PTST Exclusive: Interview with Renee Paquette of WWEby Sam Schneider January 31, 2021 0 comments
Renee Paquette (WWE stage name: Renee Young) is a titan of the sports industry. She served as a host, interviewer, and commentator in WWE from 2012-2020. In addition to the other strides made in a male-dominated industry, Renee also became the first woman in history to call a wrestling match on August 13, 2018.
Today, we discuss personal life, including her marriage AEW’s Jon Moxley. Also, women in sports, her time in WWE, the death of Brodie Lee, and a phenomenal new podcast called “Oral Sessions“. Since we survived 2020, there should be some COVID-19 talk.
Sam Schneider: I am really excited to have Renee Paquette here with me today. She was already known in Canada as a writer and on-air personality for The Score. Maybe she is best known for being the face of WWE from 2012-2020 and for being one of the stars of the reality show “Total Divas” which is available on multiple platforms. Thank you so much for being with me Renee, I really appreciate it!
Renee Paquette: Yeah, of course! Thanks for having me on.
SS: Let’s just dive right into it, Renee. Let’s go first with some of the personal things. As many people know, you are married to Jonathan who was formerly known as Dean Ambrose (in WWE) and is currently known as Jon Moxley of AEW. But I also hear that there may be a third on the way?
RP: We’ve got another family member on the way, definitely. I’m 18 weeks pregnant with a little girl.
SS: So you already know it is a girl? Are you pumped or what?
RP: Oh my god yeah, I’m so excited! I kind of figured it was (a she) as I had already had some maternal instincts kicking in letting me know “it’s a little girl”, so we got that (official) confirmation a couple of weeks ago. But yeah! It’s been great.
I’ve been really lucky with this pregnancy. I’ve talked to so many of my girlfriends who have had a bit of a rough time in their pregnancies, so I’ve been really, really lucky. I feel good, I’m still working a lot, I’m still being active. I’ve not been sick or anything, I don’t have any wild cravings or anything. (I’ve had it) pretty good.
SS: Looking forward, Jon is probably like the ultimate “girl dad”.
RP: (Laughs) He’s gonna be, he’s about to be, yeah!
SS: I can almost hear “Don’t fuck around with my kid!” (Laughs)
RP: He probably has no idea about how much his world is going to be rocked! And neither do I, but I think especially him with a little girl, that’s the warmth this world needs is to see him with a baby girl. (Laughs)
He’s already got big plans that she’s going to be on (multiple athletics). She’s going to be in all the sports, I’m sure she’ll be a rough-and-tumble kid, I have no doubt. I know I was. Obviously, Jon was, so she’s going to have some tomboy roots, for sure.
Don’t mess with Renee
SS: I was very interested in talking to you about your own professional wrestling history. You’ve made no bones about the fact that you thought you could kick someone’s ass in the ring, and you said you had “super-strong legs, don’t screw with me!”.
RP: (Laughs) Don’t mess with me!
SS: As a “wild hair”, had you ever considered UFC?
RP: No. Well… not actually, I was talking about it on my podcast. I played a ton of sports growing up. I played ragnat (like field hockey). I did that forever, I was a gymnast, I played soccer, track and field so I did a little bit of everything. I’ve always been an athlete and I have always trained as an athlete.
I started working for WWE and also when I got older, I was figuring out some career stuff. I never thought of sports as a career for myself, it was just always something that I loved to do.
At one point I thought I wanted to be a sports psychologist. I was really interested in that aspect of things. But one thing I wanted was to perform. I wanted to be an actress, I wanted to be a TV host, all of these things. When all of those worlds combined, and I started working at WWE I was like “Wait! I’m here, and I’m on camera, and I get to do all these fun things.”
SS: And you were getting to do all of those things as an actor, as an athlete, and as a host. The best of three worlds.
RP: But I never got to do it at WWE. That’s not what I was there for. It was very funny, I always thought it was kind of funny that I never actually got to step in the ring. I never got to do that. So, stepping into UFC? Hell-to-the-effing-no! (Laughs)
Again, I’m 35, so definitely not. That wasn’t something that I… fighting wasn’t an interest to me, but I think if I had been groomed appropriately for that, perhaps? I do have a high pain threshold (Laughs).
