On Sunday, March 17 TNA will tape footage for its Knockout Knockdown “One Night Only” pay per view. Advertised as a Knockouts exclusive pay per view, the event will showcase the several of TNA’s female performers in order to crown one woman the “Queen of TNA.” As thrilling as the pay per view sounds, most of its publicity to date has focused on the women not attending the event instead of the actual event itself.
Bonnie Maxon (Payton Banks/Rain), Sarah Stock (Sarita), Katarina Waters (Winter), Lauren Williams (Angelina Love), Tracy Brookshaw (Traci Brooks), Kia Stevens (Awesome Kong), and Nicole Raczynski (Roxxi Laveaux/Roxxi) have all declined offers to participate in the Knockout Knockdown pay per view special.
That’s seven (7) women that have politely responded negatively to an offer to work with TNA for “One Night Only.” As delicious as the irony may be there are probably several justifiable reasons as to why these women declined the offer, most of which probably have little to do with TNA. Scheduling conflicts, interests outside of professional wrestling, and burgeoning careers in other areas could deter anyone from being available for a one shot, pay per view taping.
These issues don’t begin and end with TNA, however; according to a report from Dave Meltzer the WWE reached out to a few former Divas, offering them an opportunity to return to the company. While it was reported that a few unnamed Divas turned down the offer, the Bella Twins were apparently the first to put their pens to the contracts. This would explain their random appearance on this week’s episode of Monday Night RAW.
At first glance it would seem that these separate incidents in two different companies are not even remotely related to one another. Given the particularly fragile state of women’s wrestling in TNA and WWE, however, these incidents point to a much larger issue that warrants some conversation among fans.
Consider the following piece that offers more insight from Meltzer’s report. Speculation has it that WWE decided not to call up Divas in their NXT developmental system, with reasoning that is hearsay at best:
That’s quite the vote of no confidence in the women in NXT, but almost all of those there with the requisite looks aren’t good enough workers yet to be brought up to the main roster. The Anti-Diva Paige, who has gained a cult following at Full Sail University, is ready, but lacks the swimsuit model physique that WWE management wants from their femme fatales.
Oddly enough this “news” coincides with another report regarding the WWE’s recent efforts in creating its next cadre of Divas:
It is very obvious that the WWE has a specific agenda when it concerns their women’s division and its athletes, an agenda that typically angers the scant number of fans that actually appreciate women’s wrestling. On the other hand, it’s equally damaging to the division for fans to have an unrelenting belief that the division is without women who can actually wrestle.
In fact it could be argued that prior to the aforementioned tidbits, the WWE’s Divas Division was beginning to look a lot like TNA’s Knockouts Division from two years ago; this was something discussed, in some form or fashion, in two separate pieces written for this site which can be found here and here.
The aforementioned tidbits also conflict with two separate Twitter posts from legendary Sara Del Rey, who now works with training the up-and-coming WWE Divas:
The real question is, what is the future of the division looking like if “good work” is being done, considering the fact that former stars such as Maryse Ouellet and Barbara “Kelly Kelly” Blank (also including Kia “Kharma” Stevens, Elizabeth Kocianski “Beth Phoenix” Carolan, and Eve Torres) are being courted for returns to the company?
Things aren’t much better south of Stanford, Connecticut either; TNA’s Knockouts Division, as they are now, is a far cry from what once use to be a stellar women’s division. The lack of star power could put a serious damper on this Sunday’s Knockout Knockdown “One Night Only” pay per view taping, despite former Knockouts’ sincerest wishes to be a part of the event:
Several fans have commented on various sites and blogs that TNA’s women’s division lacks depth; even with some strides being made with the Knockouts via the Gutcheck Challenge segments, very little progress has been seen, accomplished, or (in the best case scenario) “revealed” in the product.
