March 15, 2012

Should They Stay Or Should They Go?

As is the case with a lot of the stuff I write, the idea for this one came from observing people's opinions in the comments section of sites like TNAsylum. In this case, the impetus was a discussion I had with another poster about how it might not be a bad idea to make some changes to the Knockout division. More specifically, we both wanted to see the company focus their attention a little less on acquiring and using women that are big or known commodities today or yesterday (mostly referring to former WWE Divas), and a little more on women whose stars might be on the rise tomorrow. We were in agreement that an infusion of youth and new blood in the women's locker room was something we'd like to see; TNA management cultivating the next batch of female performers to join the company once many of the current Knockouts are finished.

I started thinking about this a lot more when rumors began popping up about some talent departures being on the way. Also, I thought Chris Regal made a good point in a recent column when he said the Knockout division seemed to be in a transitional period since changes were made to the writing team. From there, the wheels in my brain started turning and I took a look at the state of things.

I've been a big supporter of the Knockout division since its inception. However, if I'm being brutally honest, I'm not an enormous fan of it in its current state. Not that it's bad necessarily; it's certainly been worse. It's lightyears better than it was during the lamentable days of Lacey Von Erich and it still beats the pants off anything the WWE Divas are offering. But I don't know if anyone is going to look you in the eye and tell you that the Knockout division is as good as it could be right now. A lot of that has to do with the roster and a lot of that has to do with the former creative regime making very poor use of the roster, coupled with the new writers obviously not having anything planned for some of them. And due to the rumored new creative mandate of not using a talent in an on-air role unless the writers have something substantive for them to do, this essentially renders several of the current Knockouts irrelevant.

The short version is the Knockout division has become stale IMO, and I feel some changes are needed. If some of the women end up leaving the company soon (and I do suspect a few may get cut), I'll be okay with this, mostly because it will open up spots for potential new signees, which I'll discuss later. For now, I'm going to take a look at the current roster and try to figure out which of them may be on the chopping block, and give my opinions on who should stay and who should go.

-Angelina Love- How the mighty have fallen. A year and a half ago, Angelina was doing just fine. Then Winter showed up and things got really weird, really fast. In what, by all rights, could have and should have been one of the hottest angles in the division's history, the Beautiful People were broken up. Unfortunately, this didn't happen because of any real, tangible issues between her and Velvet Sky, but because Winter brainwashed Angelina, turning her into a drugged-out zombie. When that angle sank like the Titanic, it should have been a hint to the writers that they were going in the wrong direction with her, but instead they continued on with the Winter/Angelina pairing for over a year despite it accomplishing nothing but killing all Angelina's heat. Luckily for her, it appears the new writers saw how counterproductive this was and may have dropped that angle altogether judging by Angelina's apparent new partnership with Sarita. However, one has to wonder if too much damage has already been done by now for her character to be rehabilitated.

Another issue is that while Angelina was once the top woman in the company and remains the most decorated Knockout in TNA history, that might actually work against her at this point. Probably more than any other woman on the roster, Angelina is now at a point where I look at her and think, "What else can they really do with this person? What can they do to keep her interesting that she hasn't done already?" And I have trouble coming up with an answer. She might be forming a new tag team with Sarita, and that's fine for the short term, but that seemed born more out of the writers not being high on Winter and Rosita than anything else. If they win the Knockout tag titles, cool, but it's not like she hasn't done that before. And what does she do after that, chase the singles title again? Yawn! She's had more runs with that belt than any other woman ever.

Angelina being in the title picture is old news, the way she was pushed in the past seems to have exhausted most future story possibilities for her and the time traveling lesbian vampire angle with Winter pretty much killed whatever interest I used to have in her as a character. Probably the only thing I could see her doing that would really capture the fans' attention now is reforming the Beautiful People, but even that appears unlikely since management seems to see more money in Velvet Sky as a singles star these days. So what else do you do with her? I really don't know.

And on a more uncomfortable note, Angelina doesn't look good these days. I'm not attacking her attractiveness; what I mean is she looks unhealthy. This woman is too damn skinny and it's starting to concern me. There's no meat on her bones anymore. I wince every time she takes a bump because I'm afraid she's going to break something. If that gets any worse, I would recommend cutting her for the sake of her physical well-being.

And if it were up to me, I would really think about cutting her for those other reasons as well. I'm sure people are going to disagree with me on this one, but I just think Angelina is in a place now where she's shown us pretty much everything she's going to show us and her character may have outlived its usefulness. Frankly, I'd be more interested in seeing them sign someone new than I would be to see them do anything with Angelina Love at this point.

It remains to be seen how the Prichard regime feels about her, but the fact is she hasn't won a match since the change and has been used on TV pretty rarely. Call it a hunch, but in management's eyes, I think Angelina's luster may be wearing off.

