January 20, 2016

Damage Control

Following the World Title Series, TNA went into their debut on PopTV with a lot of things on their to-do list, not the least of which being a revamp of their depleted talent roster after numerous departures had left them with holes to fill across the board.

It seems that the first thing on the agenda in that regard was fixing the tag team division, or rather creating a tag team division since they didn't really have one anymore. Judging by recent events, the next problem they're turning their attention to is likely the Knockout division, and the sooner the better.

As I've said previously, TNA just lost not only Taryn Terrell, but also Brooke -- the top heel and should've-been top babyface IMO of the Knockout division respectively, and the only two significant new female stars TNA bothered to create in a number of years. This left them with nothing to fall back on but Gail Kim, Awesome Kong and the Beautiful People, women who have all been around for ages, most of them since the division was launched nine years ago and in whom general interest is hardly what it used to be.

The writers' first course of action was to cram everyone into a feud with the Dollhouse, which would have had more cache before Gail single-handedly obliterated them last summer. It looks as if they may be trying to build the Dollhouse back up now, but if history is any indication, I question whether or not their hearts are in it completely. And even if they can make the feud work, with it being the only feud the division has going at the moment, it's going to get stale quickly.

The bottom line is, TNA needed to bring in new female talent ASAP. And not just any talent, but women that are TV-ready, strong in the ring, strong on the mic and can hit the ground running immediately. Finding women who fit that bill isn't impossible, but it's a tall order unless you know where to look and are willing to put aside things like egos and whatever backstage politics are going on these days. TNA could have easily avoided this problem if they'd bothered to prepare themselves and their women's roster in the event that sudden departures occurred by building up new talent that could step into the roles of the people who left, but they didn't, so this is a situation they've put themselves in and not for the first time either.

They need women that are capable of carrying a feud while everyone else is preoccupied with the Dollhouse stuff. At the very least two new women in the short term to replace their recent losses and more before too long since Kong has apparently been flirting with retirement and Velvet Sky seems to be counting the days until she can leave and make another failed attempt to get signed by WWE. And TNA have put some work into replenishing their female talent pool, but the women they've chosen to do it with so far have left me with a lot of unease and a lot of questions.

Of the new girls that have been brought in, we have:
  • A former WWE Diva who has been criticized for years for her lack of in-ring ability and has focused more on managing since she was future endeavored.
  • Two failed reality show contestants.
  • A woman from the indies who I personally find more interesting than the other three put together.
I really don't feel like discussing Maria Kanellis very much. She's another one who's been around for years and I simply do not care to see her in this division. At all. I never thought much of her as a wrestler and I don't know of anyone who does. I was fine with her just managing Mike Bennett, but now it appears as if she may be wrestling soon as well, which does not exactly fill me with glee. Quite the opposite. Does anyone really want to see Gail Kim vs Maria for the Knockouts title? I sure as hell don't.

Some people will cite Taryn Terrell as a former Diva who nobody (myself included) was giving much credit when TNA brought her in, who then proceeded to prove all the nay-sayers wrong, and insist that we should give Maria a shot too. But there's a big difference there. Taryn was new. She hadn't been in WWE very long, we really didn't have much to go on with her and as it turned out she had a lot of potential that she just hadn't had a chance to realize until the feud with Gail.

Maria isn't like that. She was in WWE for many years and never impressed anyone. And if she managed to change anyone's mind by working the indies and ROH since Titan Towers cut the cord on her, I certainly didn't hear about it. Is it possible that she could transform herself and surprise everyone like Taryn did? I suppose. Is it likely? Probably not.

