I realize that over the past few months, I haven’t been offering my regular readers much in terms of new material to read. I certainly know that it’s been several months since I’ve last written any sort of article here on my blog, that’s for sure, although I do hope to change that in the near future. That being said, I hope that this blog entry will offer you people something new to read in between my weekly poetry sessions that also ties in with my latest novel, UWWX: The Underground Women’s Wrestling Xperiment. To put it simply, I’ll be discussing in this blog entry the things that have gotten under my skin over the years when it comes to women’s professional wrestling, specifically mainstream women’s wrestling. Truth be told, I did touch upon this topic somewhat in my poem What’s Wrong with Women’s Wrestling Today? from June 20, but here I’ll be straying away from the prose and sticking with good old-fashioned straight talk, so I hope that each and every one of you out there will receive an even stronger idea of what ticks me off about women’s wrestling these days and how it’s been portrayed for the past several years. Truth be told, this is stuff that I should have come up on the Internet to talk about two to three years ago, what with the WWE Divas Division being as stale and ridicule-worthy as it was at the time (even with the third season of NXT being dedicated to female wrestlers); the TNA Knockouts Division starting to wane in quality with the likes of such women as Jenna Morasca and Lacey Von Erich, who couldn’t take the very art of wrestling as seriously as they should have; and the rise of my personal least favorite wrestling promotion of all time, the self-proclaimed “action comedy” called Wrestlicious. Granted, my words more likely than not still wouldn’t have been able to save women’s wrestling by themselves if I’d written them at the time, what with me having been just another random guy on the World Wide Web sharing his thoughts with the masses like everyone else. Even then, though, I would have nonetheless been one more individual on the Internet voicing my opinion about what was (and still is) crippling the drawing power of women’s wrestling. Oh, well…better late than never, I suppose, but that’s a whole different matter that we can talk about later, if anyone is interested.
Also, before we delve right into the heart of the matter, let me just say this one last thing: I’m not claiming to be any more an expert on this topic than any other human being out there. I’m simply a guy who writes books and who just happens to initially respect the hell out of all female professional wrestlers on account of them being women who are trying to earn their spot within a male-dominated industry. Therefore, these are my honest opinions about women’s professional wrestling based on my personal observations. Chances are, then, that there might be some people who disagree with what I say here just as much as there might be people who agree with me. That being said, if there’s something that I say here that upsets anyone reading this, I apologize for doing so in advance. At any rate, though, let’s dive in to this discussion, shall we?
The Top Three Things I Hate about Women’s Wrestling These Days
1. A fixation on sex appeal and beauty in general over in-ring talent.
Okay, I get it…professional wrestling has always been a venue made by men, for men, and primarily featuring men with a handful of women on the side. Therefore, I’ve become all too accustomed to wrestling promoters to use sex appeal as a means to reel in customers. Then again, it surely has to get to a point for most male wrestling fans when enough is enough with all the flaunting and the posing and the frolicking and the gyrating and it’s time to see what the girls can actually do as competitors. This is professional wrestling, after all, and one would think that during the course of a wrestling show, there would be at least some form of wrestling involved. I mean, come on! There are plenty of other venues where one can see sexually appealing women “putting themselves on display,” for lack of a more genteel term, and if the perverts of the world truly need to relieve their sexual tension to something, they can head on over to those venues and do just that. When it comes to pro wrestling, on the other hand, I—as well as many other wrestling fans—want to see the women involved display some form of athleticism. It doesn’t matter to guys and gals like me if wrestling is “sports entertainment” rather than a full-fledged sport; it’s still that “sport” aspect that draws us in. No matter how scripted the action is, we still want to believe in it, and so long as it’s booked sensibly and performed expertly, we can believe in it. That’s why many a wrestling fan gets bent out of shape when they see any wrestler—no matter how seasoned he or she may be in the industry—put on a sloppy performance during a match to the point where he or she feels the need to call that wrestler out in one fashion or another. This reason is especially why so many “model types” in wrestling, from Kelly Kelly, Lena Yada, and the Bella Twins to Jenna Morasca, Cousin Cassie, and Toni the Top, very rarely—if, in fact, ever—receive any kind of respect from diehard wrestling fans, seeing as the brunt of them tend (or at least have tended once upon a time) towards botching the majority of their moves as the result of coming into a major venue within the business without having paid their dues in the independent circuit first and learning the ropes there. Then again, who are the diehards fooling? Promoters such as Vince McMahon and Johnny Cafarella often gravitate towards hiring these model-variety girls in the first place for a reason: their looks. Yep…sad but true…
That’s another reason, however, why mainstream women’s wrestling has gone downhill in recent years, in my eyes—the fact that big-time promotions such as WWE and, since 2010, TNA/Impact are so fixated on how beautiful their female wrestlers are. Again, I get it…professional wrestling has so often been about larger-than-life characters who are more or less the paragons of what the common man and woman so often hope to be. Even so, it almost seems to me that these promoters have long forgotten the saying about beauty lying in the eye of the beholder. After all, inasmuch as it might be difficult for a certain wrestling fan to support a woman just because she doesn’t fit the definition of “hot,” regardless of how great she is as an athlete, let me pose this question: How can one get behind a wrestler who looks like she could be in movies yet can’t so much as sell a punch properly or even throw a decent hip toss? Just look at Lacey Von Erich’s performance in TNA back in late 2009 and throughout much of 2010, for example. The woman was as sloppy as all else and so often botched whatever she did that most of the TNA faithful rejected her. That’s not me insulting her as an athlete necessarily, for I do believe that if she’d taken the time to see her duties as a TNA Knockout (and as such as a possible role model for young women) as being a big deal and made an honest effort to improve her craft throughout the course of her TNA career, she could very well have gained more supporters amongst the promotion’s fanbase and proven herself worthy of her pedigree. After all, she is a third generation pro wrestler and the first official female wrestler to hail from what many consider even today to be one of the most well-known and respected dynasties the business has ever known. One would thus think that someone from such a bloodline would take pride in her family’s history and go out of her way to prove herself worthy of associating herself with such a time-honored lineage. Unfortunately, such wasn’t the case until it was too little, too late, and I can only imagine just how may hardcore TNA fans are happy to see her gone from the company on account of her inability to represent herself as a serious in-ring competitor and her penchant for presenting herself to male fans—much to the dismay of her young son, no doubt—as yet another piece of eye candy within an industry that already has more than enough breast-baring, bikini- and lingerie-clad vixens within its ranks. Quite a shame, too, considering the slew of women who were in TNA at the time who not only looked pleasing to the eye, but also could put on one hell of a match with pretty much any opponent they stepped into the ring with. To think that she could have applied herself from day one onward, then, to join the likes of Melissa Anderson (a.k.a. Alissa Flash), Shantelle Taylor (a.k.a. Taylor Wilde) “Dark Angel” Sarah Stock (a.k.a. Sarita), Ayako Hamada, and Nikki Roxx (a.k.a. Roxxi Laveaux) as being one of the best in the business and not just the afterthought that she is now. It’s even more of a shame, too, that during their tenure with the company, all five of the women I’ve just mentioned had fallen short of living up to their full potential as TNA Knockouts, and through no fault of their own at that. If only pro wrestling were an actual sport and not a sports-theater hybrid, who knows where they’d be on the roster? More likely than not at the very pinnacle above everyone else, as far as I’m concerned. Oh, well…TNA/Impact Wrestling management has nobody to blame for themselves for not making the most of these women and helping to preserve the reputation of the TNA Knockouts as the highest rated segment of their television show.
