(If the quotes in this article are used, please credit POST Wrestling with an H/T for the transcriptions)
On October 14th of 2019, WWE’s Mike Kanellis took to social media to announce that he requested his release from WWE. In the statement that he put out, he thanked everyone in WWE and noted that he is incredibly grateful for the opportunity but it is time for him to move on. He mentioned that “working one day a week” was not cutting it for him and added that he came to the sports-entertainment company to work and that was not happening the way he saw fit. Back in June of 2019, Pro Wrestling Sheet first reported that Mike and Maria Kanellis signed new multi-year deals with WWE.
One month after sharing with the world that he requested his release, Mike Kanellis joined the ‘Smarks & Stripes’ podcast that is hosted by Bill Matz and former WWE referee Kevin Keenan. To kick off the conversation, Kanellis was asked what led to him wanting to leave WWE and here’s how he responded:
“Yeah, and me and you [Kevin Keenan] have talked about this on a personal level. We’ve been friends for a long time but like, for me, it was all personal. It had nothing to do with the company. Since the minute I got to WWE, they treated me great, they treated my wife great, they treated my daughter great. When I came out and said that I had an addiction, there was no negativity from anybody, just constant support, and so, for me personally, having been almost two-and-a-half years sober, it got to the point when I started reflecting on my past and what I did and it became very hard for me to almost sit and reflect on the fact that I blew four years of my life doing drugs, and now I felt like my mind was clear, my head is clear, and I just wanted to work, I just want to wrestle. I feel like I could do and have my best matches right now and it’s extremely difficult when there’s so many people on the roster and you just don’t get that opportunity and like I said, everybody wants to come at me and come at me negatively and say that I’m mad. I’m not mad at anybody. I’m genuinely not. If WWE called me tomorrow and was like, ‘We’re gonna put you on TV’, I’d do it. I’m not mad. I just want to work, and I just want to work a lot. I want to be able to go home and tell my daughter that, ‘Daddy put in the time. Daddy put in the effort.’ It’s incredibly difficult for me to go on social media and preach that you have to work hard, you have to work your ass off and then not do it myself, and so, I’m a worker. I’ve always been a worker and now I’m kind of at the point where I just want to work and work and work and I’ll go wherever that opportunity exists.”
Although Kanellis requested his release, he was not granted it as of this writing. The likes of Luke Harper and Sin Cara publicly announced that they requested their release from WWE but have not been granted that as well. That action did work out for Shawn Spears, formerly known as “Tye Dillinger” and KENTA, formerly known as “Hideo Itami”. Kanellis weighed in on why he believes he hasn’t been let go and used a football analogy to describe his situation.
“As far as not giving me my release, I think it’s like anywhere — the Patriots aren’t going to trade or release a player that they think that the Jets are going to pick up, and I think we have to think of it like that. It’s not a negative, that’s just how it works. It works in sports, it works in wrestling.”
Mike Kanellis debuted for WWE at the 2017 Money In The Bank pay-per-view. He came out in front of the crowd at the ‘Enterprise Center’ in St. Louis, Missouri who knew who he was but the crowd shared a few boos when he announced himself as “Mike Kanellis” instead of “Mike Bennett”. Kanellis did not get off to the start that most expected him to have in WWE as he only wrestled in four televised matches in his debut year and had one pay-per-view match at WWE Battleground against Sami Zayn. Kanellis has seen the suggestions that he should’ve debuted in NXT before heading to the main roster but feels that the situation may have played out the same because of his drug addiction issues that he knows affected his start in the company.
“Yeah, you know, I think retrospect is always great. I think hindsight [being] 20/20, maybe, or maybe not, and I think about this a lot. I always constantly go back and I think to myself, ‘Well, had I just gone to NXT, things would’ve been different’, but then I think, ‘Yeah, but they pushed me right to the main roster’ which was really cool. There’s not too many guys they do that with… so I wear that like a badge of honor. I’m like, ‘Yeah, maybe I came out and it was cold and I fell flat on my face’ but again, I started and maybe I sound like this freaking guru — I don’t know, I don’t really care. I started taking so much personal responsibility and accountability for my actions, and like, people might say, ‘Well maybe WWE screwed up my debut.’ Maybe, but I look at it as I screwed it up. I came to WWE, I was out of shape, I wasn’t prepared, I was addicted to drugs. Maybe they lost faith in me right out of the gate, and then I had to earn it back, so I wish it went better. Maybe in retrospect, I should’ve gone to NXT but I wasn’t ready, period. So I don’t know if NXT would’ve been any better.”
Ideally for Mike Kanellis, he still has a dream of main-eventing a WrestleMania and/or becoming World Champion. He made it clear that he has no ill will towards WWE and if they called him at any moment to appear on TV, he would do it without hesitation. He added that for now, he could see himself as sort of a locker room leader but not exactly in that role because that belongs to Roman Reigns who Kanellis fully supports as the man in the men’s locker room.