Taeler Conrad-Mellen (Taeler Hendrix), Lucy and Kelly Knott (Hannah and Holly, The Blossom Twins), Lei’d Tapa, and Ivelisse Velez (formerly known in WWE’s NXT as Sofia Cortez) have all attempted to gain contracts with TNA and have had some air time on IMPACT Wrestling to be introduced to the fans. Out of the five women, however, Velez is the only one to “fail” at gaining a contract with the company (an interview with the Blossom Twins revealed that they indeed have a developmental contract with TNA). Most disconcerting about Velez’s “failure” is that it came at the hands of losing the contract to Lei’d Tapa, whom most fans considered to be “too green” to even justifiably gain even a developmental contract.
The only thing that adds more fuel to the fire is the fact that prior to her Gutcheck match, Velez performed in what was received as a stellar, five-star match for the SHINE promotion affiliated with Gabe Sapolsky’s DragonGate USA/EVOLVE promotions:
This of course isn’t taking into consideration the fact that TNA’s current Knockouts Champion, Jamie “Velvet Sky” Szantyr, has been panned by some fans and critics as being least “deserving” of holding the championship over women such as Gail Kim, Mickie James, and Lisa Marie “Tara” Varon. Keep in mind that even Varon’s latest KO Title run was marred by the presence of Jessie Godderz, who’s character turned one of the most dominating female wrestlers in recent times into a starstruck, boyfriend obsessed mess of a heel.
What does all of this have to do with the current state of women’s wrestling in TNA and WWE, besides the obvious shambles that its in?
It may be nothing more than a conveniently timed occurrence, but it is telling that both companies have to look to their past in order to move their company forward. Wrestling fans at large are still very divided on what they expect to see when two women enter the squared circle.
The loudest and harshest critics, as few in number as they are, scream viciously and consistently for what is essentially equal treatment for women wrestlers. They want and expect women’s matches to go longer than one minute; they want and expect the women wrestlers to be competent in the ring. They want and expect their women’s wrestlers to be more than just eye candy doddering around the ring aimlessly.
Other wrestling fans seem content with women’s wrestling being a passing fancy, an intermission giving them a break to hit the concession stands or the bathroom stalls. They don’t expect much from the women wrestlers and are more interested in photo ops with them than they are backdrops and Iron (Wo)Man matches.
If you synthesize both of those expectations you realize that TNA and WWE are unequally yoked in responding to all of their consumers’ wants and expectations. Each promotion only caters to one specific demographic, the demographic that will add significantly to their profit margins. If this is the case, then the most pressing objective for either promotion will be to respond to the immediate concerns of the demographic that spends the most money on the product.
In the case of WWE, most fans are still stuck on the legacy of Patricia “Trish Stratus” Stratigias, who is and was arguably the last “perfect storm Diva” to compete in the WWE. To say that Stratigias was the “perfect storm Diva” is to say that everything aligned to make her 8 year stint in the WWE the Diva stint for future Divas to emulate or surpass. Stratigias’ athletic ability, combined with her particular looks and sex appeal, paired with the incredibly talented Divas surrounding her during her run, created her mythical career that is only second to the legend of Tammy Lynn “Sunny” Sytch.
The WWE has yet to find another “perfect storm Diva” and the fans’ resistance to change keeps them from advancing forward towards altering the way Divas are defined. This is why it would make sense for the WWE to court former Divas or create new ones in the mold of Trish Stratus instead of allowing a new and talented crop of Divas (i.e. Paige) to resonate with fans in their own unique way. Consider also that the company’s product is catered towards children and women (see: John Cena’s 10 Year Reign); if that is the company’s bread-winning demographic, are they the ones openly clamoring for a ten minute match between Beth Phoenix and Natalya Neidhart?
In regards to TNA’s situation, the fans surely appreciate the women’s wrestling offered by the promotion. The division’s lack of depth and focus, however, gives some the implication that the company is not concerned or as focused on the division as they have been in the past. This could be a result of the company’s attempt to define itself in terms that separate it from its closest competitor, which has ultimately caused it to look more like its competition than anything else.
Truthfully speaking the main thing that separates the Knockouts from the Divas right now is the length of their televised matches.
With their flagship show going on the road, TNA is now more in need of athletes and stars that can make their product a household name. The more they move towards this worthy goal, the more the company will look towards men and women that “look good” for media appearances.
