“Perfect in Strength, like a Wild Bull”
For five years, the TNA Knockouts division was an empire with no true empress.
A Miss TNA crown, a TNA Knockout of the Year award, and the borrowed NWA World Women’s Championship served as the potential prizes for the top women in the company’s early years. But in the fall of 2007 that changed with the arrival of the TNA Knockouts Championship.
In Gail Kim, a speedy and athletic star, a graceful leaper and natural babyface, TNA had an ideal candidate to hold that title. Kim (30) was in her prime. The former WWE women’s champ was fresh off vanquishing Jackie Moore who replaced her as America’s Most Wanted’s manager. She looked plenty ready to be the focal point for TNA’s Knockout division.
Then came a monster in a land free of them to that point.
Awesome Kong, a 275-pound bruiser, arrived in TNA, stomping down the entrance ramp on Impact. One didn’t need to see her work in Japan to know what she was set to bring. Her wild-eyed scowl, her wide and imposing frame, her tightly balled up fists, all told the story for us.
TNA didn’t have anything like her on the roster. She outweighed women like Velvet Sky and Christy Hemme by a good 150 pounds. Jackie Moore and ODB were powerhouses in their own right, but Kong was a damned nose tackle in wrestling boots.
During Kong’s debut against Kim, just about every woman stood at ringside, marveling, afraid.
Kim gritted her teeth and charged into a fight where she was dramatically outmatched. She fought with heart but was ultimately swallowed up. Kong tossed her around, shaking the ring with each power move. Unable to execute an Irish whip, unable to fully apply her usual holds, Kim fell to Kong in a one-sided bout that barely went past three minutes.
It didn’t feel like it at the time, but a centerpiece rivalry had begun. TNA (later Impact Wrestling) had itself one of those rare rivalries that can be tapped for years, that completes both wrestlers.
Bound for Glory 2007 soon followed to see that feud take its next step.
10 women battled in a Gauntlet Match to decide who would first claim the newly created TNA Women’s World Championship. Awesome Kong entered fourth. The destructive power she showed in her debut was on display again, this time as she took out Shelley Martinez, flung Jackie Moore out of the ring, and dominated everything in sight.
Cue the valiant hero’s second attempt to down the beast. Kim rushed in and fired away with a missile dropkick to the sternum. Her hunger for revenge burned in every punch she threw.
She and Kong were soon tangled together, a mess of limbs against the ropes. The other challengers ganged up on the biggest foe in the field to take her out. That cleared the way for Kim to outlast everyone else and become champion.
The monster would not be vanquished that easily, though.
Kong grew focused on Kim in the weeks to come. After whipping her opponent on Impact, she stood in the ring staring at Kim’s picture. The champ interrupted the obsessive moment, stepping up to Kong, and lacing her with right hands to the back of the head. Referees struggled to keep the women apart as they scrapped.
Their animosity burned hot. It was the fire one could not help but stare into, the foundation on which TNA could build its women’s division.
At the Turning Point 2007 in December, Kim defended the Knockouts Championship against her impressive rival to continue their tale. While the champ was able to stun Kong with some dives, in the end, power trumped heart. Kong simply beat the hell out of Kim.
However, the beast’s wrath was her undoing. After shoving the referee and pressing her boot to Kim’s throat, Kong earned a disqualification. That didn’t go over well with her. She erupted and powerbombed everyone within arm’s length. Soon, a pile of bodies lay at Kong’s feet like a mountain of trophy skulls.
Kim remained champion. Kong remained a compelling, unnerving force. And TNA had itself a rivalry that jacked up interest in the women’s division.
They would soon meet again in a nine-woman Santa’s Workshop Street Fight of all places. This was a themed plunder match where everyone except Kong donned Christmas costumes, where ODB stuffed into Angelina Love into a giant toy box.
Even amid the silliness, the story of hatred prevailed. Kong and Kim locked onto each other like two bucks intertwining antlers. A mob of security guards had to pull them apart.
Kim and Kong’s loathing of each other could not be contained, not by a ring, not by security. They would soon have to settle this with an elevated level of violence.
“In the Street They Joined Combat, in the Square of the Land”
This conflict needed a loosening of the rules.
Each time the women competed, it was all fists drumming flesh, animosity overflowing, a dogfight. And so, Kong and Kim’s Knockouts Championship match at Final Resolution 2008 would be held under No Disqualification rules. That decision proved both fitting and entertaining.
Kim didn’t even enter the ring before this broke out into a slugfest. Kong knocked the champ off the apron and soon the enemies brawled at ringside, trading haymakers.
As was so often the case, Kim was fiery and fearless, leaping into her forearms to get a better crack at the monster before her. Meanwhile, Kong overpowered her. She smashed Kim against the ring apron, choked her with her boot, spun her around, a predator toying with a carcass.