Prediction: If she's not in danger yet, she may be heading in that direction

-Brooke Tessmacher- This is the most frustrating case for me, and a year ago I never thought I'd be saying that. When Brooke first joined TNA, I thought she was a complete waste of money. And while I stand by what I said about them putting her in the ring too early (her first few matches were pretty sloppy), I've since done a total 180 on this woman. Since she first started getting in the ring, Brooke has displayed far more talent than I originally gave her credit for. She's strong on the mic, connects with the crowd without difficulty and has been rapidly improving her wrestling skills -- hell, IMO, she's already a better worker than Velvet and Madison.

Rarely am I happy to be proven wrong, but I very much enjoyed Brooke Tessmacher making me eat my words in this case. In fact, if she were not already under contract, she'd probably get a mention in part 2 of this column where I'll be talking about the potential female stars of tomorrow because I believe TNA ought to be grooming Brooke to be one of their next big Knockout babyfaces when the current women in those spots move on. I really think she's got the potential to pull that off, which is why it bothers me to see her in this current position.

Brooke is one of the women that have been hurt badly by the creative change. She's barely been seen on TV for the last few months, but unlike some of the others, I really don't see any reason for this. She's young, attractive, charismatic, she gets over easily, her wrestling is getting better all the time. The writers could make her a star with very little effort, but it seems that's just not a priority to them for some reason.

She's difficult to predict because she was getting a decent push before Prichard and Lagana came in, but it's unknown at this time if the reason that stopped was because of the new writers not being high on her or the return of Gail Kim changing whatever the plans for the division were. At this point, the only thing we have to judge her standing is the fact that she hasn't been on TV for a while. It's not much to go on, but it's all we've got.

Prediction: She might be in danger, but I really hope she isn't

-Gail Kim- Phhhhh. Yeah, I'm pretty much only including Gail in this because I'm covering the whole roster here. Needless to say, Gail is in NO danger of being cut, nor should she be. TNA love Gail, and with good reason. She's the centerpiece of the Knockout division because it's better with her than without her, and they know it. She's not going anywhere.

Prediction: SAFE

-Madison Rayne- I don't get it. I. Do. Not. Get. It. What does TNA see in this woman? It makes absolutely no sense to me. They've pushed her to the moon for ages, given her every opportunity imaginable only to watch her fail spectacularly over and over again, and yet she continues to get pushed as one of the top women in the company. Her matches are painfully mediocre at the best of times, her promos always seem to devolve into her screeching until my ears bleed at frequencies so high, they drive dogs 10 miles away into a frenzy, and every time, every single @#$%ing time she's on camera, the audience greets her with dead silence.

Never in the history of the Knockout division has management pushed a woman so hard for so long and had so little to show for it. They've done everything they could think of to make her a star and she's never even been able to manage something that women like Mickie James and ODB do without even trying: get over. Whatever meager heat she manages to draw depends entirely on who her opponents and allies are, and even then it's a crapshoot. And this has been proven countless times, so don't even try to argue it with me because you will lose. Badly.

Nothing they've done with her has worked. She is a waste of money. WASTE. OF. MONEY. If they're planning to cut the dead weight on the Knockout roster, Madison Rayne should be the first woman out the door. But she won't be. And why? I don't know. For the life of me, I do not know...

Prediction: SAFE

-Mickie James- Even though Mickie is playing second fiddle to Velvet Sky (ugh) right now, that doesn't change the fact that she's still one of the most popular and marketable female stars in the industry, and TNA know it. Hell, she was the top Diva in WWE for years and TNA do love their former WWE stars. She may not be getting pushed much at the moment, but don't kid yourself -- the only way Mickie leaves TNA anytime soon is if she asks to be released.

Prediction: SAFE

-ODB- Sigh... I want to keep this one brief because discussing this particular Knockout just gives me a headache. ODB is as safe as any of them. I personally wish that wasn't the case, but I don't see why it wouldn't be. Her act may be stale and painfully one-note, but casual fans eat it up just as much now as they did in 2007 when she debuted. What's more, though admitting it makes me mildly nauseous, they appear to really love her and Eric Young together, as does Dixie Carter apparently. The only argument I have against ODB is that I personally am completely sick of this woman as a character, as a worker and as a talent in general, but since I'm clearly outvoted on this one, any reasons I could come up with for why she should be cut would just be laughed off anyway.

Prediction: SAFE

-Rosita- Rosita was clearly brought in primarily to give Sarita a tag team partner. In that capacity she's done an admirable job. She seems like a natural in the personality department and appears to have a fair amount of charisma. However, while she hasn't performed badly, it does look as if her inexperience is something management takes into account when booking her in matches. I'm pretty sure she hasn't had even one singles match since she debuted, and that says a lot. For that matter, so does the recent teaming of Sarita and Angelina -- even if it was only a one-time thing, it did leave one to wonder where their respective tag partners were -- the most logical conclusion being that the writers simply picked the woman from each duo that they liked more and put them together, leaving Rosita and Winter on the bench.

