Mike Bennett Talks ROH Return, Goals For 2021, Taking Maria's Last Name In WWE & More

WWE Other |By Matt Boone |Sat, January 16, 2021 - 11:57AM EST
Mike Bennett On Wrestling Epicenter (January 2021)

Former WWE Superstar Mike Kanellis, now performing under his previous ring name of Mike Bennett, recently appeared on the Wrestling Epicenter show for an in-depth interview covering all things pro wrestling.

During his appearance on the program, Bennett dishes about why ROH is the right place for him, how Maria figures in to his current career plans, and what his time away from ROH was like including his run in WWE which he has been outspoken about.

Featured below is a complete transcript of the interview, as well as

On returning to ROH: “You know, it just feels right. There are a lot of times in wrestling where you try to figure out where you fit or what is right. But, I don’t know, for some reason, Ring of Honor has always just felt right. At this point in time, it feels 100% right!”

On performing without a live audience: “It is different but I wouldn’t say I hate it. If you asked me if I prefer a crowd, absolutely. There is just a different energy when there is a crowd there that you can’t replicate. But, for me, I’ve enjoyed trying to figure out a different way of wrestling. It is more performing right to the camera, right down the barrel of the lens. You can play with things. You’ve really had to use your acting skills more than your athleticism because so much of what you do with your athleticism is heightened by the crowd and how they react. If you jump off the top rope to the floor, it will come off cool on television. Don’t get me wrong. But, it isn’t going to come off as cool as having a crowd going nuts for it where as if it is quiet, you can really focus on what you’re saying to your opponent, how you move around your opponent, what your eyes are doing… Your emotion. For me, the emotion is always the best part about pro wrestling.”

On reuniting with Matt Taven: “Yeah, I feel like that would have been a cool moment with a crowd because we were so emotional about it. We are best friends! We do hang out! He officiated my wedding! We are legitimately best friends! That moment literally gives me goosebumps because I felt like I was without my best friend for 5 years. Not only that, coming back to a company that embraced my return after a pretty lousy 3 years.”

On Matt Taven becoming a huge star over the past 5 years: “I think what Matt has done is exactly what I knew Matt could do. He has always been one of my biggest supporters and I’ve always been his biggest supporter. I know what he is capable of. I have traveled with him, I’ve lived with him, I’ve been around him a lot. I know what he is capable of and I feel like what people got to see when I left and when Maria left (ROH) was the real Matt Taven. It is rare in wrestling, because it is such a egocentric business, that you would get just as excited for someone else’s accomplishments as you would for your own but whenever Matt achieved something, especially winning the Ring of Honor World Championship, I was almost happier than if I had won it! He’s my brother, he’s my best friend. The things he accomplished, I am just so proud and so happy for him.”

On if he felt he was destined to be the main guy in Impact Wrestling after his elaborate debut: “I mean, I don’t know. Any time I don’t achieve something, I always put it on myself. I don’t go, “Oh, they didn’t give me the push”. I look at myself first. And then, if there are outside factors… I think it was just a trial by error – A mix of a bunch of different things. Had I stayed in Impact, I think that could have been where my trajectory was going. But, I didn’t. I went to a different company (WWE) because I thought the opportunities would be better and they weren’t. But, I think there was this understanding with the company (Impact) where they didn’t know the direction they were going and we didn’t know the direction things were going either. I honestly think that if I had stuck around or if I had committed and told them because there has to be an understanding by the company because if they don’t know if a guy is going to stick around, they can’t put the World Title on him. I don’t like to point fingers at anyone. If I fail, it is always going to be 100% on me.”

On his time in WWE: “You have this perception of what you want something to be and then it is not that at all. And, again, if you’re going to point fingers, point them at me. I had that perception. I grew up watching it on TV. I had the perception of it being the Wonderful World of Oz and it was just a man behind the curtain. I love that analogy because it is true! (laughs) If someone is at fault, it is probably me because I traveled that Yellow Brick Road. I believed in that Yellow Brick Road. I believed in that magical land of Oz and it just… It didn’t exist. Some people go and they are OK with it just being a man behind the curtain. And, some people go, “No, I want the land of Oz and I know it exists somewhere out there and I’m going to go find it.””

On taking his wife’s last name of Kanellis in WWE: “At first, it didn’t really bother me. I looked at it like, “All right, this is going to be a way to draw heat or to get people upset with me.” Like, “Oh my God, if you take your wife’s last name, you’re less of a man!” But, I didn’t mind the name Kanellis at first. As I’ve gone past it, I would say it was done because there was a perception that I wasn’t man enough or I wasn’t tough enough because I was always tied to my wife. So, as I’ve gone past it, I’ve realized it probably was a jab at me. But, it didn’t really bother me. I’m a professional wrestler. I wear underwear for a living. (laughs) It is not going to bother me if you tell me my last name is Kanellis. I’ve done way worse!”

