September 29, 2013

From the Ashes... (cont'd)

"My suggestion? Take the division as it exists right now and kill it. Stop delaying the inevitable; just pull the plug and put it out of its misery. Take the women off the board. The ones in storyline-dictated roles (i.e. Tessmacher, Velvet) can stick around, but as far as the division and its championship are concerned, discontinue them and have them sit out for a while. Keep the women away from each other, let the dust settle, give the fans a chance to miss them. Then at Point X in the future, once you've signed 4-6 new female talents (and don't tell me they couldn't make that work. They did it in 2007.), reboot the Knockout division with its new and improved roster, and bring it back with a bang on a big show with a heavily hyped angle or match like the gauntlet battle royal where the first champion was crowned years ago. It might be awkward having the women's division off the show for a time, but IMO, it sure beats watching it die a slow painful death on screen week after week."  
-Random Reax, 9/22/13.

As I was writing the last column, I started thinking about this scenario and how it could work. It dawned on me that simply restocking the women's roster with fresh talent wouldn't be sufficient at this stage. The current Knockout division has become so pitiful, it's almost like a husk of its former self, stubbornly clinging to something that isn't there anymore. Simple damage control is not enough to fix it now. This division has been stripped bare, picked clean, incurring departure after departure, giving the impression that the company that once valued it so much no longer held it in high regard. For all the high points it's achieved over the last several years, there have been a bunch of things many of us would like to forget as well, and no amount of scrubbing is going to wash those black marks away.

What the Knockouts need is a proper and complete reboot. Something the fans can view as a fresh start that pays tribute to the division's history, but can do so unencumbered by all the crap that came along with it. I don't know about the rest of you, but even if 10 new Knockouts debuted on iMPACT this Thursday and the division instantly got red hot, it would still be really hard to forget how TNA let it fall into the sorry state that it's in now over the last 2 years or so. I think a clean slate is in order. But how to accomplish this?

IMO they need some kind of big, explosive angle to kickstart things and hopefully generate some buzz. I suggest playing into this new Dixie Carter storyline. Dixie has long been a huge proponent of the Knockouts, has always said that it was important to her that they be represented well. So with her on-screen presence now undergoing some type of drastic change, perhaps her views on the division she's supposedly so proud of could change as well. We use this.

It would start on the first iMPACT after the Dixie Carter heel turn (now last Thursday). Gail Kim is challenging ODB for the Knockouts title. ODB retains. During the match, we cut to backstage where Dixie is watching on a monitor, looking upset about something.

Later in the night, Dixie confronts Hogan and asks him, point blank, what's going on with the Knockout division. She's irritated about Gail and ODB facing each other yet again when this match has already been done so many times recently. She gets hundreds of complaints from fans on social media every day about how bored they are with seeing the same women wrestle each other over and over, nearly every Knockout they had isn't there anymore and she asks why nothing has been done about this.

[SIDE NOTE: This was written prior to the 9/26/13 iMPACT. Just imagine that these Hogan segments are happening in addition to the other stuff he was doing with AJ and Dixie.]

It's a touchy subject for Hogan. He admits there's a problem, but what did Dixie expect? She fired his daughter Brooke, who was in charge of the division, and now she's angry that it's falling apart? Dixie counters that Brooke was released because she wasn't doing her job. She was so preoccupied with her love life and the business with Bully Ray that she was completely ignoring what she was supposed to be there to do. Numerous Knockouts left the company under Brooke's tenure, she never bothered to fill the void with anyone except Taryn Terrell, who she then let disappear on personal business, and now their women's division is in shambles.

This strikes a nerve with Hogan. He reminds Dixie that she's the president of the company and she has the final say. If she thought his daughter wasn't doing a good job, there was nothing stopping her from doing something about the problems with the Knockout division herself. Angry, Dixie storms off.

The following week, Dixie calls ODB, Gail Kim, Velvet Sky and Brooke Tessmacher (the entire Knockouts roster!) out to the ring, and announces that the Bound For Glory Knockouts title match will be a fatal 4-way between them. She says it's going to be a historic night for them and, a bit cryptically, urges the women to savor it because moments like that don't come around often in life, and they've each had more than a few already, so they should count themselves lucky. She leaves them in the ring with the announcers wondering what exactly she meant by that.

In the following weeks, video packages are aired chronicling memorable moments in the division's history, giving the impression that another one is coming up, but exactly what isn't clear. At BFG they show a special one showcasing the inaugural Knockouts title match from BFG 2007 where Gail Kim was crowned the first champion. Dixie comes out to sit at ringside. The match is given a good amount of time with each woman getting a chance to shine. Gail Kim wins. As Gail celebrates, Tenay and Taz remark on how happy she looks and note that, with Gail becoming the first Knockouts champion at BFG years ago, things seem to have come full circle tonight.

