Over the years, what has often felt like my curse as a wrestling fan is that I'm a perfectionist. I just want things to be as good as they can be and when they're not, it makes me angry. As regular viewers of my iMPACT reviews can attest, I usually have quite a lot to be angry about. That said, I'm more than willing to be patient with a company delivering a product that is less than perfect as long as I'm confident that they're working hard to improve in all areas and be the best they can be. I've been very patient with TNA even when, at times, they've made it difficult to do so. But my patience has limits, especially if I start to feel like the effort to improve isn't necessarily being made and their constant assurances that it is seems more like blatant stalling than anything else.
"With the current TNA Knockouts, I would say the biggest complaint I've heard is that we're losing girls and we just have very few girls. And the one thing I just want to tell everyone out there is, you know, good things come to those who wait and I always tell everyone that they need to be patient. Things don't happen overnight. You never want to sacrifice the quality of the show and we want quality girls in our division and that is going to happen. I just want everyone to know that and to be very patient...
...wrestling kind of goes through its ups and downs through the years and right now I feel like, yes, we don't have a lot of women on our roster, but I think we're still bringing quality wrestling and I think we're just going to get better if everyone is just patient."
-Gail Kim, 8/30/13.
If you've been following the state of the Knockout division for any length of time or inquired about it to people who work for TNA, odds are you've probably heard this answer or something quite similar. And you may have accepted it and taken them at their word, but after a certain amount of time passes with the problems not just persisting, but getting steadily worse, you can't help but start to wonder.
I'm certainly not suggesting that TNA representatives are lying when they say the state of the Knockouts hasn't escaped their notice. I am suggesting that the company is currently going through yet another transitional period and for whatever reason, the mounting problems with their women's division continue to fall through the cracks with people constantly saying that they're working on it, but no one actually doing anything.
Let's go through this point-by-point...
"With the current TNA Knockouts, I would say the biggest complaint I've heard is that we're losing girls and we just have very few girls."
No kidding! The current Knockout division consists of a grand total of six women. SIX! And of those six, one is in a non-wrestling role and another (the freshest of the lot and the girl they were gearing up to push as the new face of the division) is reportedly pregnant, which will keep her out of action for the next year at minimum, and that's if she even wants to return at all after she gives birth. So the roster might be six technically, but really it's more like four. The inaugural Knockout roster boasted triple that amount -- just think about that for a minute...
This is the main problem, but a number of additional problems spawn from it as well. Of the current women they have to work with, Brooke Tessmacher is the only one who hasn't already been on TV for ages and done so many things that it seems like there's very little left for her to do that's new and interesting, and as luck would have it, she's the only one not currently in a wrestling role. The others have all been around the block so many times and done so much that it almost doesn't matter what they do at this point because everything is going to feel like stuff we've seen from them before.
I do credit Mickie James a great deal with reinventing herself so dramatically in recent months. Her heel turn has breathed new life into her character and it's been a joy to watch her sink her teeth into it. But at the same time, this is a woman who first rose to prominence on the national stage in 2005 and if we're counting her previous run in TNA, it goes back even further than that. No matter how successfully she changes it up, at the end of the day she's still not going to have the same freshness as someone like the WWE's AJ Lee.
Still, you have to hand it to her; at least Mickie is trying to do something new and that's more than you can say in most cases. ODB is still doing the exact same schtick, having the same matches, making the same jokes and cutting the same promos that we were seeing from her back in 2007. It's very, very, very old and I have long since stopped caring.
Gail Kim remains very consistent in the ring, but we've just witnessed how quickly a lack of new opponents has sucked the excitement away from her character (no one misses Taryn more than Gail right now). And when she's stuck wrestling the same three women over and over again -- all of whom she's been wrestling for years now -- she's going to have a hell of a tough time keeping that interesting for the viewers, no matter how good she is.
Then there's Velvet Sky who, God bless her, is simply not a compelling title challenger or opponent for the others and we all know it. She finally got that title reign she'd been chasing earlier this year and TNA management had so little faith in her to carry the division that they shifted most of the focus onto Taryn Terrell the instant Velvet won the belt; that should tell you everything you need to know right there. Though, in fairness, the teased angle with her and Chris Sabin is something we haven't seen her do before, so at least she's got that going for her.
