling apart after she left.
As I understand it, the KO division was originally intended to be a showcase for Gail Kim. She was the top star, she was what everything was built around. And I think what happened was that her leaving came as a huge shock to TNA management, and once she was gone, the writers lost interest in the entire division to an extant and stopped taking it seriously. The matches grew shorter, referee incompetence and outside interference much more common, the storylines lazier, the characters more and more bizarre (ex. Sojourner Bolt, the Governor). But most disturbingly of all, the writers started getting away from the concept that made the KO division such a success in the first place.
When TNA first started their women’s division they had a winning formula. They took the most talented women in the inaugural roster and focused primarily on that core group, using the rest as ancillary characters/enhancement talent. That core group consisted of Gail, Kong, Roxxi, ODB, the Beautiful People, and eventually expanded to include Raisha Saeed and Taylor Wilde – no wonder the matches were so good. Yes, there were other women in the mix too, but they were used as supporting players, and with good cause.
After Gail left the writers got away from this formula for whatever reason and since then the KO division hasn’t been the same. Without their centerpiece figure the writers decided to discard the successful formula that had served them so well and started throwing random stuff at the wall to see if anything stuck.
They tried pushing Christy Hemme as the top babyface – unsurprisingly, it didn’t work at all. They tried pushing Sojourner Bolt & Rhaka Khan and the disaster that resulted will be burned into the eyeballs of the fans for years to come.
Gone was the core group of the best talent the division had to offer. It was replaced by a motley assortment of women, many of whom were either no longer being used correctly or were being pushed for all the wrong reasons.
Under the guidelines of the original formula, Khan, Bolt and Hemme would never have gotten the pushes they received a few months ago. It just wouldn’t have happened.
The idea for this column, as well as the reason for it, came after the May 28th iMPACT. On that show we saw the debut of former WWE Diva, Victoria, as she walked out to a big ovation from the crowd, laid out all 3 of the Beautiful People and accepted Angelina Love’s open challenge. Immediately, pundits on numerous wrestling websites began proclaiming that Victoria was the woman the KO division needed and that she would be the one to fix all the problems and replace Gail Kim as the woman to build the division around.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, people.
Victoria is an extremely talented lady that WWE dropped the ball with and she’ll definitely take the caliber of workrate up several notches. But will she solve the problems with the KO division? That depends on what you think “the problems” are.
The problems were not caused by Gail leaving -- they were caused by the writers forgetting what got them to the dance. If they had just kept their eye on the ball they could have continued on after Gail left without missing a step. It’s not like she was the only great female talent on the roster; far from it.
In order to fix “the problems” the writers will have to go back to what worked before. They need to go back to the original formula: focusing on a core group of the most talented women and building everything around them. Yes, charisma and mic skills are very important, but kick-ass wrestling matches were what made these women stand out from the competition and that’s what they need to go back to because that’s what got people to sit up and take notice of the KO division in the first place. They also need to take a serious look at the ancillary women and think about making some changes there as well.
They need to start a rebuilding process, which seems to be happening now, I’m happy to say. And if they do it right (a big IF, I know), I think the KO division could not only be as good as it once was, it could be BETTER.
The core group won’t be the same anymore obviously. Many of those women are still there, but there have been some pretty big changes. TNA practically shoved Gail out the door with an insultingly low contract offer and recently fired Roxxi, citing the ridiculous excuse that they no longer had anything for her creatively. So right there the KO division lost not only 2 of its best wrestlers, but 2 of its most popular as well. That definitely hurts.
Plus, the once red hot ODB has seen a big reduction in screen time over the last few months. She rarely wrestles lately and the storyline with Cody Deaner doesn’t seem to be going anywhere fast. Her contract is up in November and frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if TNA management let it expire. I’m not saying it’s going to happen, I’m just saying it could happen. They don’t seem to have any major plans for ODB, and the Roxxi situation showed us that they have no qualms with releasing a woman with a big fanbase if they don’t know what to do with her. And even if they do renew her contract, with the way things are going right now, I kind of doubt that she’ll be in the top mix anymore, which could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you look at it. ODB can have good matches with certain opponents, but no one’s going to accuse her of being a ring general. I’ve never had a problem with her, but I know others that have.