Of course, the WWE Divas Division has long been known to be worse about promoting pretty faces over the more talented women on their own payroll, which is even sadder, considering how even today, WWE has been considered to be the mecca of the pro wrestling world. That’s why women who actually do know the difference between a wristlock and a wristwatch like Katie Lea Burchill, Natalya Neidhart, Jillian Hall, Tamina Snuka, Naomi Knight, and even AJ Lee, just to name a few, either have found or have had to find themselves taking a back seat as active wrestlers to women like Michelle McCool, Layla El, and Brie and Nikki Bella—women whom most diehard wrestling fans have begrudging respect for at most, if any at all, primarily because of their reputation as women who had joined the company from outside the wrestling business rather than as women who’d earned their reputations in the independent circuit.
Looking at this years-long trend, one can readily wonder as to whether or not WWE management has been trying to recapture that which they’d once had with Trish Stratus—the most oft-referenced and openly respected model-turned-wrestler in pro wrestling history—following her retirement from the organization. If this theory is at all true, then guess what, WWE: It’s time to put that experiment to rest and focus on whatever women you can bring in from the indies. That’s not to say that women brought in from outside the business can’t be brought in and trained to become decent wrestlers, either, as there are plenty of wrestling fans who could argue the case of Eve Torres having grown into a solid in-ring performer over the years and that Candice Michelle had even become championship-worthy during her stint in WWE. Heck, there are even some wrestling fans who would defend Kelly Kelly as a former model who was improving her craft prior to her not-too-distant departure from the organization. However, it takes a considerably longer time for such women to truly come into their own, especially when compared to women who have already risen through the ranks of the independent scene and plied their craft all across the nation (if not, in fact, the world). Besides, who’s to say that you won’t be able to find a woman or two in the indie circuit who not only has plenty of in-ring ability but can also hold a candle to any model in terms of physical appearance? After all, the five names I’ve mentioned in the previous paragraphs had all come into TNA by way of the independents, and there are plenty more from where they’d come from. All one really has to do to find such women is look for them. Conversely enough, however, beauty isn’t the only thing that wrestling promoters should concern themselves with, for if they do, their roster will more likely than not end up being filled with a plethora of cookie cutter women, and if there’s one thing that would surely hold any wrestler back, it’d be looking so much like another wrestler, past or present, to the point of being indistinguishable from him or her. As such, it’s important to keep a solid balance of women who are not only talented in the ring, but also have a unique look to them. Christina Von Eerie, for instance, has a particularly unique look to her, what with her many tattoos and stylish mohawk. Mercedes Martinez, too—while not exactly “beautiful” in the common sense of the word—has a believable tough girl look about her that would readily make her identifiable from pretty much everyone in the WWE Divas Division at the moment. Of course, if one really wants to talk about uniqueness amongst the WWE Divas, one needn’t have looked any further than the Glamazon herself, Beth Phoenix—a tall, muscular blonde who was every bit as gorgeous as she was powerful who was the fourth woman in WWE history to hold both the WWE Women’s and Divas Championships on separate occasions, yet—much to the woe of many a WWE fan—has recently resigned from the company. Perhaps the best example of an unconventional-looking woman wrestler, however, would be former TNA Knockout Awesome Kong (better known as Amazing Kong to fans of the Japanese wrestling scene), and back in early 2011, it seemed like WWE was on the right track when they’d recruited this 280-pound engine of destruction and had her plow her way through the run-of-the-mill “Barbie dolls” of the Divas Division, much to the fans’ delight. Their mirth wouldn’t last long, unfortunately, for it was shortly after her debut at Extreme Rules 2011 that Kong—better known in the WWE as “Kharma”—had to take time off on account of her pregnancy, which tragically resulted in the miscarriage of her unborn son Jamie, and even as of the date of this blog entry, the woman who was once TNA’s most dominant Knockout has yet to return to professional wrestling. At last notice, she has been reported to be on a mission to lose weight and get back into shape for her comeback with the help of a therapist and a team of fitness experts. Hopefully, then, we can all look forward to seeing her again to do what she does best: wreck shop within the wrestling ring. In the meantime, however, I personally wish her well in her endeavors, particularly in terms of her proposed foundation for women who have experienced the loss of an unborn child.
