I had a topic in mind for this column, which I was all set to write, and then the SpikeTV bombshell dropped. I spent the next few days wondering if I should just write about that whole situation on general principles instead before deciding against it. Why? Because every wrestling writer on the interwebs is going to be writing about TNA losing its TV deal, how doom and gloom is imminent, how the company is dead in three months, etc, etc. I don't feel like going over that because, quite honestly, right now it's all speculation based on very little available information.
We know they have not signed a new TV deal yet, but they're working on it. Meanwhile, TNA continues to operate as if the company is sticking around: signing talent to multi-year deals, gearing up for production on British Bootcamp 2, and all the talent and company personnel seem to be upbeat on social media and not making nearly as big a deal about this as the internet is. I'm not saying TNA isn't in a tough predicament and the danger isn't real, but until we know more I'm not going to torture myself analyzing every single facet of this. I'm going to carry on as I always have and as TNA seem to be doing. What will be will be. If in two months or so they still have no new deal in place, then I'll hit the panic button. Until then, there are other things I'd rather concern myself with.
Now, with that out of the way, let's get to the stuff I was originally going to talk about before the shit hit the fan...
As I sit down to write this, we're about a week removed from the iMPACT show where TNA announced that they were finally giving us the Gail Kim/Taryn Terrell tiebreaker that had been a year in the making, only to throw the match out after it was interrupted by the Beautiful People to the collective groans of everyone watching at home.
After facepalming hard enough to nearly crack my skull open, my reaction to this mostly consisted of wondering what in the world the writers were thinking. I'm not complaining about the match itself being stopped; Gail/Taryn III should be happening on a bigger show with a lot more promotion, after Taryn has been able to adjust to the 6-sided ring and ideally with a '2 out of 3 falls' stipulation or something like that, so the interruption itself wasn't the end of the world. What gets under my skin so much is the intent behind it. That TNA seem to be dead-set on dragging out this Beautiful People push long passed the point of redundancy just for the sake of further delaying a match that no one in the fan community seems to want delayed any longer.
My opinion? I just want to see Gail and Taryn knock our socks off a third time, maybe have the title change hands in the process, and then move the focus of the division to new feuds and rivalries that I haven't already seen so many times before that the mere mention of them is enough to lull me into a boredom-induced coma. The problem is that there's no sign of that happening. In all likelihood, we're in for weeks or months of unapologetic stalling before the match we've all been clamoring for happens in late October because one night the writers looked at the female roster they have to work with right now and said to themselves, "Well... what the hell else can we possibly do with this?"
Gail/Taryn is the only interesting Knockout match they can make that draws any legitimate interest. Once they blow their load on that it's right back to square one, but the roster is so thin at the moment that the only way they have to prevent those two from locking up is by continuing to the throw TBP at them because the creative team never bothered to build up anyone else for them to fight or come up with a Plan B in case the TBP 2014 reunion tour didn't work out, which, I'm sorry to say, is exactly what happened.
Essentially, TNA are in a spot wherein they seem to want to keep their only buzz-worthy women's matchup in their pocket until their biggest show of the year, but have no compelling reasons to make the audience wait that long without said match losing momentum and/or interest due to not striking while the iron is hot. And you might as well get those 'Broken Record' hashtags ready right now because I'm about to say this yet again: TNA did this to themselves.
The issues with the increasing staleness of the Knockout roster and division as a whole have been well documented by myself and many others for quite some time. They've been growing steadily worse for over two years now, barring a couple bright spots along the way. The women (most of them anyway) still do their best, but they've been let down by management and creative for too long for that to matter much. Any forward thinker with an ounce of common sense could have seen the problems coming, but for reasons that continue to mystify me TNA never bothered even trying to genuinely address them until just recently. Unfortunately, it's going to take a lot of effort to put this division in a truly healthy place again and, if history is any indication, I'm not sure if TNA are seeing clearly enough to understand just how much is required.
So let's take a look at this roster and figure out what the situation is.
