INTERACTIVE WRESTLING RADIO INTERVIEW -Maria Kanellis Bennett

Show: Wrestling Epicenter
Guest: Maria Kanellis Bennett
Date: 04/23/2021
Your Host: James Walsh

"The First Lady of Wrestling" Maria Kanellis Bennett joins us for the first time ever, believe it or not, to discuss her recent signing with Ring of Honor as the head of the Women's Division - No longer Women of Honor. This is a hard hitting interview that discuses everything from ROH being home to the bad ways WWE handled her departure to a debate on if pregnancy for top female stars is comparable to a disability or an injury. And, we even discuss the nick name "First Lady of Wrestling!"

Visit www.WrestlingEpicenter.com.

 

 

 

MARIA KANELLIS BENNETT:

 

On re-signing with Ring of Honor:
"So, after getting fired last year (from WWE), I was only 2 months postpartom after having my son. With the pandemic and everything, we decided that we were going to take a step back from everything. Mike was going to get back out there and do some things but we really didn't know what was going to happen with the pandemic so we just took a step back from everything. Then, when the time was right, Ring of Honor brought a fantastic opportunity to me and that was to head up the Women's Division. At this point of my career, I really want to give back to women's wrestling and women's wrestlers. This was just the right opportunity."

 

On if she thought she would still be in wrestling when she did WWE's Diva Search in 2004:
"No! At that point, I probably thought I would be an old lady in a wheelchair or something. (laughs) For some reason, when you're in your 20's, you think 30 is incredibly old. I thought I would be done by 30... Retired in some mansion in Los Angeles or some crazy dream that I had at 22. I came in thinking, "This is incredible!" And then, it continued being even more incredible!"

 

On if she knew the history of wrestling when she tried out for the Diva Search:
"History to a point. But, I was a fan of everybody! The thing that got me pushed to the next round was calling Jonathan Coachman a "popcorn fart!" (laughs) That was in Chicago. I think there was about 200, maybe 250 girls that were competing to make it to New York. He asked me, "Who is your favorite wrestler?" I said, "The Rock! Jonathan Coachman, you know The Rock. He called you a "popcorn fart" last week!" Instantly, Coachman said, "Go to the next round." So, yes, I knew everybody at that point. I was definitely a fan girl backstage just in awe of everybody!"

 

On if she ever regretted her persona being considered "dumb":
"I wonder if they would ask the same question of Lucille Ball? That is the difference between wrestling and everything else. People take it so incredibly literal that you forget that in order to make a character believable, there has to be a reasoning in the mind. You can't just become a character out of nowhere and not make it ridiculous if you're not considering what you're doing. So, Lucille Ball or any of these fantastic comedic actors and actresses. They wouldn't ask them that question. No, I don't regret it at all. I got to meet and work and be a fly on the wall of so many incredible storylines by the side of the ring listening to people like Undertaker, Triple H, and Randy Orton calling matches while they're in the ring. Listening to how DX puts together a promo before we cut it for live television or listening to Ric Flair go through his lines... Edge! I got to work with everybody because of that character and not a lot of people can say that. I was non-threatening. That made all the difference in the world!"

 

On the Divas deserving more respect than they get:
"Yeah! One of the most powerful women to come from wrestling is Maryse. She has her own production company, she has a skin care line, she's got her own television show. She's probably one of the most well-known women in any industry! She was a Diva! She came into the Diva Search with all of her knowledge of modeling and media. There isn't enough cross-over between wrestling and the outside world. She was able to create that with her connections with the outside world, with the beauty world - The modeling world. So, I find it incredibly disrespectful that people don't give respect to the Divas."

 

On models becoming wrestlers:
"Not only was there models that became wrestlers but there were wrestlers that became better wrestlers on television. Beth Phoenix, Mickie James, and Natalya were in that era. Alicia Fox, she broke barriers before certain barriers hadn't been broken before. There were incredible Divas that were incredible wrestlers. They just didn't have time on television."

 

On if she was shocked at independent wrestling after only experiencing WWE:
"(laughs) I was amazed by how the crowd sounded when you went into a crowd that was 1 of 200 people. Because, it felt so intimate and so powerful! I loved the energy of the independents. I felt free, in a lot of ways, to try new things. That was amazing! I actually didn't sign anywhere for almost 2 years after WWE because I was getting that freedom and I was getting to see if I really wanted to stay in the wrestling business or if I wanted to do something else."