The point is, folks, as the old saying goes, beauty is only skin deep, and if wrestling fans were really as interested in seeing beautiful women as certain promoters would like to think, then we’d be tuning in to beauty pageants and beauty-themed reality shows like America’s Next Top Model. There’s a reason, however, that we tune in to wrestling, and that’s to see just that: wrestling. Therefore, here’s my advice to wrestling promoters everywhere: Talent first, looks second. There is no one “Look,” after all, and I just hope one day that wrestling promoters everywhere come to realize that and dedicate themselves to hiring women based on their talents as opposed to whether or not they live up to some rigid, unrealistic template of physical appearance. Then again, speaking of looks…
2. Women who lack character.
Inasmuch as professional wrestling is, as I’ve said earlier, a hybrid of athletic competition and theatrics, if there’s one thing that helps a wrestler connect with the audience aside from wrestling talent, it would be a strong, identifiable, and compelling in-ring persona. This holds true for both men and women in the industry, although in my opinion, it should be reinforced more strongly in the case of the women, seeing as how many of them in any given promotion have the grave misfortune of not only looking dangerously similar, but also dressing and acting dangerously similar. WWE in particular has had this problem for quite a while with their Divas Division, and to a degree, they still do to this day. It’s bad enough that the poor girls all have the same bikini-appropriate figure with little to no variation between them or, for that matter, similar outfits that are—at least for the most part—so generic-looking that they further make the women wearing them harder to distinguish between one another. Worse yet, however, is how the women behave when in character, for rarely is it when a given Diva says or does something that makes her stand out significantly from the others or, for that matter, whatever Divas had come before them (i.e., Aksana as the European gold digger, a gimmick that used to belong to Maryse Oullet). This is definitely something that needs to be addressed when it comes to professional wrestling in general, for if history has taught us anything, it has taught us that the most successful wrestlers of all time from the days of Hulk Hogan onward were those who had distinguishable behavioral traits. Even today, people still recall fondly the likes of Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, the Ultimate Warrior, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Junkyard Dog, the Iron Sheik, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Nikolai Volkoff, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, George “The Animal” Steele, “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, Sr., “Ravishing” Rick Rude, any many other superstars from what has been labeled the Rock and Wrestling Era. The answer to why is quite simple, too: Each of these individuals had a character attributed to them that they were able to play with ease. The same holds true for the wrestling heroes of the Attitude Era, and not just the main event icons such as Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Mankind, and the Undertaker, either, but also those who occupied the midcard and even the undercard, from the likes of Ken Shamrock, the Hardy Boyz, Edge & Christian, and the Godfather to the likes of Al Snow, Gangrel, the Headbangers, and even the Mean Street Posse. Yes, I’ll admit that many of these same characters probably wouldn’t work these days even if they hadn’t existed in the first place, but the simple principle behind each of these personalities can still be applied to help the women in today’s wrestling scene define themselves in the eyes of the mainstream and a such earn even more admiration and respect from said masses than they already might have.
Now, one criticism that’s attributed to today’s wrestlers, men and women alike, concerns the fact that most of them aren’t trained actors. For this, I see two solutions, the first of which being that the women take improv classes and learn to not only broaden their emotional range, but also “think on their feet,” so to speak, and come up with things to say on the fly to suit whatever situation (i.e., promo, interview, or backstage segment) they’re involved in. The other solution, which could very well work in conjunction with the first solution as well as by itself, would be to have each wrestler develop an in-ring persona that revolves around a given aspect of her own individual nature—a step that should more or less be a given anyhow, considering the very fact that unless a wrestler is allowed to “be himself/herself” in a sense, the character he or she is trying to portray will not be as believable as it otherwise could be. After all, not every wrestler is blessed with the gift of being able to take on a manufactured persona and make it work the way Mick Foley made Mankind work for him in the late 1990s or the way Mark Callaway made the Undertaker character work for him throughout his entire tenure in the WWF/E. As such, it only makes sense to allow such wrestlers to go the more organic route by centering their in-ring persona on a single particular personal attribute of theirs and building upon it, fleshing out her alter ego as thoroughly as she can in terms of backstory, presence, wrestling style, interactions with the crowd and with other wrestling characters, and so forth. In fact, if the wrestler in question can possibly blend two or more personal traits together to develop his or her character even further, she should very well be allowed—if not, in fact, outright encouraged—to do so. Imagine, if you will, “Dark Angel” Sarah Stock being able to play herself in TNA rather than “Sarita,” the character that TNA creative had manufactured for her, only taking it up a notch to make her truly stand out from all the other Knockouts. Imagine her combining her training in lucha libre with a dark, almost Gothic carriage as she strolls her way out to the ring to the tune of “Reach” by Nightwish; speaking in a foreboding, quasi-Biblical tone as she threatened to “get Biblical on [Opponent X’s] hide;” ultimately striking them down with her patented springboard dropkick, the “Divine Lightning” (or perhaps even a victory roll turned into a triangle choke that she could call the “Inquisition”); and then holding her hand up to her foe’s fallen body and wishing her (or even him) “Vaya con Dios.” Granted, Sarah was able to win the hearts of TNA fans early on in her career with her impressive ring work and unique in-ring style and probably would have continued to do so, if only the organization’s unfortunate “changing of the guard” in 2010 not resulted in her burial on the company card (along with fellow superstar hopefuls Taylor Wilde and Ayako Hamada as well as anyone else who wasn’t a former or present member of The Beautiful People or an ex-WWE Diva) and, consequently, the ultimate decimation of her presence within the company’s product. However, had she only been given the platform to develop her own unique personality—particularly one along the lines presented here—chances are that she could have very well become a major player for the Knockouts Division and helped them continue to garner the highest ratings for TNA television from 2009 onward.
In conjunction with this notion of allowing female wrestlers to create their own in-ring personas is the idea of each wrestler being allowed to find her own niche on her current product’s roster. After all, as the old saying goes, “A place for everything and everything in its place”—except that in this case, we’re not talking about “things,” so much as we are women. After all, the name of the game in professional wrestling is the same as it is with any other kind of business, and that is to make money. Therefore, the best possible way for any wrestling company to earn any revenue—regardless of whether its product features all men, all women, or a mix of both genders—is to make sure there’s something for everyone. That means different wrestling styles, different shapes and sizes of wrestlers (including hefty men or, in this case, plus-sized women), and—as far as this portion of the discussion is concerned—a wide variety of characters to appeal to each and every demographic possible. In other words, having all your wrestlers generally look, act, and wrestle the same will only satiate your audience’s appetites so far before they at long last become bored with your product and tune in to the competition. Keeping that in mind, then, while it’s primarily the responsibility of any given wrestler to create her (or his) own alter ego, the promoter or head booker is nonetheless responsible for working with said wrestler to find a spot within the grand scheme of the promotion’s product to see where her (or his) character belongs, and not just in terms of card placement, either. To put it simply, in order to make the most out of each wrestler’s in-ring persona, a booker or promoter must determine the best way in which to present each particular character. A woman like A.J. Lee or Ashley Lane/Madison Rayne who weighs under one hundred pounds, for example, has no business playing a monster heel who ruthlessly crushes her opponents before they could chance to nail her with a single punch; such a role is more suited to a more powerfully built woman like Awesome Kong, Jamie Dauncey (better known to TNA fans as “Sirelda”), or even Beth Phoenix. However, if a girl with A.J. or Ashley’s slight build were to play the role of an underdog babyface who struggles against the odds and usually (though not always) ends up triumphant in the end, then the audience would find themselves more readily buying into the character and supporting her in her struggles. On the other hand, assuming that the wrestler in question insisted on playing a heel, why not have her portray herself as a sneaky, cunning she-devil who uses a combination of agility and deception to dispatch her often much-larger opponents and make them look like bumbling goofs any which way she can? You know…kinda put a spin on the whole “David vs. Goliath” storyline we’ve all become accustomed to. Such is the thought process that a booker or promoter must adopt in order to help all of the wrestlers on his or her company’s roster find his or her place in the company’s product and, in effect of that, help the promotion garner high television ratings, sell out arenas, reel in high pay-per-view buy rates, and in general earn the greatest amount of money possible.
