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On this hour: WWE superstars Mike and Maria Kanellis are in-studio along with Felger and Mazz producer Jimmy Stewart discussing their relationship, love of the Sports Hub and Maria’s days on “The Apprentice”. 98 Mile is discussed. The Stack: Could David Pasternak be on the trading block? Plus more!
[PHOTO CREDIT TO: KEVIN JACKSON JR. (UNDERTHESHUTTER.BLOGSPOT.COM]
“We’re bad,” Maria Kanellis-Bennett grinned. Her husband, “The Miracle” Mike Bennett, joined in on the laughter. The couple have been dominating Pop TV’s Impact Wrestlingthroughout 2016. It’s no surprise why the two are on top of the food chain. They were just as entertaining as their onscreen characters even when the cameras weren’t rolling.
“I’m the first lady of professional wrestling right now. I was the leader of the Knockouts Division. I’d like to believe I’m still the leader of the Knockouts Division,” Maria nodded. She continued, “I had it on a very good path. Jade and Rosemary recently had a Six Sides of Steel match and they were the main event of the show. I think that is the direction of wrestling in general. No matter if you are a big guy, a small guy, a girl or a guy—you really do have those opportunities in wrestling. I believe my character on Impact Wrestling was guiding the group of girls in that direction.” Maria gave a loving glance to her husband.
“I’m bad as well. I feel like I’ve been bad my entire career,” Mike Bennett snickered. Maria quickly followed up by telling her husband with a wide smile, “You have been bad.”
“I left Ring of Honor where I was with the Kingdom and now I am on my own as ‘The Miracle’ Mike Bennett. That’s a big reason why I went to Impact Wrestling. I am trying to get that top spot that every wrestler wants so dearly. It was the one thing that was promised to me—it was delivered,” Mike paused. He continued, “They told me, ‘Here’s the ball. Run with it. It’s up to you.’ That’s where I am right now. I am wrestling their main guys and trying to stamp my name as one of Impact Wrestling’s main guys.” The two have provided wrestling fans with many memorable moments throughout their run together. The dynamic husband and wife then switched subjects and went into detail about how they first met.
“Our first meeting was incredibly romantic because it had to do with…well, cheese sticks,” Maria told me in all seriousness. She explained, “Okay, so—we were doing a show. It was Northeast Wrestling. I was there for a signing and they ended up putting me in the main event. I worked that night with Matt Taven who was in the match, very ironically. Later that evening I saw Mike in the back and he was wearing a Ring of Honor hat. So, here’s my game.” Mike looked at Maria waiting for her to spill the details. Maria giggled, “I went up to him and said, ‘Hey. Do you work with Ring of Honor?’ That was the game that I had. Then he went, ‘Hey. Do you want some of this old pizza?’ Yeah, it really turned me on at that point.” Mike shrugged his shoulders, “I was eating really stale pizza.” Maria elaborated, “At every independent wrestling show there is always old pizza there.” Mike agreed with the sentiment. “Yeah, leftovers from the snack bar. Old hot dogs and all that stuff,” he said
Maria continued with their epic love saga. She said, “After that, we decided to chitchat for a little bit. Then we went to T.G.I. Friday’s. All of the wrestlers usually go out to eat after the show. I saw where Mike was sitting and I wanted to make sure I was sitting right across from him.” Never missing a beat, Maria finished her story by saying, “So he was sitting across from me. He gets his appetizer which were cheese sticks—and he is eating them with a fork and knife. I was like, ‘Who eats cheese sticks with a fork and knife?’ And he had no words. He just sat there. No words.” ‘The Miracle’ kept it real. “My plan backfired. I thought I was going to impress her. It really backfired. I was trying to be somewhat fancy. Little did I know, she just wanted me to eat with my face,” he told me.
