The second half of the 2000s saw a new crop of WWE Divas attempt to maintain the momentum for women's wrestling in North America.
Trish Stratus, Lita, Victoria, Molly Holly and a host of other immensely talented wrestlers had helped bring eyes back to the art form, while women such as Mickie James, Melina, Michelle McCool and Natalya were charged with continuing to build on that foundation.
There was one woman in particular who entered the company and completely destroyed any preconceived notion as to what a woman in the industry should be, what she should look like and what she was capable of accomplishing if she worked hard and continuously improved.
Her name was Beth Phoenix, and she would become the centerpiece of the WWE Divas division for nearly four years.
This is her story, told through some of her greatest and most memorable matches and moments.
Ohio Valley Wrestling, Take 1
Phoenix was a former amateur wrestler in high school who cut her teeth working the independents for nearly four years before catching the eye of World Wrestling Entertainment. Moving to Louisville, Kentucky, to work for the company's developmental company, Ohio Valley Wrestling, she immediately began her long climb to the main roster.
Of note during her first run with the promotion was her on-screen pairing with Aaron "Idol" Stevens (known to fans of today's WWE as Damien Sandow) and Shelly Martinez. The trio was entertaining, and the presence of two very beautiful, buxom young women really helped put the Stevens character over.
Eventually, as happens almost all the time in the world of pro wrestling, Phoenix and Martinez wound up as rivals, bringing the partnership to a bitter end.
It could not have happened at a better time, though, because Phoenix had made such a name for herself by spring 2006 that WWE was prepared to bring her up to the main roster and let her swim with the big fish, such as the aforementioned Trish, Lita and Victoria.
Phoenix debuted on May 8, 2006 as the young protege of Stratus, rescuing the multi-time women's champion from a vicious assault at the hands of Mickie James. James, against whom Phoenix had wrestled her first match in the indys, was the breakout star of the year and clearly the woman WWE had pegged as the future of the division.
Before she and Phoenix could deliver the goods in the ring, Beth suffered a brutal injury that would sideline her and delay her main roster career for nearly a year.
During her first televised singles bout, a match against Victoria, Phoenix caught a shot to the jaw that broke her mandible and led to a titanium plate and nine screws being inserted into her face. Proving her toughness and determination to get back in the ring, Phoenix missed only two months before returning to OVW.
Ohio Valley Wrestling, Take 2
Back at OVW, Phoenix really began to showcase her in-ring skills against some of the most talented young women in the industry. Serena Deeb, Alicia Fox, ODB and Katie Lea were just some of the Divas with whom Phoenix would share the ring during her second stint in developmental.
Katie Lea in particular proved to be one of her greatest rivals. Their feud over the OVW Women's Championship led to several outstanding matches and culminated in a Ladder match for the gold. Katie Lea won, but it was becoming clear that Phoenix was vastly superior to any of the women she was working with at the time and was more than ready to return to the main roster.
She would do just that in July 2007.
Dubbed "The Glamazon" because of her perfect mix of power and beauty, Phoenix wasted little time making a name for herself in her second opportunity in front of WWE fans.
She engaged women's champion Candice Michelle in a rivalry that helped showcase Michelle's continued improvement as an in-ring performer but also introduced Phoenix to fans as the new dominant Diva in the division. It was only a matter of time before she knocked off Michelle at No Mercy in October 2007 and captured the first of many women's championships.
Over the course of her first title reign, she would successfully defend against the likes of the aforementioned Mickie James, Melina, Maria Kanellis, Ashley Massaro and Kelly Kelly. Unfortunately for the Glamazon, her reign atop the Divas mountain came to a screeching halt when she was upended by James.
One of the elite workers in the history of the Divas division, Phoenix was part of some of the best and most memorable matches of all time.
At Judgment Day in May 2008, Phoenix and Melina challenged James for the women's title in a Triple Threat match. In one of the greatest displays of power ever witnessed, Phoenix picked both of her opponents, carried them to the ring and delivered a spine-crushing Torture Rack back-breaker. Sure, she lost the match, but by the next morning her performance was one of the most talked-about of the entire evening.