3. The general treatment of women in the wrestling industry.
Chances are that if you’re like me, you’re sick and tired of wrestling promotions treating their female employees, wrestlers and non-wrestlers alike, as mere eye candy meant either for the masses to mock or for boys
and young men to…ahem…“relieve their erections” to—especially when you know that they can be showcased in a much more favorable light if the promoters only cared enough to at least try doing just that. Then again, who am I kidding? I could personally ask for today’s mainstream wrestling organizations to do just that as an adamant supporter of quality women’s wrestling, but guess what: Chances are that instead of making their women pose in lingerie, bikinis, and even nude or semi-nude for various photo shoots—including those for their own magazines or corporate websites—they’ll have their women partake in various other embarrassing and pointless activities, such as hokey comedy skits; tacky, degrading, uber-girly gimmick matches such as mud wrestling or “bra and panty” matches; or—worst of all—“red hot” “lesbian love” scenes. Obviously, you can tell that this complaint of mine works hand-in-hand with the first point I’ve brought up in this article to some degree. However, that’s only part of it. Another part has to do with how the women are featured once they step into the ring and are actually allowed to do what they do best. On one hand, women’s matches these days—particularly in WWE—rarely last long enough for the women involved to showcase any sort of talent. Not only that, but the women are also told to water down their wrestling styles considerably so as to not outshine any man on the roster, particularly their main event players. I know what certain TNA fans are going to say in response to this statement, too: “Dude, that’s so not true. You haven’t seen the Knockouts lately. They’ve actually been putting out some damn good matches lately. You ought to tune in to Impact to see for yourself.” Even if this potential response is completely true, allow me to ask this: Why couldn’t that have always been the case?
Actually, I’ve got even more questions than that:
Why couldn’t the most talented homegrown Knockouts have been allowed to shine, give the company a sense of brand identity, and be leading role models for TNA and its female fans even after Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff came into the company in 2010?
Why not trust the likes of Sarah Stock, Taylor Wilde, Ayako Hamada, Alissa Flash, and—had she not punched out Bubba the Love Sponge for his controversial comments about the Haitian earthquake of January 12, 2010, and hence gotten suspended from TNA—Awesome Kong to carry the division to great heights and prove to the world that women’s wrestling can be every bit as exciting as men’s wrestling?
Why fire the likes of Roxxi Laveaux shortly after her brief return in 2010 just because she didn’t have “The Look,” especially considering that she was one of the most over babyfaces amongst the Knockouts?
Why hand these women’s spots on the card over to the likes of The Beautiful People—particularly Madison Rayne, who had been nothing but a jobber with zero character development outside her affiliation with TBP throughout her first year in the company up until Lockdown 2010?
Why not have former WWE Divas such as Lisa Marie Varon (a.k.a. Victoria/Tara), Katie Lea Burchill (a.k.a. Winter), Brooke Adams (a.k.a. Brooke Tessmacher), and especially Mickie James actually earn their spots on the roster rather than outright hand them said spots simply because of the company they’d been a part of before jumping ship to TNA? Note, too, that I’ve neglected to mention Taryn Terrell, formerly known as “Tiffany” in WWE, who made no impact there aside from being the kayfabe general manager of WWE’s ECW in 2009 and the ex-wife of WWE superstar Drew McIntyre, whom she ended up slapping around one night in their hotel room during a heated debate. Yeah, real classy, TNA…hiring a former husband beater whose ex has now been reduced to jobber status after promises of him becoming a key player in the company’s product and whom you are now shoving down your fans’ throats as being the future of women’s wrestling right alongside so many other former WWE Divas. :rolls eyes:
Why is it that almost every time a woman from the independent scene is considered for recruitment by TNA, she has to go through a try-out match that she might or might not pass, but whenever a former WWE Diva is recruited, she’s hired right off the bat without having to undergo such an evaluation of her performance?
Why not offer Gail Kim a contract offering her what she’d initially asked for back in 2008 and keeping her in the company while simultaneously building up and focusing on other Knockouts (Roxxi, Taylor, Jessica “ODB” Kressa, Awesome Kong, Alissa Flash, Angel Williams (a.k.a. Angelina Love), etc.) as well as her rather than signing the likes of Jenna Morasca six years after she’d won Survivor and hence had become more or less irrelevant in mainstream pop culture and paying her an even larger amount of money than what Gail Kim had asked for to stay with the company? It certainly would’ve kept you from having to spoil her once she returned in 2011 after her three-year championship drought in WWE and her subsequent show of unprofessionalism during that fateful Raw on August 1 of that year where she eliminated herself in a Divas Battle Royal. Not only that, but you would have spared fans from sitting through that infamous match at Victory Road 2009 between Morasca and Sharmell Huffman—a match that, quite frankly, represented everything that the Knockouts Division was never supposed to be and as such would have fit more if presented in something as disgusting and classless as Wrestlicious.
