It’s something she never thought she would do, nor really had the desire to do, but Maria Kanellis-Bennett is building an army. A Women’s Wrestling Army.
Alongside her partner, longtime ROH Ring Announcer Bobby Cruise, Kanellis-Bennett is launching her new all women’s wrestling promotion this weekend. Not one for thinking small out of the gate, Maria has lined up a card that will feature well known names like IMPACT Knockouts Champion Tasha Steele, Taya Valkyrie, Willow Nightingale, and The Hex. And more are on the way.
Kanellis-Bennett has dreams of making this a massive-cross promotional, promotion. Featuring stars from every wrestling company out there. Yes, every single one, including WWE. Maria is definitely taking the go big or go home approach to building her army.
We are not playing around!! AAA Reina de Reinas Championship @thetayavalkyrie will be in the house THIS SUNDAY!!! May 1st at 7:00pm at @fetemusic in Providence, RI!! @luchalibreaaa @WWrestlingArmy— WomensWrestlingArmy (@WWrestlingArmy) April 26, 2022
Streaming Updates: https://t.co/0A1Uhv66kD pic.twitter.com/D6A1AyLfNT
But if she never had a strong desire to start a wrestling promotion, why is she doing this? Two reasons. She has a great partner and she was asked to do it. When ROH closed down last year, many talents suddenly found themselves without a job and turned to Kanellis-Bennett and Bobby Cruise for help.
Maria received rave reviews during her time as the head of the ROH Women’s Division, as she helped take it to heights not traditionally seen in the company’s history. So when the opportunity came about to help out her fellow competitors, she once again answered the call.
I had the opportunity to speak with Maria Kanellis-Bennett this week on the Bleav in Pro Wrestling Podcast and she remembered the exact moment in her career that she discovered her desire to help others. It was back during her first run in WWE, in the mid to late 2000’s, that she realized that she not only wanted to make a difference but that she could make a difference.
“I was in the ring with some incredibly talented women and it was a big match. I think it was five-on-five. What I remember about it is that one woman didn’t really wanna speak up for herself. She was afraid of ruffling feathers. I could care less if I was getting in that ring or not. Getting in the ring was not my forte. It was a means to an end. Loved to wrestle, just not very good at it. But there was an incredibly talented woman that they kept saying she wasn’t gonna get any time in the ring. And it just didn’t sit with me at all.”
The situation not sitting well with her was a clear understatement. It was at this point that Kanellis-Bennett started to see red. We are talking, someone just cut you off in traffic and you almost ate the guardrail, level mad. So, she took matters into her own hands.
“Now, it wasn’t for myself. It was for this girl that was very talented. She had a history in the business. She came from the indies. She knew what the Hell she was doing. She belonged in that ring, but this other girl kept trying to say no. And I lit myself on fire. I went to the back. I told the powers that be and they followed me back out to the ring. And that was the first time that like, I just, I wanted to help.”
As time wore on, Maria found herself fighting the good fight for women’s wrestling more, and more often. And it wasn’t just her. Trish Stratus, Lita, Mickie James, Torrie Wilson and so many others from that Divas Era were constantly pushing the powers that be for a more equal piece of the spotlight.
“There had been many other times in the past that I had went into Vince’s office and asked for more opportunities, asked for more time. I went to talent relations. I asked for more time, more opportunities. I was one of the first people on Fox News. I was on CNN. I did all of these things. So I was always striving for those kind of opportunities, but the day I lit myself on fire was the day that I was like, yeah, I think I really wanna help other women.”
Women’s Wrestling as a whole has undergone a seismic shift in the last half decade or so. What was once thought to be impossible, has become the expectation. Like women headlining the biggest wrestling show in the world, now having been in the main event of two WrestleMania’s.
The women’s revolution has not been held within the confines of World Wrestling Entertainment either. Not even close. Women are headlining shows and selling out events across the globe. But, not everything is perfect. There’s still a long way to go. The talent pool is as deep as it’s ever been and companies across the board are coming up short on showcasing and utilizing these ladies to their full potential.
The internet wrestling community was abuzz this week after some semi-controversial comments by WWE’s Becky Lynch. Big Time Becks (seemingly in character) claiming that rival AEW isn’t taking full advantage of the women’s stars they have and that they just aren’t as good as the women in the RAW locker room.
While many fans have spent the week arguing over which company is better, the fact is that no one promotion has nailed it just yet. Instead of focusing on the negatives, Maria Kanellis-Bennett is choosing to shine a spotlight on where companies like WWE and AEW are crushing it.
