December 07, 2010

Knockouts 2.0

There's been rumors floating around for a while now that TNA was going to take steps to improve the X-division and Knockout division, apparently having finally realized that completely destroying both probably wasn't the smartest thing in the world that they could have done.

In the case of the former, TNA have promised that they were going to improve it at least twice a year for the last several years and every single time it turned out to be a pack of lies amounting to absolutely nothing except a lot of disappointed and increasingly disgruntled fans. In the case of the latter, it appears as if TNA are actually getting off their butts and doing something about the problem.

Let's be honest... 2010 hasn't been a great year for the Knockouts, due in no small part to the mass exodus of female talent in the winter and spring in which a lot of women, most of them members of the inaugural Knockout roster that helped the division catch fire in the first place, left the company.

Traci Brooks and Alissa Flash were quietly released at the start of the year. Losing Traci wasn't a huge blow. She was a dependable utility player, but her time in TNA just seemed to have run its course and the writers hadn't done a thing with her for quite a while. On the other hand, the underutilized Alissa was a major loss even though company officials didn't seem to realize it. She had gotten over instantly, was one of the best female workers on the roster and many people in the fan community had her pegged as a breakout star despite the fact that she had been booked as enhancement talent from the first day she showed up.

After making some understandably disparaging remarks on her facebook page about the direction the division was going in, ODB asked for and was granted her release from the company. Personally, I wasn't all that sad to see her go as her character had become very one-note, her matches quite similar and repetitive. But that didn't change the fact that she had always been one of the most popular women TNA had...

...As was fan favorite Roxxi, who continued to get jerked around when TNA brought her back again not once, but twice, only to quickly fire her again not once, but twice. To this day, I maintain that TNA dropped the ball with Roxxi. Like ODB, she had always been very popular and never had any trouble connecting with the fans. Unlike ODB, Roxxi was also one of the better workers the division had to offer, not to mention pretty easy on the eyes. Why they wouldn't want to keep someone like that around, I don't know.

But the biggest loss came in January when the most important linchpin of the Knockout roster, Awesome Kong, had a backstage altercation with a repugnant piece of human trash that happened to be good friends with Hulk Hogan, meaning Kong was immediately put on TNA's shitlist and taken off television just when she and Hamada had given the first real shot of adrenalin to the fledgling Knockout tag team division. Not long after, Kong parted ways with the company, citing a changing attitude backstage and unhappiness with her salary. The Knockouts, as well as their tag team division, never really recovered.

Also, Lacey Von Erich quit.

The Knockout locker room had been essentially gutted. With so many members of the women's roster joining the future endeavored club, one would think that management would have sat down with their talent scouts and done some recruiting to fill the void. That's not what happened. Instead, it seemed like TNA officials lost interest in the Knockouts altogether. Their screen time was reduced, their match time was reduced. For the most part, they just became a lot less relevant.

With Awesome Kong gone, the Beautiful People became the top Knockout heels. Unfortunately, at the time, TBP comprised the 3 worst female workers left on the roster. Despite this, they were given both the singles and tag team championships, and the entire division pretty much revolved around them for the next 7 months.

Those 7 months were almost as painful to sit through as the Main Event Mafia feud was. To the shock of absolutely no one, the quality of the in-ring product went steadily downhill due to the fact that TBP were the only Knockouts getting pushed and were constantly being booked to out-wrestle and soundly defeat women infinitely more talented than they were. Meanwhile, all the best workers on the remaining roster (including world class competitors, Sarita and Hamada) were sidelined and/or turned into jobbers.

The only thing even worth mentioning during this time was the writers' attempt to make Madison Rayne a breakout star by changing her from enhancement talent to dominant champion literally overnight. It didn't really work. They pushed her to the moon, made her the centerpiece of storylines, put her in major feuds, gave her numerous high profile wins over women much more credible than her and she's no more over now than she was during the first 18 months of her TNA career when she was being booked as a woman who couldn't win a match if her life depended on it.

So, yeah, it was pretty bad for a while.

Then Mickie James showed up and suddenly it got better.

I'm not exaggerating here. It literally happened that fast. Mickie walked into the iMPACT Zone 3 days before Bound For Glory and, just like that, the Knockout division didn't suck anymore.

TBP were mercifully de-emphasized and better wrestlers started getting pushed in their place, more focus was put on the in-ring action, the matches got longer, their screen time increased. It was almost as if a switch had been flipped. Either that or someone backstage watched the lamentable bout between Madison Rayne & Velvet Sky at No Surrender and finally realized that something had to be done before TNA's once great women's division devolved completely into self-parody.

