Diva Debate No. 1: Kaitlyn's Title Chances, AJ: 'Diva of the Year?' and More
Welcome to the inaugural edition of Diva Debate.
In this new, weekly article, the latest breaking news, storyline developments and top performers from the week prior in nationally-televised women's professional wrestling will be covered. The Divas of World Wrestling Entertainment and the Knockouts of Total Nonstop Action Wrestling will be the object of discussion, as will the women of wrestling's past in a special career profile.
In this week's installment, I take a look at whether or not Kaitlyn has what it takes to be WWE's next Divas Champion. Also inside, I examine whether or not the on-screen relationship between TNA Knockouts Champion Tara and former Big Brother competitor Jesse Godderz is hurting Tara and, with the annual "year-end awards" rapidly approaching, I discuss whether or not AJ Lee has any real competition for the "Woman of the Year" award.
So sit back, relax, click that "next" button and join me for what I hope becomes a staple here on the wrestling section of Bleacher Report.
Topic No. 1: Can Kaitlyn Be WWE's Next Divas Champion?
Kaitlyn has come a long way since filling in as a last-second replacement for Aloisa on NXT Season Three. With little or no ring experience prior to her national debut, Kaitlyn performed admirably and shocked the world by winning the competition, her likable, self-admitted “nerdy” personality helping her to connect with the audience and garner votes.
In the nearly two years following that unexpected victory, Kaitlyn has improved by leaps and bounds as an in-ring performer. Biding her time, waiting for an opportunity while competing on the aforementioned NXT and Superstars, she learned from trainers and other Divas and as a result, now finds herself as a prominent challenger for Eve Torres’ Divas title.
Can she win that title is the question. From an in-ring standpoint, she has grown enough to this point that she could conceivably carry the championship and defend it against more talented opponents, covering up any weaknesses she still may have. However, the connection with the audience is something seriously lacking at this point, and that has a lot to do with the creative team not giving her enough to do.
Kaitlyn has a unique, carefree, fun personality that made fans gravitate towards her despite knowing nothing about her during her time on NXT. The creative team has yet to capitalize on that personality, opting instead to have Kaitlyn recite the same cookie-cutter lines they give every Superstar.
With a Divas division that has been gutted by the departures of Kelly Kelly, the Bella Twins and Beth Phoenix in recent months, there is room for a babyface Diva to break out and establish a defined rivalry with Eve over the Divas title. With AJ Lee tied up in a soap opera-esque storyline involving John Cena, Dolph Ziggler and Vickie Guerrero, Kaitlyn would be perfect for that role.
Winning the championship definitely appears to be in Kaitlyn’s future. Whether that eventual title reign could be considered a success or failure, however, will be determined by the creative team and if they allow her to be herself.
Topic No. 2: Does AJ Lee Have Any Realistic Competition for 'Woman of the Year'?
2012 has been a banner year for AJ Lee. Once an afterthought, appearing only sporadically on Smackdown, AJ has dominated WWE airwaves this year, first as the verbally-abused girlfriend of Daniel Bryan, then as the unstable center of a three-way rivalry involving Kane, Bryan and WWE Champion CM Punk and finally as the inexperienced general manager of Monday Night Raw.
Now, she finds herself in the middle of a program involving the sport’s top star.
AJ has unexpectedly found herself at or near the top of World Wrestling Entertainment, having the kind of year not seen since Stephanie McMahon was a central figure in her father’s company in 2000. There has not been another woman in the business that has experienced that type of television time and storyline involvement this year, and for that reason, it will be very difficult for any other Diva, or TNA Knockout for that matter, to challenge her.
But let us examine any potential competition.
Eve Torres has had a very impressive year, beginning in 2012 as the girlfriend of Zack Ryder, only to show her true colors as a manipulative, scheming jezebel (thank you, Jim Ross). She would have a major hand in the outcome of the “Team Teddy vs. Team Johnny” bout at WrestleMania and became the most well-rounded female performer on the roster. A Divas Championship victory over Layla in September at Night of Champions only helped bolster her resume.
Brooke Tessmacher broke out as a hot (in more ways than one) act for TNA, improving tremendously in her in-ring work to the point that the company trusted her to knock off Gail Kim and become the new TNA Knockouts Champion. She held the title twice, defeating Madison Rayne for her second go-round with the championship and became a favorite of the Impact Zone audience.
Unfortunately, she ran into Tara at Bound For Glory and dropped the title and has made few appearances on TNA television since then.
Layla returned from injury this past spring and immediately captured the Divas Championship, sending the Bella Twins packing in the process. She looked very good between the ropes in successful title defenses against Beth Phoenix, proving that the evolved ring work she showed as a part of LayCool prior to her injury was not merely an apparition. She would lose the title at Night of Champions, but remains a key figure in the rebuilding Divas division.
As special as those women have been this year, none have stood out and garnered the support of the audience the way AJ has. She is a featured player on the No. 1 show in professional wrestling and has been involved with a number of the top stars the industry has to offer.
A woman has not had as strong a year as AJ has had this year since the heyday of Trish Stratus. That says a lot, and for that reason, AJ Lee is a lock for Woman of the Year.
Topic No. 3: Is the on-Screen Relationship with Jesse Hurting Tara in TNA?