“So everybody’s doing a little bit right,” Kanellis-Bennett said. “Sometimes it’s a lot of bit right. You know, WWE, Becky comes out. She looks like David Bowie. Like, superhero, futuristic, alien, it’s amazing. She’s a superstar, a bonafide superstar and she’s a mama. She looks fantastic. She’s killing it. She’s an incredible wrestler. So that is right. Bianca, that’s right. Sasha Banks, awesome. And then you’ve got AEW and that incredible match with Thunder and with Britt. Blood flying, just intensity and just main event and that’s right!”
Maria also loves the forward thinking and long-term booking of the IMPACT Knockouts Division. Constantly planning ahead on who the next face of that division will be and utilizing the veterans to help build up the younger talent. Then she lauded the talent that shows up to AEW Dynamite and Rampage every week.
The knee of @shidahikaru unable to take any more punishment and she is forced to tap out as @serenadeeb scores the win! #AEWDynamite is LIVE on @TBSNetwork! pic.twitter.com/qCAEo3bpkd— All Elite Wrestling (@AEW) April 28, 2022
So while yes, improvements can be made, Kanellis-Bennett is enjoying what everyone is bringing to the table. And she’s taking notes.
“So let’s just all throw ‘em all together and say woohoo! Because everybody’s always gonna do a little bit right. Everybody’s always gonna have something to complain about. It’s just how it goes. But I do think everyone’s making an effort. I do think that I’ve seen some of the very best wrestling on AEW. I think they have some tremendous stars on AEW. You know, Ruby and Toni and Britt and Thunder. I think they’re all phenomenally talented and the newcomers. And then you also have Allie (The Bunny) who is a veteran in her own right.
They have a great group of women, but you also have to remember that is still a startup. It’s only a couple years in. It’s gonna get there and they’re doing great things. First, you get interest, then you gain loyalty. That’s just how business is run. There’s good stuff going on everywhere. I’m excited to see what happens in the coming months. I’m learning from everyone right now, whether it be from what’s going on at WWE to what’s going on at AEW or IMPACT. I’m hoping to work with everybody and I think everybody is doing their very best.”
Women’s Wrestling Army makes it’s big debut this weekend in Providence, RI. For more details on the show and how to watch it, visit their website.
Make sure to check out my full conversation with the Maria Kanellis-Bennett in the video above, or feel free to check out more of our Q&A session below:
Bleav in Pro Wrestling: Let’s start off with a very simple question. For those who haven’t heard the news or who are out of the loop on what Women’s Wrestling Army is, what is it and how did this all come about?
Maria Kanellis-Bennett: Women’s Wrestling Army is a brand new all women’s wrestling show. It is going to be this very nice mix of documentary style footage plus amazing matches within the confines of a ring. And there’ll also be backstage interviews. It’s going to be in a lot of ways, a regular wrestling show other than the documentary footage.
After we found out the news that Ring of Honor was no longer going to be with Sinclair Broadcasting, several women had asked Bobby (Cruise) and I to start something. I was very hesitant. I’ve owned a event management company now for about four years and I don’t love it. Owning a business is not my favorite thing. I thought I would love it, but I don’t. And so owning a wrestling promotion was not like it wasn’t something I was dying to do. I liked my situation that I had last year. Ring of Honor went, they set up everything. They had all the pretty lights and the ramp and all of the stuff. And I brought the division. Bobby Cruise and I created the team. That was perfect. So I’m very hesitant on the whole thing because it isn’t necessarily where I envisioned myself, but I do have to say the response has been tremendous.
BPW: What do you like so much about working with Bobby Cruise and why do you guys work so well together?
Maria Kanellis-Bennett: I am rapid fire. I don’t know if you know, (Nikola) Tesla... the way that he went about things and like would have these grand ideas and eventually it made him insane. Hopefully I won’t be going insane, but he had these visions of what should happen. That’s me. I’m thinking like 20 steps ahead of where I would like this to go. Bobby is more of the realist of like, no, you cannot do that. No, we cannot have a hundred people on the show and if it wasn’t for him, I feel like I would go out of control. Bobby’s also brilliant. He came up the idea of bringing in Deonna (Purrazzo). He came up with the idea of Chelsea (Green). He was a huge supporter of Rok-C, now Roxanne over on NXT.
We feed off each other. We’re constantly shooting each other text messages, I think am annoying him today, but that’s a okay. That’s how it goes. I couldn’t do it without him.
