Maria Louise Bennett (née Kanellis) (February 25, 1982) is an American professional wrestler, valet, actress and singer known for her time in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA) under the ring name Maria, where she is a former TNA Knockouts Champion. Kanellis is best known for her time with World Wrestling Entertainment from 2004-2010. Kanellis also worked for Ring of Honor as manager for her real-life husband Mike Bennett.
Kanellis was a contestant on the reality show Outback Jack in 2004. In the same year, she placed fifth in the Raw Diva Search, but was later hired by WWE as a backstage interviewer. Kanellis began competing in the ring as a wrestler in 2005. It was not until 2007, however, that she received her major push in the company, as the on-screen love interest of Santino Marella. As a result, she received more air time and began winning more matches than she had previously. She also posed for the April 2008 cover of Playboy magazine, which was incorporated into a storyline on Raw.
Kanellis is currently appearing on the independent circuit, primarily appearing with Ring of Honor, where she serves as Mike Bennett's valet, and Family Wrestling Entertainment, where she is a 2-time former Women's Champion.
She released her debut album evin Sins on April 13, 2010 on iTunes.
Kanellis was born in Ottawa, Illinois. Kanellis grew up with an interest in playing sports, particularly volleyball, basketball, and softball and graduated from Ottawa Township High School in 2000, before spending some time as a student at Northern Illinois University.
World Wrestling Entertainment
Diva Search and debut (2004–2005)
Kanellis competed in the Raw Diva Search in 2004, deciding to enter the contest after seeing an advertisement while watching Raw. Even though she only placed fifth in the contest, she was hired by the company. She stood out in the contest by giving fellow contestant Carmella DeCesare the finger after being eliminated from the contest. Maria began making appearances at the Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW) training facility under head trainer Paul Heyman. She contributed booking ideas, and her work at OVW earned her a spot on the Raw brand roster. Maria was brought on to Raw as a backstage interviewer in November 2004. She quickly earned a reputation as the oblivious backstage reporter — Maria seemed to ask the wrong questions, irritating and amusing WWE Superstars and Divas.
In 2005, Maria began to get very physical—in and out of the ring. She was defeated in her first official match on the January 10, 2005 edition of Raw by Christy Hemme in a Lingerie Pillow Fight. She also competed in a Fulfill Your Fantasy Diva Battle Royal at Taboo Tuesday for the WWE Women's Championship but was the first to be eliminated by Trish Stratus and Mickie James. In another physical moment, Stratus slapped Maria so hard that one of her fillings legitimately fell out. On November 14, Maria competed in a non-title Diva Battle Royal at the Eddie Guerrero tribute Raw show. Maria stood by herself for most of the match, only getting involved when she saw the opportunity to eliminate a competitor, a strategy that proved effective as she eliminated both Jillian Hall and Victoria. She was one of the last three women left in the match but was eliminated by both Melina and Trish Stratus. On the November 28 edition of Raw, Maria interviewed then-Raw General Manager Eric Bischoff and asked him whether or not he thought he was going to be fired. He then booked her a match with Kurt Angle out of spite, and Maria was laid out with the Angle Slam. As a result, one week later, Maria testified in the trial against Bischoff, who was being fired because of his controversial actions as General Manager. As Mick Foley questioned her, she answered, unusually intelligently, "Last week Bischoff abused his power in a way that was both malicious and capricious, and it’s this rash discourse that has led to a locker room of disdain and mutiny, and it should be grounds for his immediate dismissal."
Various feuds; Relationship with Santino Marella (2006–2008)
In early 2006, Maria defeated Victoria in a match. Afterwards, she was attacked by Vince's Devils (Victoria, Torrie Wilson, and Candice Michelle), but she was saved by Ashley Massaro. During a commercial break that night, Vince McMahon announced a Bra & Panties Gauntlet match for New Year's Revolution between all five girls that had previously been in the ring. At New Year's Revolution, Maria was the first to enter the Gauntlet match and eliminated Candice Michelle and Torrie Wilson before being eliminated by Victoria. The match was ultimately won by Massaro.
Maria teamed with John Cena (who, earlier that evening, had kissed her to calm her nerves) to take on Edge and Lita in the main event on the February 6 edition of Raw. Maria scored the victory after a spear meant for Cena hit Lita. One month later, Maria lost a singles match to Lita after missing a clothesline and falling prey to Lita's DDT. After the match, Edge was preparing to spear Maria, but Mick Foley ran in to help her. On October 16, Maria won a Fatal Four Way Bra and Panties match against Victoria, Candice Michelle, and Torrie Wilson to advance to the semi-finals in a Women's Championship Tournament. Maria, however, lost in the semi-finals of the Tournament against Lita.
On the January 1, 2007 edition of Raw, Maria attempted to interview Kevin Federline but was instead slapped by Melina and called a "bitch". This led to a match between the two later that night, with Melina winning with a Roll-up following a failed attempt at a dropkick. At New Year's Revolution, Maria and Candice Michelle ran to the ring during the Women's Championship match between Victoria and Mickie James to stop Melina from interfering, helping their friend Mickie to retain the championship. For two consecutive weeks afterwards, Maria had two tag team partners—Mickie James and Jeff Hardy, respectively—to take on Melina and a partner. She lost the match with James, but won the other with Jeff. As a part of her entrance when teaming with Hardy, she mimicked the dance he performs at the top of the entrance ramp, a moment she later claimed as a favorite in her career.
