Appearing on a recent episode of Busted Open Radio, Peyton Royce (Cassie Lee) and Billie Kay (Jessica McKay) have reflected on their time as The IIconics and their subsequent release by WWE.
Both Peyton Royce and Billie Kay signed with WWE back in 2015. After initially appearing on NXT, the pair eventually joined the main roster, going on to win the Women’s Tag Team Championships. However, the team was split up in the summer of 2020 before both women were released the following April.
Reflecting on their release, both Superstars explained that it came as a complete shock.
Recalling hearing the news, Kay said that she was “shocked and heartbroken.”
“I wish I knew, to be honest. When I say it was a total shock, I had no idea… When I got the phone call, I thought it was in regards to something else. When I heard those words, ‘we’re going to release you,’ my heart dropped. I was shocked and heartbroken. I didn’t have answers and I don’t think I’m going to get answers. At the moment, I’m trying to have peace with that.”
Royce added that she didn’t see her release coming.
“It was a shock. Obviously, they do the budget cuts once a year but they hadn’t done it in a while and I thought last year was purely because of the pandemic. I didn’t see it coming and maybe I should have because I was doing nothing since they split us. I was laying in the middle of a massage, my husband told me to check my phone, I checked it and was like, ‘Yup, I’m done.’ Jumped off the bed and I realized what was going down. Complete shock and I feel like I’m still going through waves where one day I’ll feel free and excited for the opportunities and other days I wonder like, ‘I just don’t understand.’ I don’t think there’s much of a reason other than cuts had to be made.”
Reflecting further, Peyton Royce said that it felt as though creative never understood the duo.
“I feel like creative never understood us. When we first came in, Vince really loved our first promo and was like, ‘Give them a microphone every week.’ Thank the lord because not many people get that opportunity and it’s such a good way for the audience to get to know you and understand who you are. I know Vince enjoyed it but I don’t think creative understood it and they wanted to send us in a direction that was fine, but I’m not sure they understood what we see for ourselves. When they split us, it was like, ‘we understand us less.'”
Looking back on the break-up of The IIconics, Kay said that both women struggled in the aftermath. Adding that it wasn’t until she moved to SmackDown that she started to gain any kind of momentum.
“When they split us, I think they thought they knew what they were doing, but I don’t think they understood it. We are different, individually. After they split us, we were struggling and I had no idea who I was. I had this image like I had to be like ‘come at me’ and be sexy or (do like) moonsaults and that’s just not me. It wasn’t until I got drafted to SmackDown, which really helped me because I would talk to TJ a lot and be like, ‘This is what I want to do and who I am and what I think is relatable.’ He was like, ‘Go for it.’ I was able to show for a while who I was and I thought it was getting received well. I was having a blast at TV and having fun and doing what I wanted to do and feeling fulfilled.”
With Kay on SmackDown, Royce was expected to go on and enjoy a run as a singles star on RAW. However, the glittering run for the Aussie failed to materialise causing much frustration. Royce initially channelled that frustration into a scathing promo on RAW Talk, urging WWE to utilise her more often.
Following the promo, Royce faced off against Asuka, who was RAW Women’s Champion. At the time it was suggested that the two events were connected, but not so, says Royce.
“The match I had with Asuka was strange because I felt happy and fulfilled, but I had a strange feeling overcome me that it was going to be my last wrestling match. Then I found out after that I only got that match because someone had COVID. It wasn’t like my Raw Talk promo got me the opportunity. Every time I spoke to creative, I couldn’t get past them. I couldn’t get ideas pitched and I was struggling. I had a strange feeling that was my last match.”
On SmackDown, Kay crafted a gimmick which involved her passing her headshot and resume to other female Superstars. The gimmick was received well by fans and culminated with Kay teaming with Carmella at WrestleMania 37. Kay added that she was under the impression that the partnership would continue, instead, she was released shortly after the event.
“With the headshot and resume, it was my first promo that I ever did on SmackDown and I thought it was cool as they reintroduced me as a singles competitor and once we did it, I was like, ‘I want to keep doing this.’ I felt like it was something I could do because I love to interact with everyone. I said to the writers, ‘I’m going to do this every week. If you have a 30-second segment to fill, any spot you need to fill time, let me give [the resume] to someone and see what happens.’ Thankfully, I got that opportunity. I was feeling good and WrestleMania comes around and I’m in the tag team gauntlet. I was super excited to work with her and before we went out, I wanted to have fun with my entrance. I was told that Carmella and I were doing stuff after.”
After departing WWE in April the former Women’s Tag Team Champions launched a podcast called Off Her Chops. On a recent episode of the show, Royce and Kay reflected on their 2018 main roster debut, describing the moment as “insane.”
H/t to Fightful for the transcription.