Why not reward your most talented women pushes towards the TNA Knockouts and Knockouts Tag Team Titles based on their in-ring performances and their ability to get over with your fans rather than who they are or where they’d been? Such had been the case back in 2007 when the division had officially been born, and when that was the case, the Knockouts—as I’ve said before—had been helping TNA Impact earn its highest rated segments. Granted, I know that people might tell me that there were some Knockouts who were being featured regularly on Impact who weren’t as great in the ring as Gail Kim, Awesome Kong, Roxxi Laveaux, Taylor Wilde, et cetera (i.e., The Beautiful People). However, even TBP had enough charisma going for them as on-screen personalities to somewhat compensate for their lower-level wrestling ability. Not only that, but Angel Williams/Angelina Love wasn’t the worst wrestler you’ve ever hired, as she could still wrestle well enough to keep up with the other women and, on top of that, play one hell of a heel in the process (which, at least in my opinion, she was always better at than playing a face). Whatever the case, wrestling was the founding concept for the Knockouts Division, and by focusing on your better wrestlers, TNA Wrestling, you were able to set your women apart from the WWE Divas, which earned that portion of your show much respect. Even today, for example, wrestling fans still talk about the 2007 feud between Gail Kim and Awesome Kong—a classic “David vs. Goliath” story that based itself around many a memorable match and, for the time that it lasted, reminded us all that women’s wrestling, when done right, could be every bit as good as men’s wrestling any day of the week. The thing is, too, that you could have continued making the most out of your Knockouts Division if only you’d paid attention to who put on the best matches and got over most with the crowd, had your booking committee book the division accordingly, and let your women showcase their athleticism to its fullest instead of succumbing to marketing the gals for their killer looks and “sensuality,” burying your more talented women, and force-feeding us fans the likes of Madison Rayne, Tara, Mickie James, Velvet Sky, Miss Tessmacher, Taryn Terrell, et cetera who simply paled in comparison wrestlingwise to the stars—both potential and actual—that you’d already had.
Something else that has long bothered me about the TNA Knockouts is the piddling amount of money they at least used to earn for their performances. According to LordsofPain.net, the UK-based pro wrestling magazine Power Slam had reported in their August 2011 issue that all but three of the TNA’s female performers at the time, wrestler and non-wrestler alike, earned at most $600 per appearance. Former WWE Divas Mickie James and Christy Hemme, on the other hand, were earning over $100,000 per year apiece (Karen Jarrett’s earnings were never revealed in said article.), the latter case of which especially upset colleagues of Hemme’s and fans alike, as stated in this portion of the article:
Hemme’s reported salary has drawn criticism from fans and colleagues as they feel it’s exorbitant for a non-wrestling female personality. The Honky Tonk Man claimed last year that her contract renewal with TNA last year was for three years at an annual rate of $175,000. He also said that Eric Bischoff, a huge supporter of the former WWE Diva and Playboy cover girl, helped Hemme obtain the high-end deal. Wrestling Observer editor Dave Meltzer would not confirm the veracity of the former WWE star’s claim but did say the deal made her the highest paid female performer in the company. (Lords of Pain.net)
So let me get this straight: The TNA Knockouts—who were, for the record, once the stars of the highest rated segments on TNA Impact—are only worth $600 per appearance, as far as the company is concerned, unless they were previously high-profiled Divas in the WWE? Not only that, but Christy Hemme—who was used as a ring announcer last year (and only a subpar one at that, according to most wrestling fans), and only on TV to boot—earned more money than any of the women who were actually busting their backsides and plying their craft inside the ring? I’m sorry, but even I, a guy who never really had anything against Christy per se, think that that’s simply outrageous—especially considering the great physical risks that the other girls, Mickie included, were expected to endure as active competitors. To think, too, that there were more likely than not male wrestlers who weren’t receiving the kind of money that Christy or even Mickie were at the time! No wonder, then, that financial disputes were part of the reason for Awesome Kong, Shelly Martinez (a.k.a. Salinas), and—in regards to her first run in TNA—Gail Kim leaving the company when they did. Hopefully, then, things are different now when it comes to the Knockouts and their annual salaries, but even then, there’s still the issue of certain members of the booking committee not respecting women’s wrestling enough to take it seriously. As early as this past September, for example, it has been reported that Bruce Pritchard, TNA’s current President of Programming and Talent Relations, has been considering the disbanding of the TNA Knockouts Division. Naturally, I hope he doesn’t for the obvious reason that I want women’s wrestling to survive this great pro wrestling recession that has gone on since the spring of 2001. However, in a sick, twisted sort of way, I can see his point for wanting to do so, seeing as how the Knockouts Division has been a shell of its former self since 2010 when Bischoff and Hogan had become part of the product. After all, look at how many talented women have left the company since then and how the division itself has more or less been turned upside down to where the few remaining talented women have been cast down to “enhancement talent” status and that the women who should have been jobbers all this time, according to plenty of diehard wrestling fans (myself included), have received title shots and have been hogging the spotlight from their far superior counterparts. Then again, as I’ve probably said enough times in this article already, the people of TNA management have no one to blame but themselves for this debacle.
Look at it this way, folks: It was TNA President Dixie Carter herself who was responsible for stepping aside in 2010 and granting Hogan and Bischoff so much control over the TNA product from both a management and a creative standpoint, reshaping the company in their image, making the brunt of the talent unhappy with their decisions, and provoking the ire of many a wrestling fan and pro wrestling insider. It wasn’t until fairly recently, either, that the overall product has been reported to be improving, particularly with the resignation of former TNA head writer Vince Russo, a man who is notorious in the industry for putting entertainment ahead of actual wrestling to dangerous extremes and coming up with many an angle that analysts and audiences alike have found to be at least absolutely asinine—if not, in fact, downright offensive. Even so, how much prestige has the Knockouts Division regained with Brooke Hogan in charge? Enough to live up to the glory days of 2007 to 2009? Not yet, from where I’m sitting. Hopefully, things will change for the better, but let’s face it: If Brooke is making an honest effort to help the Knockouts move forward, then it’ll still take her another solid year or two at least to do just that and to compensate for the two years of—for lack of less gentile terminology—utter crap that the Knockouts have had to endure back in 2010 and 2011 and even throughout the first half of this year. The healing process for the TNA Knockouts Division isn’t going to happen overnight, no matter how possible it is. Hell, TNA could reenlist the booking services of the much respected Scott D’Amore to give them a hand with the division, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon—unless, of course, there was some bit of information floating about the ‘Net that I’ve chanced to miss over the past few months or so about such a turn of events taking place. Therefore, if Brooke and the rest of the TNA booking committee can keep their heads on straight, avoid succumbing to misogyny, and remember that which had made the division the spectacle it once was during the first three years of its existence, then there just might be hope for the gals yet. Just keep that in mind though, TNA: athleticism over sex appeal. If you want to prove your superiority to WWE, don’t copy the same formula they’ve had for years with their Divas Division; coax them into copying your formula for your Knockouts Division, and trust me, women’s wrestling fans such as myself will thank you for your efforts.