“We were both dating people at the time so nothing happened. A few months later we both ended up being single. He sent me a direct message on Twitter,” Maria explained. Mike jumped in, “We were following each other. I just stalked her. I was like a shark in water. Think Jaws.” Maria exclaimed, “You creeper you!” They both laughed before she stated what happened next. She said, “So we were both single and we were talking for a month on Twitter and then through texting. I was living in LA at the time and he was living in Massachusetts. We were about as far away from each other as we possibly could be. He found out I was doing a signing in Philly while he was in Boston. He was like, ‘Hey. I can drive down so we can go out to dinner.’ I was like, ‘Sweet!’”
“The Miracle” nodded his head. “She told me, ‘I’m going to be in Philly. Is that close?’ I went, ‘Yeah! It is. It’s closer than LA,’” he told me. Maria finished the story by stating, “We wound up going out on a date. Lo and behold, instead of five hours that it should have taken for him to get there it took him nine hours. He was four hours late to our date. But…it was okay. It worked out.” The two gave each other a loving look. The couple’s chemistry makes it impossible for a television viewer to look away when they appear onscreen together.
“It’s a lot of fun for us. We always like to go on the goofy side. We do have to watch that a little bit. I’ll get goofy. He’ll get goofy. Then it just goes down that path. So we have to pump the breaks a little bit on that but we do have a lot of fun together onscreen,” Maria nodded. She then gave credit to the guys that worked tirelessly behind the cameras. She said, “I think that this year we had the greatest writing staff. We were given such a great opportunity to work with people like Dave Lagana and Billy Corgan. They really just took what we already were and what we already wanted to do and they just guided it along. I think that’s why the product was so great this year.” Maria firmly explained, “You had people who allowed the talent to grow on their own. They were basically there to be the bumpers like when you play bumper bowling. They were there to make sure the storylines stayed on track.”
Maria went on to talk about the hard work that goes into making professional wrestling the entertaining product that it is. “We are scripted. I know that some people shy away from talking about that. We are actors. We do have those lines that we have to keep. At the same time, you never know what’s going to happen while you are out there,” she laughed. Maria continued, “It’s like improv, acting, stunt work and everything rolled into one. You know…I think we are the greatest entertainers in the world because we do have to deal with so many different variables where you never know what’s going to happen and it’s always changing.” She then challenged non-fans to think about wrestling in a different light. “Think about a film or a television series. A lot of times the actors are receiving their lines months in advance. For us, we are receiving them the same day. We don’t know what we are going to do when we get to the building. When we get to the building is when we find out what’s going on,” she said. Mike urged her to continue. Maria said, “Even though it is scripted, there is still a lot of reality behind it in the sense that we are learning it as you are learning it. We are going out there performing something that maybe we only received in the last couple of hours. We talk to each other a lot. We really do.”
The first lady of professional wrestling detailed their creative process behind the scenes. “Sometimes we bullet point it to where we go, ‘Alright. These are the main points. Let’s fill in the rest.’ Once you are out there, you never know what the other person in the ring with you might possibly say. You have to listen,” Maria stated. She continued, “Sometimes in a film—you don’t always have to listen to exactly what the person across from you is saying. They are going by the script which makes sense with your lines.” She took a breath before explaining the science behind the art of pro wrestling. “But when you go out to that ring and there are thousands of people screaming at you and some person in front of the ring is giving you time cues…and then whatever just happened in the back and maybe someone took too big of a bump and they are hurting. They get out to the ring and they don’t say exactly that line and you say that line verbatim, it makes no sense. No sense,” Maria exclaimed. She concluded, “It’s like they go, ‘Oh yeah so the ring is red.’ And you go, ‘Yeah, the ring is blue.’ You just totally threw everybody off in that audience. You have to listen. I’ve done improv classes and that is one thing I work with all the time. You have to listen while you’re acting which is completely different than acting on a film.”
