A Letter to My WWE Family

I nailed it.

You know that feeling? When you just really nail something? That was me, in the spring of 2012, after my audition for ESPN’s SportsNation. The lovely and talented Michelle Beadle had been its host until then, but Michelle was leaving for NBC and they needed someone to take her place. I’d been doing TV in Canada at the time, and was trying to break into American entertainment — so I went down to Bristol and auditioned for the SportsNation gig.

And like I said…. I nailed it. Basically they told me, “You’re our girl.” I thought I had it locked up for real.

Then something funny happened.

I was back home in Toronto, right after my audition, watching Michelle’s sendoff episode. It was this whole elaborate farewell special. And I just remember that at some point during the various goodbyes, they had this one spot where they [RECORD SCRATCH] introduced her replacement. Charissa Thompson — also lovely and also talented — walked across the set, and I’ll never forget the feeling of just, like, slowly processing what that meant for me in real time. Wait, those aren’t my shoes. Those aren’t my clothes. That’s not my hair. OK…. that’s not me. Oh. No. Oh, no.

No no no no no no no.

And that’s when WWE called and offered me a job.

Almost a decade later, I’m writing to say goodbye.

To be really honest…. I’m not even sure I know what to say. I mean — what do you say about the bosses who’ve become your trusted mentors?? About the co-workers who’ve become your closest friends?? About the company that’s become this living, breathing part of your identity??

I’m still trying to figure it out.

But I wanted to write this anyway.

I wanted to write this because I need everyone in and around WWE to know exactly how much they’ve meant to me over these last eight years — and how much they’ll continue to mean to me after I’m gone. I wanted to write this because it’s a family thing.

I wanted to write this because I didn’t just like my job….. I loved my job.

And they say that nothing beats a love letter.

So here goes.

Thank you to Vince.

A lot of ink has been spilled about the legend of Vince McMahon over the years, and I doubt that I can top any of it, so I won’t even try. But what I’ll add is this — probably one of the best things you can say about a CEO: You always want his approval. I mean…… always, always, always. It’s like a miracle drug, getting Vince’s approval. You can be having the crummiest night; but then if you’re back in Gorilla after some segment you finished, and Vince gives you a laugh? Or a smile and a “good job”? Or (the classic) a handshake and a NOD OF APPROVAL?! Man, right then, it’s like nothing else in the entire world matters. You’re king for a day.

Thank you to Stephanie and Hunter.

In many ways, WWE is still just a family business at heart — and if Vince is the grandfather, then Stephanie and Hunter are definitely the parents in charge.

You couldn’t ask for a better set.

Stephanie….. I mean, she is “women in WWE,” you know? But it goes so far beyond that. She’s just a boss, period. And I hate to use the term “boss lady” with Stephanie, because she’s a boss by any gender, but you really can’t say enough about the job she’s done in this male-dominated business. She’s so warm and friendly and inviting, but at the same time, you always know she’s taking care of her shit. And for one of the busiest people you’ll ever meet, one thing about Steph is that if you pass her in the hallway, and you’re like, “Hey, can I talk to you about something?” You’ve got her undivided attention. I can’t stress that enough. And that’s always meant a lot to me, as someone who’s gone to her for advice on many occasions. Stephanie is that rare kind of person who just cares too much to ever go through the motions.

Hunter, to me — he represents this idea of progress in WWE. He’s always pushing talent in the direction of opportunity, and in the direction of something new. You see it first and foremost in his work with NXT, and just the way he’s built that brand into one of the most exciting things in wrestling right now. And then I also got to experience that energy on a more direct level — when Hunter pulled me aside before TV one night and said, “Alright, so in two weeks? Coach won’t be available for Raw. And we want you to fill in for him.” I was like….. SORRY, WHAT?!? It wasn’t something we’d talked about, wasn’t something I’d pitched anyone on. It was completely out of left field. And that just said everything to me. It told me that, first of all, this is a company that’s trying things. But it was something deeper, too. I think it was also just this feeling of, like, Wow, people here genuinely want me — me, as a person — to succeed. I’ll always be grateful for that.