Around that time, it was reported online that TNA realized they took the focus off the Knockouts for a while and the quality, as well as their ratings-drawing power, had eroded as a result. So not only had TNA acknowledged that there was a problem, but unlike with the X-division, they were actually doing something about it. They finally began to replace their many losses and rebuild the roster with new talent. Various women from the independent circuit started receiving tryout matches with at least one reportedly signed and another possibly on her way. Meanwhile, Kat Waters a.k.a. Katie Lea Burchill, another former WWE Diva and solid worker in her own right, was brought in and debuted under the name Winter.

After a pretty lengthly period where the Knockout division was at the lowest point it had ever been, things finally seem to be moving in a positive direction. While I'm not going to get my hopes up that this will lead to another boom period for the division, I'm cautiously optimistic that it could be elevated back up to close to the same level of quality it used to have if TNA keep doing what they've been doing for the last 2 months.

So since TNA has seemingly begun a rebuilding process with their women's division, this week we're going to take a look at the players involved and see who will factor into Knockouts 2.0 and who, unfortunately, might not.

[SIDENOTE: Women like Chelsea, Cookie et al. are excluded from this. I don't consider them Knockouts since they're not technically wrestlers.]

After a brief reformation of TBP 1.0 a few months back, it seems that Angelina & Velvet have amicably agreed to give the group a break (at least partially) and do their own thing for a while, which is definitely for the best IMO. It's not hard to see why Angelina is one of the 2 remaining members of the original Knockout roster as she always seems to be a favorite of the writers. They wasted no time in putting her in a storyline with the new arrival, Winter. I have no idea where it's going, but they're clearly making an effort to keep her relevant while the TBP gimmick is on the shelf. It says a lot that Angelina has her own program despite not currently being in the title picture. Whether she wears the gold again in the future doesn't really matter -- as long as she's in TNA, she'll be an important part of the division.

Good grief... The most inexplicably overpushed woman in TNA since the dark days of Karen Angle. Ever since she won the title at Lockdown I've been racking my brain, trying to figure out what TNA see in this woman. Sure, she's great looking and she's gotten better on the mic, but her wrestling is average at best and more importantly, she just can't seem to get over. I'll credit her for doing an admirable job with what they've given her, but after the huge push she received this year, for her to still be getting so little crowd reaction speaks volumes. I'm not saying she's a horrible talent; she's not. She can be a good utility player if booked correctly, but the fact remains that she hasn't caught on with the fans despite the writers' best efforts to make her a star.

But at this point, I may just have to accept the fact that TNA management see something in Madison Rayne that I just don't think is there. She's been in the title picture since Lockdown despite never really delivering in the ring well enough to deserve such a push. Maybe if she continues to get outperformed by her opponents the writers will eventually stop trying to force a round peg into a square hole and give up the idea of making Madison Rayne a top star. Until then, I imagine she'll be there, front and center, like it or not.

The former top woman in WWE is now the top woman in TNA. Mickie was a huge acquisition and, unlike with Tara, TNA were right to throw her into the top mix immediately. She's probably the most popular female star in the industry since Trish Stratus AND she can wrestle. There's no one better to spearhead the resurgence of the Knockout division -- it came back to life when Mickie showed up. She'll be at the top of the card as long as she's there and there's no reason why she shouldn't be.

For the last year or so, there was a group of forgotten women who didn't seem to be in any of the writers' plans for the division. Sarita looked to be a part of that group until her heel turn and split from former tag team partner, Taylor Wilde, finally gave her something to do. After dominating Taylor in a short feud, Sarita was sidelined with a torn bicep for a few months and it wasn't clear if there would be anything for her when she returned. Fortunately, with the division being restructured, not only has she emerged from obscurity, she's actually being pushed against the current champion. With Mickie presently occupied with Tara, Madison has her hands full with Sarita, who has been racking up wins lately and could be added to the title picture soon.

It seems TNA have finally decided to take advantage of the lucha star's off the charts in-ring skills. Like, Hamada, she's one of the best female competitors in the world today, but with Homicide gone from the company and Hernandez possibly wanting to stay in AAA, she now has something else going for her as well. It's no secret that TNA want to expand their fanbase in Mexico and Sarita is now their only star with any real notoriety south of the border thanks to her work in CMLL. Marketed correctly, Sarita could be for TNA in Mexico what Michael Bisping is for the UFC in the UK. AAA talent is reportedly on its way to TNA in the future, but until then the writers would be smart (cough) to single out Sarita and put her in the top mix as she could be an important part of their international expansion.

I've been enjoying Tara's 2nd run in TNA more than her 1st. Thankfully, it seems that the writers have stopped trying to paint her as a sympathetic babyface, realizing that she works much better as a heel. As with Angelina, the writers seem to like Tara enough that they make an effort to keep her character relevant when she's not in the title picture. She's got a few different irons in the fire right now: her rivalry with Mickie, a possible future split from Madison Rayne as well as the teased cougar gimmick. She continues to be a mainstay on iMPACT and gets pretty frequent PPV spots. With Mickie there now, Tara probably won't be pushed as the centerpiece of the division again, but she'll be at, or at least near the top of the card as one of the more prominent members going forward.