-ODB- Can someone please explain to me why ODB is still on the roster? That's not sarcasm; I'm dead serious. Why on earth is she still collecting a paycheck? She has failed over and over again to keep her gimmick fresh and current, her character is more stale than bread that's been left on the counter for a month, she's regressed in the ring, she's on the wrong side of 35 and the last thing she did in TNA that was even worth talking about was the wedding angle with Eric Young over two years ago.
The only exceptions to this were her stint as the Knockouts referee, which felt like nothing more than a half-baked excuse to get her some TV time just because she hadn't had any in ages, and her thankfully brief title push last year, which only came about in the first place because Mickie was leaving, Taryn got pregnant and they literally had no one else to put the belt on, and came to a screeching halt the second Madison Rayne returned. After that, she went back to doing exactly what she'd been doing for ages prior -- not a damn thing. When the only way you can see the light of day on television anymore is by taking on the fruitless task of trying to get Lei'D Tapa over, that is a sign that your time is well and truly up.
These paltry examples mean nothing in the grand scheme of things. Since the Eric Young wedding/marriage (an angle that seemed to be quietly dropped after Eric entered the world title picture) the writers have shown zero interest in utilizing ODB in any kind of meaningful capacity whatsoever, leaving me to wonder why they don't just cut the chord already.
The thought that potential new Knockouts may not have been considered at any point in the last several years because ODB was still taking up space on the roster just makes me shake my head. Supposedly, her contract expires soon. If TNA even consider renewing it there is a serious problem. More than any other woman in this division, it is time for ODB to move on and make way for someone new.
-The Beautiful People- I have to address these two as a unit because, frankly, the unit is the problem. I was 100% against TNA bringing back Angelina Love several months ago for a number of reasons, and since then everything I was afraid of has happened. Angelina and Velvet immediately put the band back together, reprising a gimmick that peaked in 2008 and was stale by 2009, and proceeded to do absolutely nothing interesting whatsoever.
I don't want to sound blunt, but anyone with a clear view of this situation could have seen that this idea was a creative dead end and wasn't going to work out. And it hasn't. And why is that? Because TBP had nothing new left to accomplish as a duo or as individuals. They've both run the gamut as faces and as heels, both been the Knockouts champion multiple times, both gone through virtually every feud and storyline possibility there was for them until pretty much everything they do is going to be a retread of some kind.
They get back together seemingly for no reason other than just to do it when, realistically, both characters should have grown beyond this by now, they do nothing to put a fresh spin on their act or update it in any way and they end up doing the exact same things, cutting the exact same promos, having the exact same matches and feuding with the exact same people they feuded with before. Only now it's much less interesting because it all just feels like a watered down version of something they did a lot better six years ago.
I mean, why even bother having them feud with Gail Kim again? Hadn't that been done to death enough times already? Was anyone outside of TNA creative really interested in seeing them revisit that? Under much different circumstances (different membership, different people to feud with, etc), a revival of TBP gimmick might have worked, but instead what we've gotten has been same old, same old, and the general consensus seems to be that people are just tired of it.
To the shock of no one, interest in this TBP reunion has waned rather quickly, and not just in the fan community either. To be brutally honest, even Angelina Love seems bored by this. You can see it in her work; the lack of effort she puts into her matches these days is pretty clear. Maybe this is age and injuries catching up with her, but she doesn't look inspired by what she's doing like she used to, choosing instead to do just enough in the ring to get by and hope her apathy isn't too obvious to the person writing her checks. A big part of me wonders if she just came back for the money and nothing she's done since returning has convinced me otherwise.
But the problems don't stop there. In her defense, Velvet Sky does at least seem to be having fun with this and continues to show more enthusiasm for it than her partner, but when Angelina was and is the one required to do the lion's share of the heavy lifting for duo, that only means so much.
Velvet has always been a hard one to book. She's popular enough that the writers seem to feel the need to feature her more consistently than most, but she's never been someone you can build a division around or feature too prominently, otherwise you expose her weaknesses and risk said popularity being damaged (ref. her two singles title reigns for all the proof you need). And now she's reached the point where she's been with the company for so long that it feels like her character has simply run its course creatively and the writers may be thinking something along the lines of, "Well, we need to do something with her, but what else can we really do with her?" And therein lies the problem.