BPW: Your first show is this weekend and you’ve done a great job of assembling this card. Willow Nightengale and Taya Valkyrie will be there, big fans of both of them. But this has got to be just the tip of the iceberg because you have some major crossover plans, right?
Maria Kanellis-Bennett: Yeah. We have individuals from IMPACT Wrestling, AEW, and former talent for NXT. So we have a lot of big names on the show thus far. I wanna dive into it further. For me, my big vision is a Tournament of Champions. Make it so you have to have a title in order to enter. Your title will be your ticket to enter this competition. Is it going to be hard? Of course it is, but I wanna give the proper respect to all of the companies and all of the talent. I’ve worked for most of them. So like for me, it’s definitely a respect shown there, but it’s also a respect towards the women that have worked so hard.
BPW: I’m assuming you’re gonna try to get as many companies involved as possible. Some of those are going to be a little bit more harder than others. Without stating the obvious, right?
Maria Kanellis-Bennett: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s difficult until it’s not. Nobody thought that Mickie was gonna be able to be an Impact Knockouts Champion on WWE, but she was. She crossed that line. She opened that door. Who knows what can happen?
BPW: You’ve said that this new venture isn’t going to be your lone project. It was just a week ago that you said Tony Khan had reached out to you about possibly coming in to work in ROH again. I don’t know if you’ve had time to talk with him yet or not, but Bobby Cruise is there working with him. Ring of Honor is a place that’s very special to you. Do you feel like, from everything that you’ve heard and seen, that ROH is in really good hands with Tony Khan?
Maria Kanellis-Bennett: I do. I think that somebody that absolutely loves wrestling owns a wrestling company that has always produced the best wrestlers on the planet. That’s necessary. It has to be someone that loves wrestling in order to make sure to take care of it. And I’m excited to see what the future holds.
Yes, I’ve been communicating with Tony. I’m happy to just be in the conversation right now. I’m happy to just be discussing it. I know that they’re still working on their distribution deal. So until that happens, there’s no real reason to bring me in, because what am I gonna do? There’s nowhere to put any talent. It’s not gonna do anything. So we’ve been in communication and I think he’s gonna take very good care of it. If things line up, great. If they don’t, I hope for the best for all of my friends that need jobs out there that were released from Ring of Honor. I’m excited for whatever Ring of Honor becomes. I think it’s gonna be really awesome.
BPW: I think Tony’s done a good job of kind of keeping ROH in the forefront for the time being. Putting championships on Samoa Joe and Wheeler Yuta obviously, but now we’re getting this big matchup coming up on AEW Dynamite this Wednesday. The Ring of Honor Women’s Championship Unification Match between Deonna Purrazzo and Mercedes Martinez. Who you pulling for in that one?
Maria Kanellis-Bennett: Oh, come on now. I work with these people. Are you kidding me They’re both tremendous stories. I think that either one of them will be a fantastic champion. I wish I could be there. I want to feel the way that it feels during that match. I wanna be a fan. Every time someone goes for a pin, I wanna feel that vibe. I wanna be in the building. It’s gonna be exciting to see who ends up becoming champion.
BPW: One other person I wanted to ask you about before we close out here, is somebody who’s already making waves in WWE. Somebody that you have worked with and that many have called a prodigy. She was known as Rok-C at the time, but is now Roxanne Perez. Her second week on television and she’s main eventing NXT 2.0 with Mandy Rose and putting on great matches. For that WWE audience who may not know her backstory and who may not know a whole lot about her, what does WWE have in Roxanne Perez?
Maria Kanellis-Bennett: I hesitate to say this because I don’t like anybody comparing anybody to anyone else, but the ability that you have in Becky Lynch, you have in Roxanne. I think that is only going to continue to grow. Of course she’s still got things she has to work on, but I think at some point Roxanne will be on the same level as Becky.
She has the technique down. She has the story. She has the heart. She used to ride the bus to go to wrestling training before she could drive a car or anything like that. She rode a bus, so she could go to training.
She was trained by Booker T. She has the ability to work with anybody. I mean, everyone that she worked within Ring of Honor, from working with Miranda Alize, who’s a Luchador, to working with someone like Sumie or Angelina Love. She went down the list of veterans and she held up with all of them, but then she also went against all these different styles of wrestlers and she was able to compete and defeat all of them. I mean, she was in there with Willow as her very last match in Ring of Honor. So I mean, she really is a prodigy and her future is very shiny and bright.
Rick Ucchino can be reached at Rick.Bleav@gmail.com. You can follow him on Twitter @RickUcchino and make sure to subscribe to the Bleav in Pro Wrestling YouTube Channel.