 

On how she met her husband, fellow ROH star Mike Bennett:
"We were at a Northeast Wrestling show and I saw this guy eating cold pizza in an Ring of Honor hat. And, i thought to myself, "Well, he's cute!" And, that was pretty much it. I was dating someone. He was dating someone. We all went out to dinner. He started eating cheese sticks with a knife and fork. (laughs) I thought that was odd so I called him out on it. He was like, "I was trying to be polite!" I said, "That's weird!" A few months later, he and I both were single. He messaged me on Twitter through Direct Message and soon after, we went on our first date for which he had to drive 9 hours! Ever since then, we have been together. This June, it will be 10 years!"

 

On breaking barriers with NJPW:
"They were so incredibly respectful of me over there. I was treated so well. To be over there and to have those moments with that crowd, it will stick with me for the rest of my life. I hope we get to do it at least one more time. I figure since Wrestle Kingdom is coming up next year and it was named after us in the Kingdom, at least I say it is (laughs), that is something I'm hoping and praying for - Do Wrestle Kingdom next year, bring the two kids along with us, and just be back in that atmosphere. Those wrestlers are incredible! They were so kind to us! I know after me there has been more women that went over. I'm hoping even more women will be able to perform for New Japan."

 

On what made the Kingdom special in ROH in the 2010's::
"There were just so many good tag teams! The Briscoes, Bullet Club showing up, Karl and Doc showing up from New Japan, The Bucks, there was just constantly a flood of different tag teams. The tag team division was just so strong at that time!"

 

On the perception that she and Mike were on Team Corgan in the TNA battle:
"One of the first people who has contacted me whenever something happens, be it I'm pregnant or Mike and I got released, has been Dixie (Carter). She is a sweetheart. She loves the wrestlers that were in the company. There have been difficulties in business. That was always the struggle. It was always business. I love Dixie the person. I also loved Billy. I loved his creative side. I loved the interactions we had on television. Mike had his match for the NWA Title in UPW... We love them both in different ways! (laughs) I think that is the more honest answer than to say I was on one side or the other. Love Dixie! Love Dixie as a person, loved Billy's business side. When we left there, it wasn't because of any of that. It was for more money, which is what I wanted... (laughs) And, it was because it was Mike's dream. Mike's dream was to be a WWE superstar!"

 

On being the first pregnant champion in WWE history:
"Amazing! So cool! My son is the first fetus champion! I get to sign those until I'm 80 years old! I will sign the 24/7 green belt forever! I've had so many pregnant women, moms come up to me and say, "Thanks for the inspiration!" No, I'm not disabled because I'm pregnant. I'm just pregnant! It meant a lot to the women watching wrestling. When they're having raw emotions of feeling less than because they're pregnant or because they're a mom, if I could give them a little inspiration or a little bit of joy or laughter, that is all that this is about!"

 

On fans and pundits panning female stars in their prime like herself or Becky Lynch for getting pregnant:
"I'm curious about this when it comes to fans. because, I think fans think they have a lot more influence on our lives than they do. But, anyway. I'm curious if they would pose the same question to, I don't know, Vince McMahon? Would they ask that same question to him? He has 2 kids. Would they ask him, "Do you think you should be having children because you own a billion dollar company?" How about Triple H? Would they ask the question to him? He has 3 beautiful daughters. He didn't have to take off any time or lose any part of his career to have kids. Maybe we should insult him! How about Steph? If people are going to jump all over Becky, shouldn't they jump all over Steph? How about any other male in this industry? Come on! Grow up, people. It takes 2 to tango! Just because I've had a couple of babies doesn't mean that I can't think for myself or hold a career. Women do it every single day. They're working as waitresses, they're working at hotels, they're working for corporations, they own billion dollar businesses! No! Wrestling is no different. Yes, we go away! All right, I'm pregnant. Peace out! I go away for 6 months, I come back, I do my job again. Isn't that what it is all about? If women did not have babies, there would be no humans! I am not going to stop my life because some man, or some woman, says "You shouldn't have kids." Why? Are you going to be there when I'm 90 years old? Are you going to be my memory? Are you going to be my daughter or my grandchild that is pushing me around in a wheelchair? No, my kids will. So, unless maybe some fan wants to devote themself to being the joy of my life, maybe we should rethink things a little bit. It is having a baby! It is a great joy! It is not the end of the world! (laughs) No! Becky did not ruin her career or her life. She made her life and career better! "

 

On how being a mom has impacted her in her new role:
"I run a women's division now (in ROH). These women are like my children. And, being a mother has made me better at my job! Because everything has more meaning when you have kids."

