Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with ROH superstar, and new head of talent relations for the women’s division, Maria Kanellis. The two of us vividly discussed her new role with the promotion, how it felt to return along with her husband, Mike Bennett, as well as some other fun tidbits like her competing in NJPW, her departure from WWE, and what fans can expect from the upcoming women’s tournament this summer. Highlights, including the full video interview, can be found below.
Reflects on competing in a mixed tag match for NJPW back in 2015 along with Amber Gallows, the first time women had wrestled for the company since 2002:
It was a wild situation to be in because at the time I wasn’t wrestling very often. So to be in front of those fans where wrestling is king…you know, I knew that we had to tell a great story. And luckily Amber’s such a pro, she was awesome with it. Doc and Karl are awesome to work with. So I felt a ton of pressure doing that probably more so than a lot of things that I’ve done in my career. But at the end of the day, I felt incredibly honored that they trusted us enough to go out there and have a fun match. But yeah, what a cool experience.
Names some of the legendary women in the sport who have inspired her along the way, including Mickie James, Trish Stratus, Victoria, Molly Holly, and Medusa.
There’s been a lot of women for different reasons. I first got into wrestling because of Trish Stratus and Lita. To be able to work with them was incredible. But I always admired Molly Holly because not only was she so great in the ring, but she was a really good person, a good human being and she stuck to what she believed in. And I really admired that. And sometimes I draw a lot of strength from that, knowing that you can be in this industry and be respected in this industry still sticking with your values. So definitely her. Medusa. You know, you’d look back and you think about how many different matches Victoria’s had, and how many of us very, very new wrestlers that she faced in the ring and tried to make us look as good as possible. And she’s a true hero in my eyes when it comes to that. Mickie James is another one coming back from having a child and then getting right back into the thick of it. And always seeming to get better and better, and trying new things. I mean, that takes a lot of courage when you’re in one field to try and do something else. So there’s a ton.
Says also gets inspired by the fresh batch of new women in the industry who are hungry to make a name for themselves:
And now the young people inspire me so much. This new crop of women that have been able to stay relevant during this past pandemic year, have really inspired me to step up my game, because if they’re able to do it, it’s like, Alright, well what are they doing? So it’s, it’s a lot of fun, like I love I love being surrounded by the veterans, but I also love that new energy, that new vibe that the girls have.
What ROH fans can expect from the women’s tournament this summer:
A lot of different styles of wrestler. Each one of these women have their own style, their own story, their own reason to fight. And I think that’s what makes it incredibly interesting. They also have their own fan bases. They’re stars in their own right. And again, because of the pandemic…the only way that I was really able to research these girls was online. I did a lot of YouTubing and finding out where they worked who were their trainers. Can I reach out to those trainers find out what kind of people they are? So following their Twitter’s and stalking them, basically, you know? A lot of that is to find these really, really great wrestlers that are going to fit in with the team really good.
How Women’s Division Wednesday became a thing:
It came about organically. We’ve been filming matches since January, and we didn’t really have a place to put them. But at the beginning, we also didn’t know when we were going to have the tournament with all the COVID restrictions and how many people we can bring into each taping. We’ve really just kind of had to keep an eye on things to find out when this was going to work. But we accumulated a lot of matches. And with that we’re like, Alright, how are we going to deliver these to the Ring of Honor fans? Previously, there had been some women’s footage from Ring of Honor on Wednesday. So we thought why not make it an entire show? And, you know, why not just remind the fans, hey, women are still here and put on to great matches, and give you a little taste of what you might see in the tournament.
On Ring of Honor announcing her signing separately from her Mike Bennett’s:
Yeah, they, um, they actually contacted us. And we’re like, “You know, Is this okay? Can we release you separately?” And it’s like, why don’t we keep it separate? And I appreciate Ring of Honor reaching out and asking us if that was okay. But I think that every every couple that works together, it’s kind of like you’re always doing this (wild hand gesture) of like, “Hey, we come together, we work together. Now let’s go our separate ways a little while, let’s learn and then come back together at a different point.” And right now, with everything that I’m doing with the women’s division, I really can’t also tack on being a manager for the Kingdom and with what the Kingdom is doing right now. It’s very separate that from what I would be involved with. So it just came about in a really great way because we had talked about this when we were released from WWE about just finding ourselves again and where we belong in this crazy Wrestling World.
Confirms that Mike originally asked to be released, she did not, and how she knew they would not last in WWE after the second week of being there:
Yeah, so Mike did ask for his release. I did not. I was I was okay with living out the rest of my career in WWE. I wanted to have that nice, nice relationship moving forward with them and you know, be able to go back because it becomes a bit of a fraternity of people that you you know, you continue to want to see a couple times a year it’s usually at SummerSlam and then also WrestleMania. So I was okay with, you know, spending the rest of my career that way. For Mike it was different. Mike asked for his release because he still wants to wrestle he still wants to get out there. Throw down. He’s got a lot of fight left in him when it comes to being inside the ring. But I knew the second week where we were there that it wasn’t gonna work. Very second week, I got in the car and I went, that’s it. We’re done. We’re done. I knew. I knew. So when did we sign with them? Was it 2017? I think it was the end, I think, was it? The end of June, by the end of June? I knew.
Says she has big goals for the ROH women’s division, including getting them more titles:
So I want to get through this tournament. I want there to be a new Women’s Champion and Ring of Honor, I think that’s incredibly important. That is where my sole focus is. But I also like I have big goals for the women in Ring of Honor, I want them to have their own pure title, I want them to have their own tag titles. So just building this division as a team. You know, the people that I get to work with are incredible. They’re so supportive Ring of Honor has been so supportive of me being in this new type of role. So that really is my main focus. And once we get past that, then maybe I can think about beyond.