Since TNA elected to record its Impact Wrestling episodes in New York, the fans have occasionally delivered a chant during the Knockouts matches which has been a cause of discussion.
The “Better than Divas” claim was certainly an easy argument to make between 2007 and maybe even as late as last year, before TNA started cutting back its roster to the handful of names that it has at the moment. Out went veterans like Tara and Mickie James as well as promising talents like Taeler Hendrix. Admittedly, in came Brittany and Madison Rayne and Taryn Terrell both returned soon after having children leaving us with a slim full-time roster of Rayne, Terrell, Brittany, Velvet Sky, Angelina Love and Gail Kim. There are others like Brooke and Rebel, while Jessicka Havok debuts next week – but is this line-up of nine better than what WWE is offering at the moment, like the chant suggests?
Well, Kim was the top woman in the 2012 Pro Wrestling Illustrated Female 50 for good reason. She consistently presents well-received matches and is in a much better position as a babyface than as a heel. Havok will present something needed in the division – a genuine monster who will receive a superstar push The Beautiful People reunion has felt more like reheated leftovers than anything and Brittany’s momentum never really got started as her obsessed fan schtick with Rayne followed by her heel turn was cut off fairly quickly. Rayne is miscast as the face, while there is something genuinely special about Terrell, though her development is perilously slow compared to if she were at WWE’s Performance Center.
That brings us to the opposition, who have state-of-the-art equipment, some of the best minds in the business to guide them and the ability to wrestle much more often then the Knockouts. It means that talents like Charlotte have come along so quickly, and you can see her development from show to show – so much so that there’s talk of fast-tracking her to the main roster. It has also produced entertaining acts like Bayley and Sasha Banks, as well as graduates like Paige who are involved in episodic storytelling and good matches on pay-per-view. Sure, there are iffy workers in WWE like the Bellas as well as thumbs-down names like Rosa Mendes, Cameron and Eva Marie, but they’re balanced out by talents like Natalya, Naomi and AJ Lee.
The problem is that the best Diva matches tend to be on PPV these days, while TNA only has four of them every year… which leads me to the problem with the Knockouts.
Part of the issue is that frequency of matches which wrestlers get in TNA. A lack of house shows and filming episodes of Impact in huge chunks mean that women who would benefit from more ring time mean that it will take a longer time for everything to fall into place than the NXT Divas who have a huge facility to use every day. Sure, the setup probably works for new mums like Rayne and Terrell as they only have to be away from home for a handful of days a month, but it potentially limits their horizons as wrestlers, especially in the case of Terrell.
Admittedly, Taryn’s best matches by far have been with Kim – and while the former Tiffany deservedly picked up a lot of credit for their matches last year, the real star was Gail, who led Terrell by the hand through them.
Storylines – TNA seems to have the same wrestlers rotating through the same matches because of their tiny roster, though Havok’s debut does freshen things up a bit. Despite my reservations over the potential matches and the promos which will precede it, the Bella feud is brand new – while AJ and Paige’s storyline is developing in an interesting, unpredictable way, though WWE’s focus on the Divas has dropped from the early summer when there were four overlapping stories.
So are the TNA Knockouts “Better than Divas”? Well Gail Kim is, and Havok is certainly a valuable acquisition, but the rest are either comparable or inferior to the Divas, while their matches are becoming a bit repetitive. On the whole, I would have to say no – the Divas division is better. The problem TNA has is a lack of development opportunities – exemplified by Brittany’s disappointing run – too few opportunities to wrestle and a tiny roster leading to matches which you feel like you’ve seen before.
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