Thank you to everyone I’ve worked with on the announcing side.

No matter where I go or what I do from here on out, I already know that Michael Cole is the best boss I’ll ever have. You really have to understand what I’ve been through with Michael. That first episode of Raw I called, it was just……. I mean, it’s hard to even describe. There’s so much going on. It’s three hours. You’ve got these stacks of notes. You want to be quippy but you also want to get out of your own way. And you also want to stay in your lane. For me, as a non-wrestler, that meant not focusing so much on analyzing moves. I was there to talk about the characters and the stories and whatnot. So you’re keeping track of all of those things. Plus all of these segments are flying by, every which way — promos, matches, promos into matches, matches into promos, who knows.

And I just need to say this: No matter how prepared you are…… no matter how good you are, no matter how knowledgeable or charismatic or quick witted or born-to-do-it you may be…… When you’re doing Raw — when you’re doing three hours of LIVE WWE — for the first time?? You really only have one chance of survival.

And that’s to take your broadcast partner by the hand, hold onto it tight, and hope they won’t let go.

With Michael Cole, I didn’t even have to hope.

I knew.

Graves….. dude. Nothing to say about Corey Graves other than he’s been my best friend. Not only have we shared the screen together for so many moments, but it’s the time offscreen that I think has really cemented us as a duo. Traveling between towns, hanging out in hotel bars, always scrounging around looking for the final beer or bottle of wine we can snag to sit down and just chat about life. My signature Graves Memory™ is probably from Manchester: We’d just gotten off the longest plane ride, and then a boozy bus ride — and as soon as we’re at our destination, man, it’s a wrap. I’m in bed. Of course this doesn’t stop Graves from calling me in the middle of the night, like it’s super important, with a highly urgent request: Can I…. cab 20 minutes to his hotel from mine so that he can [wait for it….] get his portable speaker back??? DJ Graves: “You have it from the bus ride I think. But I need it now to keep the party going.” (Yes, for the record, I brought him his speaker. True friendship.)

Thank you to Daniel Bryan and everyone involved with Talking Smack. Out of everything I did in WWE, that’s probably the single thing that I enjoyed the most. I think I felt like it was the most me, if that makes sense. Like I finally got a chance to do something approaching “my thing.” I could be fun, I could be sassy, I could be a little messy and a little rough around the edges and real — and that’s just always been my M.O. I think it worked, too: talent got to be themselves on Talking Smack: there was sort of this IDGAF attitude, but at the same time you were seeing work. Like, some of the character work that guys did on our show was just unreal. And PEOPLE GOT OVER!! People got over, in a really unique way….. that to me is just a fact. From working with the Miz and Bryan, to Owens and Jericho, to the Usos, to AJ, to Naomi, to Sami, to even some of the greener talent who got to use our show to go out there and flap their creative wings a bit — honestly I’m just so impressed with what we built there, so glad they’re bringing it back, and I hope it lasts a million seasons.

And then a very special thank you to Mike Mansury — a star producer (who I’d have produce my life, if I could) and a star friend — and everyone else behind the scenes. This goes without saying, I hope, but there are SO many ridiculously talented people behind the scenes in WWE, and all of them are 1000% essential to the product that ends up on your screen. They keep the old machine moving, no matter what kind of mood the machine is in.

And then thank you to everyone else who I’ve gotten to share a set or a stage or a booth or a ring or a production meeting or even just a good old-fashioned conversation with over these years. It probably meant more to me than you know.

Thank you to the women.

Maybe I’ll say that one more time, for the people in the back: THANK YOU TO THE WOMEN.

Out of everything that I’m proud of, looking back on my time at WWE, the thing that stands out most is that I got to be a part of the “Women’s Evolution,” our movement to put the women of WWE on equal footing with the men. This meant more time devoted to women’s storylines on TV, which resulted in more spots for women on the main roster. It meant a greater emphasis on in-ring workrate among the female wrestlers, which resulted in too many classic matches to mention. And I think it also ended up meaning a larger spotlight being shone on female roles throughout the company, which resulted in — well, some of the things that I got to do.

