Discover more from Activision Blizzard King
AEW's Athena rolls the dice
The professional wrestler chats with us about how video games, comic books, anime, and D&D fueled her championship rise.
Heroes and villains. Unique specialties. Storylines that grow and evolve over time, full of twists and turns and unexpected challenges. When you think about it, professional wrestling and Dungeons & Dragons have a lot more in common than either side might want to admit.
(I mean, would it be totally out of place for a Dungeon Master to go, “You and your companions are inches away from the mouth of the cavern but….wait…what’s that? THAT’S THE BEHOLDER’S MUSIC!”)
This is all preaching to the choir for Adrienne “Athena” Reese, of course. The current All Elite Wrestling (AEW) Ring of Honor Women’s World Champion—who grew up loving video games, comic books, and anime—actually turned to D&D to overcome early pro wrestling stage fright and learn to better think on her feet in the ring.
“D&D became important for me I started pro wrestling because I was not good at improvising or breaking out of my shell. I was extremely shy to the point where people thought I was just the meanest person in the world because I was afraid to talk to people,” says Athena. “A friend of mine who was booking the wrestling shows said, ‘Why don't you play Dungeons & Dragons? Try it one time and if you hate it, I'll never ask you again.’ And fell in love with it.”
Where did your love for things like anime and comics start?
Growing up, I was always kind of different. I was really involved in video games, thanks to my dad. He works in electronics, so he thought video games were the coolest thing in the world, going all the way back to Atari. Video games were always prevalent in our house. I don't remember what this one machine was called, but it looked like a remote control? And you slid a little plastic piece for whatever game you were playing in there?
Yes! They had Frogger on that, and I thought that was the coolest thing. Right after that I got into Nintendo Track and Field. After that it was a game which is a tiny bit similar to Diablo called Champions of Norrath on the PlayStation. I just grew up with just video games and competition. Like NFL Blitz, I played Diablo, Mario Kart—I played a lot because I didn't really have a lot of friends. So video games were my friends. I also got into anime around the same time.
But I also grew up playing sports. So I played sports and I played video games, and when I got to middle school I ended up getting bullied a lot, which sucks. It’s just terrible. But the one person who stuck up for me was a wrestling fan. She and I became like two peas in a pod. We came up with this whole dream of how we were going to take over the wrestling world!
It’s amazing that you found D&D as a means of breaking out of your shell—usually people assume the opposite to be true. People also tend to assume it’s a male-dominated game.
Yeah, I was the only woman that played in my group for a while. I think the perception that is that it’s something for nerdy teenage boys. But then I’d walk into the locker room [at AEW] and Nyla Rose is like, “Girl, I played D&D and I kicked a dragon in the butt." And I'm like, "What?" And Leva Bates, who I've known for years, we've played together. Su Yung—so many of my friends have played. It turned into this really cool thing where I ended up making a lot of friends because of D&D. I think people don't realize how many women actually do play D&D. There's a lot more people playing than you realize.
What is your go-to character class?
Either a sorcerer, warlock, or rogue. I like magic stuff. I'm very magical person. [Laughs]
Has anything from your interest like, comics, video games, anime, influenced your wrestling persona?
Yes. My character in WWE was kind of influenced by R.A. Salvatore's Legacy of the Drow series. That's why I wore the red eyes at one point in time and I had silver hair—I felt very connected to it. This character I'm doing with AEW and Ring of Honor is more like Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender. It’s a character that’s a little wild, a little crazy, a little manipulative. So I’m definitely basing a lot of this character on her. A lot of my gear designs are influenced by anime and pop culture, too. I've done Loki-inspired gear. I'm currently working on something big that I feel like I kind of can't share, but it's going to be awesome here in the next month or so. It's been very fun.
Of all the Greek gods, why did you choose Athena?
When I was in college, I changed my major every week. I studied Greek mythology for a while, and I loved the whole concept of Athena. Athena is the goddess of wisdom and she’s also the goddess of victory in war. So I was like, Yeah, this is a perfect name.
What do you think is the biggest misconception that people have about professional wrestling?
That's a difficult question. I've been so involved with wrestling for a long time that this is my life. This is my world. I'm a fan. Maybe people who don't watch wrestling think that it's fake, maybe? But “fake” is a tricky word. I've had surgeries down the whole right side of my body. I’ve torn my Achilles in half, off the bone. So it’s not fake to me. Scripted? OK, sure. But as far as the actual wrestling goes, the contact is real.
What do you think might be the next step for you?
I’ve been doing this for 18, 19 years. I have more bumps behind me than in front of me. But I love pro wrestling. I think this is kind of a forever career for me. I think once I step out of the ring, I want to be an agent for others. I want do voiceover. work I want to do MoCap for video games. I want to be an action movie star. The fact of the matter is, I love to entertain people in any way that I can entertain people past my wrestling career. I want to do that.
Can we start the petition to have you fight Michelle Rodriguez in the Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves sequel?
Yes! Michelle Rodriguez, if you’re reading this—come kick me in the face!
Thanks for reading the ABK Edit! Subscribe for more stories delivered straight to your inbox.