Admittedly, posting a throwaway Knockouts match up on the internet probably wasn’t the best way to laud TNA’s women’s wrestling division. This time, I’m going to go for broke and post all five matches in the Gail Kim vs. Awesome Kong series that consumed much of the division’s early history and stands as probably the company’s single greatest achievement. Awesome Kong was recently signed by WWE and Gail Kim has finally found her way back in front of the camera (though the less she wrestles, the less I have to hear Michael Cole yell “Eat Defeat!” like he’s a master punsman), and it is my hope that the two will hook up in front of a huge crowd at some point in time, even if it’s just on WWE Superstars. The second and third matches of the series should tell you everything you need to know…
Gail Kim vs. Amazing Kong (10/11/07)
The video is a little distracting, but this is both a preview for the upcoming gauntlet match that served to crown the first Knockouts champion, and as an introduction to Amazing Kong, who made her debut here. The women surrounding the ring are terrified of the 6’1″, 275 lbs. Kong, but Kim, the centerpiece of the division, had the speed and talent to take her on. For awhile, it looked like she’d be the only one who even stood a reasonable chance.
Gail Kim vs. Awesome Kong I (12/2/07)
When TNA airs those stupid promo videos that shout “WE ARE WRESTLING” or “CROSS THE LINE” or whatever, it’s matches like this that make the promotion look like a far-off Emerald City, where nothing hurts and everything is beautiful. TNA fans (I’m not one) tout stuff like the X-Division and the careers of guys like AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels as reasons to tune into a wrestling show that, some weeks, has as little as 16 minutes of actual wrestling to air, but I can get pretty backflips and convoluted finishes anywhere, preferably an old tape of WCW Monday Nitro. What I can’t get is a 15-plus minute pay per view war between two very talented women who are both made to look like legitimate threats to everybody else on the roster.
Gail Kim was the first ever TNA Knockouts Champion, having won the title in a gauntlet match that inaugerated the division. She defended it for two months before running into the freight train who was Awesome Kong, who lost the gauntlet and responded by brutalizing the rest of the division, eventually earning a title shot in singles competition. Not being a TNA fan, I can’t really tell you how anticipated or how important the company made it, but this match and the no-disqualification rematch one month later represent a high water mark for women’s wrestling in America, a light version of the Manami Toyota vs. Aja Kong feud that marked the mid-90s.
After the lame disqualification finish to their match at the Turning Point PPV, it was wisely decided that the next Kim/Kong encounter be a No Disqualification bout. This is the first time Kim actually gets an equal amount of offense in as Kong does, as she’s no longer a speedy underdog, but a crafty veteran who’s figured out her opponent.
There are really only two things dragging this match down, neither of which have anything to do with Gail Kim or Awesome Kong. The first is the announcing. If it seems forced and scripted, that’s because it is. Don West–the guy shouting so loud you think his head’s going to pop like the dude from Scanners–might have been a good TV pitchman, but as a wrestling analyst, he was brutal. Mike Tenay garnered a lot of respect for his work as the third (and most knowledgeable) announcer on Monday Nitro, but his knowledge of moves and backstory doesn’t quite translate to his being a great play-by-play man. It doesn’t help that he has to carry West, who is an albatross the likes of which would drag down even Jim Ross, Lance Russell or Gordon Solie, but he tends to talk through dramatic spots unnecessarily and at great length, punctuated with “OHHHHHHHHH” when a big move happens. It’s like he can’t decided if he’s on TV or the radio. Then there’s the referee in this match. Previously, I said how I liked referees who were unobtrusively indispensable to their match. Slick Johnson, the man calling this contest, is obtrusively obnoxious. For some weird reason, TNA packaged him with the gimmick that he was the COOL REF, which meant wearing shorts, and the two-count that leads to Kong dispatching him for the night is incredibly dickish.
Otherwise, this is probably the best mainstream women’s wrestling match of the last 10 years, maybe longer.
It’s a little laughable, maybe, to call the main event of Impact a “high profile” affair, but the fact of the matter is that women don’t often get to main event a promotion’s flagship TV show. Off the top of my head, I can think of one other time it happened: The 2004 match between Trish Stratus and Lita that saw Lita almost break her neck. This match is the debut of Raisha Saeed, better known as Cheerleader Melissa, who is one of the best women wrestlers working America today. Unsurprisingly, TNA didn’t use her to the fullest of her abilities, but she made a pretty good manager for Kong, who needs her presence to make it over the hump. Basically a sped-up version of the match they had at Final Resolution, only Kong is done messing around.
Gail Kim wins some lame battle royal/ladder match (TNA’s booking of matches like this is both commonplace and beyond logical description), which earns her another shot at Kong, only four months removed from their feud. You’d think that given their history and the reputation the two built based on that feud that it wouldn’t be asking much to give the pair a month’s worth of build-up before maybe a Pay Per View match, but TNA has never been known for their patience, and by now the women’s division has kind of left Gail Kim behind. Still, once you get past the parts where the Knockouts fight all around the ring, this is a very good match for free TV.
Gail Kim’s last TNA match, with her sister watching at ringside. It’s a street fight, which means that pinfalls count anywhere, but most TNA street fights end in the ring, so as to not reveal to the audience that the Impact Zone is 90% cardboard. Gail’s sister is in the crowd, and if wrestling has taught us anything, it’s that having a family member watch you do your job will result in tragedy. The post-match angle would have been much cool had TNA bothered to re-sign Gail to a contract, but they didn’t, and she’s now in the WWE. Kong continued on with TNA for two years, until she got into a physical altercation with shock jock/friend of Hulk Hogan Bubba the Love Sponge and is biding her time before her WWE debut. The TNA Knockouts division continues to be the best part of the company, but without Gail Kim and Awesome Kong, it’s certainly diminished. This is an example of what the company can do when it puts time and effort into something. Shame it happens so infrequently.