Even as a 10+ year veteran Velvet is still clunky in the ring at the best of times, her singles pushes have never lead to anything impressive and yet the writers still want to use her even though they can't think of anything new left for her to do. So the simplest thing they can come up with is just to put her back with Angelina again. And to be fair, this is probably the most appropriate role Velvet has ever been in -- one that lets her highlight her strengths as a performer (personality, promos) while hiding her weaknesses (wrestling), but with nothing except reruns on the creative side and Angelina not holding up her end in the ring these days the whole thing collapses.
There's nothing that feels fresh or different about TBP to spark renewed interest in them and they're not imposing enough in the ring to hold people's attention that way like Gail can, leaving me to ask this very simple question: Is there really any point to TBP anymore? As far as I can see, the answer is No. I don't know about any of you, but I just find them painfully boring.
I know I've said this before, but I would much rather see Velvet as a manager for someone at this point. She would basically fill the same role she has now, only without the stale gimmick. It might even allow her to do more than her current role does, seeing as how Angelina has been doing most of the talking for TBP lately too. And as for Ms. Love? Either find a role for her that will motivate her more than this one does or move on from this and give her spot to somebody who's willing to work harder to keep it. And tell her to eat something while you're at it. That woman be too damn skinny!
From here, the landscape gets more appealing, because unlike the three I've just discussed, the rest of the Knockouts seem to be at least trying to keep themselves relevant, with varying degrees of success.
-Madison- Quite the turn around this character has made since she returned last year. I am pleased to announce that after much deliberation, I have finally, at long last, made peace with Madison Rayne. And my long-time readers know what a huge deal that is, so if I'm going so far as to say that, then I must be dead serious about every word I write here.
Every change made to Madison's character post-face turn, and I mean every single one, has been a change for the better. She works much harder in the ring now that she's wrestling a babyface style, so her matches aren't a cure for insomnia anymore, she's not screaming and screeching her way through every promo, etc. Madison Rayne the heel I felt was nothing short of agonizing and wanted to change the channel every time she appeared. Madison Rayne the babyface I have found to be blissfully inoffensive. And not only has her character been improved enormously as far as I'm concerned, but her face turn opened up a number of new creative possibilities as well since she'd spent her entire TNA run as a heel up until that point. She still has the same issue all the longtime stalwarts are facing in that she's feuded with pretty much everyone and fresh matchups for her are hard to come by, but in this case company officials found a solution that was just crazy enough to work: THEY SIGNED A NEW KNOCKOUT!
Enter Brittany, a brand new character we'd never seen on TV before, unhampered by years of baggage, a blank canvas on which to create something fresh and original that the division had been desperately lacking. And wouldn't you know it, having a storyline with Brittany has made Madison more interesting because a new character/opponent to play off of puts Madison in new situations, gives her the opportunity to have new matches that we haven't seen before.
Unlike the Knockouts who have been there forever, we haven't seen everything that Brittany has to offer, far from it. So interacting with her puts Madison in that same position and makes her more relevant by association. The storyline has hardly been perfect and one could argue that the dynamics of it are inherently flawed, but the simple fact that it's a new feud involving a new character is enough to offset those issues for the time being in my mind. I don't know what will happen when this storyline is done (it may be done already for all I know), but for right now, Madison Rayne is actually one of the less boring parts of the Knockout division for me, and she has Brittany to thank for that.
-Brittany- She's new. She's not one of the Knockouts that have been there for years and years, so she is not the problem. I do think there is a problem with how TNA are using her, though. Brittany is a talented wrestler, but probably not the most natural actor in the world. She can always improve in this area, and I think she has already improved noticeably judging by what I've seen of her pre-TNA, but until she got accustomed to being a television performer I thought it was for the best to keep her in a role she was comfortable in. She might seem a bit generic as a babyface, but that's where her wheel house is, she's likable that way and was showing signs of connecting with the TNA audience. But then the writers had to start changing things.
