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Nia Jax on WWE’s changing culture, her release, a Royal Rumble comeback offer, and more

WWE.com

Lina Fanene, who WWE fans knew as Nia Jax, was the guest on Renee Paquette’s latest The Sessions podcast*. It’s the first time the former Raw Women’s champion’s gone on the record about being released last November.

A lot of ground is covered in the hour long chat between friends, starting with the basics of how Fanene is three months after losing her job. That gets them right into how she was doing towards the end of her WWE run, too.

“It’s scary to say it, but I feel really good. Like happy. [Renee asks why it’s scary to say that] It’s almost like Stockholm Syndrome, right? I was in this crazy, almost like slightly abusive relationship with a company — but also good. There’s good parts to it. But now it’s done, and I kind of get to be myself again, which I haven’t been in a long time. And so I feel good, but it’s also a scary part of, ‘Okay, so who is Lina now that she’s not Nia Jax?’”

She credits her family for helping her deal with losing the job she’d had since 2014, one she’d clearly grown unsatisfied with. Specifically, a brother helped her see that getting out of WWE would be good for her.

“Before I got the call [about her release], a year before that, I was like, ‘Gosh, it doesn’t feel the same to me anymore. I’m not as super excited about it.’ I would get butterflies before traveling - just like excitement. And he was like, ‘Maybe it’s time to start worrying about yourself. Maybe it’s time for you to think about Lina.’

“It was just a weird concept. You’re a cog in the wheel, and you’re just going, and you’re like ‘No, I have to be so loyal to this company.’ Then finally when the call came, which caught me by surprise, He was like, ‘This is good.’”

As to what changed? She points to the environment that developed during the empty arena/ThunderDome era:

“I had left and had surgeries. I had my double ACL surgery, and then I was sitting at home waiting to come back. But they were like, ‘Oh, we’re not going to use you.’ Then COVID hit, and it just kinda set the tone for the whole year. I was laying in bed and I got a call from TR [Talent Relations], cause this was when we were filming at the PC [Performance Center]. ‘You’re needed, we’re filming your return in two hours.’

“I was like, ‘Wait, what?’ I was texting Paul Heyman, cause at the time he was running stuff on Raw. I was like, ‘What is going on?’ I came back — the energy was just different. Obviously, we were trying to work through a pandemic, everybody is scared. Nobody seemed happy. It was just a weird, tense filming. We were there at the PC, and just trying to make the best of it. Something in the air — it just didn’t feel the same.

“And there was a change in the guard in the company on the corporate side, and things just started shifting to where it didn’t seem what it used to feel like. We used to be like a family, the camaraderie. You know we’d get together, and have a good time. And something shifted. That was when I think a lot of people were just like, ‘What the heck. What’s up?’ Then we had those massive cuts - like cut, after cut, after cut, and they were like ‘Budget cuts’ and whatnot. Nothing was making sense. The whole last year, I felt like I was in a constant dryer — I was being tumbled in different directions, and I just couldn’t get settled.”

That led to the mental health break Fanene previously said WWE laid her off in the midst of:

“I remember I walked into Johnny [John Laurinaitis]’s office, just after a crazy couple weeks in wrestling, and I was like, ‘I need a break. Something’s off. I don’t feel right. I need a break.’ And he gave it to me, he was like, ‘Yeah, of course, take a break.’

“And when I was on the break — I shit you not, I did not miss it... I hit Johnny up and was like, ‘I know that my break’s coming up, but I just don’t feel right right now. Is there any way we could kind of extend it to [Royal] Rumble? Then I know I’ll be in a better place.’

“That was like on a Wednesday, I hit him up about that. And Thursday he called me, and of course I see his name and I’m like, ‘Oh, he’s calling to talk about this. So cool!’ Then I pick up the phone and he’s like, ‘Hey kid, I hate to do this.’ Instantly, when he said that I was like, ‘Oh, am I getting released?’

“And he said, ‘Yeah. I’m so sorry. Due to budget cuts.’ The whole spiel. ‘Okay, well, I’ll take a paycut, if that’s what’s needed,’ just because I knew it was a whole script. And he was like, ‘Oh, that’s not it.’

