Ring of Honor’s Maria Kanellis recently joined Oral Sessions with Renee Paquette to talk about her career. Kanellis talked about the struggle of trying to do more in WWE her first go around in WWE, including input on her 2008 Playboy spread and more time for the women onscreen.

“I remember even having long conversations on what my Playboy was going to be,” Kanellis said. “And I wanted it to be more fashion forward. I was a big Cindy Crawford (fan), I loved her style and I wanted to bring more of that vibe to wrestling and make it more fashion forward and make it more pop culture. That was a fight. It was a fight even to get that, even something so sexualized at the time as a Playboy cover. It was like ‘we want it to be more sexy.’ I tried to get it black and white and they were like ‘no, we want it full color.’ So there were those conversations, even about something as sexual as that. And everybody talks about ‘oh, well time on TV.’ Well we were all fighting backstage to get more time on TV. We were trying to stop Vince in the hallway or meet him in his office or whatever it was, just to get a couple more minutes. I remember when one match was told ‘you did too many things like the guys.’ And I just remember the looks on those women’s faces.

“They wanted the girls to be more girly I guess would be the term. More feminine, like cat fight situations. I didn’t mind any of it, I was playing a role. But of course, I wanted more time for the women that did know how to wrestle, that did get into this because of the wrestling. But unfortunately, that just wasn’t happening. Eventually there was a little bit more and a little bit more given to us by the end. But I do remember, after I had done Celebrity Apprentice, and I pushed hard, even before I came out, I was like ‘no. It’s going to take more money, more of this, more of that to get me to stay.’ And that’s when WWE and myself went separate ways. I wanted to be able to have more control of my character at the time. It’s okay. It all worked out for the best in that sense. And because of my time in Ring of Honor and other promotions, I was really able to spread my wings, so that next time I came back into WWE, I came with a lot more confidence. And the wrestling world had changed so much. It was interesting to come back and see how much had changed and how much was the same. But that’s how it goes. You take what you can get, and you also do it inch by inch. It’s not going to be overnight.”

Kanellis also delved into the differences between working for WWE in her first run and then working for promotions like Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro Wrestling and Impact Wrestling. For her, WWE was more rigid and scripted, whereas the other promotions allowed you more control and the chance to sink or swim.

“When I left WWE in 2010, and, as you know, with WWE you pretty much have to stick to the script, especially if you’re one of the wrestlers or the talent,” Kanellis said. “But then getting to Ring of Honor by 2011, I could do what I wanted. I didn’t have a script most of the time to what I was going to say. It really was the Briscoes that let me shine and be a strong female. Because of the Briscoe Brothers, if you’re able to get into a feud with them, it really solidified that women could be strong. And I always thank them. That storyline was a moment in my career, and it was every single one of those men in Ring of Honor that supported me, and allowed me to have a say, whether it be in finishes of matches or if it was the direction of the storylines. So for me, that was the biggest difference, is being able to have so much say, even in the guys matches that I wasn’t involved in. They would ask me for advice. So that was amazing.

“And then going to New Japan and being treated so respectfully. I had my own locker room a lot of times because I was the only female on the show. And sometimes my locker room would be bigger than the guys. So I was inviting people in! If I needed anything, they took care of me, because I was the first female they had had that was consistently on television in awhile. And I was consistently doing shows with them. So for me it was this weird experience of ‘I’m so excited to be here!’, but they were just so respectful of me being there. So we were bowing at each other multiple times, like ‘yes, thank you.’ ‘No, thank you.’ It was great. And Impact, that was a whole other ballgame, because I had the support of the entire writing staff, including Madison (Rayne) who did such incredible things for me as far as confidence. Having Gail Kim there and being able to run ideas past her and having Billy Corgan there, they just let me run with it. And they had such good direction, but I just went out there and they were like ‘okay, you’ve got five minutes.’ I was like ‘anything else?’ ‘No, just go.’ So I had to go out there on a microphone and be like ‘okay, I guess I’m filling five minutes.’ That’s a lot of pressure to strike the balance between what can be a rigid situation in WWE of ‘here’s your script, stick to it, here you go, learn it, get out there and go nail it.’ And then having the other stuff being a completely blank canvas and do what you want to do. That’s a tall order, because then if you fall on your face, it’s your fault.”

If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Oral Sessions with Renee Paquette and provide a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription

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