Mike Bennett then gave words of wisdom for young wrestlers out there. “I try to tell independent workers who are coming up that it’s a matter of how much you want to get into the actual entertainment aspect of professional wrestling,” he nodded his head. He continued, “I like to look at every aspect so I think we need to get into it more than just what we do in the ring. It’s everything. I talk to Maria about this all time. A lot of people in the business say that we have to be our characters even when we use the internet so people believe it.” “The Miracle” shook his head with disapproval. “I always say, ‘No. I don’t think we have to be those people online. I think we just have to be better on camera.’ You don’t watch a movie and think Arnold Schwarzenegger is really the Terminator. You don’t watch The Walking Dead and think Andrew Lincoln is actually a sheriff that kills zombies,” he said. Mike elaborated, “If you check out his interviews that float around the internet, he talks about his family and all the charity work he does. That doesn’t mean when you watch The Walking Dead you think he is the dude that talks about being the family man. You watch it and are enthralled because he is a really good actor. I try to tell people that we need to be better actors. It’s on us. We need to be better actors and performers.”
“The Miracle” echoed his wife’s earlier sentiments about the public’s opinion on wrestling. “We’ve gone past the idea where everyone thinks wrestling is real. We are past that. Everyone knows we are entertainers now. Now, we have to go to that next level where we are really good entertainers and where we make people believe without walking through an airport where someone goes, ‘Hey that’s ‘The Miracle,’’ and I slap that person’s coffee out of his hands and go, ‘Screw you!’ No. Now I’m just a real life jerk,” he said. Mike then stated, “One of our buddies said it best…we have to stop being the butt of the joke and start being in on the joke—like actors are. If we are going to go on Twitter and act as our characters to our fans, we are the butt of the joke. Everyone knows wrestling is scripted. But if we go and say, ‘Yeah, it’s scripted…but we are really good at it,’ now we are in on the joke.” Mike was convinced that fans will always be drawn to someone with an electric personality. “People still connect to good characters. They will watch a match and a move will take their breath away but that’s only temporary. They will watch it but by the end of the night they will remember how a certain wrestler made them feel. They won’t remember how the move made them feel unless it’s Mick Foley being thrown off of a cage,” he stated. He followed up by saying, “But even if you think about that, the reason why that moment was so big was because of all the drama that was added to it. It was him being carted off and then going back to the ring to still put up a fight.”
Maria nodded her head with delight. She fondly recalled memories of watching WWE’s attitude era and what made her a fan. “You have to care about the characters. I remember watching when I was in my teenage years. When The Rock would be on the show, I wanted to hear what he had to say. I wanted to know how he felt about something. Then he would go into the ring and I would get so angry when he would get beat up for like 95% of the match and he would comeback for 5%. I was just like, ‘Why do you suck so bad!’ It just gets you that much more invested in the characters.”
The couple is focused on making 2017 another incredible year. They both have dreams and goals that they want to accomplish. Maria dished on her recent college experience. She told me, “I’m finishing up my degree. I’m hoping to get my master’s degree. I have this little thing that keeps me inspired. Some day, I want to be known as ‘Doctor Diva.’ It sounds like a mean character but eventually I want to keep going with my degrees. I’m excited to be graduating in May from Johnson & Wales University. I’m in my last term right now.” When asked how she was doing, Maria said, “I’m good. It’s weird because I never got any As when I was in high school but now I’m a straight A student. I don’t know why. I think when you go back and you truly care…I didn’t care about college when I came out of high school. I wanted to go out and entertain people, I don’t want to be in class.” She then explained, “Now I truly care because I know what I want. I’m paying for it with my own money. That’s the whole other thing. I go, ‘Wait a minute here. That’s my money and my husband’s back is getting broken in the ring. I better work my tail off to get those As.’ I’m excited about that and as a couple, I’m hoping we will get closer and closer to buy our own house. Real human stuff. That’s the problem. We live such a gypsy lifestyle. It’s really going to depend on what happens in January.”
“The Miracle” explained why picking out a house is a difficult process. “We are nomads. I grew up on the East Coast. She grew up in the Midwest. We lived in LA together. We now live in Providence together. We don’t have a point where we can call home. We go where work and school takes us. When we decide to finally buy a house, where will we be? Maybe if we are in a particular place at a certain time that’s where we will settle down. It’s a gypsy life,” he nodded.
