When Athena, then known as Ember Moon, returned to NXT after suffering an ankle injury on the main roster, it looked like she was going to be in-store for a serious in-ring relaunch. Though her main-roster run wasn’t without its highlights, Athena’s best in-ring run in the greater WWE Universe came under the watchful eye of Paul “Triple H” Levesque when she won the NXT Women’s Championship in 2018.

Unfortunately, that never happened; the NXT Athena returned to rapidly became very similar to the main roster she left, as Levesque was relieved of his duties and Vince McMahon’s team took over creative, and before too long, veteran performers were being pushed aside in favor of younger, ascending talents who fit the look WWE wanted, as opposed to having the pre-existing in-ring chops, as she detailed on a recent appearance on Talk is Jericho.

“It was like you took everything that made ‘NXT’ great, for me personally, and it was all gone,” Athena said (h/t Wrestling Inc.). “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.”

Actually afforded a chance to give her an original idea, losing matches before ultimately turning heel, a try by the Vince McMahon-led creative team, Athena was ultimately pulled from television as WWE turned over NXT into NXT 2.0 in a decision that ultimately led to her release in November of 2021.

“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.'”

Unfortunately – or fortunately, as you will soon see – that call never came; Athena was released one month after her final match in NXT 2.0 after losing a match to Mandy Rose, and everything’s been looking up ever since.

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Athena almost left wrestling after WWE firing before AEW.

Finally free from the in-ring restraints of working for a company that wasn’t particularly high up her upward mobility, Athena initially considered hanging up her boots before opting to instead get in contact with Tony Khan to see if AEW had anything to offer her.

“When I left WWE, that was the one thing I wanted to do, I wanted to figure out a way to get to AEW,” Athena said (h/t Fightful). “When I walked out of that building, I thought, ‘How in the blue h*ll do I get ahold of Tony Khan?’ Between my rep and everything, we had kind of been in talks in December to see if there was interest. During my 90-day situation where I couldn’t do anything, ‘Ah, just kind of threw away the dream job. Do I want to wrestle anymore?'”

Though Athena wasn’t initially snatched up by Khan when her 90-day non-compete clause came up, instead bouncing around the indies, including a memorable stint in Warrior, the prospects of being a wanted performer actually came as a surprise for the veteran grappler, with AEW not being the only major company who showed interest in her prospects as a long-term contracted talent.

“All of these requests came in from the Indies of, ‘we want you to come do our show, we want you at our show.’ ‘Well this is new,” Athena said. “I remember having to run to everyone else to get a booking.’ All these old promotions that I used to work for were like, ‘Hey come work with us. Come do this.’ ‘I don’t know man.’ I remember this promoter at Warrior Wrestling goes, ‘whatever match you want, I’ll pay your rate, you get to pick your opponent and who you want.’ ‘Thunder Rosa.’ I threw out a name because I recently met her and she was awesome. I went down to Mission Pro and worked out to see if I still wanted to wrestle. She got me some really good girls to roll around with. We went broadway, 30 minutes, and it was so much fun. I was so emotional after because it was like, ‘I thought I was going to throw this all away again.’ It got the bug going and that’s when I told my rep, ‘Let’s do it, if he wants me let’s do it.’ It became, IMPACT wanted me, there was interest at AEW but we could never get ahold of Tony because he’s so busy. IMPACT would be like, ‘Hey, hey girl, hey.’ ‘Yeah, yeah, I know, hold on.’ My friends would be like, ‘Girl, I heard you’re coming here.’ ‘We’ve not talked to them. We only said, hey, we’ll talk to you next week.’ It became this weird, where do I go? What do I do? I had two companies showing interest and it was like, ‘I think I want to go to AEW. I have friends at IMPACT, but I want to do AEW because I’ve had my eye on it for so long.’ Fast forward to May, it happened so quickly. Tony called my rep, ‘Let’s do it.’ Within the next week, I was on a plane to Las Vegas.”

And the rest, as they say, is history; Athena worked a program with Jade Cargill that actually had an overarching story, she turned heel on jobbers during Dark Elevation matches and now sits pretty as the Ring of Honor Women’s Champion. In the end, everything came full circle, and this new moon is much better for Athena than the last one.