SS: Your history in sports was what prompted the question. “Well, I bet Renee could kick some butt!”
RP: I could, yeah! I’ve not been in a fight in a long time, but any fight that I have been in, I’ve won. (Laughs)
SS: So you’re undefeated is what you are saying?
RP: Undefeated, yeah!
SS: I’ll put Floyd Mayweather on notice and let him know “Renee is gonna kick your ass”.
RP: (Laughs) Yeah, let him know. If I get a big payday out of it, I don’t mind!
SS: He’ll be scared of you.
SS: I wanted to ask if maybe you can explain to the casual fan why you left WWE, and whether it was related to the family or were you just ready to move on?
RP: I was just ready to move on. I got pregnant literally the month after I left WWE. I believe August 29th was my last show and I got pregnant the next month.
SS: So you didn’t waste any time? (Laughs)
RP: No! It’s crazy! It just happened and I was like “Shit, ok! On to the next adventure!”
It was just time for me to go. I started there (in 2012) with WWE, left in 2020. I spent a lot of time there and I got to wear so many different hats, did so many different roles within that company that I kind hit that point of “What else am I going to to do?” or “What else is there for me to do?”. I finally turned all of those cards over and… I just felt like it was time for me to go. Time to go find a new adventure.
You just start to feel a little too comfortable and think “It’s fine here, it’s cool. I get paid well and get to hang out with my friends all of the time…”.
SS: It’s easy.
RP: Yeah, it was the ease of it and there’s nothing wrong with that. Just for me, I was ready to challenge myself again, and I just wanted to flex some other muscles, test myself, and spread my wings again. I was ready to do that.
And we are in a pandemic of all times, not ideal timing.
The COVID-19 bomb
SS: You were actually diagnosed with COVID-19 last year, if I am not mistaken. How did that affect you? Was it terrible, were you asymptomatic?
RP: No, I pretty much had every symptom. It started off with a stuffy nose and “I can’t take a deep breath”. And then the aches, the pains, and the headaches before I lost my sense of taste and smell. I only lost it for maybe 24-48 hours, but I was sick for about three weeks. I never got a fever.
It was just sort of a slow burn, I would start to feel better and then it would come back and I’d feel shitty again. Jon and I ended up splitting the house in half, basically, once I found out that I had it. I just stayed upstairs and the dogs stayed with me.
I was on a constant cycle of “Give me NyQuil” and “Give me DayQuil”. On days that I felt up to it, I’d hop on the treadmill and just walk. I didn’t want my lungs to not be used properly so I just wanted to keep them going and just to stay on top of things as much as I could.
It sucks, definitely. I do not recommend it.
SS: I hesitate to bring this up, but it’s only fitting that I mention “Mask Sex”, which was discussed on your podcast. It cracked me up!
RP: (Laughs) Do whatcha gotta do, rjght? I was like “Are we doing this?”
SS: It brings a whole new level to “We gotta use protection.”
RP: Exactly, honestly! I’m sure we weren’t the only people experimenting with mask sex. (Laughs)
SS: I live in Los Angeles but have friends and a significant other in the Midwest. I took care to not travel extra during the pandemic. How has that affected you and Jon?
RP: Especially with me being pregnant, I mean, knock on wood, I’m actually happy to (have had COVID-19) prior. Obviously, still being super cautious. I do still have the antibodies which is great. I just tested them right before Christmas, and I still have antibodies which is awesome. I’m not entirely sure what that means as far as my immunity and whatnot, but it’s better to have them than not.
We’ve been really careful with everything too. Jon gets tested when he goes to AEW (All Elite Wrestling) and then he comes home and tests again.
SS: As an athlete, I assume he has to do ingoing testing and outgoing testing.
RP: Yeah, (Jon) has some of the rapid tests and keeps those on hand, so we just try to stay on top of it as well as we can.
SS: It’s necessary of course. I’m glad that he has gotten back to work, even it was with with half-full audiences.