In an unusual move for the time, women were getting to play with the same violent tools as the men so often did to tell their story. It was matches like this that make the Kong-Kim rivalry as important to the rise in prominence for women’s wrestling in America as the Women’s Revolution in WWE.
The gutsy Kim endured a beating through much of it. It wasn’t until a moment of chaos arose that she found the door ajar for her to fell her foe, at least temporarily. Kong, angry and out of control, started abusing the referees. When she tried to powerbomb one of the officials, Kim sneaked in for a schoolboy pin to score a three-count and retain the title.
Again, the audience received a clear signal that this was not over. Kim and Kong brawled after the bell, once more separated by security, once more left to glare at each other from a distance.
TNA must have known that it had something special. Something crackled in the air each time Kong and Kim faced off.
On the next episode of Impact, Kong had another opportunity to take the Knockout Championship, another chance to smash her foe at her feet.
The challenger now had a mysterious associate at her side—the Niqab-adorned Saeed. This new ally was an ominous presence, and one might assume a guiding force, a voice in the monster’s ear.
Before the announcer could finish his introduction for Kim, the champion was firing off forearms and chops, trying to cut down the brute before her in a hurry. Her usual high-flying and heart wasn’t enough this time, though. Kong withstood Kim’s best shots before hitting three straight powerbombs en route to becoming the new Knockouts titleholder.
The hero’s run of good fortune ended; the beast now ruled the kingdom.
In March at Destination X, ODB found herself in the center of this blood feud. She didn’t have the same personal animosity toward Kong as Kim. But the wild-haired, drink-chugging brawler never exactly need a reason to fight.
Kim and ODB attempted to work as a unit, two Davids to tackle one Goliath. Even with that two-on-one advantage, though, Kong prevailed. She overpowered both foes, swatting them down like pests, until she hit an Awesome Bomb on ODB to stay champ.
ODB and Kim would team up a month later at Lockdown 2008, taking on both Kong and Saeed inside a steel cage. Revenge rather than the Knockouts Championship was the focus this time around.
Saeed proved as vicious as Kong. They smashed Kim’s head against the cage. Kim, as we would expect, was stubborn and resilient, peppering Kong with strikes, fighting back.
An error from the villains ended up being the turning point. Kong knocked out Saeed inadvertently and ODB took advantage with a splash for the win.
But while this added a W to her win column, Kim couldn’t be satisfied. She hadn’t pinned Kong. She hadn’t made her enemy suffer. She hadn’t earned a decisive victory.
Kim would spend months chasing that win, a warrior on a desperate quest.
She fell to Kong in a Knockouts Championship match on Impact in May. She won a six-woman tag against Kong and The Beautiful People at the Hard Justice, but her partner getting a roll-up on Angelina Love was far from the prize she sought.
Then came a prime opportunity, a Street Fight on Impact in August.
Kim’s (kayfabe) sister Katie stood worried in the crowd, knowing perhaps she would be watching a family devoured on TV. Kim and Kong battled in the stands. They cracked everything from an umbrella to a kendo stick against each other’s bodies. This was a wild, frenetic fight. Kim’s fire and fury again were not enough.
Kong withstood it all and her power left Kim on her back, weakened. After the decisive pinfall, Katie scrambled up to check on her sister. Saeed and Kong loomed, two smiling predators believing they had lucked into another meal. ODB and Roxxi Laveux thankfully chased off the monsters with steel chairs.
And with that, the curtains closed on this act of the rivalry. This was the end for now, bad blood abandoned for the moment.
Hold My Hand in Yours, and We Will Not Fear What Hands Like Ours Can Do
Kong and Kim would not fight again for six years. In that time, Kim returned to WWE where she contended for the Divas Championship. Kong traveled to Japan, to SHIMMER, to WWE for a brief run.
They had new focuses, new challenges, new adversaries, but nothing had quite the same sizzle as their battles with their archenemy. Kong and Kim needed each other in the way that Professor X and Magneto do, forever intertwined, more compelling when in conflict with the other.
It wasn’t until 2015 until they were both back home with TNA where Taryn Terrell, a fast-improving New Orleanian, had taken over as champion.
In a title bout against Terrell in Manchester, Kong dominated. For a while, it seemed certain that she’d be champion again. Terrell struggled to push back the monster but was saved by a disqualification when Kong abused the referee.
After the bell, Kong walloped Terrell out of frustration. Kim would not let this stand. She rushed out to protect a woman she had her own issues with.
This blending of rivalries led to a three-way bout on Impact where Kong and Kim both tried to wrest the gold from Terrell. Terrell and Kim ganged up on the stronger, larger Kong. Still, the pair of courageous warriors found themselves squashed, smashed, suffering.
