Maria Kanellis will reportedly be making her return to the WWE this week.
There had previously been rumors that Maria Kanellis and her real life husband Mike Bennett would be appearing on WWE television this coming week, but on Sunday, the two were spotted in St. Louis ahead of Money in the Bank. This has lead to speculation that Maria Kanellis might interfere in the Money in the Bank women’s ladder match, possibly even becoming a late entrant and winning the contract.
So for those who may not remember Maria Kanellis from her original WWE run and who did not follow her in other companies, here’s what you need to know about her ahead of a possible Money in the Bank appearance.
1. She Competed in the 2004 Diva Search
Maria Kanellis first became involved in the WWE when she competed in the 2004 Raw Diva Search. She ultimately placed fifth in the contest, but the company was impressed and decided to hire her anyway.
In an interview with WrestleTalk TV, Kanellis said that she grew up with wrestling, and she was watching Raw one night when she saw a commercial for a Diva’s search.
“So I entered online and thought, ‘Oh, nothing’s going to happen…’ and then the next week I saw my picture on Monday Night Raw for people they were interested in, and then I got a phone call, I ended up doing the Diva’s Search, and I placed top five,” she said. “And then I begged and pleaded to get a contract, and I did, so the rest is history.”
Kanellis later began making appearances at Ohio Valley Wrestling, the WWE’s developmental division. In November 2004, she made her debut on Raw as an interviewer, with her gimmick being that she always asked horrible questions.
In early 2005, Kanellis started to appear in matches. One notable storyline she was involved in came when Raw General Manager Eric Bischoff out of spite booked her in a match against Kurt Angle, and this decision was brought up during Bischoff’s subsequent firing.
2. Her Character Had a Relationship With Santino Marella, Dolph Ziggler & Matt Hardy
In June 2007, Maria Kanellis commenced a storyline in which she had an on-screen relationship with Santino Marella.
This lasted for about a year. In 2008, Kanellis won a match which allowed her to get onto the cover of Playboy. Marella then offered her an ultimatum, saying that Kanellis could not be on the cover of Playboy and stay with him. She said that no man was going to make decisions like this for her, and they broke up. This culminated in a Playboy BunnyMania Lumberjill match at WrestleMania. At the end of this match, Kanellis kissed the show’s master of ceremonies, Snoop Dogg. Then, Kanellis had a match with Marella, which Marella lost when a number of the women teamed up on him.
In 2009, Kanellis had an on-screen relationship with Dolph Ziggler, but they broke up after she cost him a match. The following year, she had an on-screen relationship with Matt Hardy. She ended up teaming up with Hardy in the ring, fighting alongside him and The Great Khali in a match against Tyson Kidd, David Hart Smith, and Natalya Neidhart.
In real life, Maria Kanellis dated CM Punk for several years. Punk and Kanellis met while they were both working with Ohio Valley Wrestling, and the two dated from 2005 through 2007. In a 2014 interview, Kanellis praised Punk’s work ethic.
“He’s the example you use when you talk about independent wrestlers who come to WWE,” she said. “He was the first in that transition. He came from the independents and made a name for himself in WWE. He’s already done the work and doesn’t need to do anything else in his career to solidify the statement he has made. He changed wrestling forever because he showed that some dirty, stinky wrestler from Chicago can become a famous superstar.”
3. She Was Released From Her WWE Contract in 2010
Towards the last few years of her WWE career, Maria Kanellis was given a variety of major opportunities after being drafted to SmackDown in 2008.
This included taking on WWE Divas Champion Michelle McCool. She also competed at WrestleMania 25 for the honor of becoming Miss WrestleMania, but she was ultimately eliminated. Near the end of her time with the company, Kanellis took a hiatus in order to film Celebrity Apprentice.
Kanellis was a fan-favorite, and in 2010, she won the Slammy Award for Diva of the Year, which was voted on by WWE viewers. In February 2010, Kanellis was released from her WWE contract, and she later said in an interview that she was surprised by this.
“I was caught off guard,” she said. “I know what was going on behind the scenes, and that I was trying to accomplish other things. I think that WWE looked at it like I wasn’t as interested in wrestling because I wanted to do more. I think that they got the wrong impression of what I was trying to do, as well as I got the wrong impression of what they were trying to do. Looking back on it, now five years removed, I would have done things differently. I would have stayed the course. I would have shed a light on women’s wrestling back then, if I would have had the time.”
4. She Has Since Performed For Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro Wrestling & TNA
Since being released from her WWE contract, Maria Kanellis has wrestled for a variety of other companies, the first being Ring of Honor, where she began working in 2011. She immediately began to wrestle with Mike Bennett.
Kanellis would often interfere in matches to try to help Bennett win, although this occasionally ended badly, as at the Best in the World pay-per-view when Kanellis’ interference cost Matt Hardy and Mike Bennett the match.
In December 2015, Maria Kanellis left Ring of Honor, after which she went to Family Wrestling Entertainment and immediately won the championship there, with this being the first championship win of her career. She then went to Chikara, where she served as Mike Bennett’s manager.
In April 2016, Maria Kanellis signed on with New Japan Pro Wrestling, managing Mike Bennett and Matt Taven. However, Kanellis soon got involved in some action herself, teaming up with Bennett and Taven to defeat Amber Gallows, Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson at Wrestling Dontaku 2015. The match ended when Kanellis pinned Amber.
Kanellis in January 2016 joined Total Nonstop Action, functioning as a heel on Impact Wrestling. In September, she won the TNA Women’s Knockout Championship by defeating Allie. Earlier this year, Kanellis departed TNA.
Sadly, in 2017, some of Kanellis’s private explicit photos were leaked online around the same time that WWE superstar Paige’s private photos also leaked.
5. She Is Married to Mike Bennett in Real Life
Maria Kanellis has teamed up with Mike Bennett in the ring, and they are a couple in real life as well. In a 2015 interview, Bennett said that he and Kanellis first met at a Northeast Wrestling show, although they were both in relationships at the time.
“We felt a connection but at the time we were both with other people,” he said. “A few months later when our situations had changed, we started DM’ing each other on Twitter. She was in Philadelphia and asked me to come see her. It took me nine hours to get there because I got caught up in New York traffic. But we hung out and just hit it off.”
Kanellis said in an interview that in her first conversation with Bennett backstage, she asked Bennett if he worked for Ring of Honor, and he asked her, “Do you want some of this old pizza?” They subsequently went out to eat at TGI Fridays.
“So he was sitting across from me,” Kanellis said. “He gets his appetizer which were cheese sticks—and he is eating them with a fork and knife. I was like, ‘Who eats cheese sticks with a fork and knife?’ And he had no words. He just sat there. No words.”
Maria Kanellis and Mike Bennett were married in October 2014.