For the past few years, WWE has been in the midst of a “Women’s Evolution.” The movement, sparked by a lack of representation for female superstars, has been one of the dominant storylines — both on television and behind the scenes — in all of professional wrestling.
While most of the attention has been on the talented women who perform in the ring on a nightly basis, there was another evolution taking place: the rise of Renee Young.
Young (real name Renee Paquette), a 32-year-old Canadian actress, first auditioned for WWE in 2012, and now, six years later, she is the first woman to be named a full-time commentator for the company’s flagship show, “Monday Night Raw.”
“It’s so crazy to think about where I was in my life, in my career, before walking into that audition with WWE,” Young told Yahoo Sports. “I thought I had a terrible audition, and I was like, ‘There’s no way that went well, right?’ And lo and behold, they said I could work there anyway. I never in a million years would have thought this would have been an option.”
Throughout her career with WWE, Young has performed in several different roles, ranging from backstage interviewer to host of panel discussions before and after events. Traditionally, non-wrestling female talent in WWE has been strictly used in scripted interview segments on television and as ring announcers for matches.
As opportunities for women in the ring grew, so did ones on the outside, thanks in part to Young’s infectious attitude and professional approach.
“I knew that I really wanted to be a part of that, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to,” Young said. “I was, in a way, from doing kick-off panels, and I’ve been able to get a fair amount of respect and be taken seriously in the things that I do.
“I love now that that door has been opened; it’s a door that can stay open, and it means that other women can come in and start doing commentary, and other women can find roles to work with in WWE.”
Despite having no prior experience in journalism, Young has shown an innate ability as a storyteller; and, as evidenced by her myriad roles, WWE has leaned on her throughout her career to add a serious tone to its programming.
“I think people do think that I have a journalism background,” Young said. “I do have an improv background, and I think that that has been the skill that I have relied on the most. Reacting to things, listening to people. I’m also just generally inquisitive. I think those skills are what I use the most in day-to-day life and on commentary.”
While Young has served as a commentator for both NXT and during the “Mae Young Classic,” her first opportunity to call an episode of “Monday Night Raw” didn’t come until last month, when a scheduling conflict prevented Jonathan Coachman from doing so.
During that guest spot on “Raw,” the “go home” episode for one of WWE’s biggest events, “SummerSlam,” Young had the opportunity to witness a moment that she and her husband, Dean Ambrose, had been waiting a long time for.
Ambrose, who had been recovering from an injury for the entirety of 2018, made his much-anticipated return, garnering an enormous reaction from the stunned crowd. As for Young, she handled it like a grizzled veteran, doing something that legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully had made famous.
“That was by design,” Young said. “I think it made more sense because I knew for Dean, he had been waiting for almost nine months, and it was a huge, huge moment for him. Anything that I would have said in that moment would not have added. It was great just to sit back and see him in that moment. My heart was full for him.”
Poise during moments like that isn’t just one of the reasons Young has gotten the opportunities that she has; it’s also why she is almost universally loved by fans — which, for anyone who has spent even one second in the wrestling community, is rare.
“I’m not sure what I’ve done to deserve that,” Young said. “We live in such a finicky world where everyone just wants to hate everything. Everyone always has a comment on something. To be held in a nice light is mind-boggling. I owe everybody a round of drinks.”
From a logistical standpoint, because of her ability and status among fans, Young’s unprecedented move to the commentary table makes sense. The transition is a welcome one on Young’s end as well.
“I have been dying for more to chew on,” she said. “I want to work and I want to be busy. There’s always more research to be done, always more conversations to have with people to help them tell their story and keep things interesting and fresh. I’m just so happy that I get to do that.”
Although Young’s primary role will be on “Monday Night Raw,” she still hopes to be able to resume her role as an on-camera interviewer. Last week, WWE released a clip of a candid, somber discussion between Young and fellow WWE star Zelina Vega. Vega, a recent call-up from NXT, opened up about losing her father in the terror attacks on 9/11.
— WWE (@WWE) September 11, 2018
The segment, which has been viewed more than 210,000 times, is one example of how Young hopes to help shed light on an industry that has traditionally been very protective of its stars and their characters.
“These are important stories to be told,” Young said. “They are important for other people to hear because we see all of these larger-than-life characters on television, but these are real people who have had real journeys to get to where they are.
“To be able to sit down with Zelina and hear her story, it struck such a chord with me, because you have to be a strong person to get through something like that,” she said. “It adds this other element and respect to the woman that she is.”
Young’s opportunity thrusts her into the forefront of the “Women’s Evolution,” and she’s aware of the significance of the role she will play moving forward.
“I feel so proud, really, getting to help lead that march,” Young said. “I know there’s a long road ahead of me and there’s a lot of work that I need to do to really do this justice. It’s a big job, and I’m so excited to do that work.”
So, while Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Ronda Rousey make advances for women in the WWE with every punch, kick and flip, Young will have a front-row seat and a powerful tool of her own.