Since being released by WWE earlier this year, Mike Bennett has been busy popping up in a number of other promotions. Bennett recently returned to Ring of Honor, reuniting with former stablemate Matt Taven, and he also debuted for the United Wrestling Network, advancing to the UWN Title Tournament finals.
While many will recognize Bennett as ‘Mike Kanellis’ from his WWE run, the former member of The Kingdom made a name for himself as a tag team champion in ROH, as well as a main event player in Impact Wrestling. Bennett spoke to Busted Open w/ Tommy Dreamer to talk about how much his life has changed over the past five years.
“I’ve done a lot of reflecting lately, just because of the situation we’re in and where I’m at with my life,” Bennett said. “It’s really crazy to me to think that five years ago, I left Ring of Honor, and within those five years, I essentially lived a different lifetime. I did New Japan, Impact, and I did WWE, which, if you spent a year at WWE, you know the toll and just the learning experience. This isn’t a negative at all. The whirlwind of WWE always feels like a lifetime because of everything that’s going on there. I’ve grown so much.
“My career over the last three years might been a little shotty and still kind of not the direction I hoped it would go. As a human, as a man, as a dad, and a husband, these past five years, I’ve grown insanely. It’s an insane amount. I had two kids. I bought a house. My relationship with my wife [Maria Kanellis] is the best it’s ever been. I grew as a man, a husband, and a father – that’s what I’m most proud of.”
Over the summer, Bennett celebrated three years of sobriety. Bennett has publicly stated that he was once addicted to prescription painkillers. While Bennett’s WWE run left a lot to be desired, he credit’s World Wrestling Entertainment’s wellness program for forcing him to get sober.
“This is kind of funny because I butted heads a lot with WWE. Going to WWE did change my life,” Bennett said. “Did it change my career for the better? Probably not, but I was forced to shape up quicker than I would have had to. Had it not been the fact I was now being drug tested, the fact that I was more under scrutiny, more eyes were now on me–being at WWE is what essentially made me focus and made me be more responsible. In order to survive in that company, you have to grow up. That’s what it forced me to do.
“When I realized I had a problem with pain killers and I had an addiction, that was the moment. Ever since I took that battle head on and ever since I said to myself, ‘No, you’re going to hold yourself accountable more often,’ everything snowballed in a good way. Everything started happening better. Once you start to hold yourself accountable for your mistakes and problems, it just opens up the world to you. You suddenly are like, ‘Yeah, it’s my fault. But if it’s my fault, I can also fix it.'”
As noted, Bennett recently resurfaced in Ring of Honor, the promotion he made his first big splash in. Bennett says he wanted to return to ROH because despite having a new crop of talent, their quality never changes.
“I feel like Ring of Honor is a company that’s consistently putting out good talent, losing that talent, and then consistently recreating better and just as good talent. Even the quality of the television show stays the same,” Bennett said. “I had this analogy the other day and I feel like it’s pretty spot on – Ring of Honor is the Law and Order of professional wrestling. The cast keeps changing but the quality of the show keeps staying the same, so the detectives, the actors, will go on to do other stuff. Then they’ll replace the detectives with actors just as good or better.
“Ring of Honor keeps doing that. Ring of Honor keeps producing all this talent that go on and try their talents somewhere else. They keep bringing in younger guys or even older veterans who haven’t gotten a break yet. They just continue to put on quality television, and that’s the one thing I loved in coming back.
“‘I haven’t been there for five years, I wonder what it’s going to be like.’ I come walking in the door and I honestly felt like I never left. The faces have changed, but for the most part, The Briscoes are here. Jay Lethal is here. Dalton Castle is here. Matt Taven is here. All those people that I grew up with essentially in Ring of Honor are still here. I’m so happy because I went abroad for college for four years and when I came back, everyone is just like, ‘Welcome back. This is great. Enjoy it!’ I’m just having the time of my life right now. I’m so thankful and appreciative that I get to do it.”
Now that he’s back in ROH, Bennett is tagging with Matt Taven again. The two have began using the name ‘The OGK,’ referencing Taven and Bennett as the original members of the famous Ring of Honor stable, the Kingdom.
“Me and Matt joke that we’ve been planning this return for five years,” Bennett said. “So ever since I left, we’ve been thinking about when I’m going to come back, and it’s essentially true. Maybe the year in Impact–I loved my time in Impact. We were talking but it was mostly about good things that were happening. But the three years at WWE, creatively, I wasn’t happy.”
While Bennett and Taven have proved to be strong tag partners in the ring, the two have an even stronger friendship outside of professional wrestling.
“Taven was the one who was there when all the crap was hitting the fan in my life,” Bennett said. “When I came out with my addiction, he was the first one that was there, besides my wife. He was the first one that said, ‘What do you need from me? What can I do to help?’ When I had my kids, he was the first one to call me. When he won the World Championship, I was the first one to call him.
“There’s very few people in wrestling that you consider your best friends, but Taven is my best friend. He is my brother, so when I got to come back and do this, I was just giddy. I was excited. It felt like Christmas morning.”
Bennett and Taven will team up on pay-per-view again next Friday at ROH Final Battle. Bennett says while teaming with Taven will be familiar, he is excited to see how the past five years of growth has improved their in-ring chemistry.
“Now, going forward, with the way I feel about life and professional wrestling, and how much Taven has grown as a performer–I just texted him this last night. I’m so excited to have our first match as new wrestlers, as new people, because I can only imagine what we’re going to be capable of. To me, that’s exciting. I genuinely feel excited about wrestling probably for the first time in a while. To me, it’s a super exciting time and I’m just so thankful for it.”
If you use any quotes from this article, please credit Busted Open w/ Tommy Dreamer with an h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.
Mehdy Labriny contributed to this article.
Mehdy Labriny contributed to this article.