Then there's Chelsea Green and Raquel. And after reading that sentence, a lot of you might be wondering, "Who the crap are Chelsea Green and Raquel?" just like I did when I found out about them. Well, if anyone bothered to watch the most recent season of WWE's Tough Enough, (I didn't) you might remember them as two contestants who lost the competition and didn't get picked up afterward like some of the other losers did. But since they were in WWE for a cup of coffee, TNA wasted little time in scooping them up and putting them on TV faster than you can say, "Grado sucks!" Chelsea has since debuted in a gauntlet battle royal at the most recent ONO PPV and Gabi a.k.a. Raquel just showed up on IMPACT following an obviously hastily thrown together promo package hyping her up like she's someone we should be excited about (not if that training video she posted on twitter is any indication) and been put in an angle with Lashley.

[SIDENOTE: It seems that Chelsea has not been officially signed at the time of this writing, but she was given a tron video at the ONO show, made an elimination during the match and various members of the roster have since been talking about her as if she was "making her debut" as opposed to being a free agent. So for the purposes of this column, I'm going to assume that if she's not under contract yet, she will be in the near future.]

While the Knockouts do need new talent and fast, aren't we getting a little ahead of ourselves here? What was so special about these two in particular that TNA had to sign them over women who are a lot more experienced and qualified, and throw them in the mix as quickly as possible?

Since the ONO show, I've watched a number of Chelsea's matches to see what kind of performer she is and the best thing I can say about her is that she's... okay. Not bad, just okay. She's a student of Lance Storm and if anyone can train good workers, it ought to be him, so maybe she can grow into something more in time; she seems to have the drive to do it. But TNA don't need girls who could be great in a few years, they need girls who are great right now. And right now I don't really see anything terribly special or unique or amazing about Chelsea. And the next time they booked her, she was jobbing on Xplosion, so maybe TNA don't either, which begs the question, why bring her in in the first place, especially when you have access to prospective talents that are much better than she is?

And I'd love to give you my opinion of Raquel, I really would, but I don't have one. Because as far as I can tell, she hasn't done a thing. Aside from the aforementioned unimpressive training video, all I could find of her showing her stuff was a promo battle on Tough Enough where she got completely embarrassed. I looked for her matches and I couldn't find any. I don't even know if there are any available to find because she's only been training for a couple of months. Which means that unless she's taken to wrestling like a fish to water, she's probably not going to be very good now or any time in the near future. So again, I have to ask, why even sign her in the first place?

(Does anything about this girl's promo skills say "TV-ready" to you?)

[SIDENOTE: What the hell is going on? WWE sign Japanese superstar Kana/Asuka and are building her up in developmental as an unstoppable ass-kicking machine, and TNA are signing models who've done nothing in the business and rushing them to TV completely unprepared. I'm rapidly losing my sense of identity as a wrestling fan.]

It's the same thing TNA did with Rebel, hiring her with literally zero experience and putting her in the ring as a complete rookie when she'd had probably less than ten matches in OVW. Rebel's been on the roster for a while now and though she's made some progress as a wrestler, she's still a long way from where she needs to be. Is Raquel going to be another case like that? Who knows? Dave Lagana recently defended her on twitter, so TNA must see something in Raquel, but with her being so new and so green that she just had her first wrestling match ever last month, will she be able to prove them right soon enough to help the Knockout division in any significant way? I'd like to say it's possible, but I just don't see how it could happen.

I've seen some speculation that TNA are using Raquel to gain a foothold with the audience in Brazil and maybe that's true, but even if it works, it just makes her the female version of Mahabali Shera. It won't make her any more able to help the Knockout division, so her inclusion doesn't really count for anything when it comes to the quality of the roster and the TV show since it's more about PR than improving the product.

As far as Chelsea and Raquel are concerned, I really don't know what to make of this situation. At best, I'd say they'd be candidates for developmental contracts, but since TNA don't have a developmental system, I guess they're just going to be learning on the job when the Knockout division needs women who are a lot more ready for this spot than they are. Color me skeptical, but it doesn't seem like they're as prepared as they should be.

And finally we have the fourth new woman to show up since the PopTV era started. She hasn't debuted on TV yet, but since the cat has been let out of the bag on twitter, it's not really a spoiler anymore. She's a wrestler from the independent circuit who's getting a shot on television for the first time and if I'm being completely honest, she's the only one of these new girls that I care about in the slightest right now.

