A personal trainer, CrossFit and mimicking Chyna: Bianca, Charlotte and Rhea are redefining 'powerhouse' in WWE

Charlotte Flair defends the SmackDown women's championship against Rhea Ripley at WrestleMania 39. WWE

Charlotte Flair knows why she clicks with Rhea Ripley when they battle in the ring.

"It's our sizes," Flair told ESPN. "We're the same size as some of the guys. It's not that it makes us hit harder or be better, but it looks like two titans going at it."

The two are scheduled to face off for Flair's SmackDown women's championship at WrestleMania 39. "The Queen" is listed at 5-foot-10, and Ripley is listed at 5-foot-9, both among the tallest and strongest women's wrestlers in the WWE.

"Say you walk into a store. How often do you see a woman that's 5-foot-10?" asked Flair. "OK, so how often do you see two of them?"

They are the powerhouses of the women's division, along with Raw women's champion Bianca Belair, who might not have their height (5-foot-7) but is equally strong. A typical powerhouse wrestler is bigger and stronger than their peers. Usually, the benefit of increased physique and strength comes with the sacrifice of swiftness and skill. For Flair, Belair and Ripley, they are the exception to the powerhouse standard.

"Talented, hardworking, athletic," Belair said when asked about her approach. "A powerhouse and the best at everything that I do."

The three strut confidently down the trail blazed by the likes of Madusa, Chyna and Beth Phoenix, forging their own path for future superstars to redefine the women's division.

Here's a look at what makes Ripley, Belair and Flair so formidable in stature and status.

David Dennis Jr.: Ripley's channeling of Chyna takes 'Mami' to new heights

It's easiest to draw a through line from Chyna to Rhea Ripley because the latter is the centerpiece of a 2023 remix of Chyna's most famous post-DX storyline. In 2000, Chyna entered a storyline where she was blocking all romantic advances from "Latino Heat" Eddie Guerrero. The two would put together a monthslong storyline of comedy, romance and betrayal. The program's uniqueness came from Chyna being so much larger than her on-camera beaux, and they could actually resolve their problems in the ring.

Fast forward two decades and Ripley is in a storyline that came into form when she essentially manipulated Rey Mysterio's son Dominik into joining the Judgment Day faction. The Ripley-Dominik dynamic was built on the back of what Chyna and Eddie did, but this time the seduction didn't come from smooth-talking and theatrics. Instead, it came from Rhea beating Dominik into submission, physically dominating him for weeks until he folded to her will.

The reaction to Ripley beating up Dominik every week was also an evolution to a spectacle Chyna made famous: the towering woman at ringside being the muscle that beats up the men. When Chyna did it, it would get significant heat because the wrestling industry hadn't seen anything like that before. When Ripley beats up a man, it just feels natural.

What makes Ripley so unique is that she can beat up a male former world champion while also selling DDTs and hurricanrana from someone the size of Zelina Vega on a random episode of Smackdown! And she does this without losing any of her credibility. Ripley is the rare giant who can sell moves in a way that elevates her opponent of any size without losing any of her intimidation.

Ripley vs. Flair promises to be a wrestling classic. The match could also signal a changing of the guard. A welcome to the second generation of the women's revolution. If she wins, it'll be hard not to salivate at the thought of a unification match between the two women -- Belair and Ripley -- who hold the future of WWE in their hands. They're both box office draws and can have an Orton vs. Cena-esque rivalry to span the rest of their careers.

A Ripley-Belair rivalry wouldn't only solidify women's wrestling as capable of putting as many butts in seats as men's wrestling, it would also show the evolution of the revolution. Where larger than life women can be athletic, vulnerable and challenged by other equally capable women without being put in matches against men to test their abilities. Chyna stood above all as the Ninth Wonder Of The World. Ripley stands tall as a wonder amongst other wonders, as that's where the magic resides.

Brandon Caldwell: Versatility helped Belair break through WWE. Now it's helping her secure her legacy

In 2021, Bianca Belair stood across the former Sasha Banks, now known as New Japan Pro Wrestling's Mercedes Moné, inside Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, and made history. It was a moment not only for professional wrestling but for Black people long maligned in their presentation in wrestling, period.

A year later, she brought a dream she had since she was a rookie in the business to life, combining historically Black college and university culture by tapping Texas Southern's "Ocean of Soul" marching band to produce an eye-popping WrestleMania 38 entrance. Both moments ended with Belair hoisting up championship gold, a feat only a select group of superstars have achieved two years in a row.

"It's hard to put into words," she told ESPN. "I know I main evented WrestleMania 37. I know I stole the show with Becky Lynch at WrestleMania 38. But this is the biggest one yet. I have a chance to three-peat at WrestleMania."

Legacy has become nearly synonymous with Belair during her first reign as RAW women's champion. A victory over Asuka at WrestleMania 39 puts her one week shy of becoming the longest-reigning RAW women's champion of all time, a title held by Lynch. She's already the longest-reigning Black world champion in company history. Going into SoFi Stadium on April 1, she'll be one of four superstars to carry a major title from one WrestleMania to the next, joining Roman Reigns, Hulk Hogan, and "Macho Man" Randy Savage.