This is where the problems with the Brittany/Madison angle come into play. TNA are going in a rather questionable direction with Brittany by taking someone who was probably better suited to be a babyface (at least in the short term), who was getting babyface crowd reactions, and cast her as a heel for no legitimate reason. To her credit, she's trying hard to make it work, but the role seems an awkward fit so far.
Exacerbating the problem is that her rival in the feud is Madison Rayne, who it's going to be very difficult to get heat off of because Madison doesn't really have any. As I said, Madison is much more appealing as face than a heel, but unfortunately she doesn't seem to be any more over this way than she was before. Face or heel, I've never seen Madison generate any kind of genuine, sustainable crowd reaction no matter what they've tried with her (and they've tried plenty). Also, Brittany never wins matches. So the feud boils down to a woman who is more natural as a face being awkwardly shoehorned into the role of a heel and constantly losing against a face that the fans don't care about. Is it any wonder that the audience cheered when Brittany turned heel on Madison? They cheered because they have no idea what they're supposed to be feeling because the face/heel dynamics are all screwed up.
I have no clue how Brittany is supposed to get over this way. I don't think the storyline has been a waste of time, I have actually enjoyed the majority of it and just the fact that it's a new, first-time feud is more than enough to placate me for a while, but the flawed execution of it thus far may severely limit its effectiveness and I think Madison may end up getting more out of it than Brittany will.
Honestly, a better introductory feud for Brittany would probably have been TBP. Her, the plucky new arrival looking to make a name for herself, them, the territorial heels who don't like newbies invading their turf. The roles would have felt a lot more natural this way IMO, and the writers wouldn't have had to over-think anything. With this, you could keep the dynamics nice and simple, which I think would have been beneficial to Brittany to let her get her feet wet before pushing her into uncharted waters as a performer. And as much as Madison needed a fresh opponent she hadn't faced before to help revitalize her character, TBP need one at least twice as much.
Problems aside, I like Brittany and she has a whole roster of new opponents she can feud with once she's done with Madison, so even if that feud doesn't work out, it's not the end of the world. The one thing I really worry about is the writers' apparent unwillingness to put her over anyone, with the lone exception of her victory in her debut, which now sadly feels like a fluke. I went along with this at first, assuming it was going somewhere as part of a storyline, but now it's just getting ridiculous. Brittany should have started winning by now. I truly hope that the creative team have more of a plan for her than just being the Knockout division's new designated jobber because she's certainly capable of more than that (then again, so was Alissa Flash, and that didn't stop them from doing nothing with her), but right now there's little evidence that they do, and that bothers me.
Maybe she had outside projects that she was working on or something, but to this day I'm still flabbergasted by this. She's young, gorgeous, charismatic, athletic and showed more wrestling aptitude with a lot less experience than some other Knockouts I could name. That is not a person you bench for two years! Considering the current state of the Knockout roster, why on earth would you NOT want to use someone like that? I don't get it...
And yet, TNA recently re-signed Brooke to a multi-year deal, so they must have some plans for her, right? I hope said plans involve a lot more than piggy-backing on her exposure from being a contestant on the Amazing Race because at one time I really believed Brooke had all the tools to be the new face of the Knockout division and it seemed like TNA did too until they suddenly didn't anymore. I know her title reign didn't get over as well as some hoped, but considering the way it was booked, that was hardly her fault. If she gets booked and written better whenever she returns to TV, then I see no reason why Brooke can't pick up right where she left off and be the star I thought she had the potential to be before she vanished.
It helps that she's still relatively new compared to some of the other Knockouts, still has new feuds and story possibilities open to her. Bring her back with a fresh coat of paint, find a regular role for her on TV again and the rest should take care of itself.
-Taryn- What a roller coaster this one has been. She's brought in the be the Knockouts referee, to which the general reaction seemed to be, "Huh? Tiffany from WWE? Just... why?" Then she starts a feud with Gail Kim that no one seemed to have any real expectations about, proceeds to blow our minds in a Last Woman Standing match, silencing all the critics (myself among them). And just when it looked like she was poised to be handed the ball and the title at Bound For Glory, and everyone was getting pretty excited about what Taryn Terrell had in store for the Knockout division, she got pregnant and went away for a year, leaving TNA with nothing to fall back on. And by "nothing" I mean "Lei'D Tapa." Ugh...