In that sense they too are looking for a “perfect storm Knockout,” but they also cannot risk losing their hardcore demographic in the process; they cannot stand to irk their diehard fans that want to see great wrestling from female wrestlers that can go in the ring. Particularly with awarding Lei’d Tapa with a contract over Ivelisse Velez, one can only wonder about the company’s rationale in such a decision, a type of decision that is becoming more and more stereotypical of the company as they progress forward.
TNA is stuck with filling in the very visible gaps within their Knockouts Division while defining the division in the midst of fine tuning the overall vision and mission of the company. Needless to say something is bound to get lost in translation when such things are being juggled by a relatively small board of directors and creative team. The all-Knockouts pay per view on Sunday only complicates matters, forcing the company to also rely on “one-time” performers (as opposed to the “part-time” performers of WWE) to make the division appear more robust than it truthfully is.
All of these things combined leave fans (and some female wrestlers) feeling as if women’s wrestling isn’t being taken seriously by both companies in some form or fashion. Depending on your perspective, that feeling is correct and justifiable in a lot of ways.
Think of entertainment as a reflection of our society; following the events of September 11, 2001 a surge of war themed video games hit the shelves. Even to this day games like “Call of Duty” or “Halo” are best sellers among hardcore gamers. For the past few years the highest grossing movies have been films based off of comic book superheroes, dating all the way back to Tobey Maguire’s stellar performance in Sam Raimi’s 2002 blockbuster movie Spider-Man.
If the two major companies appear to place women’s wrestling as more of an afterthought, what does that say about the fans who support the product? Could it be that, despite the blog posts and YouTube videos of some prescient and super savvy fans, we’re not all that inclined to support women’s wrestling as much as we’d like to think that we would?
It says a lot about both company’s perceptions of its fans when more time is spent reaching out to former wrestlers than pushing and promoting the next generation of female superstars. What do we value if bringing back The Bella Twins, Maryse and Kelly Kelly is more of a priority than focusing on current Divas Champion Celeste “Kaitlyn” Bonin who, by the way, was a professional weight lifter (just like John Cena) before becoming a pro wrestler?
What must we value if even by kayfabe standards TNA felt it necessary to give Lei’d Tapa the contract on television over Ivelisse Velez? What must they think of us if a star like Jason “Christian York” Spence or Wesley “Wes” Brisco can win their Gutcheck challenges and immediately get placed on television and pushed, while the Blossom Twins, Taeler Hendrix and Lei’d Tapa have to report to OVW?
Finally, what can be said about the state of women’s wrestling in both companies if they’re having trouble winning back women that have already worked for them?
I still say this and stand by the point: the day wrestling fans by and large receive the best in women’s wrestling from both major companies is the same day either one of them can pull off what Dana White did with the latest UFC pay per view…
OK, first of all… don’t get me wrong… I like “The Shield”. I like the “nWo”. I know there have been countless diatribes about how “The Shield” is the new “nWo”, and how horrible and atrocious it is. Just a few quick thoughts on the whole angle…
I think what we so often forget is that not everything needs to be reinvented or brand new. “Ice Ice Baby” and “Under Pressure” are both awesome songs. Krystal’s and White Castle – delicious. American Idol and The X Factor – entertaining. Every ride at the State Fair picks you up, spins you around, and has flashing lights…and we line up for every one of them.
You’re right, Nic. All of those things are very similar, if not identical, and we love them – but what does that have to do with pro wrestling?
A-ha! See, the nWo revolutionized everything we knew about professional wrestling at the time and to this day I challenge you to go to any live wrestling event and NOT find a dozen black and white t-shirts, and kids proclaiming everything is “Too Sweet!”. In 2002, Vince McMahon announced the end of “nWo era” in professional wrestling.
Can you believe it’s been nearly 11 years since there has been any makeup of the nWo in a professional wrestling company? 15 years since the original nWo splintered, in WCW? Yet they are still everyday conversation in the pro-wrestling world.
