February 22, 2016

Gail Kim Isn't the Hero, She's the Villain

I think once I’m done with wrestling, you know I’m 39, so it’ll probably happen in the next couple of years. We'll see. My body feels OK right now, but once that happens I just want to move on and do something where I can be just as passionate.”     -Gail Kim.

This past Saturday, while I was streaming my weekly review of IMPACT, I read a number of very interesting questions/comments in the chat room that got the wheels in my brain turning and by the end of the stream it was all I could think about, so I stayed in that night and started writing. I'm going to cover these comments one at a time because they all contributed to something that's been in the back of my mind for a while now.
  • I want the Knockouts to beat up Maria for what she said in that promo with Gail.

I talked about the promo segment between Maria and Gail in a previous video, but I'll reiterate here. The segment essentially boiled down to Maria feeling that the Knockout division was broken due to the woman at the head of it only being a "wrestler," thus limiting what the division could accomplish. In Maria's opinion, the Knockout division needed to be fixed and taken mainstream, she believed that she was the one to do this and wanted Gail to be on her side.

Don't misunderstand, Maria is certainly the heel for saying this. The promo was scripted with heelish verbiage to paint Maria as the bad guy and Gail as the hero. But if you look at the message behind the words here and think for a minute, you see a different picture taking focus. When you get right down to it, this promo is about Maria thinking the Knockout division needs a change, and Gail arguing in favor of keeping things exactly the way they are and maintaining the status quo which has existed since the division was launched nine years ago.

I was thinking about this the other day and something dawned on me. If you reversed the roles here, if you kept the message being conveyed in the promo basically the same, but portrayed Gail as the heel and Maria as the face, it would actually make more sense that way. Sure, you'd have to change a couple of things like Maria turning coward at the end, but you really wouldn't have to alter that much about what was said between the two. All it would take is switching the face/heel roles and suddenly the story becomes a hell of a lot more thought-provoking.

Of course, Gail is going to want to keep things just as they are, going to want to keep the status quo in place. Said status quo has allowed Gail Kim to be the undisputed queen of the Knockout division since 2007. Even when someone else has the title, there's never any question about who the top dog is. So why would Gail want things to change? She doesn't. She likes the way things are, even though it's become the cause of stagnation due to her and other longtime stalwarts like the Beautiful People holding onto their spots for so long that a growing number of fans have become bored with them.
  • It's crazy that in 2016, Gail Kim is still the focus of the Knockout division.  
I've had a growing feeling over the last couple years that TNA uses Gail Kim as a crutch for their women's division -- one that frees them from having to work too hard, or worse, think too hard about what to do with the Knockouts because as long as they have Gail Kim to fall back on, everything will be fine. After all, Gail Kim is "the greatest woman wrestler alive," which they're so fond of parroting every chance they get, so what could they possibly have to worry about as long as they have her, right? 

This belief has been reinforced many times over the years as Gail has (1) been pushed again and again, many times at the expense of the other female talent who needed to be featured. (2) As Gail has racked up numerous lengthy championship reigns despite them all pretty much turning out the same way with nothing really differentiating them. (3) As Gail has essentially defeated and buried any and all challengers -- some of whom were promising up-and-comers who would have benefitted enormously from a rub by Gail -- damaging their credibility to the point where she basically has no challengers, has no one that can possibly oppose her anymore because no one is viewed as being on her level. 

And here's where I need to be very careful because I do not say what I'm about to say lightly. First, I want to stress that I have been a fan of Gail Kim for many years. I respect her a great deal as a competitor and for what she's done for women in the wrestling business. So believe me, I don't like what I'm about to say, but I'm going to say it anyway because I believe the time has come for it to be said. 