I think Rosita's future in the company may largely depend on what happens with the Sarita/Angelina pairing. If the writers think there's some mileage in it, Rosita might be in danger. Tagging with Sarita was mostly what she's been used for and management clearly doesn't see much potential for her as a singles competitor at this time.

Prediction: She'll either be cut or sent to train in OVW

-Sarita- Sarita is one of the harder ones to predict. I maintain that she is the most criminally underutilized woman in the company. If you've seen her work outside of TNA, you'd know just how badly they've dropped the ball on her. Booked properly, Sarita is UNBELIEVABLE in the ring, and you saw this in the early months of her run before the landscape changed. Since then, it seems like they've been holding her back for reasons that make no sense to me.

And, yes, she's been used very rarely since Bound For Glory, but unlike the other women in this boat, she has excuses. For one, she was dealing with injuries for a good chunk of that time. And second (as far as I know), she's still a part of Mexican America, a faction Prichard clearly has no love for, and with good reason, as the male members of that group are absolutely intolerable. So when the faction was taken off TV, it left her without a reason to be there, at least temporarily.

Taking these factors into account, the only indicator we really have to go on is that Sarita returned to television on the first episode written by Dave Lagana, and while her and Angelina came out on the losing end in their tag match, it wasn't her that got pinned. Plus, I tweeted Lagana recently and asked him if we could see a push for Sarita; he tweeted me back with the following:

So it would seem Sarita has a supporter on the creative team when before it didn't look like that was the case. Granted, it's Prichard who determines the overall direction of storylines, but if Lagana is writing the actual scripts, he may be looking for ways to work her in. It's not much to go on, but I'm cautiously optimistic about her standing right now.

Prediction: Probably SAFE

-Tara- Tara's another tricky one. TNA initially brought her in as the new Knockout figurehead to help fill the void after Gail Kim left over a financial dispute, but the arrival of Mickie James and the eventual return of Gail put an end to that. She's since been working in a tag team with Brooke Tessmacher that, to their credit, got surprisingly over while they were being pushed. However, company officials' desire to have Gail holding all the titles put a stop to that as well. Since then, Tara hasn't been used much.

Creative seems to think highly of Tara, enough so that she's kept looking strong, even when she's not necessarily used as a prominent character. Her recent PPV title match against Gail could have been written off as a simple enhancement match, which it basically was, but Tara was at least allowed to save face and look like a credible opponent. That being said, it does appear as if some of her novelty has worn off. The writers may appreciate her abilities, but they don't seem terribly enthused to feature her as a major player these days.

In fairness, I do understand that. Her work is as strong as ever, but Tara's not a spring chicken anymore. And in a business where the shelf life of female performers isn't as long as it is for the men, the writing may be on the wall for her. I doubt management would go so far as to cut Tara before her contract runs out, but I don't see them making a huge effort to resign her once it does.

Prediction: SAFE for the moment, but not for much longer

-Traci Brooks- I like Traci. I do. There is a certain sentimentality about her being the "original" Knockout and all. But if we're being totally objective, really, what is she still doing there? She's competent in the ring, but not much more than that, and she's not going to improve much at this point. And I really hate to be that guy, but she doesn't exactly have time on her side either, if you know what I mean.

She returned to the company last summer as part of some ill-concieved way to prop up Velvet Sky (a role that has since been given to Mickie apparently), then was put in an awful storyline where she essentially prostituted herself to Eric Bischoff and got screwed over by Karen Jarrett, which was never resolved and culminated with her simply vanishing from television after Karen was "fired" by Sting. It's obvious by now that management has no plans to use her in any meaningful way and seem to be keeping her around more out of habit than anything else. I admire their loyalty to long-time talents like Traci, but it doesn't make much sense, business-wise. I may have a soft spot for Traci, but beyond that, I really don't see any reason to keep her around anymore. She's almost certainly the woman in the most danger of being cut right now, which is probably for the best.

Prediction: I expect she'll be cut soon

-Velvet Sky- Put a bullet in my head.

Velvet Sky is not a good wrestler. In fact, Velvet Sky is a really bad wrestler. As far as what happens in the ring is concerned, she is the worst Knockout on the roster. She also has (thanks to the previous creative regime) one of the most horribly written characters in the company. And what makes me want to inflict bodily harm upon myself is that the fans just don't care. She gets big pops, she sells merchandise, she draws crowds at live events. Velvet is as over or more so than any woman in the company, but it's for all the wrong reasons.