RP: What’s funny is even when wrestling was still going on very early in the pandemic and we sort of got some flack for that, I do understand (the views) to a degree. Everyone wants to be as safe as they possibly can. We had COVID-19 testing and were working in a bubble system as much as we could, but it’s nice to have something to watch as a distraction from the shit that was going on.
Even yesterday with everything that happened (in politics), just to have some wrestling to watch for a little while: “Oh thank God, I can just watch some wrestling and zone out for a little bit.”
SS: One hundred percent. Everybody needs a distraction.
For anyone that is reading this, I actually reached out to Renee last year around this time. March, actually. I asked about an interview and “maybe we can talk about this Covid thing”. You were absolutely right when you said “You know, we don’t really know where this is gonna go, so I’m not quite comfortable talking about it”. I don’t blame you one iota, because it did indeed go the bad way.
RP: It’s so sensitive and everything is being looked at with such a fine-toothed comb that obviously you don’t want to say the wrong thing. First of all, I’m not a doctor so what do I know about anything aside from first-hand experience, which I got?
SS: Of course. You were right then and now and hopefully 2020 is in hindsight.
At the end of the day, it’s about anyone who wants to start a show. I want to be like, female Joe Rogan. I want to get that deal. That’s what I’d like to do.
SS: I wanted to discuss “Oral Sessions”, which is the podcast that you are doing now. What brought that on, and what is your end goal with that pod? I listened to several episodes and it is really entertaining and you’ve had some great guests. I would love to hear what you want to make of it.
RP: Yeah I just wanted to start doing something. I left WWE and I wanted to create something that was just my own. Obviously, a podcast is the easiest thing to do right now, we are all stuck at home anyway. Just need a microphone and a good internet connection and we are kinda good to go.
I wanted to start a show and I’m very lucky to have access to guests that are willing to sit down and shoot the shit with me for a little bit.
SS: For the readers, could you name off a few guests that you’ve had on so far?
RP: Well, I forced my husband, Jon Moxley, to do my first little (test run). I’ve had on Josh Burnett, former UFC heavyweight champion. I’ve had C.M. Punk, Maryse Mizanin, Michelle Waterson, Megan Olivi, I’ve got some really great ones lined up!
(Ed Note: Renee recently hosted “Big E” from the WWE since this interview. You can find that episode here.)
SS: Those are some heavy-hitters, to be sure.
RP: Yeah, It’s been really cool. I just wanted to start somewhere and then just sort of figure it out. Obviously, I want to keep it in the wrestling/combat sports world. This is new to me, dabbling more in the combat sports and having on Michelle Waterson and having on Josh Burnett (though he sits on both sides of that fence).
It’s cool. I will always have that tie to the wrestling business, so I would rather lean into that than not, but down the line I’d love to have on other guests. Musicians, different artists, other athletes from different sports and branch out and see where it goes.
At the end of the day, it’s about anyone who wants to start a show. I want to be like, female Joe Rogan. I want to get that deal. That’s what I’d like to do.
Being able to have a show that I’m completely in control of… I don’t have to answer to anyone and I am my own boss with it, it’s really cool. It’s funny, at first I kept wanting to bounce ideas off of somebody but it’s like “You’re on your own, toots, figure it out!”
SS: This is you, you don’t need to bounce ideas off of anyone.
RP: Exactly. It’s really cool, I’ve been working with a friend of mine, Emilio Sparks. He’s the producer of the show and has been really great with helping me out. It’s nice just having a simple “two-man” show, and getting stuff up and running. It’s only a couple episodes in but… (Laughs) it seems to be doing all right.
(Ed Note: Oral Sessions has a 4.9 rating on Apple podcast reviews.)
I respect so much what everyone does there. It’s such a grind.
Intro and a career in wrestling
SS: I think it’s well documented and no one would be surprised to learn that your father was a concert promoter and got you into a bunch of WWE shows, or WWF, excuse me.
RP: Would have been (WWF) at that time, yeah!