All those examples that I just mentioned? There's a growing part of me that suspects that Gail does these things on purpose. I can't help but wonder if Gail knows exactly what she's doing, knows exactly what the ultimate result is going to be every time she gets the script for the next IMPACT show and finds out that she's booked to defeat the Dollhouse in a handicap match or win the Knockouts title from the plucky, young fan-favorite (coughBROOKEcough) who's been getting noticeably bigger pops than she has and would benefit from holding the title far more than she would. And not only do I suspect that Gail knowingly goes along with this, I think she encourages it. She encourages it because every time this happens it means that she's effectively eliminating one more person who could potentially be a threat to her spot in the company that she seems to hold onto for dear life. 

You might say I'm completely nuts for saying this and maybe I am, but I don't think you can honestly say that there's no basis for it. I remember reading an article on another site last year about what a great signing Jade was shaping up to be and then watching as Gail squashed Jade AND Marti in a handicap cage match. I remember shaking my head in frustration as Gail spent the summer of 2015 single-handedly making the Dollhouse look like idiots after the writers had spent several months building them into credible heels. Keep in mind, at that time the Dollhouse represented the only significant move management had taken to refresh the stale Knockout roster in several years and then along comes Gail to prove to everyone watching at home how little they actually meant because they're nothing compared to her. 

Even on those very rare occasions when someone does manage to get over on Gail in a meaningful way, it either doesn't seem to last or something happens later to inexplicably invalidate that accomplishment. It happened to Brooke, it happened to Taryn, it happened to Havok, it even happened to Kong eventually. 

Brooke defeated Gail at Slammiversary to win her first Knockouts championship in a way that made her look great and had lots of critics calling her a big star in the making. Her title reign then quickly became a victim of bad booking, she lost the championship way too soon, her push mysteriously vanished and she disappeared from TV for the better part of two years. She eventually returned and slowly regained the momentum she'd lost, was the first woman to get over on the Dollhouse and captured the title again only for Gail to quickly win it back for no apparent reason at all. The next thing we knew, Brooke had left the company for reasons rumored to be "political." 

Taryn Terrell's first big feud in TNA was with Gail, resulting in a PPV match that impressed the hell out of everyone and actually generated some buzz with people calling this feud the next Gail/Kong type of rivalry. For a brief period, Taryn looked poised to become the new face of the Knockout division and it wasn't hard to imagine at all. Naturally, Gail wasted little time in getting that win back in their next big encounter. Taryn had to leave for a year after she got pregnant, but once she returned from maternity leave, she and Gail picked up where they left off with their unofficial best-of-3 culminating in a Knockouts championship match, which (surprise, surprise) Gail won. 

Fast forward a bit and Taryn had been revealed as the leader of the Dollhouse, had remade herself as an egomaniacal, self-obsessed heel and finally captured the title. And following a big angle where the Dollhouse got over on Gail in a major way by injuring her and putting her out of action, Gail made a triumphant return complete with multiple hype videos after selling the injury for a scant few weeks and spent the rest of the summer showing everyone what a fluke the angle had been by giving the Dollhouse the jobber treatment. And now, guess what... Taryn Terrell is gone too.  

Jessicka Havok was brought in in seemingly yet another attempt by management to recreate the success they'd had with Awesome Kong years before. Surprisingly, she did manage to go undefeated against Gail, even capturing the Knockouts title, garnering largely positive reviews from pundits for her work, but then as quickly as it began, Havok's push came to a screeching halt for reasons I still don't understand. Awesome Kong returned the night IMPACT WRESTLING debuted on Destination America, the newer, younger monster Knockout was quickly made to look completely inferior when they'd just spent months building her up as a beast, she lost the title, lost to Kong and was inexplicably gone from the company not long after. Gail never got the chance to conquer Havok, but the status quo surely did, so it hardly mattered in the grand scheme of things. 

Even Kong, Gail's greatest nemesis, was not immune to this treatment. You'd think that if anyone would be able to get over on Gail and keep that accomplishment from being tainted in some way, it would be Kong. But no. She lost to Gail at Bound for Glory last October, ate her most decisive loss to Gail in the history of their rivalry recently on IMPACT and is now gone from the company herself. 