Finally, after a lengthy period on the sidelines, Brooke Tessmacher has returned to TV in a new role as Bully Ray's girlfriend. As of this writing she's been little more than arm candy, but after being out as long as she was, her just being there at all (as a heel no less) feels fresh. Sadly, she has yet to return to the ring where she's needed most. The writers have run through nearly every possible combination of Gail/Velvet/ODB/Mickie, in most cases multiple times. Any fresh Knockout feud you can make right now is going to involve Tessmacher, so naturally she's stuck working as a glorified valet.
There used to be quite a few other women, but over the last two years or so, many of them either chose to leave the company or were cut from the roster after a lengthy battle with creative-has-nothing-for-you syndrome. And the scary part is that even with the women's roster the smallest it's been since before the division was launched, this is still going on! So, yes, Gail, TNA has very few Knockouts right now, and yes, it's a really big complaint because it's a really big problem! And what's most disturbing is that it just keeps getting bigger!
"And the one thing I just want to tell everyone out there is, you know, good things come to those who wait and I always tell everyone that they need to be patient."
Be patient? Seriously? Look, I understand patience, I really do, but there's being patient and there's frustratedly waiting for something that just never seems to happen. In the last three years (not counting returning former Knockouts who already had lengthy runs in the company) there have only been two new additions to the women's roster. One was Rosita, who TNA did practically nothing with and eventually released. The other was Taryn Terrell, who admittedly was firing on all cylinders and was quickly becoming a real star for TNA, but only had a handful of matches before she got pregnant and had to take time off just when she was getting really hot.
Two new additions in three years, both of whom are now off the table. Meanwhile the division has been steadily shrinking with girls departing left and right, and no one being brought in to fill the void, leaving them with a small handful of Knockouts having the same matches we've already seen countless times before again and again.
Really, how patient are we supposed to be? How small does the women's division have to get before something is done about this? In the last few months alone the company has dropped several Knockout contracts and a plethora of men's deals as well. Are we really supposed to believe that they can't afford to hire one new girl after all that?
There's been virtually no effort to bolster the dwindling roster and very little to invest in its future. It was encouraging to see some girls get signed to developmental, but I'm now starting to wonder what's going on there as well. Taeler Hendrix was a victim of cost-cutting/asked for her release, which was a real shame as she's the star of OVW's women's roster and TNA should have made more of an effort to keep her, IMO.
TNA could debut the Blossom Twins any time they want. They seemed to love Hannah/Holly on British Bootcamp and the two of them did very well for themselves in their iMPACT match on the UK tour. If they're not 100% ready for TV, they're probably close enough that they could fake it, and yet their call up to the main roster is nowhere in sight.
And then we have Lei'D Tapa, who I'm still not completely sold on personally. I think she may have something that's worth developing. She might be worth the investment, but she's pretty rough around the edges at the moment and most likely won't be ready in the near future. And therein lies the problem.
"Things don't happen overnight. You never want to sacrifice the quality of the show and we want quality girls in our division and that is going to happen. I just want everyone to know that and to be very patient..."
Gail, I love you, but please don't act like this just became an issue recently because, quite frankly, no one's buying it anymore. This problem with the Knockout division has persisted for several years now and you really can't play the 'overnight' card at this point. The fact is TNA management have had all the time in the world to do something about this. They could have nipped this thing in the bud back when girls like Angelina, Winter, Sarita and Rosita started getting released. They could have supplemented the women's roster then before the problem got so big that damage control wasn't going to be enough to stop the bleeding, but they didn't and now the problem is that much worse.
I appreciate that they don't want to sacrifice quality, but right now they're sacrificing quality by continuing to leave things the way they are and NOT signing new women. The staleness and repetitiveness of the division is what's bothering so many people. And again this argument simply doesn't ring true because TNA have had ample opportunities to sign quality women in the last couple years and not done so. Hell, they've had women practically dropped in their lap that are not only high quality talents, but more talented than some of the women they currently employ and simply not bothered with them for reasons I don't understand.
