Maria Kanellis-Bennett has championship reigns in WWE and Total Nonstop Action (TNA) Wrestling, but her most fulfilling chapter is unfolding in front of her.
Kanellis returned to Ring of Honor (ROH) last year and is now on the company’s Board of Directors, steering the way for the promotion’s revamped women’s division. In a recent interview with Cageside Seat’s Shakiel Mahjouri, the former Diva Search contest explains why this new role is so important to her.
“This is it. This is the most fulfilling,” she begins. “There have been several moments, but some of these Tickets to Gold, they didn’t have a clue they were getting the Ticket to Gold or going to be in the tournament. When I jumped up on Willow after her match, she had no clue that this was happening. And so just that feeling of like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is my dream. And now someone’s giving me a chance at my dream.’ That’s the most fulfilling thing I can do. That’s something I can be proud of. I think that the women we’ve had in the tournament have been fantastic. The matches are incredible. And I can’t wait for everybody to see them.”
The Forbidden Door has been busted wide open and, although Kanellis isn’t a fan of the term, she’s excited by the potential for companies to cross-pollinate. Kanellis says there are no immediate plans to work with All Elite Wrestling (AEW), but does expect a cross-over with the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) sooner than later.
“Not at the moment right now,” she says of an AEW-ROH working agreement. “But that’s not to say that it can’t happen. I recently had a conversation with Thunder Rosa. I was trying to bring her in for the tournament. It didn’t work out just because of everything that she’s doing right now. But we have been having conversations with NWA. As soon as we have a champion, I think we’re going to move forward with some stuff there. Impact, of course, is an option. Deonna Purrazzo used to be with Ring of Honor. We have Chelsea [Green] now and Chelsea is kind of doing both. So as much as I hate calling it the Forbidden Door — because as a woman this is the wrong name for it [she laughs] — options are open. We’ll put it that way.”
“More opportunities, equal more opportunities. That’s my thought process on it. If we can have wrestlers that not only work for us but work for several other companies, that’s more exposure for Ring of Honor,” Kanellis adds. “For me, that’s across the board with all of our talent. I hope, male or female, they can make as big of a name for themselves as they can, no matter what that show is.”
NWA EmPowerrr is scheduled for Aug. 28 and features women wrestlers from the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), All Elite Wrestling (AEW) and Impact Wrestling. Kanellis-Bennett — who has a major role in ROH’s women’s division as part of the company’s Board of Directors — plays coy about a potential appearance, but says to expect more cross-over once ROH has revamped its women’s division.
“You never know,” she teases. “But I will have to say once we have a champ and kind of solidified our women’s division — because we’re just we’re just re-upping this — we’ll have a lot more options after that.”
Finally, Kanellis is asked where she sees the ROH women’s division in one year’s time.
Hopefully with a ton of exposure and having our own shows for Women’s Division Wednesday. That’s the goal. We’ve had 15 all-women shows,” she shares. “I hope that we’re still running a weekly show. I hope that Beyond the Belles does really well with LuFisto. I’m hoping that we continue to have surprises like we had Dixie Carter on last night. It’s the Women’s Wrestling Coalition and we’re all coming together. And I hope that every single company that has women’s wrestling continues to grow and rise. It’s amazing.”
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