On a recent episode of the Busted Open podcast, Mike Bennett, formerly known as Mike Kanellis, was on to talk about his upcoming NWA Worlds Heavyweight Championship match tonight against Nick Aldis, as well as his WWE run. Bennett was asked if he was playing the 'nice card' during his WWE run.
"I love that question because I'm not playing the nice card, because here's the thing that I learned when I got sober, is you have to hold yourself accountable," Bennett pointed out. "One of the big things I started doing is - there's this mantra that I kind of live by and it's, 'It may not be your fault, but it is now your responsibility'... And that's what helped me with my addiction. But just in general, I showed up at WWE as my dream job. It's what I always wanted to do, but I showed up not in the best shape. I showed up addicted to drugs.
"I showed up not ready to go, and so first impressions are a big deal, and if the first impression that Vince [McMahon] or anybody else got there was, 'Well, he had three months to sit at home before we brought him there, and he's not in the best shape of his life, and what has he been doing?' And then, 'Oh well, we signed this guy who is addicted to drugs. Well, maybe we need to look at our vetting process a little bit better.' And you add all those things together, and I think there's a percentage of the failures that fall on me."
Bennett continued reiterating that it was his responsibility to try moving himself forward in WWE. He admitted that he liked the angle with his wife Maria where he was submitting to her while she threw verbal jabs at him.
"Even if you take it and you say, 'Maybe it's not all of me and it's all on WWE,' but still. I'm in this position now - but then again, it may not be my fault but it is my responsibility, so that's how I'm looking at it moving forward," Bennett said. "Now, was there bad creative along the way? Of course there was, but I tried to make the most of it. I tried to do the best I could with what I was given. I actually liked the challenge of that crazy RAW angle of submitting to my wife all the time. I was like, 'Let's see if we get something out of this because who knows? Maybe this could be the best thing that ever happened to me.'
"So, yes, there's always - and Bubba (Bully Ray) you know this backstage, you have to push for yourself because there's nobody else that's going to push for you. If you're not fighting for yourself, if you're not going to Vince and telling him time, and time, and time again, 'This is why I deserve to be the top guy, this is why I deserve to be in the main event,' you're just not going to get it. Out of sight, out of mind, and there's so much talent in that company right now."
Bennett then discussed his conversations with Vince McMahon, especially the talks after he and Maria had their first child. He said he always had good conversations with McMahon, and he liked that Vince was brutally honest with him.
"I had many good conversations with Vince," Bennett stated. "After we had our first child, I remember going into Vince's office, and I was like, 'Look, if this isn't working out, if I'm not what you thought I was or whatever or you just don't see anything in me,' I asked Vince, and I said, 'Then just let me go for a couple of years and maybe I'll come back, and we'll figure this out.' And he straight up told me, he said, 'I've seen your work. I think you're good. We just have to find the right storyline that fits. We just have to find the right place for you.' He's like, 'I got a million guys right now.' The one thing I respect about Vince is he was always brutally honest with me.
"He never sugarcoated anything, which I respected that. I wish other people in that company wouldn't sugarcoat things for me or just try to do things, but Vince, if I went to him directly, he always straight up told me what was going on. And so, we did have those conversations, and we had many opportunities where me and Maria went in there, we pitched stuff, and Vince always seemed open to it. He always seemed - he was very respectful about everything, and [the ideas] just didn't materialize and I know how that works. I know I'll go in there, I'll tell Vince one thing, he might like it, but Roman [Reigns] goes in there, Seth [Rollins] goes in there, and Bray [Wyatt] goes in there right after me and he probably doesn't remember it after that, which sucks.
"It sucks for us smaller guys who are trying to get their names up there, but at the end of the day, it's just how that company works. I tried, Maria tried, and it didn't work, so what else are you going to do?"
Bennett was also given a chance to reflect on his WWE run and assess whether he thought it was successful or not. He admits WWE was always a dream for him. However, he said he realized that there were aspects of WWE that were not the parts of pro wrestling that he enjoyed when he was working in Ring of Honor, New Japan, and IMPACT Wrestling.