But those accolades still feel surreal for Belair, who gravitated toward wrestling after being a gymnast at an early age, an All-America hurdler at the University of Tennessee and later a CrossFit competitor and powerlifter. She wrote down her first promo on a piece of paper in 2016 and told a small crowd in Florida her plans for the future. That day gave birth to "The EST," a confident character whose athletic feats gave greater gravitas toward any adjective she used to describe herself.

"I've been able to carry being a track athlete and being in gymnastics and doing every sport in the book," Belair said. "I wasn't someone who was naturally talented [as a wrestler] so I had to work very hard to be at the top. In WWE, things can always come out of nowhere so I had to stay ready so I didn't have to get ready."

450 splash from the second rope? Done it. Carry a 330-pound man around the ring in a mock-obstacle course? Barely broke a sweat. Not bad for a woman who first needed to learn how to perform a headlock or a wristlock.

"I thought I was going to get fired," she joked about her early days in NXT.

Since then, she's fought off imposter syndrome and the belief she didn't belong. When in NXT for four years, she looked different than the other rookies in her class because she didn't come from a wrestling background. She wasn't an indie darling who cut her teeth in regional promotions across the country. She was a high-level athlete in three sports who improved over time to become one of the best in the world. Belair won the WWE Performance Center women's combine title three times (2016, 2018-19), a decathlon-esque event that tests wrestler's strength and athleticism, with her only real competition being rising WWE star Raquel Gonzales, a former basketball player at Texas A&M-Kingsville.

"I've been carrying that attitude and grit and determination since I was an athlete in my collegiate years into WWE," Belair said. "After the Mae Young Classic in 2017 and I was backstage with Triple H, I got that validation that I'm walking in my purpose."

That purpose could mean more records being broken and history made if WrestleMania 39 goes according to Belair's plans.

Greg Wyshynski: Charlotte's rise from personal trainer to 14-time champ

In some ways, Flair's match against Ronda Rousey for the SmackDown women's championship last December went exactly as anticipated: She won the title for the 14th time. As WWE fans on social media are apt to say: "LOL, Charlotte wins again."

But it's what happened before the match that made it remarkable. Flair returned to action after seven months away from WWE -- and the fans cheered her. She challenged Rousey to an impromptu title match -- and the fans cheered her even more.

For Flair, this was new, as she was previously one of the WWE's most reliable villains.

"I spent my whole career wanting people to boo me. Now, getting the reactions that I'm getting, and it's positive. It's so rewarding," Flair said. "I want to act like it's no big deal. But I've been booed my whole career. No matter what I've read online or perception -- 'You're Ric Flair's daughter' -- I entertained these people. But it's different when you're not trying to get someone to react, and they're just reacting."

A particular kind of heel in pro wrestling can be absolutely loathed for years until, oddly, they're loved. It may be an appreciation of their craft. Perhaps it's gratefulness for still being relevant through all those angles and gimmicks. Randy Orton is one example of this phenomenon.

"Thank you, Randy!" Flair exclaimed when asked about the comparison, mimicking appreciative fans.

Flair is definitely of the same mold.

"People are saying that now, but it doesn't feel like I've done it that long," she said. "When you think of Randy and those guys, it's 25 or 30 years. I'm at the 10-year mark. Maybe I just caught on really fast."

Flair began her WWE journey in 2012 when she was offered a developmental contract. WWE was likely as impressed with her 5-foot-10 build as they were about her lineage.

She worked at a private studio as a personal trainer, although she cautions not to let the title fool you. "I want to be honest: I would not have hired me as a trainer," she laughed. "I was definitely good at motivation."

Her clientele was "a lot of businessmen and businesswomen that just needed that hour" at the gym. But Flair said she learned plenty from interacting with them and admired many of her clients. When she told them WWE had offered her a chance to start in their developmental system and they encouraged her, it was a significant endorsement that helped send Flair on her wrestling journey.

In the ring, she steadily improved thanks to a "better understanding of the business" and, in particular, storytelling. "In the beginning, you're like, 'where does this hand go? How do I not act awkward?' Now I can lose myself in the moment," she said. "It really started to click in 2019. In the last two years, every week [reveals] something new."

Outside the ring, she transformed her body thanks to strength training. In 2019, she would drive on her off days from Orlando to Tampa to train two days a week with John Cena's trainer for Olympic powerlifting.

Her strength training today is more targeted. Flair has a goal in mind for it.

"I would love, love, love to do a [bodybuilding] competition. I'm thinking about doing it this summer," she said, having never done one before. "I know what goes into it from a diet standpoint and how lean you get. How do I make that work on the road?"

For now, her top priority is Ripley. From a physical standpoint, they're near equals. "Normally, you have the big guy and the little guy. With us, it's just visually impressive."