Athena Opens Up About Her WWE Release

Current AEW and Ring of Honor star Athena is flourishing in her new role as a heel, with her victory over Mercedes Martinez at Ring of Honor Final Battle netting her the Ring of Honor Women's World Championship. Prior to making the move over to AEW and ROH, however, many fans will remember Athena as Ember Moon in WWE. Appearing on the latest episode of "Talk Is Jericho," Athena detailed the events leading up to her WWE release, sharing her thoughts on the transition to "WWE NXT 2.0," which brand she preferred to compete on in the company, and much more.

After struggling to get on the same page with WWE regarding character and creative decisions, Athena tore her Achilles in 2019 and wound up on the shelf for some time. The AEW star shared her belief that, after coming back from the injury, both she and WWE were unhappy with the overall situation, though Paul "Triple H" Levesque worked to smooth things over.

"Hunter was the only person that really checked on me during that time," Athena said. "And I remember just having a mental breakdown on live TV about my Achilles, because I found out I might have to have another surgery that morning, and if I had that other surgery I'd probably be done, and I wouldn't be coming back."

Ember Moon Returns To 'NXT'

Athena then spoke to both Levesque and then-retired WWE star Edge about her injury situation — conversations that inspired her to want to return to "NXT."

"I remember just thinking, 'Man, no one from the main roster called. Not even the medical staff there. These are the people that care about me, that care about my career. This is who I want to work for.'" Athena saw many of the women she worked with on the independent scene putting in hard work in "NXT," and shared that she believed in Levesque's vision for women's wrestling.

"That's home for me. That's my happy place," Athena continued. "So we had talked, and he brought me back there. I had so much fun. I got to win the tag titles with Shotzi [Blackheart], and I finally felt like things were picking up, and I had a voice in my creative at the time."

However, that momentum was interrupted when Blackheart began working the company's main roster. Athena was only supposed to return to "NXT" for a year before heading back up to the main roster, and she assumed that she and Blackheart would be brought up together. However, Athena was soon made aware that Blackheart was being called up to tag with Tegan Nox, and she'd be staying in "NXT."

A Changing Of The Guard Backstage Halted Ember Moon's Momentum

Athena then pitched an idea to Levesque to put her on a losing streak leading up to a heel turn, and Levesque approved. "We start that whole process of losing, losing, losing, but it was so 'stop and go.' ... That was around the time '2.0' started becoming a thing." Athena found herself appearing on TV one week, and then disappearing for weeks at a time before being brought back.

"After that conversation with Hunter, I never saw him again," Athena said. "That's when he got sick. ... And then I started seeing the backstage personnel change, and then it became Vince's team — the team that I had worked with on 'Raw' and 'SmackDown,' [and] no ideas get past them. It became [about] how good people looked outside of the ring, and not based off what they could do in the ring." From that point on, Athena began feeling unhappy with her position once again.

"It was like you took everything that made 'NXT' great, for me personally, and it was all gone," Athena continued. "I remember going to Ross and buying a bag, and putting it in the locker room. ... I'd walk in every day and I'd tell my makeup artist, 'I think today's the day I'm going to quit.' For two months, it was like this."

Ember Moon Gets Her WWE Release

Before she did, however, creative came to her and said they could now go through with the heel turn she had proposed, supposedly with the support of McMahon himself. Athena shared that she then became incredibly excited and motivated. She dyed her hair red in preparation to return to the old version of her character, went out and filmed vignettes, and then walked into a meeting with "NXT" creative where she was told she was being taken off TV indefinitely due to the shift to "NXT 2.0."

"I literally go, 'What did I do wrong, man?'" Athena continued. "And he goes, 'You did nothing wrong. You've been perfect.' And I go, 'So why do I feel like I'm always being punished? I do everything that I'm asked. I go over and beyond. What did I do?' ... I literally just sat there, and I go, 'You know what? Don't bring me back to Orlando until you have something for me.'"

Though Athena was offered a coaching position in developmental, she told the company that's not why she was there. "I'm not at that point in my career," Athena stated. "I love helping people. If I'm there working out, and they want to come, and we working stuff, sure. ... But I'm not going to come in here when there's nothing for me. So I said, 'I'm staying home and I'm not coming back until you have a TV spot for me.'"

A month later, Athena got the call that she was being released due to budget cuts. After her non-compete, she returned to working independent promotions before then making her AEW debut the following May.