Trish Stratus is the best female pro wrestler of all time.
Oldtimers might protest that statement, but the facts speak to Stratus's stature in World Wrestling Entertainment lore.
The buff, petite Toronto native is not only a six-time women's world champ, but the WWE brass felt so sure that she would return in tip-top shape from a back injury that kept her out of action for four months, and that fan enthusiasm would be undiminished, that the belt never left her grip during that absence.
That alone is testament to Stratus's staying power in an industry where heroes often have a shelf life shorter than a loaf of bread.
The blond beauty has been at the top of the women's division since she made her transition from being merely a valet for a variety of male talents to becoming a full-fledged competitor. Stratus, who can been seen weekly on Raw, has never lost appeal with the often-fickle fans because of an ability to maintain a balance between solid performance in the ring and being a confident woman who understands it was a stunning smile and gorgeous body that earned her a shot in the first place.
"When I first went into the ring. there was no one in the women's division and people had no interest in it. The first few times all anyone in the crowd ever said was, 'Show us your puppies (breasts),' " Stratus said in a recent chat from her new home in Toronto.
"Now the crowd is counting along with every one of the false finishes. They respect what I've done and it's re-sparked an interest in women's wrestling, which I've luckily been able to do because (the writers) have done a great job developing my character.
"If I don't have a good character to play, then there's no storyline for people to care about. The fans want cool action, but they want strong characters. Good storylines and good characters lead to strong matches.
"A classic example of that was me and Stephanie (McMahon). It wasn't the greatest wrestling of all time. But we knew what kind of reaction we were getting from the crowd. The intensity was so incredible that everyone bought the storyline."
When Stratus kicked off her WWE career, she was arm candy who would do anything to guarantee her tag-team, dubbed as TNA, would succeed. Since then, she's been a conniving backstabber, dastardly double-crosser, persuasive heartbreaker and smitten innocent on a seemingly endless rotation as either a heel (bad guy/gal) or face (good guy/gal).
With five years of experience under her championship belt, Stratus is a good girl again, currently with a storyline as a mentor for WWE Diva contest winner Ashley Massero while at the same time holding off Victoria's quest to dethrone her as champ.
"There's a lot of new up-and-comers and I'm suddenly a veteran," laughed Stratus, who has such distinctions as the WWE's Diva of the Decade and three-time Babe of the Year to complement her title reigns.
"It's the evolution of the business. Both the girls and the guys respect what I've done and they're coming up to me and asking for help on their promos and what to do in the ring. It's actually really cool.
"It's always more fun being the bad girl. A lot of what I did really worked for me and the fans responded. There are parts of me that are superbitch and those were the elements that I applied to those roles."
While on the sidelines to recover from her physical setback, Stratus had time to sit back and become a fan of wrestling. She's plotting future confrontations with longtime Diva Torrie Wilson and perhaps even promising prospects like Alexis Laree and Melina Perez. The time off also afforded Stratus a chance to realize just how smart her strategy was in keeping her private and public lives apart.
Stratus was counting her blessings as fans of the WWE were witness to a true-life breakdown in the love affair between Lita and Matt Hardy, which also involved Edge.
"It's one thing that I've worked at maintaining right from the start. I can't believe now what a luxury that has been," said Stratus.
"I have continually had fun interacting with my fans and letting them get a peek at my life through my website, and the fans have been so respectful of the boundaries."
At this pace, Stratus has a longevity in wrestling that few others can hope for. Although her plans are focused on a career in and around the ring, Stratus has taken initial steps in other entertainment arenas. She has appeared in several commercials, on an episode of Madtv and drew high praise for her turn in the Second City revue last summer, all of which has led to speculation that many more opportunities await the vibrant vixen.
"There's a lot of stuff up in the air," said Stratus. "If I ever get time off, there's been talk about me doing this or that. But this last bit of time off was purely to recharge my batteries and get healthy. The first thing I want to do is put a lot of time into working on this new character, but there's always ideas coming my way and maybe something will fit nicely into my schedule.''