A month later at One Night Stand: Extreme Rules, she and Melina continued their blossoming rivalry with a brutal, hard-hitting I Quit match that saw Phoenix bend her opponent backward and force a submission.
One of the most unexpectedly great runs of Phoenix's WWE career came during her on-screen relationship with Santino Marella. In many ways, she was the straight woman to Santino's over-the-top comedic character, and the dynamic between the two made for some truly entertaining television.
At SummerSlam 2008, Phoenix and Marella achieved their greatest success when they teamed to defeat intercontinental champion Kofi Kingston and women's champion James. As a result of their win, Phoenix regained the top prize in the Divas division, and Marella won his second IC title.
The duo would split up when Marella, dressed in drag and going by the name Santina, won the Miss WrestleMania Battle Royal, costing Phoenix the opportunity to do so in the process.
While the pairing lasted just one year, it was responsible for entertaining segments and, more importantly, the evolution of Phoenix as an entertainer.
The Divas of Doom
In 2009, Phoenix was traded to the SmackDown brand. Though she was a heel for her first handful of months, she would turn babyface for the first time in her main roster career by standing up to the irritating and annoying LayCool (Layla and Michelle McCool) and Vickie Guerrero. What looked to be a budding rivalry that would enhance the show's Divas roster exponentially, was cut short by a knee injury suffered by the Glamazon during a match with Rosa Mendes in May.
Suffering a torn PCL, Phoenix would be forced to the sidelines, opening up an opportunity for friend Natalya to garner some much-deserved attention. She entered a rivalry with LayCool but soon found herself at a numbers disadvantage.
That would be a problem easily solved as Phoenix returned from injury and immediately formed a destructive duo with her friend. Together, they momentarily shut LayCool up, much to the delight of the WWE Universe.
At TLC in December 2010, the self-proclaimed Divas of Doom defeated McCool and Layla in the first-ever Divas Tables match.
The match was the first indication of the greatness that Phoenix and Natalya could achieve when given the opportunity. Unfortunately for the rest of the women on the roster, it was not the last time they would stand side-by-side.
A return to Monday nights brought Phoenix a great deal of frustration. For months, she watched as Kelly Kelly and the Bella Twins became the focus of the Divas division. After a year of playing to the fans as the heroic babyface, she reverted to her villainous ways, turning heel and targeting the blonde bombshell's Divas title.
It was a championship the highly decorated Phoenix had never held before and one that would only enhance an already impressive resume.
After several defeats at the hands of the young Jacksonville, Florida, native, she finally ended Kelly's title reign thanks to interference from Natalya. From that point on, she would dominate the competition, including the constantly improving Eve Torres.
At WrestleMania XXVIII, she teamed with Torres in a losing effort against Kelly and celebrity Maria Menounos in a high-profile tag match that was better than it had any right to be thanks in large part to the efforts of Phoenix, who was clearly above involvement in such a bout.
Matches with the Bella Twins, Eve, Kelly and Layla made up the remainder of Phoenix's otherwise uneventful 2012.
By September, Phoenix's run with the company would come to an end, as she opted to step away from the squared circle to focus on other things in her life, including being a mother.
If Alundra Blayze returned women's wrestling to prominence in WWE and Trish Stratus and Lita revolutionized the sport, Phoenix was the next most-influential star to come out of the Divas roster. Whether it was against fellow wrestlers like Mickie James and Melina or former models such as Kelly Kelly and the Bella Twins, she got the absolute most out of every woman she worked with.
A dependable performer whose work speaks for itself, Phoenix was key in the continued evolution of women's wrestling in the biggest sports-entertainment company in the world. She looked different from the other Barbie dolls on the roster, which worked out to her benefit. It set her apart and allowed her to get over both because of her ring work and her unique beauty.
A wrestler first and pin-up second, Phoenix brought seriousness and dedication to her ring work and benefited exponentially. With every passing match, she noticeably improved,which is not something that can be said about everyone.
By the time she left the company, she had established herself as one of the most decorated, respected and dangerous Divas of all time. She deserved every bit of recognition.