The October 28 installment of Impact provided a terrific example of TNA’s commitment to women’s wrestling. A vicious brawl between old foes Tara and Mickie James set the stage for an explosive tag match in which Madison Rayne, Tara, and Sarita squared off against Angelina Love, Velvet Sky, and Mickie James. That’s a talented sextet, for sure. In fact, all of the aforementioned grapplers placed in the top half of this year’s PWI “Female 50.” Their ensuing contest was a mid-card bonanza of solid, hard-hitting action. Incorporating a broad range of talent and experience into a simple, quasi-coherent storyline seems challenging enough to those who call the shots for the WWE Divas, but TNA appears to be developing a multifaceted series of Knockout-related angles that will hopefully serve to hold the collective attention of those who appreciate women’s wrestling.
Madison Rayne (who, incidentally, garnered my vote for the number-one slot in the “Female 50) continues to grow into her role as TNA’s dictatorial über-villainess, as she leads a tentatively allied faction of like-minded ladies into battle against her former “BFFs,” The Beautiful People. Rayne’s “frenemy” Tara, having recently surrendered the KO strap to Rayne in fulfillment of a personal debt of sorts, is embroiled in a new phase of her longstanding feud with Mickie James that is set to culminate in a battle at Turning Point. James won’t back down from that challenge, or any other, and she’s made it eminently clear that her ultimate goal is to capture the TNA Knockouts title. When the dust settles, James might well realize her dream of becoming the most decorated women’s champion in pro wrestling history.
The drama of TNA’s Knockouts division isn’t limited to rivalries and cliques. TNA continues to develop a fledgling women’s tag division and the belts are currently held by Japanese superstar Hamada and former Knockout champion Taylor Wilde. Granted, the women’s roster could benefit from a few more tag pairings to make the chase for the KO tag belts a bit more intriguing, but the sustained effort to keep a diverse range of women’s action in the front and center of TNA programming is noteworthy.
Despite the fact that WWE remains the biggest of big leagues in the world of pro wrestling, there is an apparent gender gap when it comes to how the company presents its female talent. For today’s women of WWE, they might well consider themselves lucky to land in the lower-card, cast in a handful of one-dimensional feuds and rivalries before relegation to a supporting role as arm candy for a rising male star or a guest host.
This is not to say that there is an absence of top-quality female talent in the ranks of WWE. Michelle McCool, Melina, and Natalya are prime examples of women who strive to make the most of their time in WWE. In many respects, though, WWE appears to have given up on presenting a women’s division based on work ethic and physicality. In a post on this blog several weeks ago, PWI Editor-in-Chief Frank Krewda used the phrase “looks vs. ability” in his discussion of WWE’s ongoing identity crisis vis-à-vis women’s wrestling. Time and again, “looks” wins the day.
TNA effectively bucks this trend by nurturing developing talent and providing new opportunities to seasoned veterans. The Knockouts aren’t afraid to incorporate a smattering of gratuitous “cheesecake” moments into their respective repertoires now and again, but it’s clear from week to week that the women of TNA have greater purpose and potential than simple sex appeal.
Indeed, the profound difference between the Knockouts and the Divas lies in TNA’s willingness to let their talent work, both on the mike and in the ring.
PWI Contributing Writer