From ROH World Tag Team Champion Mike Bennett sat down this week with Wrestling Inc. Managing Editor Nick Hausman to talk about the things he's doing now and his goals for the future. The full audio from Hausman and Bennett's conversation will be released this Monday afternoon on our The Wrestling Inc. Daily podcast. Bennett can be seen this Saturday at Warrior Wrestling as he is set to take on "World Famous" Cheeseburger for the first time since 2015. Bennett previewed his upcoming match-up against Cheeseburger, which Hausman will be doing commentary for alongside MLW's Rich Bocchini.
"You know, I'm excited because the last time we wrestled, I think, was probably five years ago, maybe even longer, when I was in Ring of Honor," Bennett recalled. "I don't know. I feel like we're just two totally different wrestlers now. At that point, I was wrestling a different way in the sense that I was always wrestling to try to get noticed or to get my name out there or to, you know how it is, get seen by the right people, and Cheeseburger was so new to the industry.
"So I think we probably held back more than we probably would now, and I think that's what I'm excited about is I have kind of this new mentality on wrestling where I'm wrestling for myself. I'm wrestling to have fun. I'm wrestling what I think I want to do as opposed to wrestling to try to do what I think everyone else wants to see, or wrestle because this is what they tell you [or what] the higher-ups want you to do.
"I just want to wrestle to have fun. I want to wrestle and see if it's good and try new things, and I think it's going to be interesting because, like I said, Cheeseburger's entirely different. Like he's an experienced professional wrestler now. To me, I think it's going to be fun. I'm interested to see what we can both bring to the table."
This year, Bennett celebrated three years of sobriety, and when he was asked about his time in New Japan Pro Wrestling, he called it bittersweet noting his painkiller addiction at the time. While he looks back fondly on his matches with Matt Taven as The Kingdom against Bullet Club, he admitted that he wasn't in the right state of mind during that period of his life.
"Yeah, New Japan is probably one of my favorite promotions to watch," Bennett admitted. "I don't talk about this a lot, but it's very bittersweet, my time in New Japan because I loved it. I look back fondly on everything that we did. Me and Taven and Maria and the stuff with the Bullet Club, but I also think personally, I held back, and I think I held back because one, I had a painkiller addiction and two, I wasn't in the right state of mind. I'm not the type of person I am now and that's very difficult for me to explain to people, how I feel now as opposed to back then.
"There's a certain way that I was carrying myself back then or a certain way that I wrestled it was kind of like how I was talking about my match with Cheeseburger in the sense that you wrestle kind of with chains on when you want to be noticed by a certain company. And for me, like in the wrestling industry, it was always WWE or bust. For the longest time, it was, that's where I want to go. That's what you have to do, and this is what they're looking for and blah blah blah blah and all that crap."
Bennett also admitted that he has many "what ifs" about his time in NJPW. He hopes to have another chance with NJPW and wrestle the way he wants to.
"And so now that I'm not wrestling to get noticed, I look back on New Japan and I think, 'what if I had this mindset back then?' What if I wasn't trying to impress the right people or not step on any toes or walk on eggshells and all that stuff," Bennett said. "And so I'm excited with what I can do now. And so I hope, my hope is that I can go back there with this mentality that I have now and with this mindset that I have now of just like wrestle for yourself, go all out, do everything you want to do and not worry about what anyone else thinks about it. And so I look back on it fondly, but it's also a little bittersweet that I hope I get the opportunity to go back and wrestle the way I want to wrestle."
Hausman pointed out that Bennett has always been seen as an ROH wrestler. Bennett agreed noting that he is still friendly with ROH COO Joe Koff and head booker Delirious. He also noted that Taven is one of his closest friends and said that ROH is always his home.
"I mean to me, it was always like, I don't know, I always considered myself an ROH guy even after I left because I was there for almost, I think, I was there for five years almost," Bennett recalled. "I was there for a while, and so when I went to Impact, it was always like OK, I was going there but I was leaving my home which was Ring of Honor. And then when I went to WWE, I always felt like an ROH guy, and in my head, it was like, if you ever leave here, it's probably going to be Ring of Honor.
"Try to go back there because that's where your buddies are. That's where you had fun. That's where they took care of you. I have a good relationship with Joe Koff still. Joe emails me every now and then. He emailed me every time we had our two kids, and I would email him just to be like, 'hey, I saw this, and I love what you guys are doing.' So I kept a good relationship with him.
"I kept a good relationship with Delirious who is the booker over there, and obviously, Taven's my best friend. So I've stayed in touch with him for whatever. He'd be the guy that I text, and I'd be like, 'can you believe WWE's making me do this?' And he's like, 'you got to be kidding?' He was the guy that I would reach out to, so Ring of Honor is always going to be my home."
Bennett and his wife Maria have opened up about their lackluster run in WWE since their releases. Bennett spoke on The Wrestling Inc. Daily about his goal to prove himself, admitting that he was devalued in WWE. He pointed out that his situation is different to Miro as he did not have as successful of a run as Miro, and he said that he wants to prove himself first to earn a contract with a company.
"I don't know if I'll end up there now, but I mean, I'm looking to go wherever," Bennett stated. "That's my goal right now. I just want to wrestle wherever I can, and if that means Ring of Honor and there's an opportunity there, then hell yeah. If there's an opportunity at New Japan, hell yeah, AEW. I just want to go and wrestle. I'm trying to prove myself. Someone asked me on Twitter the other day, they're like, 'how come you haven't signed with a company yet?' I very honestly said, 'because I feel like I need to earn it.' I didn't really do anything the last three years.
"I was kind of living in obscurity on 205 [Live] and random shots here RAW and doing weird angles on RAW and stuff on SmackDown. I'm very self aware in the sense that I know when I got released, I had an uphill battle because I spent the last three years with my name kind of being devalued at WWE. So now it's like, I wasn't in the same boat as like Rusev was where he had a good run at WWE.
"I had a bad run at WWE, and so what I'm banking on is that people remember me pre-WWE and the stuff that I did then. So I kind of have to spend the next year or so refreshing people of like, no, this is what I'm capable of doing. This is what I can do. So if your company wants someone like me, let me show you what I can do, and so that's kind of how I've been approaching."
Bennett's full interview aired as part of a recent episode of our podcast, The Wrestling Inc. Daily. Subscribe to get the latest episodes as soon as it's released Monday - Friday afternoon by clicking here.