Casual fans love her because she's really hot, she has big fake boobs and she rubs her crotch along the ring ropes, and that's it. You know how I know this? Because once you take those things away, she doesn't really bring much else to the table. Hell, they market her as the sexiest woman in wrestling (Don West's words, not mine) -- clearly her athletic ability is of secondary concern here. I guess what bothers me most about Velvet is that she's the antithesis of what the Knockout division originally stood for and yet, to the casual fans, that doesn't seem to matter.

This is a case where I'm just going to have to suffer through it because, love her or hate her, Velvet Sky makes TNA money. The company will continue trotting her out to appeal to anyone in the audience with a functioning penis, it will continue working. She'll continue embarrassing herself in the ring, casual fans will continue not giving a crap as long as they get that money shot of her ass when she enters the ring. She'll most likely continue getting pushed as one of the top Knockouts despite her obvious lack of wrestling ability, I will continue hating it. And that's just the way it's going to be.

Prediction: SAFE

-Winter- Winter is in trouble. Let me paint a picture for you: During her run in WWE, she was used mainly as enhancement talent and never won matches. TNA creative is now run by former WWE writers. Simply put, she's screwed.

The sad part is that she never had a real opportunity to prove that the WWE was wrong about her before the creative shift. She was brought in a little over a year before Prichard took over the writers room. Unfortunately, in what was almost certainly a Russo call, she was saddled with one of the most ludicrous gimmicks ever conceived and given the impossible task of somehow making it work. Quite frankly, she never had a chance. The time traveling lesbian vampire gimmick didn't catch on and the pairing with Angelina flatlined from day one. And now after a year of her trying to make chicken salad out of chicken shit, the new writers of the show are some of the same people who never really gave her a shot in the last company she worked for.

Since Prichard came in, Winter hasn't been glimpsed on television unless it's been as job fodder for the likes of ODB and Eric Young, and the recent battle royal match for the #1 contendership in which she was eliminated within seconds of the bell ringing should tell you everything you need to know about where she's headed. And honestly, I'm okay with this. Winter is a talented performer, but the one area in which she's always seemed to come up short is connecting with the audience. Granted, she's been the victim of some pretty asinine gimmicks and storylines over the years, so this might not be entirely because of her, but the fact remains that no matter what she's done, the fans have just never really reacted to her that much.

And to be completely frank, I wasn't all that excited when TNA signed her in the first place. She's a solid wrestler with strong mic skills and underrated charisma, but she's always been someone I viewed as being good when there were plenty of other women out there who were great.

If cuts are coming up, I'd be shocked if Winter survives them. And some people will probably think I'm nuts, but I personally don't think it's a big loss. The Winter character has just never really clicked. It's probably kinder to just cut the cord at this point.

Prediction: If we see her again on TV, I'll be surprised


And last, but not least...


Yes, despite their TV show being a total sausagefest for a while now, OVW does, in fact, have a women's division. As I've been informed, their female roster is pretty spare at the moment, which is why it hasn't been featured lately. Nevertheless, TNA does have a working agreement with OVW now, so I would be remiss if I didn't briefly look them over in this column as well and assess the chances of any of their women getting signed.

FTR, I'm covering only the women listed on the roster page of the website here, so for those of you wondering where this or that person is, that would be a question for OVW, not me.

-CJ Lane- She's the only female talent in OVW that has not made a single impression on me, positive or negative. The woman is a complete non-entity. I simply do not care, one way or the other.

-Epiphany- Um, no. Just... no.

-Josette Bynum- Ugh... Lady Jojo a.k.a. the former Knockout known as SomeJobber Bolt. She is the Madison Rayne of OVW -- the chick they seem to push over and over and over again, and for the life of me, I CANNOT figure out why. There's a reason why no one gave two craps about her during her TNA run, you know. This woman is just flat-out irritating, and not in a wow-she's-such-a-great-heel way either. I've never thought she was any good in the ring (at many points in TNA, she was downright awful), her promos are just a chore to get through... I mean, good grief, at least Madison Rayne is nice to look at if you mute the sound on your television; Bynum doesn't even have that going for her.

If I could think of one word to perfectly sum her up, it would be indierrific, meaning she needs to stay on the indies because she's never going to draw a dime on a national stage. Hell, she's probably never going to draw a dime on the indies either, but that's none of my concern.

-Taryn Shay- I haven't seen much of her in the ring, but I've heard enough of her promos to know that I never want to hear another one of her promos ever again. That's all the information I care to have about her.

So, yeah, it's pretty slim pickings in OVW. However, they do have 3 female talents who have more to offer that I didn't cover here, but I'm going to save them for part 2 of this column, where I take a look at some specific women on the indies that I believe TNA should be keeping an eye on in the future.


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