Ivelisse Velez I thought was terrific! Everyone loved her! She got over with the fans in Gutcheck, she had a match that blew away the match the current Knockouts delivered on that same show, she looked as ready for TV as it gets and could've been thrown into the mix right away. She even had the MMA background as a selling point and we know TNA are all about the MMA cross-promotion these days. Signing Velez seemed like a complete no-brainer, but they passed on her so they could put Lei'D Tapa (the much more green of the two) in developmental instead. I get it that Tapa was seen as an investment in the future, but under the circumstances you'd think that Velez filled the more immediate need.
[SIDE NOTE: Was there some kind of rule that said TNA weren't allowed to simply sign them both? Just asking...]
There were also several tremendous prospects in the Gutcheck Challenge that TNA could have and really should have given a chance to. Pro Wrestling EVE champion Nikki Storm -- a great, charismatic wrestler with fantastic mic skills and a wonderfully entertaining character -- made the final round of the competition and has been highly endorsed by Mickie James on social media and in Power Slam Magazine, but she doesn't get a second look? Why?
And Shanna not only garnered thousands (yes, thousands) more votes than any other female contestant and most of the men in the competition as well, but seems about as ready for television as a prospective talent could possibly be. She has the wrestling skills, the mic skills, a marketable gimmick, a fan following in foreign markets TNA is trying to gain a foothold in, TV experience, professional-looking gear, she even has her own music for crying out loud! There's zero development necessary with her, no time in OVW needed. Shanna is as pre-packaged as unsigned talent gets. Literally all TNA would have to do is put her on television! TNA want quality women -- well, that's quality right there, and yet they seemingly passed on her too. Why?
"...wrestling kind of goes through its ups and downs through the years and right now I feel like, yes, we don't have a lot of women on our roster, but I think we're still bringing quality wrestling and I think we're just going to get better if everyone is just patient."
This is perhaps the best thing you can still say about the Knockout division. Most of them are still putting on good matches and the in-ring product hasn't suffered that much. However, while most of the matches are technically good, the interest in said matches and characters is just not what it used to be. That sizzle and excitement they used to have is gone.
Haven't you wondered why the same fans who were so hyped about Gail Kim vs Taryn Terrell just roll their eyes and yawn at the idea of Gail vs ODB for the thousandth time? Do you think it's a coincidence that the Gail/ODB 2 Out Of 3 Falls match from this past week scored the lowest quarter hour rating of the show? A lot of fans simply don't care about these tired, old match-ups anymore and when you've seen the same women you've been watching for years wrestle the same match half a dozen times over a two month period, it's going to inevitably get boring no matter how good the wrestling is. That missing excitement only comes from fresh talent, new characters who bring different things to the table and the Knockout division doesn't have that anymore.
I was encouraged when TNA held the Knockouts Knockdown PPV as I assumed they would use this as a vehicle to scout some potential new signees, more so when I saw the lineup as there were some very nice prospects there -- specifically Ivelisse, Mia Yim and Alissa Flash (who was criminally wasted in her previous run in TNA). But that show was taped months ago and if TNA wanted to sign someone from that group, you'd think they would have done so already. I mean, what could they be waiting for, right? They've never needed new Knockouts more than they do now and they've acknowledged this issue enough times that it's clear they know there's a problem.
Frankly, I don't have an answer to any of these questions. All I can do is make a suggestion. The Knockouts Knockdown PPV is this Friday. A number of new girls from the independents were brought in for this. If you see someone you like, for crap's sake let TNA know about it. If there are different unsigned girls you're a fan of, let TNA know about it. Tweet @TNADixie, tweet @IMPACTWRESTLING and tell them you want to see these women get an opportunity.
Clearly there's some kind of hold up on TNA signing new female talent, so if the fans want that to happen, they're going to have to get more insistent. Until then, I fear the slump the Knockout division is in is going to get worse before it gets better.