A little more than a week ago, my colleague Keith Harris wrote a post documenting the recent reports of TNA’s search for new investors, a possible ownership change and the effect those things were having on the backstage atmosphere at a recent four-day taping for Impact Wrestling.
Included in Keith’s report was a quote from Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer, relaying an anecdote from WrestleMania weekend where an unidentified TNA wrestler told him management was encouraging the roster to send out messages to contradict media reports of problems behind-the-scenes.
Neither Keith nor Meltzer were the only people talking and writing about TNA’s morale, and the reports bothered Impact‘s Maria Kanellis. She began disputing them on Twitter, using the sarcastic #LowMorale. As part of the Twitter conversation under that hashtag, Keith and Maria exchanged emails, and agreed to actually talk about the issue (what a concept!).
The above video is the discussion we had about the reports surrounding TNA currently, the experiences Maria and her husband, Mike Bennett, have creating Impact Wrestling, what she’d like the media to focus on instead of the company’s finances and what she and her co-workers are doing to change wrestling fans’ impressions of Impact.
Or, if you’re not somewhere you can watch the video, here are some of Kanellis’ comments…
On #LowMorale, and what she sees backstage:
It’s funny when we’re seeing all this stuff about that the office is telling us to Tweet about #LowMorale… that was my idea. So, it’s funny that it came across as “office” because, I guess, maybe now I’m office? Because my husband and I were talking about it and as we’re playing with a football backstage at TNA and while we’re joking with our friends and so excited about the new talent that’s been hired and then reading online that TNA has low morale, it’s funny because it doesn’t necessarily sum up what’s really going on.
Maybe there are people with low morale, but I don’t have facts on that. All I can tell you is from what I’ve seen. And from what I’ve seen is that the morale at TNA is not much different than it is at Ring of Honor, or the indy promotions that I go and hang out with my friends. So, for me, I’m excited to be at TNA and I’m excited to see all these people that are coming in to TNA and now have paychecks and now have consistent work on television. So for me it’s just very confusing.
And the reason why I wanted to talk about is I feel like the coverage is wrong. The coverage is going toward what’s going on with TNA management and investors and morale and all these things but what’s really going on is a great group of guys that is super inspired and motivated to create a whole new show. I like to refer to it as “TNA 2”, because it’s such a new group of people and we just want a positive atmosphere and a great place to work.
On working for TNA vs. WWE:
It’s funny because somebody said to me, “oh, well doesn’t that suck having to tape over four days and isn’t that terrible?” No! I worked for WWE. I had to go on the road every weekend. That was terrible! On my body, on my family, on everything. Sure, it was great to be able to be in front of those crowds, but what is reported online is not necessarily the feel of everyone in the locker room.
The talent’s perspective on investor rumors:
Mike and I are excited to be there. We surround ourselves with very positive people. We don’t know all that’s going on with investors, but that’s like if you asked me what was going on with my cell phone, it’s the same thing. I don’t have a connection with all the investors in Apple. I wouldn’t even know where to start with that. You hear rumors. But is that necessarily true? I don’t know. I’ve also been on movie sets before that had funding at the beginning of the day and then by the end of the day, didn’t have funding, and then the next day we were filming anyways, and we did have funding. So entertainment world is very, very different…
On what the roster is trying to accomplish, which is what she wishes people would focus on more:
So that’s what got under my skin. Here I am, in wrestling, excited to see TNA go from being a company on Destination America to coming to POP TV and having all of this excitement and energy and everybody really excited to be there and build something and then reading all this stuff about investors, and reading all this stuff about low morale. And while we’re hiring these new people, their stories are getting glossed over.
Everybody should be super-excited… Pepper Parks and Cherry (Bomb, aka Laura Dennis, aka Allie) have jobs on television! They are incredible talents. And because all these other side-stories are happening, we’re not really paying attention to what’s going on. Mike and I and Pepper and Cherry and Trevor (Lee) and you’ve got Allysin Kay who’s now Sienna and you have all these people who now have jobs. You have all these people that want to build something, and create something.
