By now, most internet savvy wrestling fans have seen the list going around with the apparent names of all those being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame Class of ’17 this Wrestlemania weekend. For those who haven’t, I won’t spoil them all. But I will spoil one, for the sake of this article (although you probably figured that out after the first sentence). The women’s induction this year is supposedly Beth Phoenix. And like the internet wrestling community is wont to do, it has exploded into a Civil War, with half applauding the selection, and the other decrying the induction as being too close to her retirement, too ahead of such others as Leilani Kai, Luna Vachon or the recently deceased Chyna, or more venomously, simply not worthy of that kind of recognition.
Personally, and for the record, I am in the former camp. I think Elizabeth Kocianski-Copeland‘s eight year portrayal of WWE Superstar Beth Phoenix is a welcomed addition to the WWE Hall of Fame, both for her accolades in the kayfabe world and her legacy and role in women’s wrestling history. She may not have had the ability of Charlotte Flair or the impact of Chyna, but Beth Phoenix is a vital cog in the road that lead to the Women’s Revolution today. If the Attitude Era is the Star Wars prequels and the current women’s division is the Star Wars Original Series, then Beth Phoenix is the Jyn Erso of Rogue One. We may not have gotten A New Hope if Beth hadn’t helped the story along.
Birth of the Phoenix
During an era more known for it’s Divas than it’s women’s wrestlers, Beth Phoenix was one of the minority that came from the indies. She started wrestling in 2001 and by 2003, she was wrestling in Germany’s wXw as well as a brand new women’s promotion called Shimmer. By 2004, she was signed by the WWE and sent to their developmental at Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW), where she became the OVW Women’s Champion in no time.
After only two years, she debuted in the WWE in 2006, as the new bodyguard for Trish Stratus in her feud against the psychotic Mickie James. She would only last a few months before she had her jaw broken in a match against Victoria on Monday Night Raw – a match, to her, credit she finished. She would spend a year having surgeries to correct it, getting nine screws and a titanium plate in her jaw. But after only two months, she returned to the ring, performing a lighter schedule at OVW while she rehabbed.
Rebirth of the Phoenix
She returned to the main roster in 2007, but instead of the bodyguard of the beloved Trish Stratus, she came back as a wrecking machine, going after WWE Women’s Champion Candice Michelle. She would pair with another villain, Melina, and she dubbed herself the Glamazon. You could smell the incoming Divas makeover, that they had to add “glam” in there. After all, why wouldn’t they let her be an Amazon?
But her domination continued and she won her first WWE Women’s title from Candice at No Mercy ’07, and defending it against past Champions as Mickie James, Candice Michelle and Melina. But after losing her title, she took a break and returned to face against Santino Marella in his open challenge in July 2008. And while many lambaste that comedic period of her career, she did pick up her second Women’s Championship during that angle against Melina at SummerSlam ’08.
In 2010, Beth Phoenix became only the second woman to enter the WWE Royal Rumble – after only Chyna at Royal Rumble ’00, a decade earlier – in a time when the Woman’s Championship was being phased out and the Divas division was filling with fitness models and dancers. Wrestlers like Mickie James and Melina were diminished then let go, but Beth Phoenix remained behind, the last bastion of the forgotten division. During the summer, she beat Michelle McCool for her third and final Women’s Championship. Late in that year she would form an alliance with a relative newcomer, third generation grappler Natalya, against the beacons of the Divas division, LayCool (Michelle McCool and Layla), making history together in the first ever women’s tables match in WWE (and quite possibly pro wrestling) history, at TLC ’10.
During 2011, her and Natalya, now known as the Divas of Doom, ran rampant through the Divas Division, with Phoenix winning her first Divas Championship against Kelly Kelly at Hell In A Cell ’11. It would be her last piece of WWE Championship gold in her six year run with the WWE main roster. But that’s no slouch. Her four women’s titles put her in elite company as far as decoration goes – only Trish Stratus (7), Mickie James (6), Melina (5), and Charlotte (5) have more.
And while many will argue that Beth Phoenix never had the longevity of a career in the WWE at least to warrant such an accolade, let’s compare her longevity to some of the more commonly mentioned names that the naysayers will say should be in before her. Many say Ivory should be in before her, simply because she wrestled earlier. But regardless, her longevity was only six years working for WWE (1999-2005) compared to Phoenix’s eight (for the record, I also believe Ivory should be in the Hall of Fame as well). If you want to only compare strictly homegrown, Trish Stratus only spent six years with WWE as well. Phoenix spent enough time with the company.
And some also argue that it’s too soon after her retirement to induct her into the Hall of Fame. But why can’t the WWE induct somewhat more recently retired Superstars in earlier? Sure, they’s hundreds who deserve to get in, but if you want to appeal to a broader spectrum of fan, you can’t vote in names that only the die hards will recognize. Allowing twentysomethings to see someone they grew up watching is smart – most sports hall of fames, only the 40+ crowd really recall the bulk of the players. And a lot of those fans who grew up watching that era were girls. Now women. Why shouldn’t one of their heroes get in as well? After all, the WWE has a history of other Superstars going in with shorter gaps. Phoenix retired in 2012, nearly five years ago. It’s farther off than you probably remember.
But Beth Phoenix was the last remaining connection to the Attitude Era’s women, although she was never actively a part of it herself. She debuted as the bodyguard of Trish Stratus, the Queen of the Attitude Era. And in her final days, as the Women’s Division was absorbed by the Divas Division, she fought to the end alongside her best friend Natalya to keep women’s wrestling a part of the show. Natalya would carry that baton through to AJ Lee and then to Paige and to the Four Horsewomen and the Revolution we see now.
In a somewhat poignant moment of reflection, Phoenix’ final scenes in the WWE Universe was her getting fired by Smackdown GM Vickie Guerrero for her “poor performance”. Almost as if the WWE was finally saying that women in wrestling was no longer welcome. Now it belonged to the Divas (in reality, Phoenix had given her notice to the WWE for family reasons).
She never returned to the ring and instead became a family woman, spending time with her also retired husband, WWE Hall of Famer Adam ‘Edge’ Copeland, with their two children.
Like her namesake, Beth Kocianski-Copeland was indeed a Phoenix. Several times, pundits wrote her off, but she arose from the ashes time and time again, and entertained, while constantly challenging for the top women’s prize in the WWE, either the Women’s or Diva’s championship. But ultimately, the ashes faded, before they flew into the wind behind the Queen of Harts jetstream.
Beth Phoenix is a part of the DNA of Women’s wrestling in the WWE, no question about it. And while there are plenty of women also deserving of being in the Hall of Fame, it does not negate her importance to not only the narrative of the WWE storylines, but as a beacon of inspiration for every little girl who watched Raw or Smackdown but didn’t associate with the Kelly Kelly’s, Michelle McCool’s or Nikki Bella’s of the world. That they could still be them and be a Champion as well.
So if the rumours prove true and at this year’s Wrestlemania 33 weekend Beth Phoenix gets inducted into the 2017 Class of the WWE Hall of Fame, think of what she’s done for so many fans – and for the generations of girls who were inspired by her – and be proud of her and for her. These moments are as much, if not more, for the wrestlers themselves, than for the fans.
Beth Phoenix belongs in the WWE Hall of Fame.
Main Photo: WWE.com