Bennett won the first Top Prospect Tournament in 2011 and quickly established himself as a player in ROH. He formed The Kingdom along with his girlfriend (now wife) Maria Kanellis, Matt Hardy, and Adam Cole. Matt Taven later joined the faction, and Bennett and Taven won the ROH World Tag Team Championship and New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship.
Bennett left ROH in 2015 but returned at the end of 2020 to aid longtime best friend Taven in his war against Vincent and The Righteous. Having overcome personal demons and professional frustration during his time away from ROH, Bennett is back and better than ever.
What the Ring of Honor portrait doesn’t say is, during these five years, Mike Bennett had tried to find his way back to himself successfully. When he was triumphant in TNA/Impact Wrestling, he was also fighting his own demons. And when the demons were defeated, his path in WWE was not exactly what he was expecting it to be. But Mike Bennett is back in Ring of Honor, happy, free of demons, ready to conquer the world again and again.
SteelChair Wrestling Magazine had the chance to talk to Mike Bennett a few weeks ago. He told us about being back in Ring of Honor, teaming up with his best friend Matt Taven, the new Ring of Honor management and roster, and what the future may hold for him.
You’re back to Ring of Honor, and I would say, in a way, finally because you wanted it so badly to leave WWE. Are you happy to be back to the promotion where you’ve been a megastar?
“I’m thrilled. I’m so happy to be back in Ring of Honor, not only that, but I’m super thrilled to be back on the indies, not just Ring of Honor. One of the coolest things that I’ve noticed is this crop of indie talents that are coming up, and I’m not as familiar with. When I was in the indies before, I was pretty familiar with the UK wrestling scene and European wrestling scene, I’m still trying to catch up to that, I’m still trying to get my bearings on what’s going on there, but for me, in the American independent wrestling scene, there is a group of young men and women right now that are coming up that is comparable to the group of AJ Styles, CM Punk, Samoa Joe, or Kevin Owens in the box, that whole group had a vibe, and there’s a vibe about these young guys and girls that are coming up right now. I’m excited about that, and I’m excited to dive right in because I think this group of people are about to explode on the indie scene and just change professional wrestling. Ring of Honor needs to lock these people up and bring these people in. That’s why I’m thrilled to be back. I’m not only excited to be back for me, but I kind of have this new attitude where I’m trying to help a lot of the younger guys.”
How do you feel in this new roster made of talents from every age, style, and country? With such a group of talents, so diverse, was it easy for you to come back and find your place in it?
“First of all, they were very accepting. They welcomed me in with open arms, which is cool. I was still really good friends with a lot of the guys that were there, like obviously Taven, the Briscoes, Dalton Castle, Jay Lethal. I met Jonathan Gresham in the indies. We had done some matches together in Ring of Honor. I’ve always been a huge fan of Gresham, and it’s awesome to see him now. When I left Ring of Honor, he was just kind of like getting on their radar, now he’s basically established himself as the man of that company right now. It’s an incredible fit considering he did it in like five years. What he did in that short time in that company is incredible. The younger guys have kind of accepted me right in, which I’m thankful for because I genuinely want to help. I want to further my career. I want to accomplish my goals, but at the same time, I want to help these guys and these girls achieve their dreams because I was fortunate enough to have so many people go to bat for me when I was coming up through the ranks. So many people fought for me, so many people lent out a hand, and I feel like it’s not done as often nowadays. I’m not this veteran guy who wants to crap all over the younger guys. I want to help. I want to lift up. I want to show (the talent) what I know and incorporate it in with what (he) knows. Some of the younger guys in Ring of Honor, I think, have appreciated that they’ve kind of latched on to that, and to me, that’s the fun part if I can achieve my goals while helping other people out. That’s the best of both worlds for me.”
Do you keep one positive thing from your run in WWE?