When Tara found herself in the Knockouts Championship hunt back in late September and October, fans hoped that she would finally return to the spotlight, a place someone with her talent never should have dropped out of. When she made her heel turn, assaulting her best friend Brooke Tessmacher, fans applauded. And when Tara began speaking of a boyfriend from Hollywood, fans became interested.
Unfortunately, TNA’s payoff to the story was Jesse Godderz, a former contestant on TV’s Big Brother and an aspiring professional wrestler. That is not to say Jesse is absolutely terrible as much as it is a condemnation of the character Tara has been asked to play as his girlfriend. What could have been an entertaining heel turn that saw the veteran Knockout run with the championship, out-thinking her former protégé Tessmacher and playing keep-away with the title before Brooke finally wrestled it from her has, instead, resulted in an incredibly annoying heel couple that grates at the viewer’s nerves rather than entertains.
Tara and Jesse have done the best with what they have been given, but at this point, the on-screen pairing has done nothing for either performer. Jesse is the cowardly girly man who has to hide behind Tara or risk getting beat up by ODB while Tara plays the shallow type, which simply does not suit her. At this rate, the Knockouts Championship is in danger of becoming a comedy novelty act, an afterthought in a rivalry between Jesse and Tara and ODB and Eric Young.
Tara deserves better and, to a lesser extent, so does Jesse. While early in the story, perhaps it is best for the two to go their separate ways before irreparable damage is done.
Topic No. 4: Is Ivory the Most Underrated Diva in WWE History?
There have been a number of Divas that have come through World Wrestling Entertainment over the years that, for whatever reason, have seen their accomplishments overshadowed by other more prominent women. Perhaps the most underrated, underappreciated woman in WWE history is a three-time Women’s Champion.
Ivory entered WWE in 1999 as the manager for the team of D’Lo Brown and Mark Henry, and as such, she almost immediately engaged in a rivalry with the manager of WWE Tag Team Champions Jeff Jarrett and Owen Hart, the lovely Debra McMichael. That rivalry netted Ivory her first Women’s Championship, and shortly thereafter, she became the lead villain in a rapidly-expanding women’s division.
Her feud with Tori produced several hard-hitting matches, including the first women’s hardcore match for the Women’s Championship on September 6, 1999. From there, Ivory would target the legendary Hall of Fame inductees the Fabulous Moolah and Mae Young. Her first title reign would come to an end at No Mercy when she was upset by Moolah in a match that was, well, better left unmentioned. She would rebound by recapturing the title from Moolah just eight days later.
2000 was an interesting time for women’s wrestling in WWE because the focus was still largely on T&A and specialty gimmick matches, leaving women like Ivory and Jacqueline floating around without much to do. The Kat and Terri Runnels received generous TV time, while untrained, inexperienced Stephanie McMahon held the Women’s title for four months.
At the same time, however, newcomers Lita and Trish Stratus had begun to lay the framework of what would later become known as the “Golden Age” of women’s wrestling in Vince McMahon’s company.
Lita’s arrival, especially, gave Ivory something to do. Now a member of the Parents Television Council-parodying “Right to Censor,” Ivory spoke out against the blatant sexual displays of the women in WWE at the time. The act got over to such an extent that she was awarded her third Women’s Championship, defeating Lita and beginning a rivalry that would run through the 2000 Survivor Series.
Perhaps her most memorable rivalry would begin in December of 2000 when Ivory, along with Val Venis, injured the neck of the “Ninth Wonder of the World” Chyna and sidelined her. Ivory would dress as the former Intercontinental Champion and mock her, setting up a showdown as Royal Rumble. At that show, Chyna would reinjure her neck, extending the storyline and ultimately setting up a final Wrestlemania showdown.
Ivory played the cowardly villain brilliantly; never afraid to run her mouth when she knew Chyna was not in the building and never hesitating to run away when she was confronted. She would be squashed in the title match at WrestleMania, bringing to a close a months-long rivalry between two women over the Women’s title, the likes of which we would never see today.
Over the course of the next three years, Ivory would remain a fixture on WWE television, often competing on the Sunday Night Heat and Velocity programs. While she would never reach the prominence in the company that she once enjoyed, Ivory remained one of the most talented performers on the roster, always available to step in when needed. Her final, major championship match would come at Armageddon 2003, when she challenged Molly Holly for the Women’s title.
Ivory was an essential piece of the Divas puzzle for WWE during her first few years with the company. As a legitimate wrestler in the land of pretty faces and even nicer bodies, she carried a number of women during feuds and matches, most of whom really had no business being in the ring. She helped the division transition from being largely concerned with bra and panties matches and lingerie contests to focusing on real wrestling matches, which Trish Stratus, Jazz, Molly Holly, Victoria and Lita would help popularize in later years.
A woman whose importance to women’s wrestling in WWE will only be recognized more and more in the coming years, Ivory earned a place for herself in the WWE history books by being one of the business’ most adaptable performers. There is a locker room full of women in both WWE and TNA that could do themselves a favor by watching her work and adopting and adding what she was able to do to their own performances.
Inside Next Week's Diva Debate...
Next week, we take a look at WWE Divas Champion Eve Torres, TNA's revolving door of Knockouts, the (mis-)use of "Funkadactyl" Naomi and the woman that may be the greatest in-ring talent to ever grace a WWE ring.
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