A few caveats that are pretty important to me, before I continue:

  1. The Women’s Evolution was not the beginning of women wanting to be on TV more, or work better matches, or get state-of-the-art training in WWE — it was the beginning of WWE as a company deciding to make room for those opportunities. We’ll never know what the women of the ’80s, ’90s and ’00s would have done with similar opportunities.
  2. That said, the pre-Evolution stuff that women were doing in those eras, whether it was the shows that Trish and Lita were putting on in the Attitude Era, or the different types of shows that Divas like Sable and Torrie were putting on……. man, all I have to say is — every single one of those women RULES, and blazed trails, and deserves your utmost respect.
  3. If I’m being honest about my own experience as a trail-blazer in WWE, I’d say that my feelings looking back are kind of mixed. The history-making stuff, like being the first woman to ever call a full episode of Raw, those moments are untouchable and they’ll stay with me forever. But I also wish I’d done a few things differently — especially as it relates to my time in the commentary booth, as history-making as it was. I wish I’d stood up for myself a little more, in terms of the support that I was getting. I wish I’d fought for myself a little more, just in general, in those moments when I felt like I was drowning or even just treading water. And I wish I’d gone to more of the right people for more of the right advice, instead of letting my emotions or my insecurities get the better of me. I also think that’s the gift and the curse of going first, though, you know what I mean? No one said blazing trails was easy.

But anyway, YES, my God — I’m so damn proud of what we have accomplished here as women during my time in WWE.

And that goes especially for the Women’s Evolution of the last five-plus years.

Like I said, I started in NXT — so I’ve really gotten to see the Evolution up close from its earliest days. And it’s just been such a blast, and such a privilege, watching those women fight for every inch of their stardom. Watching Becky go for broke as this, like, steampunk sailor?? And then (seemingly overnight) emerge fully-formed as THE MAN…. I’ve never seen anything like it. Watching THE QUEEN herself, Charlotte — maybe the best pure athlete in WWE, man or woman — evolve into this total package where she has the crowd under her thumb from the moment her music hits?? It’s breathtaking. And then to get to call their match, in the MAIN EVENT of WrestleMania 35, a triple-threat between Becky, Charlotte and Ronda Rousey….. chills, just thinking about it. And what an honor, to have gotten to be even the tiniest footnote of that history.

But I also think it’s important to acknowledge, that as amazing as that was last year, and also as amazing as it’s been to watch Sasha and Bayley do their thing this year (especially this summer, with the way they’ve owned TV across three brands like total rock stars) — and as indelible of a mark as the Four Horsewomen have made on the division, just in general: WWE’s Evolution is the story of the combined forces of so many women.

I think about someone like Natalya, who’s one of the true ring generals of this era, and is such a lifer, such a great person and important locker-room leader. I mean, that lady is Hart Dungeon levels of OG!!! Or someone like Beth Phoenix….. maybe the most badass woman on the planet. Or someone like Paige, who has to be one of the coolest people I’ve ever met, and was such an absolute natural for this business. I’ll never forget hearing the story of Paige’s wacky British wrestling family (this was before her MOVIE came out), and just being blown away. And then of course you also can look no further than any given episode of Smackdown Raw, or NXT airing right now. The amount of insane talent we have in the women’s division, from Sonya to Asuka to Nia to Mandy to Nikki to Alexa to Lacey to Zelina and I could keep going and going……….. it makes my heart full. And this is just the beginning, too, you know what I mean?? It’s the tip of the iceberg.

All the best parts are still to come.

And then lastly, just……… thank you.

Just: thank you.

I still truly cannot believe that I’ve gotten to live this life. Sometimes it’s almost too much to wrap my head around. I mean, you guys — I’ve gotten to co-host a TV show with Mean Gene Okerlund!!! I’ve gotten to drive town-to-town with JBL. I’ve gotten to see the looks on fans’ faces when they meet Booker T. I grew up around a bunch of dumb boys who’d spend all day giving each other Tombstones (kids, DON’T do that!) — and I’ve gotten to call shows with the Undertaker on the card. I’m a Toronto kid, and now I’m friends with Edge and Christian. I get to call Ric Flair my friend.

