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…