Dixie Carter enters the ring with the title belt. She cuts a promo, talking about what a great match that was. She asks the crowd to give the ladies (the other 3 have joined them in the ring) a round of applause. She says that over the last 6 years, the Knockouts have done many great things and accomplished so much. They set the bar for women's wrestling, and for that they should be proud of themselves, just like she is.

Gail asks for her belt, but Dixie isn't finished yet. "And that's why this is so difficult. But as this company has learned over the last few months, sometimes to take that next big step, you have to make sacrifices. I want to congratulate all four of you on a job well done, but all good things must come to an end. As of this moment... the TNA Knockout division is dead."

Dixie walks to the back with the championship belt, leaving Gail, ODB, Velvet and Brooke standing there, completely dumbfounded.

The following Thursday, the four Knockouts barge into Hogan's office, angry and confused, demanding answers. They want to know what's going on, why Dixie did this and what it means for them. Hogan tells them that he's sorry, but his hands are tied. It's Dixie's company and she went over his head on this one. As far as he knows, none of them are being fired, but aside from that, he's as much in the dark as they are.

The next few weeks pass quietly for the women. They continue on in whatever storyline roles they were involved in before (Tessmacher/Bully Ray, Velvet/Sabin, etc.), they stay away from each other and there are no women's matches on the show. The Dixie plot thread remains in a holding pattern as she is purposely avoiding them, with none of them able to get a hold of her, but every week there is a promo from one of them saying how frustrated and confused they are, or a segment with the announcers discussing the situation, talking about how baffled they were by what Dixie did and how they think she made a bad call because it seems like an important part of the product is missing now.

This would continue for an undetermined period of time, during which, company management is hard at work behind the scenes figuring out exactly which new female talents from outside the company they want to bring in, getting them locked into contracts, determining what their characters will be, polishing them off in developmental, filming hype video footage for them, etc, so these new signees are ready to hit the ground running when it's time to turn to the next chapter in this angle.

I don't think this part is unreasonable. It's not unlike what TNA did in 2007. They brought in a number of women from the indies and threw them on TV untested without putting much work into them beforehand at all. They didn't even have a developmental system to prepare talent back then, but in this case it didn't matter. Most of them worked out just fine because management was smart about who they hired and went after girls that were already more or less good to go. There are plenty more women like that out there right now. So once they have the talent they need, they turn the page creatively.

After weeks of feeling pissed off and bitter about what they lost, the Knockouts have had enough. They march out to the ring to address the elephant in the room. They let everyone know that Dixie Carter is in the building tonight and she's going to finally hear what they've got to say. They take turns venting about everything that's happened, but Gail is the one who really drives the point home. She says that from the very beginning she was the one who pushed for TNA to start the Knockouts division. She waited and pleaded and knocked down doors and put her whole life into making that happen. The division meant everything to her, and for Dixie Carter to do what she did after all that is a load of crap. She says she's sick of sitting backstage, not doing anything, not being of any use to anyone. She worked for a company that didn't appreciate her twice before, and after the second time she swore she'd never do it again. If Dixie doesn't come out and give them some answers right now, then Gail threatens to quit.

Dixie Carter comes out. Trying to cool things down, she tells them that if they really weren't appreciated, then none of them would be there. She apologizes for being incommunicado for so long, but she's been very busy. Since BFG, she's been up to her neck in talent contracts, but now she's finally ready to come clean on what this has all been about.

Dixie says that the Knockout division had fallen into a rut and it was time for a change. So at (insert name of upcoming big iMPACT or PPV) the women are going to have a gauntlet battle royal match to crown a new first-time champion. The Knockout division has its place in history, but that title is going in the Hall of Fame and now they're going to write new history. She wishes all four of them luck because they're going to need it.

As Dixie walks backstage, the house lights go out and a video plays on the screen showcasing a new title belt -- the iMPACT Wrestling Women's Championship. It then segues into a hype video featuring action footage of all the new female talent the company spent that downtime acquiring. For the sake of hypotheticals, let's say it's Ivelisse Velez, Mia Yim, Shanna, Nikki Storm and the Blossom Twins (not Lei'D Tapa though. I still say she isn't ready.). Six new additions would give them ten Knockouts, the same number they had when the original division was launched.

The hype in the weeks leading up to this division relaunch focuses on all these new arrivals. Various video packages are aired showcasing their particular styles and characters, they're introduced to the remaining four in backstage pretapes, promos, youtube videos, etc. So when it's time for them to debut, the audience thinks they have a pretty good idea who these new girls are and what they're about.