Which brings me to my next point – all of the biggest factions we’ve ever loved in wrestling are all ultimately the same idea, with a different a paint job. The Four Horsemen were flashier, DX was edgier, the Nation of Domination were more supremacists, The Corporation were more corporate, The Ministry was darker…yet, they all had the exact same makeup, goal, and gang warfare approach. A group of men set apart (by social class, wealth, race, lack of respect for authority, or sense of injustice…), and all decided they were going to take matters into their own hands to achieve their sought after result.
None of these groups fell flat, and all were parts of significant moments in the history of pro-wrestling. So what’s the big stink of alluding to the nWo, arguably the most influential and course shifting faction in pro-wrestling history? I see none. Now, should The Shield be running out in black and white shirts, doing black and white promos, calling themselves “The Outsiders”? No. However, any group with any sort of “invasion” aspect to its approach is going to draw comparisons to the nWo. Why not embrace that, and capitalize on it?
A few “Fantasy Booking” tips, inspired by the nWo that The Shield could benefit from:
HOW IT WAS DONE
- The Shield’s “interview” on Monday Night Raw came across incredibly awkward, flat, scripted, polished and everything that these guys are not.
HOW IT COULD HAVE BEEN (aka Armchair Quarterbacking, Fantasy Booking, HuffPuffery)
- On the second week of Monday Night Raw after The Shield had made themselves known. Not a ton of exhausting references made to them throughout the show and no discussion of who they are, by name or otherwise. Some subtle allusions to what has happened already, and during one of the third hour segments they appear from the crowd and blindside the announcers mid-commentary. Roughing them a little (grabbing tie’s, collars, shoving them out of the way, etc…)
- Acost the announcing table, and headsets. Off the cuff, unscripted, unpolished promo like a group of rogue “wrestlers” would give. Allude to who they were, and what their intent was. Mess the ringside area up a little bit on their way out, the last 15-20 seconds of the segment have no commentary, and the show cuts to commercial. When the show comes back, the announcers are back and in slight disarray and pissed about what happened.
- Not unlike this:
HOW IT WAS DONE
- We saw The Shield looming over the crowd, and ultimately interfering in key moments of the program where they felt “injustice” was present. While one or two of these group beatdowns makes sense – these could be handled differently as well.
HOW IT COULD HAVE BEEN (aka Armchair Quarterbacking, Fantasy Booking, HuffPuffery)
- At the end of the lie detector test, this past week on Raw, right when Miz has Punk cornered and the tension is building…we cut to a shot of The Shield storming into a “production truck” and bullying the director into cutting the feed. When he declines the request, they ultimately get aggressive and begin hitting all of the buttons, breaking screens, whatever it takes to “stop the injustice” from occurring.
The Shield needs a “moment”. An iconic image that signals their era has begun… who will ever forget Hogan storming to the ring during the “Hostile Takeover” match and ultimately dropping the leg on Savage, the ring filling with trash, and the cutting the promo signifying the dawning of the “New World Order of professional wrestling”?
One of the most controversial, and one of my favorite moments, was the debut of the Age Of The Fall in ROH. Words don’t do it justice, but after one of the most brutal matches in history referred to only as “Ladder War” between the Briscoe Bro’s. and Kevin Steen & El Generico, the Age Of The Fall would make their debut, hanging a sacrificial Jay Briscoe upside down above the ring, while Jacobs cuts a promo with blood dripping down all over his white suit…(ahem…what’s up Tyler Black?!)
I can’t help but feel like The Shield should have been distanced from “NXT” in their debut. The fact that they are being associated with CM Punk, the fashion in which they debuted, and their obvious connections to the developmental organization, just made the whole thing uncomfortable “Nexus-y”. I’ve intentionally avoided talking about them in this discussion, because I feel like Nexus was an unsuccessful attempt at what The Shield could accomplish, but linking the two together will almost instantly doom the angel from the beginning.
To avoid going into any more depth and detail on the intricacies of this angle, I will wrap this up. I look forward to seeing what comes of the new TLC Main Event (Ryback & Team Hell No vs. The Shield – TLC), and welcome any and all discussion, retorts, and feedback on my opinions here.