Are these all isolated incidents? Or is there a pattern here that people simply don't want to acknowledge because of what it might mean?

Yes, I'm well aware that not every departure from the company applies in this situation. Kong got herself fired due to the Reby Hardy incident and Taryn decided that wrestling didn't work for her anymore after getting married, finding religion and whatnot. Nevertheless, you can't exactly say that things were going perfectly for them at the time of their respective releases (sure, Kong was reinventing herself, but was still stuck in a never-ending feud that was nine years old) due to the immovable object that Gail Kim has become. And regardless of how or why it happened, their departures did result in further solidifying Gail's position as Knockout Jesus, so things mysteriously ended up benefitting her anyway as they so often seem to.

The other two aforementioned departures are more suspicious. Havok leaving so suddenly was always rather suspect, Brooke should never have been allowed to leave and it baffles me to this day that more effort wasn't put into making her happy enough to stay, especially when she seemed to be one of the only genuinely over Knockouts on the roster at the time of her exit. And who knows, maybe Taryn could have been convinced to stay if management had tried a little harder, but the fact remains that they didn't. Why, no one can say, but maybe they felt that losing the most marketable woman on their roster and one of the biggest crossover stars they had wasn't the end of the world because everything would be fine as long as they still had Gail Kim, who has now held the Knockouts title for months without a single credible challenger left to oppose her because the only women who fit the bill have either left the company or been buried by her before they could be deemed ready for a title shot.
  • They're finally building new stars in the main event and tag scene, but still relying on the 2007 Knockout talent.
Fast forward to today and here's Maria saying that the Knockout division needs a change and Gail defending the very same status quo that has allowed herself and the Beautiful People to hold onto their spots for so long that many fans have grown completely disinterested in them and in the division as a whole, while newer female talents seem to have an increasingly difficult time gaining any kind of foothold in the company (need I remind anyone of how Brittany's run turned out?). The status quo that has allowed her to demolish the Dollhouse in 1-on-3 situations because God forbid the new girls actually manage to get over and become stars in their own right. The status quo that set up an open challenge for her to squash exciting prospective Knockouts like Cherry Bomb and Candice LeRae for no reason other than to build up to the underwhelming return of her buddy and fellow stalwart Madison Rayne to the excitement of virtually no one. The status quo that just booked the Dollhouse, who are in desperate need of wins to regain their lost momentum, to lose a tag match to Gail/Madison despite having outside interference and try to get their heat back afterward only for all three of them to get their asses summarily kicked again, this time by the worst wrestler on the Knockout roster who, incidentally, has also been with the company since the division started almost a decade ago. 

The status quo should not be defended. The status quo is the problem. Something that has become abundantly clear about the Knockouts is that, for reasons that continue to elude me, TNA management have worked incredibly hard over the years to keep the 2007-2008 status quo of this division in place long after it's become limiting and counter-productive. And Gail Kim, for all intents and purposes, appears to have happily gone along with this because as long as she's still at the top, as long as she gets what she wants, nothing else seems to matter.

On a recent installment of the HeelCast, Numero47 pointed out that an issue he had with the Knockouts is that it's 2016 and the division still looks a lot like it did back in 2007. I have to agree, because when you get right down to it, what Gail is really opposing in that promo with Maria is not just change, but progress.

Gail fears change and she fears progress because if these things were to happen, it might mean that her spot could be put in jeopardy. It might mean that viable new female stars would be on the horizon who might actually have the opportunity to not just get over, but stay over, which would mean that she might not be the top dog anymore. Scoff at this all you want, but every time I watch Gail tear through the Dollhouse like a wolverine with them helpless to stop her, I can't help but feel like that thought is somewhere in the back of her mind, like she secretly knows this is making Jade look bad unnecessarily, and deep down this might just be exactly what she wants because it hurts Jade's chances of possibly supplanting her down the road. The thing Gail fails to realize is that far more damaging than the progress she opposes is stagnation, which her being in the spot she's been in for so long has become the cause of.