On the night of the show, we get pre-match promos from the four remaining stalwarts. You get the sense that there's sort of an unacknowledged bond between them now, being the only girls left from what came before -- a mutual respect, even if they don't all necessarily like each other -- and they're going to try to work together if they can. They all want one of them to be the first women's champion and they don't plan on making it easy for the newbies, but any competitiveness they feel is good-natured. Generally, they're just happy to have their division back.

Dixie Carter once again sits at ringside during the bout. The match has the same rules as the one that launched the Knockout division: gauntlet battle royal until it's down to the final two, who then must earn a pinfall or submission to win. The match comes down to Gail Kim and Shanna, with them appearing very evenly matched until Shanna gets a roll-up victory, winning the match by the skin of her teeth.

Gail isn't happy about losing, but Shanna offers to shake hands and she accepts. Dixie Carter invites all the women back to the ring, so everyone is present as she unveils the new championship. She hugs both Shanna and Gail, presents Shanna with the title, raises both their hands as all the women applaud them...... and then she drops Gail's hand.

On cue, the six new girls pull out brass knuckles they were concealing in their gear and attack Gail, ODB, Tessmacher and Velvet! They completely go to town on them, tearing them apart, taking turns hitting their finishers on all four of them. The old guard are left lying and have to be stretchered out of the arena. Dixie just stands there watching; she doesn't look happy, but she doesn't look upset either.

The following Thursday, the four Knockouts are in the ring when the show starts. They're beaten up, bandaged and probably shouldn't be anywhere near a wrestling ring, but there they are, calling out Dixie Carter, demanding answers.

Dixie emerges from the back, addressing them on the stage, flanked by her six new hires. "Ladies, I'm going to let you in on something. I never wanted to do that to you, I really didn't. Watching it happen broke my heart. But what you need to understand is that I had no choice. Since 2007, whenever the question was asked of me, 'What accomplishment in TNA are you most proud of?' every single time, without fail, my answer was 'the Knockout division'. You never had a bigger proponent than me. And that's why it pained me so much over the last few years to watch it slowly become a shell of what it used to be.

"Departure after departure, the women who made the division what it was leaving one after another. Clearly something was going wrong, but there were you four, perfectly content to just keep doing what you were doing without a care in the world when a blind man could see that what you were doing wasn't working anymore.

"What happened, Gail? What happened to the person who kicked down my door every single week until I launched your precious women's division? What happened to the person who fought tooth and nail for every new girl we looked at to get signed to a contract just to keep things fresh and exciting? I look at you and I don't see that person anymore. I look at the four of you now and all I see is complacency.

"And you wonder why I did what I did? You really need me to explain it to you? That's a joke! I did it because you had all become emblematic of this company's failure to keep a great thing going -- a living, breathing weekly reminder of the division that I loved so much and its descent into mediocrity that made me sick! That's why I did what I did. That's why all these women are here with me now -- to bring back something that you let die! And I know they can do it because when I look at them, I see everything that I used to see in you!

"Now I'm not a monster. I'm a fair businesswoman, so out of respect for everything you've acomplished, I'm going to give you a fighting chance. All of you are still under contract, and you have until the day those contracts expire to prove to this company, to prove to these fans and to prove to me that you still deserve to be here. So its decision time, ladies. You can try to reignite that fire you used to have and fight for your spots, fight for your division like you did years ago, or you can continue on being the lazy, complacent embarrassment that you've become."

Furious, Gail, ODB, Tessmacher and Velvet all look at each other. Silently, they're all in agreement. They yell at Dixie to bring it. Shanna, Nikki, Ivelisse, Mia and the Blossoms all hit the ring, giant brawl ensues, and we're off and running.

So our story-telling engine in the short-term is the outnumbered Gail, ODB, Tessmacher and Velvet having their backs against the wall, trying to gain enough leverage to keep their jobs once their contracts are up. Each contract (kayfabe-wise) expires at a different time, so different types of stories can be told in each case.

In the long-term you can start to get into the heads of the new signees, and how, while some of them are really gung ho about this, perhaps not all of them agree with what Dixie is doing, but still have loyalty to her because she picked them off the indie circuit and put them on national TV. It's because of Dixie that they don't have to sleep in their cars and don't worry about making rent each month anymore. So they do what Dixie says even if some of them don't necessarily like it, sewing the seeds of eventual face turns and new feuds.

The storyline puts a lot of emphasis on the division as a whole as being something very important, as well as an angle that can involve every woman in it and easily generate side stories for individual characters without losing the main focus -- to make the Knockouts relevant again. There are plenty of other ways they could go about it, but I think this would do the trick nicely.

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