Women’s wrestling is probably one of the most fiercely debated topics among pro wrestling fans today. In a hilarious twist of irony, it’s also one of the least respected “divisions” among pro wrestling fans today.
That observation was made with all sincerity and a healthy serving of truth. The reality is that while fans defend women’s wrestling with an unrivaled passion, they also tend to speak of it as if the WWE and TNA are the only notable expressions of this sub-genre in sports entertainment.
TNA’s Knockouts division is routinely regarded as having the “best women’s division in pro wrestling,” while the WWE is roasted regularly for its farcical Divas division. Rarely will one hear about SHIMMER, Women Superstars Uncensored (WSU), or even Wrestlicious for that matter.
There within lies the problem of discussion women’s wrestling; our viewpoints are corrupted by our own ignorance of the subject matter. Since we only view women’s wrestling as told by two American wrestling companies, our expectations and desires are slightly biased and very much uninformed.
Believe it or not, that myopic view is stretched even thinner by our unrealistic expectations of the product.
Fans often compare the WWE’s current batch of Divas to Trish Stratus and Lita, two former WWE Divas that literally revolutionized women’s wrestling during their time under Vince McMahon (in the case of Trish’ on-screen character, pun intended).
Very few fans acknowledge or even realize that both Trish and Lita were living, breathing, human perfect storms. What they provided for the WWE and for us fans was one of those “once in a lifetime” things we hear about every now and then.
Even more distressing is that the sheer magnitude of what both women represented in the annals of women’s wrestling completely overshadowed the pure talent and skill of the other women wrestlers that assisted in the cementing of their legacies.
Trish and Lita were good, but no one will fondly recall anything Debra Miceli (Madusa), Lisa Moretti (Ivory), Nora Greenwald (Molly Holly/Mighty Molly), Tammy Lynn Sytch (Sunny), Jacqueline Moore, Lisa Marie Varon (Victoria/Tara), and even Mickie James added to the WWE women’s division.
Just when you think the perception couldn’t get any worse, it takes a sharp turn towards the seventh circle of Hell.
Any business that does not meet the needs of the people they serve will suffer from decline. In light of our discussion about women’s wrestling, companies are only providing fans with what they’re asking for or expecting by and large. To be frank about it, we get what we ask for.
Organizations such as SHIMMER and WSU provide exceptional matches with outstanding female athletes, yet they have no major television deal for various reasons. Visit Twitter sometime today; how many people in your timeline are talking about these organizations at length?
Shane Howard (shameless plug) was the only person in my timeline that would ever mention either of these organizations or the wrestlers in them. He had quite the exciting “friendship” with wrestler Marti Belle, but I digress.
Is anyone in your timeline ranting incessantly about the awesomeness of Marti Belle, Mia Yim, or Mercedes Martinez? What’s Sara Del Rey’s main focus in 2012? Why didn’t TNA keep Christina Von Eerie on their payroll? Do you even know who the f**k half of these people are???
I’m sure you don’t, and that’s because most Bleacher Report articles or timeline rants are focused on…you guessed it…the terribleness of the Divas division and the greatness of the Knockouts division. I’m also guessing that a bunch of us don’t even visit Diva-Dirt.com regularly…
However there is an obvious reason why there is a Divas division in the WWE and why the Women’s Championship was retired. The company has given us models-turned-wrestlers because of their need to infiltrate the entertainment industry.
Thin, statuesque, strikingly beautiful and model-esque women look great on the red carpet; burly shouldered athletic women look good on the cover of Muscle and Fitness. WWE “Divas” have to be able to do both despite our insisting that they pigeonhole themselves into being “wrestlers” and “wrestlers” only.
Why are we just now acting surprised? The WWE has always done this; Rena “Sable” Mero, Tammy Lynn “Sunny” Sytch, Stacy Keibler (George Clooney’s girlfriend) and Torrie Wilson (Alex Rodriguez’s girlfriend) were all given major roles in the women’s division while being pimped all around Hollywood and New York City.
What about TNA? They have sexy women wrestlers who aren’t models and still manage to get magazine covers and TV show spots. If they’re able to do it, why can’t the WWE?