They had to wait for a moment where the monster had been temporarily pushed out of the battlefield to have a shot. Terrell retained via a schoolboy on Kim once a momentarily stunned Kong was out of the frame.
Neither Kim nor Kong were done chasing that gold.
They next fought in April for the No. 1 contender’s spot. Dominant as usual, Kong toss Kim around, bent her in the Camel Clutch, pounded her with her gloved fists. Kim survived as long as she could, and even nearly pulled off the win a few times, but she could not keep the colossus down. Her head scissors attempt countered into a powerbomb did her in.
Memories of Kim’s early wins had long faded like smoke in the night sky. One had to wonder if she could ever shift things in her favor.
Soon Kong and Kim would have to break from belting each other, though, as they formed an unlikely partnership. The Dollhouse, a creepy faction started by Jade (Mia Yim) and Marti Bell, needed to be stopped. Their power grew when Taryn Terrell took over.
Kim surprisingly called on Kong to help her to take them down.
The enemies lacked chemistry in their 2-on-3 Handicap match against The Dollhouse on Impact. After spending years trying to destroy each other, the shift to being on the side wasn’t smooth. They tagged each other forcefully. They didn’t click as a team, resulting in Kim taking quite the beating early on. The temporary allies couldn’t manage a win, but they did team up to mash up Bell after the match.
The partnership now over, the enemies would meet several times during the One Night Only events of that year, two ships scraping each other every time they passed.
Kim and Kong were the only two women competing in the Gauntlet Battle Royal at Joker’s Wild. They opened the match, easing back into their pattern of pounding each other while the world blurs around them. Jessie Godderz cut in on their violent dance, eliminating Kim. Kong, meanwhile, fought deep into the tournament, her focus shifted away from her enemy for but a moment.
They would collide again on the Knockouts Knockdown show that aired in July. Kong won the big Gauntlet Match, but not before trading blows with Kim and tossing her aside.
The wait to fight once more was brief. At the World Cup event in August, Kim fought for Team Hardy who took on Kong and Team ECIII. The archrivals were so caught up in their own feud, swirling in a whirlwind of their years-long rage, that they seemed to forget the purpose of the match. The ref counted them both out as they brawled further and further from the ring.
As each woman sought to make history and become the first woman to win the TNA World Heavyweight Championship, Kong and Kim crossed paths yet again.
But only one of them could make it out of the Knockouts group of the World Heavyweight Title Series. Kong had a head start, boasting a three-point lead going into this bout. Kim, in desperate need to score some points for herself, chose to pummel Kong’s arm throughout the match, to weaken one of the wicked one’s most powerful weapons. The strategy worked well enough for Kim to avoid getting backfisted onto Dream Street and instead nab a win via roll-up.
The tide was changing. The warrior was besting the beast again.
On Impact in September, Kim won the Knockouts Championship for the fifth time in a four-way match. But Kong was not involved in the finish. Kim outlasted and got the best of Brooke.
You knew Kong would come to stake claim to the gold. Kim’s path could not wind on for long without that familiar predator blocking her path.
At Bound for Glory 2015, the rivals had one of their slower-paced matches. Kong tried to grind her way to a win. Her victory seemed certain as she squeezed the air from Kim’s lungs, as she wrenched her arm, as she dominated her.
Kim’s husband and celebrity chef Robert Irvine watched the abuse from the front row. And as Kong gathered a stockpile of steel chairs, he intervened. His grabbed one of the chairs, trying to prevent her from using it. That distraction born from an act of love helped swing the momentum.
Soon, Kim pinned the powerhouse and clutched the championship to her chest.
The year turned and little changed. Their hate for each other had not gone away. Kong still sought to yank the Knockouts crown off Kim’s head. She did, however, now have new cronies at her command as she had taken over The Dollhouse faction.
Kim luckily had the help of The Beautiful People in an interference-heavy title match. They helped cleared out the heels before the champion flung Jade’s body at her longtime enemy and got the three-count with a jackknife pin.
On her back, enraged, the monster cried out in pain.
After years of failure, Kim had now toppled her antagonist several times including the final one. She had bested the bull, now scarred and stronger because of it.
Kim would wrestle for three more years, earning an Impact Wrestling Hall of Fame nod before she stepped away from the sport. Awesome Kong would leave TNA in 2016 before eventually ending up in AEW.
You cannot tell either woman’s story without including several chapters about their chief rival. You cannot tell the story of Impact Wrestling without recounting all the gnashing of teeth, all the combat that went on between these two. Warrior and behemoth perfectly matched, each seemingly born to fight the other.
Quotes in the section headers from the Epic of Gilgamesh (Penguin Classics edition, translated by Andrew George).