As it is right now, the new core group appears to be: the Beautiful People, Awesome Kong, Raisha Saeed (Melissa Anderson), Taylor Wilde, Daffney and Victoria, with Sarah Stock and Ayako Hamada soon to be added to the list as well. That’s damn good. Hell, that’s probably better than the original core group they started with back in ‘07.
There’s a ton of potential for great matchups there: Stock vs. Wilde, Stock vs. Hamada, Stock vs. Victoria, Victoria vs. Wilde, Victoria vs. Kong, Kong vs. Hamada. And that’s only 4 of them. Just imagine what they could do if the writers ditched the Muslim gimmick and unleashed Melissa on the women’s division on top of all that.
The core group is rock solid, provided those are the people they keep the focus on for the foreseeable future. Also encouraging are things happening with the ancillary group.
Though Rhaka Khan’s picture is still on the roster page, the word going around is that she’s been released from the company and thank God for that. This woman brought absolutely nothing to the table – her wrestling was horrid and her promos were even worse. Even as enhancement talent she was worthless. Getting rid of her is a great addition by subtraction. Speaking of which…
What a difference a few months make. Sojourner Bolt has been doing practically nothing since her disastrous title match at Destination-X. In fact, since that match 2 months ago she has appeared on TV/PPV a grand total of 3 times. She hasn’t delivered in the ring, has no storylines going on and she was just jobbed out on TNA’s youtube page to a manager who had never won a single match until then. Management obviously has no faith in this woman anymore and I don’t blame them. As a wrestler, Bolt is painfully mediocre and really doesn’t add anything to the division. I thought it was a mistake to sign her in the first place, and at this rate she’ll probably be following Rhaka Khan through that Exit door before too long.
Christy Hemme has been off TV for nearly 6 months with a neck injury and she reportedly met with TNA officials recently to “discuss her future”. That’s never a good sign. The same report said that she probably won’t be returning to active competition any time soon. Don’t quote me on this, but I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if we’ve seen the last of Christy Hemme in TNA. I don’t know how her neck is feeling these days is, but if it’s still messed up then that would probably be for the best.
Jackie Moore hasn’t been seen for a few months now since Dixie Carter made the call to phase her out of her TV role. Before then she had been managing Beer Money. She could still perform well the last time we saw her in the ring, but she’s not getting any younger and she’s not going to be over anymore. At this point the best place for her is a backstage role where she can help out the younger girls.
I have no idea what the status of Traci Brooks is, but we see her once in a blue moon. From what I hear, she isn’t medically able to have strong matches and she hasn’t wrestled on TV in about a year at this point. TNA seems pretty loyal to Traci so she may return to an on-air role in the future, but she won’t be wrestling anymore.
The casual fans still love ODB and she’s a good enough wrestler where she won’t crap the bed during a match or anything. If the writers pushed her back into the spotlight the fans would accept her, but they don’t seem to have much interest in doing that right now. We’ll know what her future holds (or doesn’t hold) come November.
TNA have a great core of super talented women to focus the spotlight on. The secondary group is made up almost entirely of women who are either on their way out, already gone, or off their television roles, but that’s a good thing in most of those cases. The dead weight on the KO roster has been effectively eliminated, leaving the door open for new, much more talented women to be brought in. Just imagine if TNA cut Khan, Bolt, Hemme and Moore, and then replaced them with Mercedes Martinez, Jennifer Blake, Portia Perez and Jetta. Just imagine it…
This is what I was talking about in one of my early columns when I said that the loss of Gail would force the KO division to change and evolve (re: KNOCKED OUT: Gail Kim Leaving For the Best). Granted, it took TNA management a lot longer than I expected to figure out what they needed to do and there were definitely some pretty big bumps in the road, but they’re headed in the right direction now and that’s what’s important.