That's why I feel resentment build up when I watch that promo and I see the undeniable smugness that Gail carries herself with throughout the segment as she watches Maria talk about changing things up. It makes me think back to all the chances this company has had over the years to evolve this division beyond what it is, to bring in a girl from the indies who could be a star in five minutes, but didn't bother. All the opportunities they've had to do something outside the box with the Knockouts, but didn't because it might require taking a chance on someone new. All the times they let a huge potential new female star slip through their fingers (Ivelisse Velez, anyone?) only to bring in a far inferior talent instead. All the years -- yes, years -- that they've needed to revamp their women's roster, but instead chose to roll with the same women that had caused the division to become so stale in the first place because surely their shelf life will never, ever, EVER run out, right? I mull all those things over in my head and an ugly part of me that I'm not exactly proud of begins to wonder if it's possible that Gail Kim has been at the root of all of this.

Let's face it, most of us viewed Maria as the bad guy in this segment simply because it appeared as if they were setting her up to challenge Gail for the Knockouts title, which I'm pretty sure not many TNA fans want to see because Maria isn't a very good wrestler and the division already has enough women like that. That's why even though a lot of the things Maria was saying were not exactly untrue, most people were still supporting Gail in that situation even if it was only for lack of a more interesting alternative. Hell, I myself admitted that I completely agreed with a lot of what Maria was saying, I just wished someone else was saying it. I may not want Gail to be the Knockouts champion anymore, but I want Maria to be the champion even less. If it had been, say, Ivelisse Velez or Kay Lee Ray arguing for change in the Knockout division, I would have been 1000% onboard with them and throwing rotten eggs at Gail. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

But suppose things take a different turn. If this angle leads to Maria bringing in someone else to face Gail as a proxy for her -- someone like a Jeniffer Blake or a Cherry Bomb, who can deliver the goods in the ring the way a title challenger, and champion, should -- would you still be opposed to it? I don't think you would because suddenly the idea of "change" seems a lot more exciting... to everyone except Gail that is.

This is what's got me all turned around about that promo because the line between Maria being a heel for saying these things and a face for saying them is a very thin one, as is the line between Gail being a face or a heel for opposing what Maria wants because with just one or two little tweaks the entire dynamic shifts. 
  • How would you turn Jade babyface? 
My answer to this one was difficult at first because prior to Taryn and Kong's abrupt departures, most of the thoughts I'd had on Jade turning face depended on there being a leader of the Dollhouse for her to turn against. This would have also involved her challenging for the title, but since the Dollhouse is now leaderless again and the title is still on the shoulder of babyface (cough) Gail Kim, I had to rethink things a bit.

The way things are right now, you really can't turn Jade face as this would leave the division without a single strong worker on the heel side, (at least until Rosemary gets in the ring) so how to turn her would be tricky, but doable if you tie it into what I've been discussing about Gail.

Jade challenging for the Knockouts title right now doesn't work. Why? Because Jade lacks credibility and isn't particularly over thanks to several run-ins with the Bad Booking Fairy courtesy of Gail Kim. The thing is, judging by the crowd's lack of response to her in recent times, Gail doesn't seem to be especially over anymore either due in no small part to the fact that she's become so stagnant. So people probably aren't going to boo Jade because they have little reason to take her seriously against Gail 'Jane Cena' Kim and they may not be willing to cheer Gail because it's just more of the same stuff from her that they've been seeing for years. But I think you could kill two birds with one stone here and have the whole thing feel completely organic. And how? Simple. Turn them both.

As you develop this storyline with Gail and Maria with their conflicting thoughts on what's best for the Knockout division, you start to gain more insight into why they each feel the way they do. Maria's feelings aren't relevant here, but in Gail's case, you can slowly reveal that her supposedly defending the division from the change that Maria wants is motivated more by self-interest than altruism; something which, as much as I hate to say it, might not be too far off from reality.