 

On the ROH Women's Division Tournament:
"As much attention is going to be given to the Women's Division tournament as was given to the Pure Title Tournament. It is going to be a lot of what you're seeing on Ring of Honor television. This title is very important to the women that have been here and thought there was going to be a Women's Division tournament last year. So, it is incredibly important to me that I give it just as much attention. In the ramp up, we have a special that is exclusive to YouTube that is called Women's Division Wednesday. New matches, new promos, new faces, new interviews. And, it is going to ramp up towards the tournament. What you're going to see is the best talent from the United States. Hopefully, we will get to around the world when things open back up. Focusing on women's wrestling as a sport and as an athletic capability is going to be the number one thing."

 

On who we might see in the ROH Women's Division Tournament:
"(laughs) I can't tell you. We know who we're looking at. And, in the coming weeks, you will start seeing announcements."

 

On if it will still be Women of Honor as it was before:
"It is a Women's Division. It is not Women of Honor. That is how we're going forward with it. It is a brand new thing!"

 

On heading up Ring of Honor's "Experience" group on Facebook:
"It has been great. There is an entire team now that handles the social media aspect. It is so important to listen to the fans which is something ROH has always done. Now that we can't have fans in the building, we have to listen to the fans online. It is really exciting for the fans to feel like they have a say. Because, they DO have a say! The things that they ask for end up on television. I know that moving forward in this Women's Division tournament, one of the females competing was pulled exclusively from the Fan Experience."

 

On if we'll see her wrestle or manage again on screen in ROH:
"Wrestle, no. Just because it doesn't fit what my current role is. I want to be on the Board of Directors. I don't want to be in the tournament. It is important to help the new girls and help them succeed and watch their careers blossom. I don't want to be in the ring because that just muddies the waters. For Mike (managing), of course! I'm sure at some point I'll manage him again. I'm sure the Kingdom will be all together again. Because, that is separate from the Women's Division. And, I can keep that separate in that way."

 

On Matt Taven growing after the original Kingdon split:
"Oh Gosh! Matt is a main eventer now! He's so incredibly intense. He's taken all of that passion, that creativity, and that love of wrestling and put it into his craft. You can really see that in the ring. When he won the Ring of Honor World Championship, we all were so excited and I was almost in tears. He's like my brother! I adore him! And, I'm so proud of what he's become. I can't wait to see what happens next. I feel like Mike is on one path, Taven is on another, but they're also on this one path together. It is just really cool to see!"

 

On the "First Lady of Wrestling" name:
"I don't know exactly how it came about but I love it! (laughs) People have such a visceral reaction to it. And, it also plays on the fact that I've managed so many different people along the way. And, it is also a huge nod to Miss Elizabeth who I find incredible. She is one of the original Diva type managers!"

On being as outspoken as she has been on social media especially after leaving WWE:
"I've always spoken my mind. I wouldn't know any different! (laughs) Here is what I know about WWE. They have the biggest voice and they control the narrative to use EC3's phrase. And, they can because they have relationships with a lot of media. Media that is also under contract to them! So, it is difficult to get your message out there unless you're incredibly forceful. We did that. I've moved on from it just like I did in 2010. I did all the interviews and said all the things. I feel the same this time around as well. Do I feel what they did was necessary this year and last? No, I don't think they had to release anybody. Am I glad they did? Yes! I am! I got to spend an entire year with my son. I didn't have to go to work. Yes, I was concerned about COVID and the pandemic and if we would be able to pay our bills in a year. But, I also got time with my children and made decisions about what I really wanted from my career moving forward."



On her final thoughts about her and Mike Bennett re-signing with ROH:
"I thank God everyday for how things turned out. I so appreciate Ring of Honor for reaching out when they did and how they did for both of us. I feel like this is going to be the best part of our lives!"

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