Maria began an on-screen romance with Santino Marella in June 2007. She also resumed competing in the ring occasionally, often jobbing, or losing quickly, in short matches. On the November 5 edition of Raw, Marella was confronted by the returning Stone Cold Steve Austin for criticizing his movie, The Condemned. As a part of the storyline, the argument ended as Marella received a Stone Cold Stunner from Austin, who then went backstage, only to return with a Budweiser beer truck to hose down Marella and Maria with beer. After former Playboy cover-girl Ashley Massaro's return in early 2008, Kanellis engaged in backstage segments where Ashley suggested Maria should be on the cover of Playboy, including at the Royal Rumble, to the disdain of Marella. As a part of the Playboy storyline, Maria defeated Beth Phoenix on February 18, to "earn the right" to be on the cover of the magazine. During her Playboy cover unveiling, Maria's cover was plastered over with images of Marella. After Marella offered an ultimatum of posing for the magazine or staying with him as a couple, she stated, "No man and no one is going to make this decision for me" and broke up with her on-screen boyfriend. Maria, along with Ashley, were defeated by Phoenix and Melina at WrestleMania XXIV in a Playboy BunnyMania Lumberjack match. After the match, Maria kissed the Master of Ceremonies, Snoop Dogg.
SmackDown and Championship Pursuit (2008-2010)
As part of the 2008 WWE Supplemental Draft, Maria was drafted to the SmackDown brand. Maria made her debut on the August 1 edition of SmackDown by defeating Victoria. Later, Maria won a Las Vegas Dice on a Pole match to become the #1 Contender for the WWE Divas Championship against Michelle McCool, which Maria failed to win. Maria participated in a five-on-five Raw vs Smackdown Divas Elimination match at Survivor Series and unintentionally got Michelle eliminated. Maria would eventually be eliminated by Candice Michelle. On the December 5 edition of SmackDown, Maria defeated Michelle in a non-title match, After the match ended, Michelle began turning villainous by attacking Maria in a backstage segment. Two weeks later, Maria was defeated by Maryse in a #1 Contender's match for the Divas Championship.
On the December 26 edition of SmackDown, Maria served as the special guest referee for the Divas Championship match between Michelle and Maryse, which saw Maryse emerge victorious and win the title. After the match ended, Michelle turned into a villainess and attacked Maria, blaming her for the loss. On January 21, 2009, Maria returned and attacked Michelle on that night's edition of SmackDown. On the February 10 edition of SmackDown, Maria defeated the evil Michelle following interference from Eve Torres.
Maria made her in ring return on the July 3 edition of SmackDown! teaming with Melina to defeat Michelle McCool and Layla. Soon after, she entered into an on-screen relationship with Dolph Ziggler, despite her being a fan favorite and him being a villainous character. At Night of Champions, Maria accompanied Ziggler to his match with Rey Mysterio. In the following weeks, Melina implied that Ziggler was cheating on Maria, which Maria did not believe. Maria and Dolph Ziggler later broke up on the October 10 edition of SmackDown! in a backstage segment, after she cost him his match.
Maria then took a brief hiatus from the ring to film the Celebrity Apprentice but returned on the December 4 episode of SmackDown! by helping Mickie James fend off an attack by Michelle McCool and Layla. She made her in-ring return the following week, teaming up with James to defeat McCool and Layla. On December 14, Maria won the Slammy Award for Diva of the Year.
On the February 12 edition of Smackdown!, Maria began an onscreen relationship with Matt Hardy. Her last match in WWE was a six-person tag team match on the February 25 edition of WWE Superstars, but her team The Great Khali and Matt Hardy lost to The Hart Dynasty and Natalya Neidhart. She was released from her WWE contract on February 26.
Ring of Honor (2011-2015)
Maria confirmed via her Twitter account that she would be appearing at Ring of Honor's Final Battle pay-per-view on December 23, 2011. She accompanied her real-life boyfriend Mike Bennett as a heel in a three-way elimination match against Jay Lethal and El Generico for the ROH World Television Championship. At the event, Bennett was unsuccessful in winning the title. Kanellis continued accompanying Bennett at the January 7, 2012, tapings of Ring of Honor Wrestling, where she was dubbed the "First Lady of ROH".