I’ll allow Mr. Quinn Gammon to speak more on the intricacies of the Knockouts division, but here’s a point to think about: the Knockouts division – which consistently receives high segment ratings and lengthy TV time – still plays second banana to everything else on the show.
What is being said when the highest rated division still receives less time, focus, and attention (*ahem* KO’s tag titles and division) than everything else?
And while the Knockouts have graced the cover of several Mexican and Canadian magazines, where else have you really seen them outside of pro wrestling circles? Mickie James’ first album and it’s single, “Hardcore Country” brought TNA tons of attention; but they REALLY went out of the way to promote James Storms’ “Longnecks and Rednecks” theme song.
Storm got a music video, a chance to hit the red carpet with Jeff Hardy at the American Country Music Awards, and a plug from Cowboy Troy and some other country music big wig.
In all fairness they gave James the opportunity to perform her hit single on an episode of Impact Wrestling. That same lip-synced segment also saw a chaps-wearing Eric Young dance on stage and Tara interrupting the segment by attacking James.
Remember: TNA is the company that appreciates women’s wrestling, which would explain why the segment served to further James’ feud with Tara while her commercial success outside of wrestling was as important as keeping Jesse Neal on the payroll.
But Storm’s theme song on the other hand…THAT’S the next “U Can’t See Me!”
Here’s the brass tax: women’s wrestling suffers because it only appeals to a small demographic just as wrestling does in our society on the whole. Only a minority of fans is truly upset or appreciative of women’s wrestling, and that’s painfully obvious after reading everything I’ve written here.
Daniel Bryan got a petition when he was “fired” from the WWE; Beth Phoenix’s pin fall loss to Maria Menounos gets a bunch of angry articles (and scores of media attention…which most fans refuse to acknowledge for some odd reason).
TNA’s Knockouts get tons of in-ring time and main event spots, but suffers from a lack of talent and still remains slightly more important than the X-Division at this point.
My suggestion is that if women’s wrestling is important to us, we need to make it known much better than we’re doing now.
In the WWE, we should rally behind Beth Phoenix, Natalya, Tamina Snuka, Kaitlyn, Maxine, AJ and Eve, and even the Divas in FCW. We should sign petitions to get Sara Del Rey a WWE contract. We should send them our blog posts and articles about the necessity to bring back valets and female managers if they are insistent on having models trounce around the company.
We can’t sit on our hands or take pee breaks during live shows when the women perform for longer than 38 seconds or win with something other than a roll-up. We can’t feign interest when Divas like Phoenix and Tamina put on a GREAT match during a pay per view.
We have to educate ourselves about women wrestlers, stay up to date on news about organizations focused on providing us with action showcasing the best women wrestlers today. We should support their shows, order their DVDs, share them with our friends and make their work a part of our regular conversation.
We should follow women wrestlers and stay up-to-date on their bookings and their championship matches.
As for TNA, we should not only continue to support their women’s division but should also urge them to do more instead of offering the bare minimum. Their roster should be large enough to sustain a tag title without having a man hold one of the titles for the sake of entertainment because it’s worthless.
Their roster should be deeper than Gail Kim, Madison Rayne, and Velvet Sky, the three women who seem to be the flavor of the last few months. We should bug them to re-hire Scott D’Amore or hire David “Fit” Finlay, two men who have both done exceptionally well working with the development and showcasing of women’s divisions.
The reality of it is that it’s not the WWE’s fault the Divas division is God awful or that TNA’s Knockouts division is spectacular. It’s us, the fans, who make those divisions as good or bad as they’re presented.
But the more we sit and “wait” for a given company to do this and that for us, and our response is as lackluster and whiny as it has been for the past few years, then things will continue to happen as they are now.
Take a cue from the highly praised Attitude Era from the WWE, the time period in which Trish and Lita thrived. Think of all the actual women wrestlers that surrounded them and that I named earlier. Think about what people were paying for as far as pro wrestling is concerned.
Now compare those two women to today’s female stars and the era that they’re working in. Think about the female stars that surround them and what we’re paying for now.
I guess we really don’t want women’s wrestling today as bad as we think we do.