From this writer’s perspective, you can’t really argue with Maria’s points. She and the rest of the TNA roster are getting a great opportunity (Impact on its worst week gets more viewers than any non-WWE wrestling show in North America) and they’re trying to build something they’re proud of from that. They can’t control the “office” side of things, and she doesn’t pretend to have inside information to counter reports about dysfunction there.
There has been a near-total overhaul of the roster over the past year (Abyss, Jeff Hardy, James Storm, Gail Kim and Madison Rayne are the only people I think of as long-time TNA-ers still there), but unfortunately, they haven’t yet been able to change the conversation away from LOLTNA and “this company is still in business?” jokes for many in the internet wrestling community.
As Keith and I told her, we can’t promise we’ll stop covering the business side of things. But it’s hard to not be moved at least somewhat by an impassioned pitch from someone who loves wrestling, is happy to be working with friends and wants the product they’re creating to be given a fair shake based on its merits.
Will wrestling fans give “TNA 2” another shot, or has the bad buzz been around for too long?
Happily married, professional wrestling couple, Maria Kanellis and Michael Bennett, share the secret to wedded bliss, and their squared circle success with JR. They talk about their decision to leave Ring Of Honor, working for New Japan Pro Wrestling, and growing the popularity of “The Kingdom.” You’ll also hear about Maria’s experiences with Donald Trump on “Celebrity Apprentice,” how she ended up spending the night in jail, and the Diva Search that led her to WWE.
Jim Ross stated before that Mike and Maria were going to be in a podcast for his show.
Tuesday, March 1, 2016 – 8:00pm
Impact Wrestling and New Japan Pro Wrestling stars and married couple Mike Bennett and Maria Kanellis join JR for the first time to discuss their careers, their marriage and how they navigate their relationship in the unpredictable waters of pro wrestling.
How did you get hooked up with New Japan? What has that opportunity been like?
“Ring of Honor and New Japan have had a growing relationship. New Japan came over to the U.S. and you just get in front of the right people. It just so happened that things worked out. They knew of Mike Bennett, Maria Kanellis and Adam Cole and all of us got together and formed the faction. We were in the World Tag League, which was funny because it was quite an opportunity for us, but me and Mike had only tagged together a couple of times before that. We’d known each other since starting wrestling. The World Tag League in the first place was a career goal, but me and Mike had to figure each other out as a team.”
When WWE talent relations exec Marc Carrano told Maria Kanellis he saw her being in the business for a very long time, the Diva didn’t believe him.
Now, more than 10 years in, she is still thriving as the “First Lady of Ring of Honor.” Kanellis attributes her longevity in this competitive profession to being able to redefine her onscreen character and to constantly evolve.
“I think I’ve always had a passion for the pro wrestling business,”Kanellis said. “In Ring of Honor, I was able to find something that inspired me and challenged me. I have been able to have a lot of fun with it. I think with this character and being the ‘First Lady of Ring of Honor,’ I’m having so much fun with it.”
The 2008 Playboy covergirl has proven more than a pretty face on ROH, which airs Wednesday nights on Destination America. With only a handful of women on the roster, the manager and wrestler is completely at ease in a male-dominated world.
“I’ve always had a lot more guy friends than girlfriends, so it has never intimidated me being in a locker room full of guys,” she said. “The Ring of Honor locker room is one of the best locker rooms I’ve ever been in. The guys are just so sweet and so wonderful. A lot of them came to my wedding. It’s great to be surrounded by all my big brothers and little brothers.”
Kanellis can see women’s wrestling division on ROH TV somewhere down the line.
“Currently, we only have a one-hour show,” she said, “so it’s really difficult to highlight female wrestlers the way Ring of Honor would want to do it. Ring of Honor never does things half-speed. Whenever Ring of Honor decides to do something, it’s always going to be full-force. When we start that division, it will be when we can give adequate time to female wrestling because what we don’t want is to diminish how great these women truly are.”
Mark Patinkin talks to Maria Kanellis, a professional wrestler, former “Celebrity Apprentice” and current Johnson & Wales student, who will be at this weekend’s New England Fan Fest at the Rhode Island Convention Center