Mike Bennett Talks Returning to Ring of Honor After WWE Heartbreak
When Mike Bennett signed a WWE contract along with his wife Maria Kanellis, it was a childhood dream realized. But joy quickly turned to disappointment when the couple were not given the opportunities they sought. In April, they were among the talents released by the wrestling organization amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bennett, 35, who contemplated leaving the business, instead, in November, returned “home” to Ring of Honor, where he earlier had honed his skills and achieved success in the faction known as The Kingdom. There, he reunited with Matt Taven, best friend and former leader of the group, during a recent episode of ROH TV.
“When you’re younger, you're always looking for greener pastures, brighter lights and bigger things to go do. Sometimes what is the best for you and where you really want to be is under your nose,” Bennett tells TV Insider. “Even though I’ve been there before, I didn’t accomplish what I wanted.”
Ahead of ROH’s Final Battle pay-per-view event on December 18, Bennett reflects on an emotional few months.
Did other members of the locker room know about your return to Ring of Honor?
I don’t think people knew going in that I was there. It felt like a family reunion we’ve been waiting for a long time. We’ve all been through craziness this last year. My last three years in professional wrestling haven’t been the best of my career. I was happy to be back. I get goosebumps thinking about it.
Are you on a per-appearance deal or is this a full commitment?
It’s per appearance [while] everyone is trying to figure out what's going on with the world. I’m there. That’s my home. I love it there. I love my family there. It will take a lot for me to leave again. I don’t see that happening anytime soon.
How did it feel when you got the call about your WWE release?
When I got fired, I contemplated if I wanted to keep wrestling. I don’t know what the post-coronavirus pro wrestling world is going to look like. I have a 2-year-old and, when we got fired, my son was 2 months old. I’m so thankful to have my wife to lean on. She's my biggest supporter. We had constant talks after the kids went to bed and figured it out. You become parents, adults, and figure out life.
Was there a particular moment that made you want to keep wrestling?
Getting that call from [National Wrestling Alliance champion] Nick Aldis to do the “Ten Pounds of Gold.” The [match and build-up] was what brought my love for professional wrestling back. We filmed things on our own and did all these interviews and montages. We did it together. To have someone in such a jaded and negative industry reach out to you like that, it means a lot.
Where is Maria’s head at when it comes to the business?
Maria is very much a methodical person. The minute we got released she was already thinking about what we’re doing next. I was still registering the fact we got fired, and she was already planning the next six years of our lives. She's back in school now getting her master’s degree. That woman blows my mind. We’ve talked about her coming back to wrestling. She still loves the industry. For Maria, it’s one of those things where if she feels it’s the right time, she still will come back on her terms.
Does the recent turn of events make you think everything happens for a reason?
I truly believe that we have moments in our lives that seem like the end of the world. Then when you go back and look at them you say, “That was the best thing to ever happen to me.” For me, I look back at the firing as the best thing to ever happen to me. It was the catalyst and the springboard into the next chapter of my life.
How did it feel heading into your first ROH match in five years?
Like I’m at peace and happy with my career. People ask me if I regret the past three years of my career and signing with WWE, and I tell them I don’t. I grew. I got sober. I bought a house. We had two beautiful children. I did things in my life I never knew wrestling would bring to me. I don’t regret it because I learned from it. Professionally, it sucked. But sometimes you have to put your career on the back burner in order to grow into the human you’re meant to be. Ring of Honor always believed in me and gave me a shot when I was a nobody. Now it feels like I left home to go to college and come back a man.
You have the Final Battle pay-per-view coming up. That's one way to finish the year strong.
My last pay-per-view in Ring of Honor was at Final Battle. To return to pay-per-view at the same event feels right. I’m a blessed human and humbled by this, especially in these times when so many people are struggling and looking for a job. To be able to perform on a national level for a company I love with my friends, I’m blessed.
Ring of Honor Final Battle, December 18, 8/7c, Pay-Per-View and HonorClub