"So, for me, it was always getting to the WWE," Bennett admitted. "That was always the dream, but I kind of looked at it in a different way and it's - I think getting to WWE was just a way to teach me and to propel me for what I'm about to do now. And I don't know if that makes any sense, but I, for so long, was like, 'It's WWE or bust. Get there because that was your dream.' When I was 13, I wanted to become a WWE wrestler.
"That was it, and even through all my journeys, it was, 'I love doing this, I love doing that, but the goal will always be WWE.' And then when I got there, it was kind of like, 'Well, this isn't what I like about pro wrestling. This isn't really what I want to do.' I fell in love with pro wrestling in Ring of Honor, in New Japan, in IMPACT, and doing that stuff. And then when I got into WWE, I didn't like getting the four-minute matches and the very strict script you'd have to read."
Bennett also admitted that his WWE experience wasn't fun for him, and he probably had one of the worst WWE runs. However, he does not knock WWE for that, reiterating that it's just how WWE works. He says that he will use his WWE experience as a tool for his future in the industry.
"It wasn't fun for me, and this isn't a knock. That's how that company works, and again, you either accept it or you don't," Bennett noted. "It's Vince's company; this is how he wants it to run, so you either accept that or you don't, and eventually, I accepted it and I said, 'This isn't really what I like, so I can either mope about it or I can use it to teach me.' And as bad as - I think I had one of the worst WWE runs.
"It's up there, but I use it as a learning experience. I learned more about myself as a person, and a father, and a husband, and as a wrestler in those three years than I learned in the past 20 years of my wrestling career. I learned so much there."
One positive experience that Bennett highlights was the WWE locker room. He talked about the close bond everyone shared in the locker room, especially during the big moments like Kofi Kingston's WrestleMania run and Mustafa Ali's SmackDown breakout.
"Honestly, one of the things that I've loved so much about that company was the locker room," Bennett revealed. "Now, there's a lot of negative talk about WWE. Some of it deserved, some of it is not, but when it comes to the actual locker room, there's a bond there that I've absolutely loved because it wasn't [negative]. Now, I feel like everyone's trying to be top dog there, and I respected that, but I also felt like everyone was looking out for each other. And everyone was also like, 'Look, we have a show to put on. We all want to be top dog, but we're going to come together.'
"I remember when Kofi broke through. There wasn't this collection of, 'Oh well, that should've been me.' No, there was this collection of, 'Good! He deserved it, and who is the next one to break through?' One of my favorite experiences was when Ali got his first opportunity on SmackDown. There's a picture of it that I think circulated online, too, of all the 205 Live guys in the gorilla [position], watching the monitor because we were all there to support him, because we all knew how good he was. We all knew that he deserved that opportunity, and we all looked at it as he broke through 205 Live. He got to that point and we just were all excited, and I loved that bonding experience. I absolutely loved it.
"I got to just - and Bubba, you know, just traveling the road with people. I never thought that I would bond with [Erick] Rowan and with Konnor from The Ascension. They became like my two bodyguards traveling the road, and they always looked out for me. Konnor especially, he looked out for me with my addiction and would always be like, 'Stick with me. I won't let you screw up.' I didn't know him that well, but then we became best buddies and it was great."
When discussing negatives, Bennett had a difficult time finding one. He said that the only negatives came from up top in WWE management that trickled down to the talent, but he said there was never anything negative in regards to the talent he's worked with.
"As far as the negatives go, I feel like there's not. At least I didn't [have any], and maybe I wasn't looking hard enough. But as far as the talent goes, I never felt anything negative," Bennett admitted. "I always felt anything negative coming from above that, coming from - because I always felt like everyone knew the BS from above tricked down, and we just all kind of looked out for each other.
"And so, if there was any negative, it was kind of what I felt like was trickling down from the top, and then the talent always kind of knew. And they always looked out for each other, so it's hard for me to say there were any negatives with the boys or with the females there."
If you use any quotes from this article, please credit Busted Open with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.
Mehdy Labriny contributed to this article.