I was stunned when Courtney Rush a.k.a. Rosemary showed up in the taping results. I used to talk about how I thought she would be a good addition to the Knockouts and she tried out for Gutcheck a few years ago, reportedly garnering positive reviews for her work, but nothing ever happened after that and I figured nothing ever would. So, man, did this take me by surprise.

I've been a fan of Rosemary for several years now. While others may be flashier in the ring, Rosemary offers something else that few other women do, something the Knockout division could frankly use more of these days: uniqueness, personality and character. On top of her terrific promo skills, her talent with character work is some of the best I've seen from anyone in wrestling in some time. She's played the cooky, funny jokester character and recently gone to the other end of the spectrum, playing a psychotic horror movie type of gimmick and has been super entertaining with both. There have been times when I've burst out laughing watching Rosemary's work and other times when she's done things that genuinely creeped me out. The range she displays as a performer is nuts. Hell, she's probably better than some professional actors I could mention.

(Can you believe it's the same woman in all four videos? Freaky.)

Something I do worry about though is her not getting a real chance like some others before her. This could just be me being jaded, but I have a nagging feeling that management might sour on her, thinking that she doesn't have "the look." I think Rosemary certainly has "a" look, but it might not be one that backstage personnel looking to hire super skinny model types would fully appreciate. And judging by these other hires, I think that's a fair concern.

Nevertheless, I think Rosemary could add a lot to the Knockout division as a character if they use her right ("if" being the operative word). They don't have any other girls even remotely like her and I could see her standing out much like Daffney did before her, though hopefully her run will turn out better than Daffney's did.

So that's what we're looking at right now in terms of fresh faces in the Knockout division: one potentially really interesting performer, a girl whose wrestling skills appear to be pretty average at her current skill level, a model with little to no prior experience and whose only body of work was on a wrestling-related reality show where apparently not much wrestling took place and Maria Kanellis.

Was this really the best group of girls TNA could come up with to restock their depleted women's roster? I don't know about you guys, but I'm feeling rather underwhelmed here. Rosemary I like and I'm hopeful that Chelsea will turn out to have more potential than she's shown thus far once she gets her feet wet, (she's currently wrestling for Stardom in Japan and that's not something you do if you're not serious about improving) but we've all seen what Maria delivers in the ring and it's nothing to get excited about, and Raquel is such a blank slate that all I have to go on is numerous comments from people telling me that she stunk up the place on Tough Enough, so what on earth am I supposed to think about her? I don't know. It just doesn't feel like TNA put their best foot forward when they rounded this bunch up.

IMO the best way to go right now would be to let Rosemary do her thing with [SPOILER] for a while, feature her regularly and give her a chance to get her character over before throwing her in with the Madisons and Velvets because half the fun of a gimmick like this is in watching how others react to it. Meanwhile, make Raquel and Maria valets, and limit Chelsea's involvement to utility player status until management is confident that she's worth investing in.

That still leaves holes in the Knockout roster that need to be filled quickly, (and they should be filled by other people *coughCHERRYBOMBcough*) but what else can they really do here? Maria adds nothing to a division that expects women to be strong wrestlers, Chelsea is untested and they can't exactly put greener-than-grass Raquel in the mix before she proves that she's not going to shit the bed; they did that with Lacey Von Erich and we all saw the results. The division needs fresh faces that can make an impact and it needs them now, but throwing the newbies in the ocean before they learn how to swim isn't going to help.

And sadly, if we were hoping for new Knockouts that could elevate the workrate of the division and help put on better matches, I'm afraid the pickings are pretty slim here unless TNA brings in more girls in addition to these four. Rosemary can hold her own, but Chelsea's a question mark, and Maria and Raquel would likely bring the collective workrate of the division down if they were to get involved. I appreciate TNA doing something to help their women's division get back on track, but I'm afraid more damage control is required before we see any real progress.

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