On his new persona being more him than prior personas: “I’m really glad you asked that because it is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. I’ve been wrestling for nearly 20 years now and I’ve always thought that I had to portray this person, to be this gimmick. What I’ve realized is if you’re just yourself, people want to connect with you! They want to understand who you are! Me as a person? I’m a professional wrestler, I’m a dad, I’m a fighter. This is what I do! I’m trying to not be a gimmick – I just want to be myself. I want people to see who Mike Bennett is as a person and that is the dad, a recovering addict, that’s the husband, that’s the hard worker, that’s the motivational speaker. I’m not a gimmick, at the end of the day. That is why I say to people, “Just be real!” Be yourself! That is kind of what I’ve been trying to push along the way.”

On if he regrets how open he and Maria were about WWE after their release: “No, I told the truth. I’m an open book. I’m never going to lie just so people like me. People always ask me, “Are you ever going to not talk about WWE?” I don’t talk about WWE. When I’m with my wife, my family, my friends, I don’t talk about it. It is not important to me. But, if people ask me a question, I’m going to give them a truthful answer. I’m not going to sugar coat it because it offends wrestling fans or it offends WWE fans. I’m going to tell the truth. Maybe that is because I am a recovering addict because when you’re an addict, you spend so much time doing drugs and living a lie that when you finally get to the point of recovery, you realize the truth is so much easier and freeing. You can phrase it as taking shots and I see how people see it as that but I’m just answering honestly. And, when I see things like taking away people’s Cameos, I think that is bogus! When I see billionaires trying to stop people who made them those billions from making money, I think that is wrong and I’m not afraid to say it. I am sorry if that offends people. I don’t really understand why it offends people! Like, Vince McMahon’s not going to hire you. He’s just trying to make money off the backs of other people. If that bothers you, I’m sorry. I don’t know what to tell you. The truth hurts.”

On Talk N Shop A Mania: “(laughs) It was far more fun to film than it came off on television! We flew down to Gallows’ house, we filmed the most ridiculous pay per view you’ll ever see in your entire life, and it was just a bunch of buddies hanging out and having a good time. It was so much fun and I can’t wait to do another one!”

On UWN Primetime Live helping him before rejoining ROH: “You know, I am so grateful that I got to do the UWN because they gave me a platform to show people who I am. They had the faith in me to say, “Go do what you want” and I did that. I’m so grateful to Dave Marquez for giving me the chance to say, “All right, I’m no longer Mike Kanellis. I’m no longer the Miracle. I’m no longer this… I’m Mike Bennett the professional wrestler and this is what I’m going to offer moving forward.””

On not having Maria at his side in ROH: “We’re at a point now where we want to see what we can do on our own. Like, she’s my wife. She’s always going to be there. So, when the time comes for her to be by my side again with Taven, we will 100% do that. But, Maria is very methodical. She likes to do things that people don’t necessarily see on the screen. She’s very much the puppet master where she’s got her hands in a lot of things behind the scenes. What people are going to realize is the brain Maria has for professional wrestling, she is going to be at the forefront of Ring of Honor moving forward not so much on the screen but behind the screen. I think she’s excited to do that role. I’m still not ready to give up being on the screen – And, I don’t think she’s ready to give that up yet either. But, I think she’s excited to get her hands behind the scenes and see what she’s capable of doing there.”

On Matt Taven’s chosen Kingdom members when he was away: “You know, Vincent. I think he’s lost. I think he never really found his footing in the Kingdom and he’s trying to find it as the leader of this other group. But, I think he’s lost. But, I think he’s trying to figure out who he is as a person. And, when you’re that lost, you tend to attack the people you care about the most because you think it is their fault. There’s a part of me that empathizes with him and sympathizes with him because for so long, I was searching… I just never turned my back on my friends. I think it is going to come back to bite him in the butt.”

On his goals for ROH in 2021: “I could sit here and say World Champion or Tag Team Champion. You don’t get into wrestling to not be a champion! But, for me, personally, I have re-found my life for professional wrestling. I want to live that life as a professional wrestler. I don’t want to be a sports entertainer! I don’t want to be carny. I don’t want to be a joke. I want to lace up my boots and make a living for my family as a professional wrestler because it is what I love to do. At the end of the day, like we talked about earlier, when people say, “What is this new Mike Bennett character?” There is no character. I’m talking to you as a father, as a husband, and as a man. I am 35 now and I want to leave a lasting legacy where people say, “Oh, Mike Bennett. That’s that guy who really loved his family and was one hell of a professional wrestler!” That’s what I’m after. I’m not after gold or to be on Mount Rushmore.”

Check out the complete Mike Bennett interview from the Wrestling Epicenter show via the video embedded below courtesy of the official YouTube channel for the program.

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