Raj Giri of WrestlingINC.com recently interviewed the "First Lady of ROH" Maria Kanellis. In part one of the interview below, Kanellis discussed getting her break in the business, working for WWE, her WWE release and more.
Make sure to check back tomorrow for our second part of our interview, where Kanellis discusses signing with ROH, turning down TNA, problems in WWE and much more.
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WrestlingINC: You started off your career with the Diva Search, how did that come about?
Maria Kanellis: I was watching Monday Night Raw and they were advertising for it. [Laughs.] Honestly, everybody asks me this question and everybody thinks that I just came from a model search. But, me and Michelle McCool were the only two that self-entered online -- not from an agency -- we just loved wrestling. So, I entered online and I made it to the next round. The only reason I knew I made it to the next round before they told me a week after was that I saw my picture on Monday Night Raw when I was watching the show.
WrestlingINC: Had you been a wrestling fan for a long time before that?
Maria: Yeah, I've been a wrestling fan. I probably got back into it when I was 16, 17. But I was a wrestling fan since I was a little girl. I used to watch it with my dad and my brother.
WrestlingINC: Who were some of your favorites growing up?
Maria: I loved 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper. I love the guys that can talk. I'm a big fan of The Rock, but I'm also a fan of Coach. I just thought Johnathan Coachman did such a great job -- every single time he was there with somebody, he just really brought out the personality of anybody he was interviewing.
WrestlingINC: When you got the call, what was that like having been a fan and getting that opportunity?
Maria: It was insane. The most insane thing in the world. I was screaming and jumping up and down. At the time, I was in Louisville, Kentucky, coming back from living in my car down in Miami, Florida. So, you can only imagine how I was feeling going from living in my car down in Miami, Florida to coming back to Louisville, Kentucky. I just had done "Outback Jack," which was a reality show, and I got the call to do World Wrestling Entertainment. It was insane.
WrestlingINC: After the Diva Search, you went to OVW. What was that experience like?
Maria: It was two and a half years that I was down in Ohio Valley Wrestling. It's been a big part of my life now in the sense that I love that period of my life so much. It was like my college years. I didn't go to college other than here and there in my failed attempts to go to school. So, Ohio Valley Wrestling was my college years.
WrestlingINC: So, you started your run in WWE in 2005, can you describe that run?
Maria: Oh, my gosh. It was a mix of everything. I was 22-years-old, I never experienced anything like that in my entire life. The first time I was on live television, was the first time I'd ever been in front of a live crowd that size. Just getting over that in itself was insane. I didn't come from the independents, so wrestling was all new to me. I was training down in Ohio Valley Wrestling at the same time I was on the road. I was training with Fit Finley.
I didn't get as much time in the ring as I would have liked. It's funny, because now I'm getting more time in the ring then I ever did when I was in WWE. I'm learning a whole lot more. But, it was insane. It was wonderful, it was one of the greatest experiences in my life. I considered WWE my family for a long time. They gave me my start, really.
WrestlingINC: You were involved in a lot of high profile angles and matches during that time.
Maria: I didn't have the craziest matches in the ring, but I certainly got to work with some of the best. I got to work with Ric Flair. I got to work with John Cena when he was just coming into his own. I got to work with Santino when that character was just started. I got to be in the ring with Umaga, Orton, Carlito. It was insane. Insane times.
WrestlingINC: What was it like being at your first WrestleMania at WrestleMania XXIV?
Maria: That was insane. Ashley Massaro showed up so late that day, she was sick. So, I was flipping out. It was tremendous. But I watch that match back now, and I'm like, 'Oh, my gosh. I could have done so much better. Please, just let me have that moment back because I would kill it now.' Compared to the person I was then to now -- it's like night and day! [Laughs]
It was great for what it was, but I wish I could have that moment back because this time around, I would do something completely different with that match.
WrestlingINC: What were some of your most memorable memories from your WWE run?
Maria: Winning the [Diva of the Year Slammy] award was amazing. I would definitely say when Michelle McCool first started becoming a bad guy -- oh, my gosh, it was after the match and she just kicked the crap out of me. That was amazing. Michelle is one of the greatest workers ever but no one got to see it because we just didn't have enough time.
Definitely working with Santino -- oh, my gosh. It was just getting funnier and funnier every single week. Ric Flair bumping off a kiss. Wow! That was definitely something. When I did Playboy. I was getting pyro when I was coming out. One of my favorite matches was against Natalya, it was my last singles match on TV. Working with Victoria, oh, my gosh, she is just amazing. When I came back after two years of being out of the wrestling ring, that was the only person I wanted to work with. [Laughs.]
WrestlingINC: How did you get the gig on Celebrity Apprentice? Was that through WWE or did they contact you?
Maria: No, I did that myself. They like to claim it. I walked up to Donald Trump and said, 'I want to be on your show.' He said, 'You want to be on my show, Celebrity Apprentice?' And I said, 'Yes, I do.' I continued to calling every single day until I got an interview. Then, from there, they gave me the interview and I heard nothing for months. I continued e-mailing every single day saying, 'I want this job. I'm going to be on this show.' They let me have it and I did it.
WrestlingINC: Do you think there was heat on you for doing it on your own?
Maria: You know what? If there was, I don't care. If they were paying me millions and millions of dollars, that'd be one thing, but they weren't. So, for me, as great as WWE is and I love them and adore them for everything they did for me, at the same time, I didn't make enough money to support me and whatever family I have in the future. So, I had to start making decisions for myself.
WrestlingINC: So, when you made that decision and you told them, what was their reaction?
Maria: Oh, they loved it because they love Donald Trump. If it was any other show, they probably would have been upset but they love Donald Trump.
WrestlingINC: You did great on that show. Do you feel like you helped the company out since you represented the business so well. I think a lot of people that don't watch wrestling have a certain stereotype of what wrestlers are like. I think you kind of shattered that stereotype when you were on that show. Do you think you got any appreciation for that?
Maria: I got no appreciation for it whatsoever. I went on that show completely -- this was not who anybody expected me to be. I have old ladies in supermarkets grabbing my arm after I had done the show and saying, 'Oh, my gosh. I loved you so much on it. You were so good, you were so smart.' They've never seen wrestling before, they just saw me on Celebrity Apprentice. Which was being seen by 10 million people per week.
So, when it came to them giving me my new contract and I didn't want to sign it -- I wanted my lawyer to look over it -- WWE just did not see me as a smart girl. They saw me as a stupid girl and they wanted me to be a stupid girl. When I broke that and I changed into the person that I actually am, they hated it. That's when I got that phone call on Saturday.
WrestlingINC: Did you have any idea that they were probably going to release you? You had just started an angle with Matt Hardy, so it seemed very out of the blue.
Maria: It was out of the blue. My discussion with John Laurinaitis went like this: 'Are you going to sign the contract?' It was the same contract that I signed when I was 22-years-old and had never been on television before. Everybody gets a raise, even a bus girl. They had given me a raise, but because I didn't sign it right away, they took that contract from me and gave me a different contract. The contract was exactly the same as when I started.
So, I said, 'No, I'm not going to sign that contract. And yes, I want my lawyer to look at it.' I knew that they were probably going to release me. But, see, that's the thing: If I was a guy, that wouldn't have happened. But, because I was a girl that stood up for what I believed in and I'm not going to be caught in a hot tub with the office and I'm not going to be caught being shady -- but I will be there working every single day, I will be doing every single media thing and I will go on Celebrity Apprentice and do a good job -- because I'm that kind of girl, they didn't want to re-sign me.