Now, as for the WWE Divas Division…there really isn’t too much that I can say on how it can improve that I haven’t already said. Basically, as I’ve said before, if Vince McMahon would stop trying to find and create Trish Stratus 2.0 and focus more on women who already know how to actually wrestle, that’d be a fine start. Also, WWE, don’t be afraid to hire and push women who actually look different from the rest of your Divas. You’ll actually be surprised at how a little bit of uniqueness can go a long way. You were on the right track with Awesome Kong/Kharma up until you had to grant her maternity leave. Also, be sure to establish distinct characters for your women. Have them portray themselves in such a way that helps them set themselves apart from each other significantly enough so that fans can actually identify with and hence care enough about them to react to them, whether they’re faces or heels. If they need to take improv lessons in order to learn how to “act on their feet,” then let them! After all, nothing you could do for your wrestlers could possibly be worse than stifling them and forcing them to be what they’re really not. With all that in mind, there are only two more important—if not, in fact, crucial—pieces of information that I’d like to offer WWE on how to present their Divas Division, the first of which being to focus on several different women at a time rather than just a couple or a small handful of them. I’m not sure as to how many wrestling fans have noticed this themselves, but truth be told, there’s a reason as to why so many people over the years have accused Trish Stratus of being the most overrated female wrestler in WWE history. That reason, at least according to my observations, would be that you and your bookers, WWE management, were so wrapped up in promoting Trish as being one of the greatest women wrestlers of all time that you ended up neglecting so many other talented women that you’d had on your roster at the time, Molly Holly and Jazz most specifically. Not only that, but—at the risk of me sounding redundant—this constant trend you’ve supported in hiring non-wrestlers to fill in the empty slots you’ve had on your Divas roster rather than scouring the independent circuit and recruiting talented women from the highest rated women’s wrestling feds in all the industry really doesn’t do much for Trish’s reputation, from what I can tell, other than to reinforce the whole “Trish = Overrated” equation. Seriously, though, if you’d only focus on women who were already trained as wrestlers to begin with (and, better yet, had a string of accomplishments to back up their credibility), perhaps you’d feel more confident in allowing your women to wrestle for more than five minutes tops on television and on pay-per-view and would otherwise actually provide them with the dignity and respect that they truly deserve.
As for my second piece of information, I’ll say this: Let you women actually wrestle! This especially holds true for your more talented women such as Natalya, A.J., Naomi, Tamina, and even Eve. Don’t water your women’s repertoires down just to make your main eventers or other male competitors look good. Doing so only further limits their ability to get over with your audience than the lack of character they’re allowed to have. Trust me, WWE—all the sexy photo shoots you’ve had your Divas pose for will only take them so far, and even then only as far as sex appeal goes. As such, if you want to draw viewers who aren’t perverts, self-punishing cynics, or naïve and impressionable little girls in to see your Divas matches, don’t be afraid to let your women show off their skill as well.
One last thing for both WWE and TNA to keep in mind: Be sure to keep the comedy down to a bare minimum when it comes to your women. I cannot stress this enough. If there’s one reason why even wrestling fans who aren’t sexist cretins can’t take women’s wrestling seriously, it’s because so many wrestling promoters don’t take it seriously themselves. Honestly, I can only begin to tell you why an overabundance of comedy in women’s wrestling has helped to all but obliterate its prestige in the 2010s, especially with the official televised advent of Wrestlicious TakeDown in the March of 2010. Trust me, folks…as if it wasn’t bad enough that the TNA Knockouts Division began damn near dying that same year, for lack of an equally fitting yet less dramatic term, and that the WWE Divas Division was as stale as it’d always been since, arguably, 2004, along came Johnny Cafarella, Steve Blance, and Jimmy Hart to con a painfully unworldly Powerball winner named Jonathan Vargas into donating his winnings to help them found the one thing that proved just how unable all three men were to let go of the past. That one thing: the biggest mess of unoriginality, amateurish production, sexual exploitation, raunchy lowbrow humor, and blatant male ego fuel since Cafarella’s own CRUSH promotion from 2002-04, which Blance and Hart were also a part of. I know, too, that I myself am better off not giving this mouthful of broken teeth on the face of women’s wrestling any more attention than it has already received in years past and instead leaving the memory of this travesty in the garbage can of wrestling history where it belongs. All the same, for the sake of warning WWE, TNA, David McLane’s WOW, and all other professional wrestling promotions about how bad women’s wrestling can get, I find it almost essential to discuss this sheer, unadulterated waste of time, effort, money, and talent that dared to make women’s wrestling and, in fact, pro wrestling in general look even worse than it already did in 2010. Never mind the fact that Wrestlicious was a carbon copy of the much-ridiculed primary run (1986-1990) of Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, from the original color scheme of its ring (blue mat and apron with pink ring ropes) to its pre-show rap segments and its watered-down and dumbed-down wrestling style that was so reminiscent of the mid-1980s to early 1990s that it wasn’t even funny—no pun intended, of course. Never mind, either, the fact that, at least in terms of body shape, the women in this promotion were of the same cookie-cutter bikini model variety as the WWE Divas still are today (give or take an ultra-rare plus-sized heel or two) or that the company dared to recycle tired old gimmicks from GLOW—many of which were originally characters from CRUSH, no less—and slap them onto their women in order to differentiate them from one another rather than attempt to establish meaningful feuds and angles and rely on other, equally organic and purposeful means for character development aside from many an in-ring gag or pointless backstage “comedy” segment. Finally, never mind the two- to three-minute-long bikini video packages that aired during this twenty-some-minute-long waking nightmare of a television/Internet show that only showcased the women wearing nothing but skimpy two-piecers and posturing for a decidedly perverted cameraman and did nothing to establish who these women were, where they’d come from, what they’d done in the wrestling business prior to coming to Wrestlicious, what their characters were supposed to be (especially in terms of being faces or heels), or showcasing their wrestling talent in any which way, shape or form.