“‘So you just want a total different change?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, that’s it. We’re just gonna put you on your 90-days.’ I hung up the phone and I was relieved.”

Another issue that swirled around Jax’s release was her vaccination status. She also addresses that with Renee:

“I stood my ground on certain things that I know they weren’t happy about. I was choosing not to go and get the vaccine. It was a personal choice, and I remember sitting down with Vince [McMahon] because the whole entire two years I was there, we were tested every day, and I never popped positive, or had COVID. And it was like, ‘Well, kid, you’re not gonna be able to fulfill some of your contractual duties.’

“I was like, if that’s the case, then that’s the case. It’s a business. I said, ‘It’s a business, and I understand you gotta run your business.’ But that’s when I was like, I felt relief, because I made the decision for myself, and I stood by my ground. I stood by how I felt, and I always go by my gut feeling. If it doesn’t feel right in my stomach, I just can’t force myself to do something I feel good with. That’s just how I lived my entire life.”

If you’re hoping for some pushback here about personal and public health decisions being something you should make with your brain rather than your digestive system — this ain’t that kind of show. Paquette does give her friend a chance to reflect on that decision, but Fanene says she wouldn’t change anything about her position pre-release, which also apparently included turning down a role spying on the rest of the roster for management:

“Absolutely not. I was asked to be a locker room leader. And he [it’s not specified who she’s talking about here]’s like ,‘You have to set an example.’ And I’m just like, I’m not a stooge. I’m not going to go and stooge anybody out. You want to know somebody’s personal business, go and ask them. I don’t play by that thing. He’s like, ‘People are going to listen to you, and follow suit by you.’ If they do, that’s on them.

“So I sit back and think, I got caught up in the blurred lines of Nia Jax. Even outside. It’s not like they run credits, and say ‘Nia Jax is Lina Fanene’. It’s Nia Jax 24/7 — shit gets blurred. I can’t sit here and be something they want me to be just to appease them. But at the end of the day, am I gonna feel good about myself? There’s plenty of other stooges in the locker room.”

Her 90 days are now up, but WWE did reach out to her before that about returning for Royal Rumble. What did she say when she got the call from someone in Talent Relations about that?

“‘Oh, fuck no, I’m not coming back.’ And he was like, ‘We’d like to offer you this.’ And I said, ‘First of all, I’m still under my 90 days. You’re still gonna be paying me anyway, so you’re not offering me anything. No, I’m not fucking coming back. Absolutely fucking not. Is this all it was?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ ‘Okay, bye.’”

Fanene said it felt like a slap in the face, as she later learned it was just a call to see if she was willing to come back. People who said yes would then be added to a list given to Vince so he could pick who he wanted:

“I was like, ‘So you’re asking me to be part of a list to go to the next step? Fuck no. How much more can you shit on me, dude?’ Somebody else was like, ‘We didn’t want her to feel left out. If it got around that she didn’t get asked, we didn’t want her to feel left out.’ I was like, ‘Fuck you, that’s such bullshit.’ You needed people and I definitely [nixed] that.”

But that, and her previously indicating that her wrestling days are over, doesn’t mean she’s done for good. It’s just not the priority right now, especially when all the negatives are fresh in her mind:

“I never want to say never because I do love the feeling I get in the ring. I do enjoy — I loved wrestling. I didn’t like the shit, the politics, all the other BS. But also, I’m not getting any younger and... I’m trying to find my man so I can start popping out babies.”

Like I said, it’s a lot. This doesn’t even cover their talk about accidentally breaking Becky Lynch’s face before Survivor Series ‘18, how WWE used that heat for her character, the toxic fan reaction she got for allegedly being dangerous in the ring, and what support she did & didn’t get from family members in the wrestling business.

Give it a listen here.

* Just realizing Renee quietly dropped the “Oral” from her pod’s name a few weeks back. Getting bigger sponsors trumps having a cheeky name, I guess. I’ll miss the old name, but can’t knock the hustle.