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When the lights go down and the pyrotechnics kick off the WWE’s Night of Champions here in Buffalo on September 18, Buffalo’s own Beth Phoenix will likely get the same chills she got as a youngster at her first live wrestling event.CLICK HERE TO BUY TICKETS FOR WWE'S NIGHT OF CHAMPIONS AT FIRST NIAGARA CENTER ON SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 18.
Phoenix’s long climb to WWE stardom has taken her through many places, including Canisius College. The three-time champion is one of the most feared female competitors in WWE history, with her physical style earning her the moniker of “The Glamazon.” (If you don’t think female wrestlers are tough, don’t tell that to Phoenix. She suffered a fractured jaw in 2006; and a torn ACL last May.) Lately she’s been paired with Natalya in a dynamite duo that’s been dubbed “Divas of Doom,” and they’ve already started to make life very difficult for people like Kelly Kelly and the Bella Twins.
But it all started thanks to a contest.
Phoenix was 11 years old at the time, and had her only exposure to wrestling was watching it on television with her grandmother on the weekends. Thanks to a local newspaper’s coloring contest, that would soon change.
“I had to color a picture of Undertaker and Paul Bearer for the contest,” she explains on the phone from Tampa, where she was making a stop at the WWE’s Development School. “My family didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up, so I’d never seen wrestling in person before. I ended up winning four tickets to see a live show at the Broome County Arena in Binghamton, and the headline match was Undertaker vs. Jeff Jarrett. I was able to sneak down close to ringside and take pictures of the wrestlers as they came out. I loved everything about it. It was just so awe inspiring.”
Phoenix said she knew from a young age that she wanted to become a wrestler, and attending the live event just reinforced her passion. While attending Notre Dame High School in Elmira, NY, she had the distinction of becoming the first female varsity wrestler in school history. But being the only girl on the team was never an issue for her.
“I’ve always wanted to be one of the guys, and don’t expect to treated any differently. I’m the same way today,” says Phoenix. “Coach Weber taught me so much, and it gave me a great foundation for my future. To this day, freestyle wrestling is one of the toughest sports I’ve ever participated in.”
Unlike some female athletes that have encountered negative reactions while playing with the boys, that wasn’t the case for Phoenix.
“Not at all. In fact, I was voted Prom Queen by my classmates in my senior year. So I went from being a wrestler to the prom queen in a year.”
Phoenix graduated high school more determined than ever to pursue a career in wrestling. But she also realized how important it was for her to go to college.
“This is a very risky business, and it’s a complete gamble to try and get into it. My parents wanted me to protect myself and have something to fall back on. I even remember reading a quote from Razor Ramon in WWF magazine where he talked about the importance of getting an education if you wanted to pursue a career in pro wrestling.”
So Phoenix enrolled at Canisius College in Buffalo, where she majored in Public Relations and Criminal Justice. In addition to juggling a full course load, she never gave up on her wrestling career.
“I used to moonlight on the weekends in spandex,” she says with a laugh. “I’d wrestle anywhere that was within driving distance of the school – Toronto, Cleveland, Boston. Basically I’d go anywhere on the East Coast that allowed me to get back to school on Monday morning and change back into my Clark Kent outfit.”
She even remembers one particular show near Pittsburgh that was, well, sparsely attended.
“It was at a small arena, and there were only six people there. I’m pretty sure they were all immediate relatives of some of the wrestlers. But the show went on.”
After earning her degree, Phoenix remained in Buffalo for a few years working various jobs. Even though her childhood passion was wrestling, it was during this time that she really came to appreciate Buffalo sports fans.
I’m very proud to represent Buffalo in the WWE. There is so much hometown pride in the Sabres and Bills. You just get so consumed in it. - Beth Phoenix
“I’m very proud to represent Buffalo in the WWE. There is so much hometown pride in the Sabres and Bills. You just get so consumed in it. I don’t think you can live in Western New York and not be a fan of either team.”
Phoenix hopes that Western New Yorkers will be out in full force to support her at First Niagara Center when she enters the ring at the Night of Champions, and says that fans should “expect nothing from the best from me as always.”
And if she has a chance to raise the championship belt at home, maybe Phoenix will look down to see a young girl at ringside with the same awestruck look in her eyes that she had 19 years ago at that arena in Binghamton.