Instead, let me tell you about the one thing that made Wrestlicious as wretched as it was, which I’ve mentioned before: its humor. Whether we’d be talking about the numerous outdated or outright tacky jokes (including various fat jokes, sex jokes, and booze jokes) that were cracked during the show’s countless backstage GLOW-rific skits or the in-ring action, the latter of which mainly consisted of painfully campy catfighting that would have made even the worst WWE Divas of all time die a little inside upon seeing it, it was quite obvious to anyone unfortunate enough to lay eyes upon TakeDown that its comedy was its very heart and soul. Now, don’t get me wrong; comedy does indeed have its place in a wrestling show, believe it or not, but only in small doses and basically as a means of alleviating the show’s overall dramatic tone, and even then, the joke(s) used must appeal to a wide audience and not just one particular demographic. Such was not the case with Wrestlicious, though, which used comedy in conjunction with sex appeal as a driving force throughout the brunt of its product and hence as a crutch for its writers and wrestlers to lean on in its desperate yet failed attempt to reach an audience broader than the self-loathing and masochistic diehard wrestling fans, blind and desperate fans of women’s wrestling who wanted their favorites from the indie scene to make it to TV, and 18- to 34-year-old male chauvinists it’d attracted between the March and July of 2010 on syndicated television. Not only that, but considering how tawdry and/or otherwise vapid the humor was, it’s no wonder why most wrestling fans took objection to it, and believe me—the canned laughter that “Johnny C” and company used to “emphasize” their jokes a la the average 20th-century sitcom only made said jokes sound hokier than they would have otherwise on their own. Of course, it also hurt the promotion when Cafarella himself would appear onscreen in his trademark blue tuxedo with pink cummerbund and bowtie and announce each match in the same loud, grating, obnoxious, monotone, and downright puppet-like fashion that he had back during his glory years in GLOW and, worse yet, try (yet fail) to act in whatever skits his own talentless carcass was a part of. Then again, it didn’t help, either, that Wrestlicious had the worst—and I mean worst—possible commentator (allegedly Cafarella himself, according to the following blog entry I’d found by KB’s Wrestling Reviews) this side of Eric Gargiulo of Women’s Extreme Wrestling reciting the same type of vomit-inducing jokes that were told throughout the rest of the show with a voice that made him sound like a sexually repressed Muppet rather than actually calling the bloody match and helping the wrestlers actually tell a story, even if it was already a bad one, no thanks to Steve Blance’s horrendous ability to book the simplest of wrestling matches. Is it any surprise, then, why most wrestling fans who’ve been made aware of Wrestlicious’s emergence have learned to hate the promotion for what it has done to women’s wrestling? Is it any wonder why many of these same wrestling fans consider Wrestlicious alumni to be the prostitutes of the women’s wrestling world simply because they’d walked away from their trusty homes in the independent scene—reputable, long-standing indie feds that had treated them with dignity and respect like the role models they once were and should have always been—just for the sake of (maybe) an extra figure in their paychecks from a company that was doomed to die because of the origin and questionable content of its product? I should hope not.
My apologies, too, to anyone who has seen and liked their programming, because hey—that’s your personal taste, and I know I have no right to stop you from enjoying that which you enjoy. Just don’t expect me to do the same, however, because one episode of this garbage alone was enough to convince me that Johnny Cafarella has no respect for women’s wrestling, for if he did, he’d have taken a much more constructive, thoughtful, and perhaps even innovative approach to the problem of women’s wrestling not appealing to everyone and not so readily yet lazily relied on the same formula that he’d always known since 1987 to 1990 after David McLane left GLOW to found Powerful Women of Wrestling (POWW). Don’t even get me started, either, on the substandard, 1980s-style production of Wrestlicious TakeDown or, wore yet, its lack of income generation that was, in no small part, the fault of its lack of merchandise available for sale at the time, including DVDs of its shows and even apparel.
Yeah, I know…not exactly the smartest business model in the world, is it?
One last thing before I wrap up this section of my article and, in particular, this little rant of mine on Wrestlicious…I feel compelled to give my thoughts on what Jonathan Vargas should have done with his money rather than give it to someone as irresponsible, oblivious, and set in his ways as Cafarella in the instance that he was so gung ho on playing a part in the world of women’s professional wrestling: invested his money into TNA in hopes of financing a brand for the Knockouts Division that would have been separate from TNA Impact. Hey, why not? The Knockouts were—as I’ve said multiple times in this article already—earning TNA Wrestling its highest television ratings back in 2008-09, and out of the $35.3 million he’d reportedly won in that Powerball lottery back in the August of ‘08, surely he could have afforded to pay each of the girls an annual salary competitive to that of any male personality in TNA at the time. Not only that, but he could have also hired additional women to fill out the remaining ranks of his roster; brought in someone who actually respects women’s wrestling like Scott D’Amore to book the matches as well as Jim Cornette (who was already working for TNA at the time an as on-air authority figure and who was a color commentator for the LPWA during its heyday) to oversee talent relations, recruited his own production team and non-wrestling onscreen talent (commentators, ring announcer, backstage interviewer, referees, etc.), bought health insurance for everyone on his payroll, paid for the production of brand-specific merchandise as well as for overall brand promotion and royalties for whatever entrance themes his wrestlers would use, and still have enough money to stash into his savings account. What would the name of this sub-promotion be? Simple—LWR: Ladies’ Wrestling Revolution. The slogan: “Moving Women’s Wrestling Forward.” The premise: progressive women’s professional wrestling with the psychology of the 1980s, the character development of the Attitude Era, and a 21st century in-ring product featuring no one else but the best female wrestlers of this era. Sound a little too idealistic for its own good? Well, even if it does, at least it’d have had something that most pro wrestling insiders and fans would have looked forward to as opposed to the embarrassingly uninspired comic drivel of Wrestlicious and, on account of that, more promise of actually lasting through the years than anything Johnny Cafarella and his posse could possibly conjure up in any single one of their backstage meetings. Not only that, but think of the money the brand would have been making and how the women involved would have been safe from at least most of the influence of Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff’s many errors in managing TNA’s current product thus far. Finally, think of how it could have changed the pro wrestling landscape by making women’s wrestling actually worth watching again and hence reviving the prestige it’d once had when such wrestling promotions as the Ladies Professional Wrestling Association and Ladies Major League Wrestling/Wild Women of Wrestling were still in operation. Sadly, the opportunity for such a promotion is now gone, the damage has been done, and you, “J.V. Rich,” have no one to blame but yourself for not doing your homework way back when and realizing the truth behind Johnny Cafarella and his crew before forking your money over to them and hence becoming one of the biggest laughing stocks in the wrestling industry in 2010. Sorry you had to learn you lesson the hard way, Jonathan, but hopefully you have and will take more cautious measures in the future when it comes to making any business deal, particularly with anyone who either actually is or claims to be a part of the wrestling business.