As you peel the layers back, you discover that Gail is really opposed to Maria, not because she thinks this is against what the Knockouts stand for, but because if any significant change does happen to her division, it would mean that her spot at the top of it might be in question. Any change would mean that the status quo that's kept her as TNA's undisputed #1 Knockout for nearly a decade gets disrupted. New girls coming in means new potential threats, and not greener-than-grass rookies like Raquel, but women who could be real stars in no time, women who could actually take her spot permanently. And this terrifies Gail because deep down, maybe she only really cares about the Knockouts because she's always been the one at the top of the heap.

Now you look at Jade going after Gail's title in a completely different light. Suddenly Jade isn't the insignificant bad guy attacking the good guy's tank with a pea shooter, she's the defiant underdog spitting in the face of a power-mad tyrant, trying to wrest the title from the selfish egomaniac who's been drunk on her own sense of entitlement for years and is obsessed with holding onto her spot at any cost. This I think would go a long way toward getting the fans to rally behind Jade if she's the main person opposing the woman who has basically become the female version of the Main Event Mafia. Not only does this work in terms of switching the face/heel dynamics, but it's also a far more compelling story that way IMO.

The only other part of the equation would be actually making Jade look like a believable threat so the fans can buy into her, and that only comes with Gail being willing to put Jade over in a way that is both meaningful and won't be invalidated later on like just about every other time somebody has gotten over on her. Realistically, would there be any chance of that happening? That I can't say. But if I've got booking power, that's probably how I'd do it.

So ultimately, how does this all shake out? Well, to make a long story short, (too late) I'll put it like this...

Gail Kim recently did an interview where she said that she would probably retire within the next couple years. I repeat... the next couple years. If this is indeed the case, there is absolutely no excuse for TNA continuing to push her as the be-all-end-all of women's wrestling at the expense of building up the next generation of Knockouts who are going to have to carry this division after she leaves. A couple of years can go by pretty quickly if you're not paying attention, and if TNA's once great women's division isn't ready to hit the ground running when that day comes, it's going to have a much bigger problem on its hands than the one the Knockouts are currently dealing with.

Gail needs to start genuinely helping the younger girls instead of ruining their chances. If she only has a couple of years left in the business and if she really cares about the well being of the Knockouts like she's always said she does, one would think that she would be starting to give back to the division that has given her so much by helping ensure that it won't need the Gail Kim crutch anymore once she hangs up her boots. But it doesn't appear as if she's interested in doing that. More like she's focused on using the very status quo she's defending from Maria to stay at the top of the heap until the day she walks out of the company and acting like this makes her some kind of hero.

I don't know what goes on backstage. All I know is what I see on the show and what Gail says in interviews, but if everything that I see is telling me one thing, then what am I supposed to think? If the Knockout division is broken like Maria said, then the status quo is what broke it and the status quo is what Gail Kim is defending because that's what's allowed her to be in the position she's been in for so long without anything ever changing despite the corrosive effect it's had on the division around her over the years. And now Gail seems to be fighting for this to continue even as she enters the twilight of her career under the guise of doing what's right. Well, I'm sorry, but it's not right.

Like I stated before, I don't like saying this. I don't want it to be viewed as disrespect because nothing could be further from the truth. I've always respected Gail Kim and I always will, but that doesn't mean I didn't hear a ring of truth when Maria said that the fish was rotting from its head. If Gail Kim's time in the business is running down, then the status quo that has hindered the Knockout division for years cannot be allowed to continue any longer. Sadly, the one person who might really be able to do something about that seems to be the person most interested in seeing it continue despite the harm it's caused and continues to cause to the division she claims to love so much.

That's why I sat down to write this. I needed to get some things that had been bothering me off my chest, but also because I wanted to make other people aware of what's going on and why we shouldn't put up with it anymore.

Gail Kim acting like the hero of the Knockouts is wrong. Maybe she doesn't understand that or maybe she does and just doesn't care. Either way, the time has come for it to stop. And why?

Because Gail Kim isn't the hero. She's the villain.

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