Anyway, fast forward a year and it seems like TNA still think Taryn is a pretty big deal. That's very comforting. I can't recall the last time TNA gave a new Knockout the star treatment and actually stuck to their guns, and I'm happy to see this. She looks like a million bucks, she's proved she can connect with the audience and deliver the goods in the ring. I would think that if anyone seems likely to become the new face of the Knockouts at any time in the near future, Taryn Terrell would be it.
Like Brittany, she has a roster full of new feuds to jump into after she finishes her business with Gail. Unfortunately, the issue is how they plan to pass the time until that happens. I really don't think her getting involved in this Gail/TBP feud is the way to do it because anyone near that feud is only likely to get dragged down with it. Actually, unless TNA want fans to sour on TBP even more than they currently are, then I would suggest they keep TBP and Taryn as far away from each other as possible. If you put them in a position for the fans to start making comparisons, I'm afraid Velvet and Angelina aren't going to come off as well as TNA brass might think.
TBP have always been most effective as characters when played against the more unconventional women; that's why their feud with Roxxi was so memorable (will any Knockouts fan ever forget that head-shaving?), because Roxxi had a pretty atypical look and character, which gave TBP a lot of ammunition to use against her. But when you have them feud with a woman who's pretty much a new and improved version of themselves, not to mention younger, more attractive and more talented in the ring than they are, they're left without much of a leg to stand on and have to fall back on simply being jealous that the spotlight isn't on them, really calling attention to how creatively limited TBP are as characters at this point in the process. That really doesn't make for much of a feud, even if Taryn/Angelina is technically a matchup we haven't seen before. Just my opinion, but having Taryn and TBP interacting too much could end up taking all the problems with TBP and putting them under a magnifying glass.
Anyway, the short version is Taryn more than won me over last year, I'm glad she's back and look forward to what TNA does with her, but I strongly encourage the writers to not have her doing anything long term with TBP because I really don't think that's going to lead to anything compelling or productive. Just call it a hunch.
-Gail- If it hasn't been made clear to any of you, let me spell it out: Gail Kim is TNA's Trish Stratus. She is the head of the Knockout division. Someone else may become the face, but Gail is the head. She's the center of gravity around which everything revolves regardless of who has the title and probably will be until the day she leaves the company or retires. I'm not saying I agree with it all the time, I'm saying this is the way things are. Accept it because it's not going to change; this should be obvious by now. If you can't accept it, you should probably look for another women's division to follow.
That said, Gail is a unique figure on this roster. She's never been much for the character side of things, but in the ring none of the other Knockouts can measure up to her, and to this day she still has an uncanny ability to pull a good match out of just about anyone. And I don't know what kind of age-defying magic she's practicing, but she still looks amazing and shows no signs of slowing down despite being older than a lot of other women wrestlers are when they hang up their boots. It's easy to see why TNA love Gail, and while it does sometimes bother me that she often gets pushed at the expense of the others, I try not to argue with it as long as she's still outperforming them all.
But more than that, what really makes Gail unique is that while she's in the same boat as the other stalwarts of the division, (been around for ages, feuded with everyone, etc) because of her continued focus more on being a wrestler than a character, she's mostly defined by the opponents TNA puts in front of her. Give her an interesting opponent and she'll deliver an interesting feud. With a not-so-interesting opponent, she'll probably still guarantee a certain level of quality in the ring, but quality and interest aren't necessarily the same thing. Give Gail a match with Taryn Terrell and I'm interested, give her Brittany and I'm interested, but give her Angelina Love and I may not even bother looking at the TV screen.
With this being the case, Gail is the Knockout who benefits the most and can elevate the division the most with an infusion of new talent. It's no coincidence that I found her title reign after her return to TNA a few years ago rather uneventful because it mostly amounted to her beating people I'd already seen her face in one-off encounters with no real depth over and over again. I didn't become really invested until they put her on a collision course with Brooke because that was a new matchup and it actually felt like a real feud with some substance instead of just Gail facing the next challenger of the month.