With TBP 1.0 taking a break from each other somewhat and Angelina now involved in an angle with Winter, where Velvet goes from here is a little uncertain. They looked to be starting an angle where she wanted to step out on her own and prove herself as a singles wrestler, but apparently that's been dropped. Instead, it seems like the writers may want to pair Velvet up with the Motor City Machine Guns now that her real life relationship with Chris Sabin has been made part of the storylines. Velvet excels in the personality department so managing the Guns for a while could be nice role for her while the stronger Knockout workers get some play for a change.

Aside from that, I'm not sure where else they can go with Velvet. She's pretty much done everything there is for her to do that I can think of, and yet she keeps popping up in different ways. I don't hate Velvet, I may not think much of her as a wrestler, but she can be fun in small doses. That being said, she's the only other remaining member of the original Knockout roster and it's obvious why she's lasted so long.

Say what you want about her in-ring skills (I certainly have), but the woman has charisma, dynamite looks and knows how to get herself over. In the future, I think Velvet could be someone who doesn't necessarily get pushed as a wrestler that much, but is kept around because she's useful for marketing reasons, like Kelly Kelly is in WWE. That's a spot Velvet would be very good in. After all, not every Knockout would be appropriate when it comes to stuff like this:

She debuted just recently and so far has only been seen in backstage segments. It's too early to judge how she's going to gel with the other women in the ring, but going by what we've seen so far, as well as her work in WWE, Winter has shown to be quite adept at cutting promos with her acting background certainly benefitting her in that area. She's been pretty creepy in her interactions with Angelina, who's proven herself to be a pretty decent actress in the past as well. Holding her own with Angelina on the mic will certainly bode well for her future in this company (we know how quickly Russo gets bored with wrestlers that can't talk). I'm just speculating here, but Winter strikes me as a character that these writers will take a liking too.

Let's take these women, put them all in one group and call them the Magnificent 7. These are the women from the current roster that are being consistently used on television, the women that seem to have a place in the restructured division. Unfortunately, not everyone has been so lucky...

The Forgotten 3, Taylor Wilde, Daffney and Hamada have almost ceased to exist where the Knockout division is concerned. Aside from Taylor showing up to do the occasional job, it seems as if these women have fallen off the map almost entirely in recent months. In Daffney's case, she was sidelined with an injury for quite a while until she finally returned at the 12/06/10 TV tapings, but it's not as if she was involved in any major programs before she went on the shelf. With Taylor and Hamada, it was very perplexing as they were (until this week) the current Knockout tag team champions and hadn't defended the titles since before Bound For Glory.

The fact that TNA creative (and I use that word loosely) can't seem to come up with something for any of these women is baffling to me. Hamada got over the instant they started pushing her last year. By all rights, they should have put her in the Awesome Kong spot the second Kong left the company -- the badass killing-machine of the Knockout division who never says a word and gets over by breaking people in half. No one else on the roster was better suited for that role than Hamada. Instead, she vanished from television for months, briefly reappeared to win the Knockout tag team championships with Taylor from out of nowhere, then after a scant few weakly-booked title defenses, she promptly vanished a second time. They have since been stripped of the belts as Hamada was unceremoniously cut from the roster without even being given a final match to drop the titles to someone the right way.

Taylor Wilde being sidelined is another one I don't understand. She's one of the best female workers on the roster, young and drop dead gorgeous to boot. Superficially, she's pretty damn marketable IMO. But the complaint with Taylor that I've always heard is that she's kind of bland personality-wise. There might be some truth to that, but it's pretty hard to develop a personality or character when you only get mic time once in a blue moon. If they let her talk as often as TBP, I imagine she would improve in that area. The fact that creative wasn't able to get the fans to completely get behind Taylor earlier in her TNA run just smacks of laziness on the part of the writers if you ask me.

Having said all that, as much as I like them, with Hamada and Taylor, there's at least something you can point to like lack of personality or doesn't speak english, and say, "That's why this woman isn't being used anymore. That's why this woman was released." But with Daffney... I just don't get it. Daffney has everything. You name the tool required to succeed in this business and Daffney has it: wrestling ability, charisma, personality, mic skills, good looks, a unique character, an impressive acting range, connects with the audience easily, etc. She's even a former WCW star, which would automatically make her one of Bischoff's favorite people. Even if she was too injured to wrestle for months, she has the most entertaining character out of every woman on the roster. If company officials seriously couldn't find something for Daffney to do in a non-wrestling role while she healed up, then either she was too injured to travel to the iMPACT Zone or the writers just aren't even trying anymore.