Well, that should do it for this article. For those of you who’ve had the stamina to sit through and read all that I’ve had to say here, I thank you. Before I officially conclude things here, however, I would like to share one final thought with each and every one of you. As oft-frowned upon in U.S. society as it is, I’d be lying if I denied the fact that professional wrestling had indeed been something I’ve enjoyed throughout certain portions of my life. Sure, it’s all a work, but hey, if anything manages to entertain me, who cares if it’s real or not? After all, if parlor magic is all but an illusion, a novel a product of the author’s imagination, and many a movie or television series a fabrication in its own right, who’s to say that people can’t enjoy any of those things? However, there comes a time when wrestling fans must speak out against that which they don’t like in the industry—the things in pro wrestling that make it look as though it’s not worth supporting at all, and when it comes to women’s professional wrestling, I’m not afraid to share my opinions with anyone who’ll hear me out. Besides, pro wrestling has, for the most part, been a male-dominated industry since its inception, as I’ve said before, and chances are that it always will be. To insinuate that women have no place in it, though, is little more than sexist tripe concocted by self-serving male chauvinists who refuse to believe for one reason or another that female athletes do exist or have any value in any sport, official or theatrical. Women’s wrestling, as such, adds a whole new dimension to the sport that makes it that much more interesting to people like me who appreciate a little variety in the things they support, and as a man who respects any woman who makes a sincere, straightforward effort to carve out a niche for herself within a primarily male-operated enterprise, I’m not afraid to sing its praises…when it’s done right, that is. When it’s done wrong, on the other hand, I’m not against taking a stand against whatever product it is that I feel is doing its female competitors wrong, and as much as I hate to say it, both WWE and TNA really need to step up their game when it comes to helping women’s wrestling move forward. Similarly speaking, I hope that David McLane will do women’s wrestling justice with his newly revived promotion Women of Wrestling, which I’ve already discussed at length in my blog post from June 12. Then again, if this upcoming run with WOW is anything like—or, worse yet, inferior to—its original run back in 2000-01, then I fear that the chances for women’s wrestling to regain whatever prestige it’d once had back in the day might never be recaptured. That’d be a real shame for pro wrestling as a whole, too, for no matter what form the sport takes, if it’s a debacle of any kind, the whole world will know about it, and all the detractors would be all too quick to jump on the bandwagon and start bashing the industry as a whole like there’s no tomorrow.
It’s thus the responsibility of everyone—fans and insiders, men and women—to stand up for what we believe in when it comes to this business we all love, yet doesn’t always love us back. Wrestlers, for instance, should do everything they humanly can to put themselves over with the fans every which way they can while being credits to the profession at all costs and standing up for themselves and their fellow athletes whenever things aren’t working out the way they should. Likewise, promoters owe it to themselves recognize the efforts and talents of their performers on an individual basis and make sure that they are all pulling their respective weight and living up to their full potential as key players within the business. Bookers must do everything in their power to produce quality material to help the talents they’re responsible for get over with the crowd and attain a level of stardom that rivals that of the icons from yesteryear. Finally, fans owe it to themselves as well to be credits to the sport by praising today’s wrestlers and wrestling promotions for what they do right, calmly discussing the issues they have with them when they do something wrong, and supporting them within reason through thick and thin—no apologists, no flame wars, no blind bashing of “the other” company. Yeah, I know that that last point might more or less be wishful thinking on my part, but I think you all get my point all the same; this business will only move forward if we all do our part to help it do just that, and in my own little way, I’d like to think that I’m doing my part with this article right here—an article that, by my own admission, I should have posted here on the World Wide Web a good two to three years ago. Again, as I’ve said before, better late than never…but let’s hope this message hasn’t come too little too late.
At any rate, thank you again for reading, and please feel free to visit my author page at Smashwords.com for current and future releases from me and follow me on twitter @DustinMWeber. Otherwise, take care, and happy reading.
Dustin M. Weber
PS: All credit for the photographs used in this blog entry go to the following sources:
Malia Hosaka vs. Leilani Kai: Leilani Kai vs Malia Hosaka – LPWA Wrestling (Full) by lpwainc (YouTube)
Lacey Von Erich and Friends: ProWrestlingScoops.com
Eve Torres vs. Katie Lea Burchill: Eve Torres vs Katie Lea First Round Divas Tournament by MrWWENUMBERONEFAN (YouTube)
Christina Von Eerie and CRUSH & Wrestlicious logos: Wikipedia.org
Mercedes Martinez: Slam.Canoe.ca
Beth Phoenix: ProFightDB.com
Awesome Kong: TheSun.co.UK
Hulk Hogan: Blogs.VillageVoice.com
Andre the Giant: OnlineWorldofWrestling.com
Ultimate Warrior: TravisSttoetzel.com
Stone Cold Steve Austin: MemeCrunch.com
The Undertaker: WayneWilkins.hubpages.com
The Rock: NotIntheHallofFame.com
“Dark Angel” Sarah Stock/Sarita: Sarita Makes Her TNA Debut by TNAWrestling (YouTube)
Ashley Lane/Madison Rayne: SexyWrestlingBabes.com
Jamie Dauncey/Sirelda: Accelerator3359.com
Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling: ShareTV.org
Nikki Roxx/Roxxi Laveaux: OnlineOnslaught.com
Christy Hemme: StarPulse.com
Bruce Pritchard: IconvsIcon.com
Trish Stratus: lohcl89.livejournal.com
Natalya Neidhart: ZeusBox.com
Scott D’Amore: Gerweck.net
Jim Cornette: BleacherReport.com
Venus of World Wrestling Professionals: WWP.co.za
Support Women’s Wrestling logo: BarberShopWindow.com
All opinions expressed in this article, however, are my own.