At the June 21 tapings of Ring of Honor Wrestling, Kanellis accompanied Bennett and Brutal Bob Evans to ring, where they lost to Eddie Edwards and Adam Cole. After the match, Kanellis, Bennett and Bob attacked Cole and Edwards, but were stopped by Sara Del Rey, who Edwards had brought in to neutralize Kanellis. At the Boiling Point pay-per-view on August 11, Maria and Bennett lost to Del Rey and Edwards in an mixed tag team match. Kanellis' storyline with Del Rey ended abruptly the following month, when Del Rey signed a contract with WWE. In September 2012, Kanellis and Bennett became involved in a storyline with Mike Mondo after he kissed Kanellis during one of Bennett's matches. Mondo contiuned to cost Bennett matches, until Glory by Honor in October, when Bennett defeated Mondo to end the feud. At the November 3 tapings of Ring of Honor Wrestling, Maria accompied Bennett to the ring where he unsuccessfully challenged Kevin Steen for the ROH World Championship. On December 16 at Final Battle 2012: Doomsday pay-per-view, Kanellis along with Bob accompied Bennett to the ring where he defeated Jerry Lynn in his final ROH match before retirement. At the Border Wars 2013|Border Wars pay-per-view on May 4, 2013, Kanellis accompied Bennett to the ring where he was defeated by Roderick Strong, despite Kanellis attempting to interfere on Bennett's behalf. On September 19, Maria and Bennett defeated The Brutal Burgers (Brutal Bob Evans & Cheeseburger) in a Intergender tag team match. On October 26, during Bennett's match with Kevin Steen at the Glory by Honor XII pay-per-view, Kanellis tried to interfere but was attacked by Lisa Marie Varon.
Kanellis and Bennett returned to ROH at the January 4, 2014, tapings of Ring of Honor Wrestling which aired on February 1, with Kanellis helping Bennett defeat Cedric Alexander. Throughout the summer, Maria and Bennett would get involved in Matt Hardy's feud with The Briscoes, which would result a tag team match at the Best in the World pay-per-view on June 22, which Hardy and Bennett would lose despite Maria's interference. During the feud, The Kingdom stole Jay Briscoe's title; Matt Hardy customized it as the Iconic Championship. At All Stars Extravaganza 6, Bennett and Maria customized the title as the Championship of Love. They were interrupted by Jay Briscoe's brother, Mark. Bennett and Kanellis left ROH after the December 19, 2015, Ring of Honor Wrestling taping, after failing to come to terms on a new contract with the promotion.
Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (2015–2017)
On December 29, 2015, it was announced that Kanellis and her real life husband Michael Bennett signed with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. On January 5, 2016 on TNA's debut on POP, Kanellis made her TNA debut introducing Mike Bennett.
September 1st Maria forced her apprentice Allie to lay on her back to win the Knockouts Championship but later at Bound For Glory she lost her title to Gail Kim.
- Kanellis' favorite wrestler to watch is Shawn Michaels.
- Southwest and United are Kanellis' least favorite airlines.
- Kanellis has been asked to appear in Playboy since she was 19.
- If Kanellis could choose any Marvel superhero as a tag team partner, she'd pick Jean Grey, Storm or She-Hulk.
- Kanellis' brother was a soldier five years ago and her cousin is currently serving in Iraq.
- Kanellis dated fellow wrestler John Cena (the relationship lasted 1 year)
I'm glad I came in innocent, because it means I can become devilish at some point.
In the Marvel Universe there are villains like Mystique and Dr. Doom and they're just these evil beings. Then the good guys combat them to do their part for society; in WWE there are villains too. Randy Orton and Edge are probably the most notorious right now. The good guys, like John Cena, they'll battle with Orton or Edge and stand up for the people that can't or won't.
For a while, there were a lot of girls coming into the company and they were chicks that didn't know how to wrestle, but it's not like that now. Now you have a lot of girls who are really impressive, and I'm really excited to be part of that.
I was the tomboy who dressed sexy, and here I am at home in my jeans and a t-shirt... But I was into wrestling as a kid, and then again when I was done with high school. I was really looking up to girls like Lita and Trish Stratus. They were good, they were real wrestlers, and they made you want to do it.
There's a lot of up-and-coming talent right now that hasn't been showcased, and it's going to get more serious. But of course, you'll always need the girls with the boobies.
When asked which wrestler she'd like to work with the most:
They're all so different! I love working with Beth Phoenix because she's extremely challenging and strong. Melina's so creative. Mickie James is a great tag team partner. I used to take classes from her at OVW. Jillian Hall is very solid. Those are just the girls on RAW. There are many girls on Smackdown and girls I'd like to work with, Natalya being one of them, or Michelle McCool. She'd be a great tag-team partner. There's so much talent.
- Finishing and signature moves
- Beautiful Bulldog
- Bronco Buster
- Headscissors Takedown
- Diving Crossbody
- Wrestlers managed
- Theme music
Championships and accomplishments
|WWE Diva Search contestants|
|Amy Weber • Camille Anderson • Carmella DeCesare • Chandra Costello • Christy Hemme • Joy Giovanni • Julia Costello • Maria Kanellis • Michelle McCool • Tracie Wright|
|Alexis Ondrade • Ashley Massaro • Cameron Haven • Elisabeth Rouffaer • Kristal Marshall • Leyla Milani • Simona Fusco • Summer DeLin|
|Amy Zidian • Erica Chevillar • Jen England • J.T. Tinney • Layla El • Maryse Ouellet • Milena Roucka • Rebecca DiPietro|
|Brooke Gilbertson • Eve Torres • J. Kim • Jessica Hatch • Lena Yada • Lyndy Frieson • Naomi Kirk • Taryn Terrell|