Wednesday marks the start of in-ring action in the second annual Mae Young Classic, and as 32 women prepare to vie for the tournament title the commentary booth will, for the first time, feature two women on the broadcast -- WWE Hall of Famer Beth Phoenix, and Renee Young.
Mae Young Classic coverage will kick off on the WWE Network on a weekly basis starting with a Bracketology special on Aug. 29, with the matches being broadcast on a weekly basis every Wednesday night following NXT beginning on Sept. 5. It all culminates with the finals as one of the centerpieces of the all-women's Evolution pay-per-view on Oct. 28.
Once broadcast coverage begins, Phoenix and Young will join play-by-play commentator Michael Cole as the three-person team responsible for calling the action.
"A few years ago I was put in charge of all of the announcers in the company," Cole told ESPN. "My goal when I took over was to have, for the first time, a full-time female commentator on one of our main shows. That is still my goal today and it led to, for the first time, having two women in the announcing booth for the Mae Young Classic. It blows me away that this is happening because as little as two years ago I would not have seen this happening."
Phoenix, who joined the WWE Hall of Fame in 2017, blazed a trail for women in the WWE during her career. Earlier this year, Phoenix made her commentary debut as part of the broadcast team for the Mixed Match Challenge.
"Things that used to be a glass ceiling aren't anymore." Phoenix said, noting this was one of her most cherished opportunities to date. "Now not only is it a possibility that women are going to main event WrestleMania, I know that they are going to do it. I feel that it is going to be this year, but if not this year then it's going to be the year after that."
Young will be returning to the commentary table for the first time in several years, after serving as part of the NXT broadcast team as well as a similar role on several other WWE shows. For the better part of the past few years, Young has served as one of the primary on-screen interviewers and the anchor for pay-per-view kickoff and post-shows, among other roles.
Young echoed Phoenix's sentiments, saying, "To have each of the milestones of the women's revolution keep building and building and culminating in the first all-women's pay per view, I think that's just going to blow everybody away."
For Cole, the progress that WWE has made in recent years was crystalized in a recent discussion he had with former WWE Divas champion Kaitlyn, who is returning to the women's division as part of the Mae Young Classic this year.
"A couple of days ago we were meeting with Kaitlyn and we were joking about how just eight years ago, in NXT [season] 3, I was a complete bad guy whose job it was to make fun of these women and make the entire show a joke. It was humiliating and embarrassing at the time because I had to go to all of these women who were fighting for their careers and had to say, 'Hey, sorry I made fun of you today but that's who my character is.'
"To see how far we've come since then, with Beth and Renee in the booth, Kayla Braxton doing the ring announcing and Cathy Kelley and Shadia Bseiso doing interviews at the Mae Young Classic, it shows how much has changed over the last eight years."
Phoenix indicated that this change has been met with enthusiasm throughout the company, saying, "The men are just as excited for this as the women. I ran into Cesaro at the Performance Center and he was all fired up and said he can't wait to see [the Mae Young Classic], because it's going to be a show that emphasizes wrestling."
In that vein, the focus on wrestling will be apparent from the very first broadcast of this year's coverage.
"Mauro Ranallo will be hosting the Bracketology show leading up to the event," said Cole. "Nobody has been as enthusiastic about this as Mauro is. The volume of research he did for the Bracketology show is incredible."
Cole said having two women in the booth will allow the company to address topics that might otherwise have been difficult to discuss.
"Renee and Beth know what they stand for and they know what they want to say and we're going to allow them to have those opinions and tell those stories," said Cole. "There is some controversial stuff that these wrestlers have been through. We're going to talk about that even if some think it's the wrong thing to do, because it's the right thing to do because these women's stories need to be told."
Telling each woman's story in this tournament is one of the keys to establishing more storytelling depth throughout the course of the second Mae Young Classic.
"We're moving away from the one-dimensional nature for women," said Phoenix. "It used to be that you were known for one thing -- a cultural thing, the way you walk, talk or look. Now everybody is allowed to be a layer cake. We're hungry for these stories and we want to know more about these people as individuals."
When Cole, Phoenix and Young call this event, it will be the first time they have worked together as an announcing trio. Each has been putting in serious hours in recent months to prepare themselves for this moment.
"I have worked with Beth and Renee separately but never together, but that is by design. Beth and Renee have been practicing together at the Performance Center with Tom Phillips and Vic Joseph. I specifically made a point before we did this that I didn't want to work with them before the tournament."
"I'm not a big rehearse guy, and think that shows are better when you can elicit unrehearsed reactions," Cole continued. "Corey Graves and I don't talk about anything during the day except what the Mets and Pirates are doing and we go out there and get real reactions. I want to sit down and ask Renee and Beth questions and let them be who they are."