September 01, 2009

Soldiers Without a General

Originally posted on on 12/29/08.

Soldiers Without a General

by FK9

I’ve read in more than one place on more than one occasion that people think the Knockouts division hasn’t been the same since Gail Kim left it. More than that, they think the division has been suffering since she left it. 

Do I agree with this? Yes and no. Gail’s loss has definitely been felt, but the supposed damage caused by her departure has been mostly self-inflicted by some unwise decisions on TNA’s part since then. 

Unfortunate? Yes. Unfixable? No. 

But before we try to fix the problem we need to understand what the problem actually is. 

First of all, while TNA had Gail Kim under contract, not only did they push her to the moon for a year, but they promoted her as the greatest woman wrestler alive. In fact, I recall Don West using those exact words to describe her on one occasion. Whenever she was in the ring the announcers would sing her praises and gush all over her, other Knockouts be damned. 

Then the time came to renegotiate her deal and she asked TNA management to pay her the money that they obviously thought she was worth. But for some inexplicable reason, instead of giving her the increase in pay she’d clearly earned they decided to lowball her in her contract offer and then let her walk out the door when WWE offered her a better one. 

All right, TNA, what did you learn? You didn’t really know what Gail was worth until after she was gone. You can’t see, but I’m shaking my head at you right now. 

The strange thing was, after Gail’s departure, things didn’t take the downward turn that I thought they would -- at least not immediately. 

Both Knockout matches at No Surrender (Taylor vs. Angelina & ODB vs. Kong) were quite good and the Bound for Glory title match of Taylor vs. Kong vs. Roxxi was probably the strongest one they could’ve made. Roxxi was a fresh face in the title picture and the match delivered aside from the fact that it wasn’t given nearly enough time to be as good as it could have been. This shows us that the Knockouts division was just fine as long as it didn’t deviate from its original formula: keeping the focus on the girls who can really go in the ring and using the rest as cannon fodder. 

However, late in the game a six person intergender tag team match was added to the Bound for Glory card for reasons unknown. It was to be the Beautiful People and Kip James (ugh…) vs. ODB, Rhino and their partner Rhaka Khan. 

Rhaka Khan? 

It’s been well over two months and I’m still pondering one nagging question about this: what exactly happened behind the scenes to make TNA management think that this woman needed a spot on their biggest and most important PPV of the year? No offence to Rhaka Khan, but there’s a reason why she was never pushed prior to Bound for Glory and it’s not because there were no spots available. 

A few weeks later Rhaka Khan was allied with Awesome Kong, Christy Hemme of all people started moving toward a title push at breakneck speed and the world stopped making sense. And it was around this time that the reports started to surface about people thinking the Knockouts division was suffering without Gail Kim, to which I could only reply, “Well, what did you think was going to happen?” 

Besides the fact that TNA let their best female worker get away, they were starting to put women in spots that they weren’t ready or suited for. Khan and Hemme had been valets/enhancement talent for the last year and with good reason – they’re bad wrestlers. You can’t push women who are incapable of delivering a good match and then wonder why the division is suffering. It’s just idiotic. 

Christy may have improved enough to the point where she can be a tolerable midcard worker if she has good opponents but she’s nowhere near championship material. And from what I’ve seen so far, Rhaka Khan is flat out awful. But then the critics would say that with Gail Kim gone they had to elevate new people to fill the hole she left. Well, they filled it with the wrong people and that’s the real problem. 

Everything was fine as long as they kept the focus on Kong, Taylor, Roxxi, ODB, Angelina and Raisha Saeed. It wasn’t the loss of Gail that hurt the Knockouts division, it was the pushes of non-talents like Khan and Hemme (the departure of Scott D’Amore didn’t help either). 

Was damage control necessary after Gail’s departure? Absolutely. But the most maddening thing about this situation is that TNA had the perfect replacement for Gail sitting right under their noses the whole time and to this day have done absolutely nothing with her. Instead of shooting lesser talented workers like Khan and Hemme up the ladder without building them up organically first (or cutting them from the roster altogether), what they SHOULD have done was have ODB permanently unmask Raisha Saeed instead of just teasing it, drop the Muslim gimmick entirely and given a mega push to Saeed’s alter ego, Cheerleader Melissa. 

Melissa is actually one of the best women wrestlers in the business today, though you wouldn’t know it by the way TNA has used her (or NOT used her as the case may be) so far. She can deliver killer matches if they just turn her loose. But more importantly, she’s talented enough to carry opponents who aren’t on her level. 

Does this remind you of anyone? 

Gail had those same qualities. That was why (among other reasons) she was the figurehead of the Knockouts. And with her departure it means that the women have lost their ring general. This is going to mean different things to different people, but to me a ring general is someone who can not only take the lead and carry a match, but can also carry their opponent, bring them through the action and elevate the match as a result. That’s what Gail did so well. 

Ex. The fatal 4-way for the title from Genesis 2007. If you watch this match closely you’ll see what I’m talking about. Roxxi, ODB & Angelina all did their parts and held up their end very well, but there were large portions of that match where Gail was essentially carrying the action for all 4 of them and the match was very good because of that. 

With Gail gone the women don’t really have anyone filling that role anymore and they need someone to because it’s started to affect the quality of certain matches. Most of the women are talented enough that they don’t need to be led and THEY’RE the ones who should be focused on. But then there are ones like Christy Hemme, Rhaka Khan & Velvet Sky who really benefit from having someone like that to help them through a match. 

Awesome Kong, I don’t think is the person for the job. While she is one of the best women they have, because of her size her wrestling style isn’t versatile enough to have good matches with everyone. 

Looking at the rest of the roster as it is right now, there are two clear candidates. Unfortunately, one of them is languishing under a go-nowhere Muslim gimmick that prevents her from wrestling to the best of her ability, which the writers still seem to have no intention of getting rid of. The other is experiencing an unfortunate fan backlash from being pushed too hard too soon. 

Like Melissa, I believe Taylor Wilde has the raw ability for the task, but she hasn’t been tested in that capacity yet and until she is the jury will still be out. My suggestion: put her in Gail’s shoes. Book Taylor in a PPV length fatal 4-way match and task her with carrying the pace and the action. If she rises to the occasion then you have your ring general and just need to do some character surgery to address Taylor ’s lukewarm fan reactions. But if it so happens that she can’t pull it off then it’s time to unmask Melissa, or failing that, do some recruiting. 

There are plenty of amazing women wrestlers on the independents that could fill the role TNA needs and the fact that some of them, like Sara Del Rey and Sarah Stock, have never seen national television exposure in the US is just criminal. 

The Knockouts division doesn’t have to suffer. It could easily once again be as good as it was last year. The soldiers just need a general. 

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