SS: You met people like Mick Foley and Chyna… those were two of the ones that you’ve mentioned several times historically and it’s interesting that you’ve completely embraced the world of wrestling. It’s not just “This is my job”, it’s a life and obviously, you are married to a pro wrestler, as well.
RP: Yeah, why not? When I first started working for WWE it had never been my plan career-wise to end up there. It didn’t even register for me. And then when I came up, I thought “Shit, ok!”. And then starting to work there, obviously I watched as a kid, but being in the ‘belly of the beast’ and understanding the way the show works… from a production standpoint it’s amazing. From a talent standpoint, it’s bar-none.
I respect so much what everyone does there. It’s such a grind. The job is not easy for anyone under that umbrella, no matter what your job happens to be. I have immense respect for everything that everyone does in the world of wrestling.
It was really fun for me to have that opportunity and for me to do as many things as I did within WWE. And to have my own relationships in the company and have my own fanbase from that, it was just a really cool experience.
SS: You met your husband there. If you can find that person, that’s pretty great, too.
RP: Yeah! That was one of the things I said to Vince McMahon (Owner, CEO) on my last day. I went to say goodbye to him and said “You literally changed my life, I met my husband here.”
Career-wise and monetarily, sure. But my life had been changed by meeting my husband there.
SS: I think that’s outstanding and you already answered another question. It was “Did you enjoy your time in WWE?”.
RP: And of course I did! Listen, like anything, there’s ups and there’s downs and there’s a ton of stuff I could come on here and dish out.
SS: It’s still work.
RP: It’s work. And like I said, it’s a grind. You’re on the road all the time. You are around people all the time, more than your own family. There are ups and there are downs, of course. That being said, I have (nothing but) good feelings about my time in WWE.
…if there was another little girl out there somewhere listening to me do that and seeing that it was a big deal and that women can break down these barriers, keep forging on and moving forward and believing in themselves, that’s such a powerful, cool thing.
Women paving their way in sports
SS: Renee, you’re one of the first women (August 13, 2018) to actually call a wrestling match. That was a big deal in the industry. Do you consider that on the level of people like Kim Ng (Miami Marlins general manager), Sarah Fuller (Vanderbilt, the first female to score a point in D-1 football), or Becky Hammon (assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs)?
Calling a match was pretty monumental. Do you view yourself that way?
RP: I don’t really look at myself that way. Those are women that I respect so much and I think there is always going to be that uphill battle. I love seeing women make those leaps and bounds and I am so happy that I could be a part of that in the world of WWE.
I just don’t really think of myself in terms like that, but when it’s someone else I’m like “Hell yeah!”. For me, I don’t think of myself like that.
The thing that pops into my mind in terms of what I was able to do in the WWE, being the first full-time female commentator (on Monday Night Raw for over a year), I always think about Manon Rheaume, who played for the Tampa Bay Lightning. She was the first female NHL player as a goaltender for them. Whether people remember that or not, I remember that. I remember that as a kid. I remember my dad got me a signed headshot of hers and I think he still has that somewhere.
But yeah, if there was another little girl out there somewhere listening to me do that and seeing that it was a big deal and that women can break down these barriers, keep forging on and moving forward and believing in themselves, that’s such a powerful, cool thing.
Shit, I’m pregnant right now with a little girl and I can’t wait to teach her (not to take) “No” as an answer. Just keep moving forward. You don’t take being a girl as a reason for why you cannot do something. That’s not the world that we are living in anymore. It’s a slow turnaround but we’re getting there, slowly but surely.
SS: A woman is about to be the Vice President of the United States of America. A woman was almost the President. The opportunities are available now.
I have never really looked at myself as ‘a woman working in a man’s world’. I’ve never thought that.
SS: That’s crazy to me, since you were in wrestling.
RP: I just never thought that, and other people never ever made me feel that way, either. It is something that I will always appreciate. I appreciate so many women that I’ve worked with, but I do have to give big props to a lot of the men that I’ve worked with. They’ve really backed me up and I’ve had a lot of great men champion for me my entire career. Not only in WWE but in so many facets of my career.
