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Talking GFW Knockouts Past, Present and Future: Conversation with Karen Jarrett, Sienna and Laurel Van Ness

In the “Women Wrestling’s Revolution” timeline, some may forget TNA, now GFW Impact Wrestling, was a pioneer. Women were put in hot spots and tough stipulation matches way before WWE started to do so. GFW Executive Director Karen Jarrett, GFW Knockout Champion Sienna and Knockout Laurel Van Ness insisted yesterday during a media conference call on the fact the power they have right now is the result of what they had been offered by a bunch of female revolutionaries.

GFW opened a new chapter of its history this year and the Knockouts, like the whole company, is now reflecting on her history to build itself a current strength, and an amazing future. For Sienna, it’s a fact: “I do 100% believe that the Knockouts started the Women’s Revolution, if you want to label it. The Knockouts were the first women to do this stuff on TV back in 2008/2009. The Knockouts set the bar ten years ago and I do believe that we’re well on our way to bringing it back to that, to where it originally started.” Laurel Van Ness insisted: “At the end of the day, if you look back in history at the matches that Gail Kim and the girls were having, that’s proof right there that the Women’s Revolution started in IMPACT.”

For Karen Jarrett, it’s all about showing true talent: “TNA, at the time, gave the women a platform that they could show themselves on and show they could do more than have a pillow match or a lingerie match… or whatever type of gimmick you want to pull out. They showed that they could compete just the same as the guys do.” But do the company need to change the name of Knockout in order to make the division stronger? For Karen Jarrett, the answer is a solid no as for her, every division should have his own name. Sienna is more fierce about it: “Being the Knockouts Champion I can tell you I have zero problems with the name Knockouts. Knockout never had the negative connotation that “Diva” did. It’s cool that the name has a double meaning because, yeah, we’re Knockouts and we’re sexy but we’re also Knockouts because we can knock you out. “

What is the recipe that could help rebuild the Knockout division? Bringing more talent? More TV matches? Stipulation matches? Every woman has her own point of view. For Karen Jarrett, more talents would be welcomed and she has an eye on some women she refused to reveal the name of. “It should be put forward and there should be more females in the company. If you look at the ratings five or six years ago, or you look at the minute by minute breakdown, some of the segments with the Knockouts were the highest rated segments on the show. There are extremely talented women out there on the independent circuit. I’m there and I’m going to make sure that the women get the attention and the platform that they deserve.”

For Laurel Van Ness, more matches could be the good solution as she wants women to have more TV time: “I think at this point it’s quality over quantity. I don’t necessarily think we need to put out three women’s matches a show… we’ll have one women’s match per show that is a kickass match that everyone is entertained by. That being said, of course I want for the women to get more time and wrestle as much as we possibly can but, at this point, I’m so happy with the way that we’re going and the sisterhood that we have in the Knockouts division. We’re only getting better from here.”

For the GFW Knockout Champion Sienna, success don’t necessarily come from in-ring work. “A huge part of it is not just in the matches. I think we’re going in the right direction with one promo but the women need the mic more in general. I think that is really where character development lies and so a lot more women need to get comfortable talking because some of them aren’t. That’s throughout women’s wrestling in general. Women, in general, do not like to speak and they need to.” But stipulation matches, like The Last Knockout Standing match she was a part of last Thursday against Rosemary, is something she would like to see more: “I think the women would rock them and we can tear the house down with that kind of stuff, just like the guys.”

But to build a bright future, you can’t forget the past. Women like Taylor Wilde, Awesome Kong or Havok are former Knockouts Sienna would love to square off with. Gail Kim recently announced she will retire by the end of the year. And Sienna would be pleased to be her last opponent: “I would love nothing more than to send Gail Kim into retirement. That would make me the happiest person in the world. Ironically, she was my first opponent in IMPACT in 2016 and I beat her then”. But she’s about to take a backstage role and this made all 3 women happy. Van Ness told her excitement to have her influence, the same way she was influenced by her when she was a young and girly athlete. For Karen Jarrett, which tense relation with Sienna was felt during the call, Gail’s passion is going to be impactful: “I feel that the girls are in for a rude awakening. Gail has been in this business for years and has a passion that you just cannot duplicate. Gail’s gonna make them work. She’s gonna make them train. It’s gonna be a whole new world for them.”