“I don’t hate them at all. They do things idiotically. I think they shoot themselves in the foot constantly, but I don’t hate them at all. They gave me some incredible moments in my life. I got to be at WrestleMania. I got to meet friends that I still talk to. I got to perform in front of incredible huge crowds I would never even imagine. I got to meet some cool people. I don’t dislike them. I just want them to do things better. I care about wrestling, but I care about pro wrestling now. I don’t like the way they treated my wife. They fired her while she was still on maternity leave. Do I think Vince McMahon runs things terribly? Absolutely. Do I think he could run things better? 100%. But he gave me a chance. He gave me an opportunity. He runs his business a certain way I don’t agree with. He has values that I don’t agree with, and I clearly have values that he doesn’t agree with, so we weren’t a perfect fit at all, and we bumped heads. There was a lot of really good things that I took away from there. While I was there, I got clean and sober. Guys like Rowan and Konnor were my boys on the road and made sure I stayed on the straight and narrow, so I will always appreciate that I had friends there. Adam Cole’s one of my best friends. I love that he’s there.”
You’re back on ROH teaming up with your old friend Matt Taven. Who had this idea to make you team up again?
“Matt is not only an old friend, he’s my best friend in the entire world. He’s like family. Matt and I have always joked that as soon as I left Ring of Honor, we’ve been planning my comeback, which was five years ago. I think we always knew both of us always felt that the Kingdom was special. It was always our thing. We both were kind of always considered as outsiders at Ring of Honor at the time. We didn’t really fit the Ring of Honor mould, but we always felt right at home when we were in the Kingdom as a tag team. Knowing that, that it was always one of these things we were gonna do it eventually. It’s just a matter of when the stars align. When I’m not working somewhere, or you’re not working somewhere, we’ll bring the band back together, and we’ll do it again. I enjoy teaming with Taven. I enjoy doing singles. I enjoy rooting Taven on from the sidelines just like I know he does. it’s just been a perfect fit, and I’m enjoying the hell out of it.”
What are your thoughts on Ring of Honor in 2021?
“Since Ring of Honor has been back on TV, they’ve been doing stuff that’s entirely different than any other wrestling company’s been doing, which is kind of like get back to the basics, get back to the pure wrestling, as a sport. A lot of wrestling fans right now appreciate that where they have these two other companies that are under a big tent of what they have to present on television, Ring of Honor has the ability to really hit this core group of what pro wrestling is, which is pure wrestling, the sport of wrestling while mixing in fun storylines, but not making these crazy storylines the main focus. They might have like, for instance, we have the crazy storyline with me and Taven and the Righteous, but you don’t have that going on anywhere else during the show. All else during the show is pure wrestling, tag team wrestling, hard-hitting strong-style wrestling. I think they’re doing it right because, in an empty arena, it might come off as strange, but the way Ring of Honor is presenting it, I think it makes the empty arena almost the perfect fit for what they’re doing right now, which is really cool to me.”
Nick Aldis gave you a chance at NWA’s title at UWN Primetime Live. If it was possible, would you do a rematch in Ring of Honor?
“In a heartbeat. I’m pushing for that hard, because like you had mentioned a second ago, I give so much credit to Nick Aldis for helping me out. This is another reason why I want to help people out because we’re in an industry where you can only exceed with the help of the person that is across the ring from you. When guys and girls go above and beyond for me, it is now my obligation to go above and beyond for them. Nick was the first person after my release who went above and beyond when he didn’t have to. For him to connect his story with my story and say, ‘I want to help this guy out’, you just don’t get that very often, especially in the wrestling world and even in life. People are always looking out for themselves. I would one-hundred-percent want to rematch because not only did he go above and beyond for me, but it was one of the most fun matches I’ve had in my career, and I would love a longer match this time. I would love like a twenty to thirty-minute match because I think we can pull out something special.”
You are very vocal about your sobriety and the struggles you have been through. Is that necessary for you to share your experience with that?
“It’s incredibly important. We don’t have enough people in this world that take accountability, that holds themselves accountable, that admit when they make mistakes that are okay to be proven wrong, and don’t get insulted when someone proves them wrong. I put my sobriety out there for a couple of reasons, it holds me accountable to a huge platform of people, not just to myself or to my family, but to anyone that follows me on social media. I honestly believe that the biggest reason why I did it was to help. I want people to know that it’s okay if you have an addiction, it’s okay to talk about it, it’s not taboo, you’re not an outcast, you’re not some horrible disgusting human being, you have a disease, and you need to work on it, and we don’t get mad at people if they have a disease. I struggle with depression, I struggle with anxiety, I have OCD, I was a drug addict, and I want people to know that you can struggle with all these things and still be a functioning successful human being. You can raise a family. All you need is support. You need help, you need to talk to people, and you need to believe that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with you.”