Like — earlier this year, I got sick with COVID. And I’m lying there in bed, just sort of like, UGH. BLAH. BLECH. Everything sucks. I feel terrible. And then suddenly my phone rings. And I reach over and grab it, and look at it. And on the caller name it just says:

STEVE AUSTIN

And I’m just like in this COVID daze, still, you know, so I’m only like halfway there. But I pick it up. And I’m like, “Umm….. hello, Mr….. sir?”

“HEY KID, IT’S STEVE HERE. JUST WANTED TO MAKE SURE YOU’RE ALRIGHT. WANTED TO CALL ABOUT WHAT YOUR SYMPTOMS ARE LIKE, SEE WHAT’S WHAT. KNOW YOU’RE STAYING TOUGH.”

Oh, right, OK, for sure. It’s just Stone Cold Steve Austin — checking in. He wants to see how my COVID is doing.

Totally normal!!

How do you even explain to someone what your life is like, when things like THAT are happening to you? How do you even explain it to yourself?

How could I explain to 2012 Renee what her life will be like in eight years? What kind of amazing adventures she’ll have been on?

Oh, yeah — and how do I tell her that she marries a wrestler???

All kidding aside, though…. that’s really the last piece of the puzzle here, I think. When I think of everything WWE has meant to me — when I think about what this job and this business and this life have given me? It’s impossible for me to even do the math on, without factoring in the craziest most romantic most perfect gift of them all: WWE gave me Jon.

I was never one of those girls who was like, “OMG, who is my husband going to be???” But it’s so funny: I met Jon, we hit it off, and it was just like….. man. That was that, you know?

It was meant to be.

Now I think about it all the time, though, how damn lucky I am: to have the best husband — to have this driven and focused and all-hearted guy by my side. And yet the thing I think about just as much, and really can’t avoid thinking about, is how damn lucky we were: to have been in this position to cross each other’s paths in the first place. Like I’ll just sit there and I’ll think about what the odds are of any of it — that these two people, one from Toronto and one from Cincinnati, would now be happily married, would now be soulmates, would now be living their best life in Las Vegas……. riding off into the sunset together……. all because of some wrestling company in Stamford, Connecticut?!? I really don’t know.

I really, really, really don’t know.

But I’m so glad.

And I think that’s about it for me, you know? I know that everyone always wants details with these newsy types of things — “Why are you leaving?” “Where are you going?” and so on. The truth is, though, for now I’m flying pretty details-free.

I have some ideas about what might come next — but at the moment that’s all they are: ideas.

Maybe I’ll find a new show, or a new platform. A podcast, TV, who knows. But one thing I do know — I won’t be happy unless I keep pushing boundaries. Unless I keep moving forward. I always used to joke that WWE was this sort of “entertainment boot camp”…. but now that it’s over, I actually think there’s some truth there. I’ve been at the corner of sports, entertainment and live events for almost a decade. I’ve written a whole freaking cookbook in my spare time (out soon!!!). I feel like I’ve finally reached this stage where I can not know what comes next — because I’ve finally reached this stage where I can handle what comes next.

And then as far as why I’m leaving…… it’s about as simple as it gets: It was time. Eight years doing anything is a while. But eight years in a business like ours???? It’s a lifetime. And you only get so many lifetimes, right? So I’m going to try a few new things, give them a fair shot, hope they give me the same, and we’ll see.

To my WWE family: It’s been real. Y’all are THE most talented weirdos I’ve ever met, you make honest-to-God MAGIC, and I’ll never forget how lucky I was to share in even a part of your glow. Thanks for getting to know me. Thanks for caring about me. Thanks for putting up with me. And most importantly, when no one else was available, thanks for hanging out with me.

I miss you already. I love you forever.

I’ll see you soon.

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