“For me personally, I want to headline WrestleMania. I want to be a world champ. That has always been the goal. That’ll continue to be the goal but I think that as I get older and I can’t… and maybe even not as I get older, maybe now I can help people out now. I think I can truly be — I don’t want to say like a locker room leader because you save that for the top dogs. Roman Reigns is the locker room leader. That dude is the man. I’m never gonna take that spot from him. If you ever want to see a locker room leader, that’s the dude to emulate, but truthfully, maybe I’ll just be someone that other guys come to talk to. Maybe I can go to NXT and be a coach or anything. Honestly, I just like giving back at this point in my life and maybe I’ll get over it but I don’t think I will because I feel like I was gifted a second chance at life, and my wife saved me, my daughter saved me and I say it in my videos all the time: With the drugs I was doing and the amount I was doing, I should be dead and I’m not and I’m pretty thankful for that.”
After being shifted from SmackDown to house shows to WWE Main Event, Kanellis made his debut on 205 Live in October of 2018. Several members of the 205 Live roster have gone on-record speaking about the camaraderie of that group and how they support one another and want to prove how talented they all are. Kanellis spoke no different as he loved his time on 205 Live and talked about how he enjoyed the brand because there were opportunities for lengthier matches as opposed to the shorter matches that normally take place on RAW and SmackDown.
“I absolutely love 205, because all the guys on that roster are so underrated, it’s ridiculous. Having matches with Tozawa and Tony Nese and Jack Gallagher. These guys were top indie guys and they’re so good, but the cool part about 205 and Keenan can probably attest to this having been to WWE — on RAW and SmackDown, you get like five or six minute matches, maybe if you’re lucky, and so, you can’t really show what you can do and as a performer, it’s not really that exciting to go out and do a four/five minute match because you’re kinda hamstrung from what you can do. On 205, we were getting 17, 18, 20 minute matches. It was awesome, so, and not only that, I would always used to tell the guys — a lot of people would complain like, ‘Yeah, but you’re going on after SmackDown, so the crowd doesn’t really care,’ and I was like, ‘True, they don’t care, but, we’re essentially playing with house money because if we go out there and the crowd is quiet, we can just come to the back and be like the crowd sucks.’ But if we go out there, and the crowd which many times it did — the crowd gets into it. They start chanting, ‘This is awesome’. Then you get to come back and be like, ‘Look, I just made that dead crowd stand on their feet. I’m Ric Flair for crying out loud.’ So it’s just a really cool experience and I loved it.”
Over the Summer, Kanellis had been involved in the WWE 24/7 Title picture. He and Maria did segments together all while she was pregnant with she and Mike’s second child.
Kanellis did not have an issue being a part of the segments and suggested that viewers should loosen up and stop pretending as if the sport of professional wrestling is legitimate.
“You know what’s funny? I kept getting text messages and direct messages when I was doing that whole storyline. People were like, ‘What are they doing? They’re making you look like an idiot. They’re making you look weak.’ I look at them and I’m like, and I’m gonna use this word and I’m sure the internet’s gonna kill me — we’re a fake TV show. We’re make believe. At the end of the day, my wife is not really yelling at me. At the end of the day, if I shoot you off the rope, you’re not running back. You’re not bouncing back. Can we just get over the fact that we are playing a role on television. We are actors. We are doing our own stunts but we are actors and I’m like, ‘I’m having fun because people are paying attention, people either think it’s cringey or they think it’s funny or they just flat out hate it,’ but at the end of the day, I’m like can we just have fun? And pretend that this isn’t real life because it’s not.”
To wrap up the interview, Kanellis and the podcast hosts talked about Kanellis’ run in IMPACT Wrestling and Ring of Honor. While specifically talking about ROH, Kanellis expressed that the talents in ROH during his run there changed the industry. The likes of Roderick Strong, Kyle O’Reilly, AJ Styles, Sami Zayn, Matt Taven and Jay Lethal were key pieces in changing the business according to Kanellis.
“Yeah, it’s crazy to think. I was just thinking about this too. That roster, that at one point… it blows my mind. It was me and [Matt] Taven, [Adam] Cole and Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly, The Young Bucks, AJ Styles, Roderick Strong, Jay Lethal. My mind just keeps going. Tommaso Ciampa, El Generico. I’m like these guys at one point were all in one company at the same time. It’s wild dude, and now… that era of Ring of Honor, I think, is the wrestling industry now. It changed the wrestling industry and it’s so cool to be a part of that.”
The full interview can be heard at this link. Mike Kanellis re-signed with WWE over the Summer and requested his release in October of 2019. His last match for WWE was on September 24th on SmackDown against Chad Gable.
(If the quotes in this article are used, please credit POST Wrestling with an H/T for the transcriptions)