Your wife Maria has been your backbone all those years. Is she involved in Ring of Honor, and does she want to be involved with you by your side?
“She’s more than just my backbone. She’s my whole skeleton section. She is involved with Ring of Honor. She’s not by my side currently, and I think that is by design right now. We both kind of wanted to. Maria’s already done a lot on her own. She has her plateful with two children at home, but believe it or not, she’s very, very heavily involved in Ring of Honor right now. As far as the things we’re doing together, I’m sure we will once again do things together. We’re married, we love working together, but at this moment, we both felt doing our own separate things right now would be what’s best for both of our brands, in both of our careers. Maria is very interested in doing a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff. If her main focus or a lot of her focus is gonna be on that, there’s not really a place with her by my side. It just wouldn’t make sense, and this was more of a choice between me and her. We thought that this would be what’s best. It’s another chapter in our career, and we just take it and go with it and see where it leads us. Some of our chapters have been really good, some of our chapters have fallen completely flat on our face, but they’re all part of this long extensive book that is our career.”
What can we wish you in ROH?
“I’ve been kind of on a mission since I got released to change my perception. I want people to look at me and one-hundred-percent believe I’m one of the best pro wrestlers in the entire world. I want tag team gold absolutely. I want to be Ring of Honor World champ. I want to be ROH TV Champ, I want to be Pure Champ, and I want to be IWGP Heavyweight Champ. I want to go back and get the IWGP tag champs. I want to do it all because for so long I spent a lot of my career focused on one goal. I had a tunnel vision. I wanted to be a WWE wrestler, that’s all I ever wanted to be since I was twelve. What ended up happening along the way of my journey to become a WWE wrestler was I fell in love with professional wrestling, not just WWE wrestling, but pro wrestling in general. That was one of my biggest struggles at WWE. I was coming into my own as a pro wrestler who loves strong style, Lucha, pure wrestling. I love them all, and I can’t do any of it at WWE because you have to wrestle a certain style there, a certain way, and that’s just the way the company runs. I want to now use all the things I’ve learned in my twenty years of wrestling, incorporate it and try to prove to everyone who’s watching that I can truly be the best professional wrestler in the world. I believe it. I know my wife believes it, and now it’s my chance to show everyone because I know people are going to read this interview. They’re going to say Mike Bennett is going to be the best wrestler in the world, next to Kenny Omega and Okada. Yes, I’m going to be, that is my goal, that is my dream, that is my obligation to my family at this point to prove that even after 20 years of pro wrestling, I still have a ton more to prove.”
Follow Mike Bennett on @realmikebennett.
Here’s the card of the show:
- Free Hour Match – ROH World Six-Man Tag Team Championship Match: Shane Taylor Promotions (Shane Taylor, Kaun and Moses) (c) vs. MexiSquad (Bandido, Flamita, and Rey Horus)
- Free Hour Match: Four Corner Survival Match: Brian Johnson vs. Danhausen vs. Eli Isom vs. LSG
- Dalton Castle vs. Josh Woods (with Silas Young)
- Pure Rules Match for the ROH Pure Championship: Jonathan Gresham (c) vs. Dak Draper
- Mark Briscoe vs. Flip Gordon
- Unsanctioned Match: Matt Taven vs. Vincent
- Tag team match for the ROH World Tag Team Championship: La Faccion Ingobernable (Bestia del Ring and Kenny King) (with Amy Rose) (c) vs. The Foundation (Rhett Titus and Tracy Williams)
- ROH World Television Championship Match: Kenny King (c) vs. Tracy Williams
- Grudge match: EC3 vs. Jay Briscoe
- ROH World Championship Match: Rush (c) vs. Jay Lethal
All pics and videos courtesy of RING OF HONOR/Mike Adams, RING OF HONOR/Ricky Havlik, Ring Of Honor