Rebuilding the Knockout division is a real time work Jarrett is a part of, but is not fully responsible of. “Everyone in creative is contributing on that. Obviously, Dutch (Mantel), Scott (D’Amore) and Sonjay (Dutt) are more in tune with it. It’s open to the entire room and everybody is throwing what they can against the wall but those three are incredibly gifted in dealing with it. It’s a team effort across the board. Obviously, I’ve never wrestled so I’m not involved in and have nothing to do with the in-ring or the character development, that’s up to the creative team and the agents. I am basically there to be a voice for the women and I want to make sure that we are showcasing our women to make sure they’re getting the time that they deserve.”

For example, Laurel Van Ness’ “Disfigured Bride” character is a real team creation Van Ness took part of too. “That character has been the brainchild of everyone. Dutch (Mantel) and I worked on that originally and we cut a promo after I was left at the altar. Dutch kinda kept pushing me to get crazier and crazier. I didn’t realise how insane I looked or how much people would love it. From then on, everyone has kinda given me their input and their take on what this character is or you know what crazy people had come into their lives and what they have done that maybe I can include in my character. I really appreciate that because every single person has a totally different take on what this hot mess, crazy jilted bride, should be like, and I’ve been able to include some of those things in my promos in backstage segments and in the ring and I love that.”

When it comes to Sienna, she’s like The “Lone Wolf” of the female roster, with a MMA-inspired style and mind-set. She already had MMA fights but focused on wrestling when she was signed to IMPACT in 2016. Sienna is an ass-kicker and gold-reacher who was more influenced by male wrestling than female. When the idea of a Knockout Tag Team division is quoted, her answer is simple: “Anymore belt I can win I’m truly okay for it.” She was not afraid to cut Karen Jarrett during the conversation, claiming that being the Champion allows her to. When Sienna says she was influenced by Stone Cold Steve Austin, “his attitude and the way he moves, and the way he moves in the ring in particular, not just the beer and the middle finger thing and the catchphrases”, you easily understand what forged the bad-ass Knockout that is reigning supreme on IMPACT right now.

Both Karen Jarrett, Sienna and Laurel Van Ness are sure the Knockout future is going to be bright. The talents are here, the creative, the crowds… The recent Mumbai trip may have been tough, as Van Ness quoted, but the crowd was nuts and rowdy. This week-end, GFW is doing 2 live events in New York area, with Lucha Underground John Hennigan (Johnny Mundo) and Tara Valkyrie as special guests (Karen Jarrett stated she was working on making this one time thing become a long time thing…). And there’s UK, a place IMPACT has loved to travel in. A tour seems to be on the work as Karen Jarrett told her an announcement will be made in the next few months.

More and more young women are interested in wrestling and it may be the key for a bright future. Karen Jarrett, like Laurel Van Ness, agrees on the fact the time of very dark shows is now over and women are able to find her way back to them. “It’s not just a wrestling show”, says Van Ness, “We’ve got a bit of entertainment, a little bit of comedy, we’ve got some high-flyers. We do still have a little bit of that dark side with Rosemary so I think we can attract all sorts of audiences and that’s definitely what everybody wants to see. Within the Knockouts division, we have a little of everything – we have asskickers, we have the girly girls, we have the crazy hot messes, we have the dark characters – so I think we hit the nail on the head with that one.” The recent success of the Netflix series GLOW is also for Sienna a way to present female wrestlers differently: “Any positive light that we can shine on the wrestling industry and women’s wrestling, in particular, is going to draw attention to us and that’s exactly what we need.”