With a refreshed roster of new talent, Gail could do great things, but keep her feuding with the same people time after time and she stagnates. This is why it vexes me so much that TNA are so maddeningly stubborn about prolonging this played out TBP feud despite few people seeming to be onboard with it and why they've dragged their feet for years now on signing quality new female stars (the first person who mentions Lei'D Tapa is getting punched in the face) to replace the ones whose longevity was running out.
And even now that they've FINALLY started to work on that problem, it doesn't feel like it's happening nearly fast enough. Taryn Terrell debuting one year and Brittany the next helps, but it's a far cry from the massive overhaul the division now needs. And until TNA get more aggressive about not only signing, but developing, pushing and branding new female stars, I fear that they'll continue to limit not just their women's division, but the woman at the top of the heap as well.
-Jessicka- I've said for years that the worst thing that ever happened to the Knockout roster was losing Awesome Kong. Because when Kong left, she took her badass cred with her. Without that the division got a lot more tame and things really began to go downhill. I firmly believe that had Kong not left that lamentable period when the entire division revolved around TBP would never have happened. They wouldn't have gotten away from the idea that the Knockouts were supposed to be athletes and ass-kickers first and foremost; that's not something you can brand a division as when its standards have been lowered enough that Lacey Von Erich can call herself a champion.
In recent times TNA have shown an interest in recapturing that monster heel aura that Kong brought to the table with an unfortunate lack of success. They signed Lei'D Tapa in spite of her clearly not being ready and then let her contract expire a year later because of that. They gave Alpha Female a stint on TV during the UK tour and she didn't live up to the hype.
There aren't very many women wrestlers out there with the size and power TNA seem to want, so the process of elimination soon put Jessicka Havok in their sights. She reportedly impressed all the right people at Knockouts Knockdown 2 and now just a few months later her debut is imminent. They must have loved her if they're putting her on TV before that PPV even airs. And judging from spoilers, her arrival may have already completely changed the plan for Bound For Glory, so I'm guessing company officials must think very highly of her.
I'm also excited about the potential matchups. Gail has had great success working with larger opponents and Taryn is a very intriguing possibility as well. Taryn's best performances to date have been in No DQ environments where she can put her stuntwoman training to good use; that's where Havok lives. With the right storyline, I think either of those matchups could be really impressive. Havok vs Brittany is another one I'm looking forward to.
So, to wrap this up, let me just say this. Once upon a time, the Knockout division was one of my favorite things about TNA. More recently it's become a great source of frustration for me as I've watched a lot of the potential it once had go to waste for far too long. But now it seems like TNA is finally getting off their butts and beginning to take steps to revamp it, albeit very slowly.
I still think they need to be more proactive about this and start the process of phasing out some of women who've been there forever, but things are finally moving in a positive direction. Taryn's back, Brittany will hopefully start winning matches at some point, they've got a promising new monster heel set to debut soon, not to mention a really special talent on her way to the British Bootcamp 2 auditions, who could blow TNA's minds if they give her half a chance.
Somewhere along the way TNA got away from what made the Knockout division so great originally. Frankly, they stopped caring about it as much as they used to. I don't know if it will ever be that good again, but it seems like they may finally want it to be enough to do something about it, and that's a start. For the first time in a while I'm starting to feel good about where this women's division is heading, And after the last several years of being so frustrated with it, that's really nice.
[EDIT: I did not forget about Rebel. I only neglected to include her on this list because she's so new. I like Rebel, but she hasn't even been training very long, the number of matches she's had so far can probably be counted in single digits and I disagree with TNA's decision to put her in the ring so soon. Unless she turns out to be some kind of wrestling prodigy, then I don't see how she can possibly be ready to wrestle on TV. Even if she's a fast learner, it's still going to be a while before she's polished and experienced enough to impact the division in any major way. For the time being, I don't see her being much more than a place-filler in the Knockout division, so I didn't see the point in making this article any longer by discussing her.]