I was doing comedy more before I got into sports and that’s a very male-dominated industry, as well.
SS: You were doing a lot of improv, if I’m not mistaken?
RP: Yes, and then I was at The Score and it was mostly men there, too. I was one of the few females on the air there. We were few and far between. But I never was made to feel like ‘the girl’. I just had these opportunities and was willing to work hard.
I wanted to be the best at what I did. I never wanted to be the girl that got a job to fill a quota. I wanted to be the person that was best for the job.
SS: I wanted to ask another question about WWE. Your stage name was Renee Young. Am I correct that it’s somehow related to Neil Young? Can you tell me about that?
RP: When I first signed to WWE, I was still living in Toronto at the time. I got an email from my would-be boss at the time and the subject line of the email said ‘Renee Sterling’ and I thought “Who the fuck is Renee Sterling?”. I hated that name, so I was very adamant that we did not use it.
So they said “What do you want?” and I gave them a whole list of (name options) that I was cool with. I had Renee Rogers, which is from Prince. Renee Ruston, which was Audrey Hepburn’s last name. Renee Ryan was my aunt’s married name, and then I had Renee Young off of Neil Young. I’m a huge Neil Young fan and was literally scrolling through some of my records thinking “Who can I take from for this?”.
SS: Yeah, I’m guessing you weren’t going to be ‘Renee Zeppelin’.
RP: No. And I love Neil Young so it was a little bit of a Canadian tribute, as well.
You see the relationship that (Brodie Lee) had with so many people backstage (in WWE), he really… he really touched people’s lives. Just a good dude.
SS: Before we go, I wanted to ask if you have any thoughts or comments on Brodie Lee? I know that’s someone who Jonathan worked with extensively, as did you, of course, in your position in the WWE. Maybe more so than Jon?
RP: No, not more so than Jon. Those two beat the hell out of each other for the better part of a decade (Laughs).
SS: I think wrestling fans would love to hear you say a few words as to who the man was, how you feel, whatever. If you need to quit or are not comfortable saying so, then don’t.
RP: No, absolutely. It’s such a loss for the wrestling community and for anyone who knew Brodie or, rather, who knew Jon Huber (given name, 12/16/1979-12/26/2020).
Just an outstanding person and you see the outpouring on social media from everyone but especially his friends who really knew him. You see the fan interactions and what a great dude he was.
You see the relationship that he had with so many people backstage (in WWE), he really… he really touched people’s lives. Just a good dude. Everything you’ve read about him, about just being an amazing family man. All he ever wanted to do was wrestle and then go home to his family.
It’s such a loss. My heart is broken that he is not here anymore. My heart is broken for his family.
I will say this: The strength that I have seen from his wife is outstanding. To see a woman hold her own and keep herself together for her family… what she has been able to do for the wrestling community I think is incredible.
We’ll all miss Brodie dearly. To lose an amazing man like that at such a young age so shockingly… I don’t know how anyone deals with something like that. It’s so hard to wrap your head around the fact that he’s gone.
SS: It was such a surprise for fans of the sport that maybe didn’t know what he was going through.
RP: He was one of the best ‘big men’ that we have had in the business in a very long time.
SS: It’s ironic to me because in the biz you are either a ‘face’ or a ‘heel’. He was pretty much a heel for the entirety of his career. But then fans come out and say “This guy that I’ve hated is gone, and I hate that he’s gone.”
RP: Wrestling fans are smart. It’s easy for them to see behind the layers of what they’re seeing on TV.
SS: Of course.
RP: They know someone’s reputation. I think (in Brodie’s case) it speaks for itself.
SS: It was a tremendous loss both for the community and in general. Thank you for your thoughts.
SS: Let’s wrap this interview, I appreciate your candor and it was such a pleasure.
RP: Happy to talk with you!
Links above and below for Renee’s podcast “Oral Sessions” which is both entertaining and enlightening. Go check it out and subscribe. It is one of the best pods available for your listening pleasure and you need not be a sports fan to enjoy it.
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Renee Paquette’s “Oral Sessions” can be found right here.