But whatever the reasons may be, these 3 women just don't seem to fit into the grand scheme of things with wherever the Knockout division will be going in the future. These days, every time I log onto the internet I'm half-expecting to see a report saying that Taylor, Hamada and Daffney have all been released from TNA. In Hamada's case, I saw the report last night. And believe me, it's only a matter of time for the other 2 at this point. Daffney's contract reportedly expires soon and, unsurprisingly, I've heard no talk of it being renewed. And I don't know how much longer Taylor has on her respective deal, but if TNA hasn't cut ties with all of them within the next few months, I'll be shocked. And this makes me sad because I'm a fan of all 3 of these women, but it looks like the writing is on the wall.

Want more proof? I've got it.

Remember those new prospective talents from the independents that I mentioned earlier? Well, as it turns out, TNA aren't going after just anyone. It seems they're looking at women who could potentially fill some very particular spots. Take a look at this...

Taylor Wilde
Jennifer Blake

Weird, eh? Seems pretty obvious what spot they have in mind for Jen Blake, isn't it?

Don't believe me? Think I'm just imagining things? Well check THIS out...

Christina Von Eerie 

OH, COME ON! Even if you don't buy the Wilde/Blake comparison, how can THIS possibly be a coincidence? How many women in the business who look like this are there? This isn't just TNA trying to fill a specific role; this is Single White Female shit!

I can't be the only one who sees what's going on here. TNA know the type of spots they want to fill -- they just don't want to fill them with Taylor and Daffney. For whatever reason, like Hamada, those 2 just don't seem to figure into the Knockout division anymore. Though it does make one wonder why, if the writers can't think of anything to do with them, they would give tryouts to women who are so similar to them.

Jennifer Blake is a sexy, athletic blonde who can go high risk, just like Taylor. If we're comparing the 2, I would say Taylor is the more polished wrestler, but Blake has better mic skills and more personality -- both areas in which Taylor falls short in a lot of people's minds.

With Daffney and Christina Von Eerie, the difference is negligible at best. Both are tattooed, gothic, punkish types, with Daffney a little more goth and Christina a little more punk. Admittedly, I'm not hugely familiar with Christina, but judging from what I've seen, I would rate Daffney above her in the mic skills/personality department. Christina's move set might be a little flashier, but aside from that, I really don't see much of anything she can do that Daffney can't. The only real difference I can think of that might be a deciding factor is that Christina is younger and probably less injury prone.

My guess? It comes down to money. TNA is in cost-cutting mode and new talents will surely come with a smaller price tag than the women who have been there for a while. I suspect that's even more true in Daffney's case since, as a former WCW star, she probably commands a higher salary than the home-grown Knockouts.

Speculation aside, I think the message is pretty clear. I'm calling this right now -- if TNA brings in Jennifer Blake and Christina Von Eerie, that means Taylor Wilde and Daffney are getting cut. I think it's pretty much inevitable anyway, but that will be what clinches it. Granted, it's not a done deal for both of them just yet. We haven't heard about Blake being offered a contract, but we might before too long -- by all accounts, her tryout went very well and company officials were said to be high on her. But the signing of Von Eerie has pretty much been all but confirmed at this point and it looks like they already know what they want to do with her:

Yeah... Savor Daffney's appearance at the most recent TV tapings; it might be the last time we see her. I can't imagine Taylor's going to last much longer either. TNA seems to be moving on without them and all signs are pointing to them following Hamada out the door in the near future.

And that's too bad. Both of them, as well as Hamada, are supremely talented. It's a shame that they don't seem to fit into Knockouts 2.0, but that's the way the business works sometimes.

I don't think this will be the end of the status quo changes either. The Magnificent 7 are still there, but with the way the roster has been changing lately, some or even most of them could be gone 6 months from now too. I don't know what Knockouts 2.0 will be like. I have no idea what's going to happen next -- if someone else will leave, if someone new will come in. But I've found that I'm feeling positive about it and 3 months ago that wasn't the case. I'm interested to see what happens with the women of TNA again, so in that sense this company is finally doing something right.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love the idea of revamping the Knockout Division. Seeing Taylor go is sad, but she is going for her psychology degree so more power to her. As for Hamada I am still Po'ed about that considering you have a second generation competitor whose father and her are known in Mexico circuit right along with Sarita. As for Daffney if your not going to give her the Championship belt at least team her up with Christina Von Eerie and form a tag team out of them. Punk meets Goth for the gold against a reformed TBP or Have Winter and Angelina compete and bring in Shimmer Tag teams like the Canadian NINJAS or Sarah Del Rey and Mschif as a tag team. I'd watch that.