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Wrestling / Maria Kanellis

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She's at the top of her game!
Maria Kanellis (officially Mary Louise Kanellis-Bennett, née Mary Louise Kanellis, born February 25, 1982) is an American professional wrestler and manager, as well as a model, singer, and occasional actress. Initially best known for her time with WWE, she later became a mainstay with both Ring of Honor and the New York-based Family Wrestling Entertainment alongside her real-life husband Mike Bennett.

After regularly competing in beauty pageants, the Chicago native entered the WWE Diva Search in 2004, and while she didn't win the competition, she made enough of an impression that WWE decided to sign her and give her the gimmick of a ditzy interviewer who often verbally walked into insults and innuendos, though occasionally showed Hidden Depths of intelligence underneath the persona. Eventually her character expanded beyond this and she became a competent valet and wrestler, though she was released in early 2010 before she could first taste tangible success.

21 months later, in December 2011, she debuted at ROH as the valet for Mike Bennett, her boyfriend at the time and eventual husband. Two months after that, she debuted at FWE. She became a regular at FWE shows and one of the cornerstones of the fledgling New York promotion's female division, and is the only two-time FWE Women's Champion, first as the inaugural champion, then the longest-reigning. Initially, her character was largely the same as it was in WWE, however that would change with time as she gradually became a confident, powerful, conniving heel, both as Bennett's manager and as FWE's #1 female. In ROH, she and Bennett eventually formed an alliance with Adam Cole, creating the Power Stable known as The Kingdom.

After years of success, Mike and Maria both moved onto TNA at the start of 2016.

She returned to WWE (and Mike came with her) in June of 2017, though they made scarce appearances due to Maria becoming pregnant by Mike twice while under contract. She is a one-time 24/7 Champion. Both were let go in April 2020, before returning to ROH.

Shortly thereafter, ROH released her contract in late 2021 and as a result, she returned to Impact Wrestling in 2022 alongside with her husband Mike, and former ROH stars Matt Taven, Vincent and PCO to form the Heel Power Stable Honor No More.

After her time with Impact is over, she later joins All Elite Wrestling with both Mike Bennett and Matt Taven, under their original team name of The Kingdom.

"Here she tropes again, like good medicine!":

  • Aborted Arc:
    • While she was with Dolph Ziggler, Michelle McCool started meddling with her and Melina's friendship. It looked very much as if Maria was going to turn heel on Melina. Then suddenly Melina was traded to Raw, and Maria and Dolph were quickly broken up so Maria could go on Celebrity Apprentice.
    • In 2010 she joined up to form a Power Trio with Matt Hardy and the Great Khali, feuding with the Hart Dynasty. Two weeks later, she was released and the alliance disappeared.
    • Her and Mike's return push in WWE was brought to a halt by Mike checking into rehab (with WWE's full support) for his painkiller addiction and Maria becoming pregnant. They later quietly returned on 205 Live a year later, before finally returning to the main roster ironically for a storyline based around Maria's second legitimate pregnancy.
  • Action Survivor: Got her ass kicked by guys repeatedly even before she became a half-decent wrestler, and still gets handled by the occasional male Finishing Move as a heel manager.
  • All Girls Like Ponies: Offered up the daft Non Sequitur "I love ponies!" while the other Divas were verbally drooling over John Cena and Batista during "Extreme Strip Poker" on the October 10, 2006 episode of WWECW. She tried to explain it away by saying how she thought they were just talking about things they liked. Candice didn't like it very much…
  • Arch-Enemy:
    • Early in her WWE run, Eric Bischoff and Lita were definitely this for her.
    • Apparently had this going on with Curtis Stone in Celebrity Apprentice, though it mostly happened off-screen with the exception of a crude joke that got her fired from the show.
    • Later, Maria feuded with Gail Kim.
  • Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: She once lost a match because she was too busy posing for pictures being taken by the troops in Iraq to notice her tag team partner Candice Michelle needed a break against Trish Stratus and was trying to tag out.
  • Author Avatar: One of the wrestlers tasked with booking Ohio Valley due to Johnny Ace induced chaos.
  • Battle Couple: With her husband Mike Bennett. If you want more of the couple and less of the battle there's a show called THE BENNET's on ASY TV.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Her entire career seems to be an ongoing cautionary tale of this.
  • Big Bad Wannabe: In Family Wrestling Entertainment, she claimed The World's Cutest Tag Team was working for her to soften up Ivelisse Vélez before her title defense, when Joey Ryan had been talking about going after Velez for months with no mention of Maria. Kanellis instead helped Candice LeRae to a title win.
  • The Brainless Beauty: Her initial role on WWE television gained this as a character trait after a few legit blunders, though Hidden Depths later betrayed the archetype.
  • Brainy Brunette: Subverted due to her role as a ditzy interviewer, but played straight when she was provoked.
  • Break the Cutie -> Start of Darkness -> From Nobody to Nightmare: Eric Bischoff put her in matches against Kurt Angle and Umaga, the latter of whom tried to knock her out with a move that may have possibly killed her had he been able to hit it.note  Edge and Lita regularly insulted and attacked her. John Cena came to her rescue every time and even kissed her to calm her down once, but nothing substantial came of it for her. She became Santino Marella's pet girlfriend, and he later tried his best to abuse/overprotect her out of jealousy when she posed for Playboy, eventually forcing her to leave him when she wouldn't call it off. She then went to Smackdown, was successfully abused and betrayed by her increasingly egotistical "friend" Michelle McCool. Got together with Dolph Ziggler, who seemed like a caring and loving boyfriend, only for him to drop her and want nothing to do with her once her reluctance to interfere on his behalf actually cost him a match. The whole time she gradually improved as a wrestler, becoming competent enough to give Michelle and even Natalya trouble. Between that and Matt Hardy's interest in her, things finally started looking up for her…but then she got fired when she wanted to release a music album outside the WWE's control. This has two different continuations.
    • In other promotions: as the heel First Lady of Wrestling elsewhere, she remembers all of this. Now she wants to be the one in control of her career. She wants to be the one making others miserable. She wants to be the one to build her own locus of power. And by creating a Kingdom around her new man, Mike Bennett, who's now her husband, she has accomplished that exactly.
    • In her WWE return: after leaving the company, she found love with Mike, who eventually became her husband. Now taking on her last name and following her back to WWE, Maria stands as the power behind Mike Kanellis's success while preaching The Power of Love with him as her living testimony.
  • Catfight: Had one of these with Sosay at Ohio Valley Wrestling, which was then WWE's developmental territory.
  • Cloudcuckoolander / The Ditz: In WWE. For example, Chris Masters, whose Red Baron is "The Masterpiece," assumed she just made a mistake when she called him 'The Masterbate', but it stands to reason she actually heard people saying that and didn't realize why it was derogatory.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: As the "leader" of the TNA Knockouts Division, a position that was initially self-proclaimed until she made machinations to earn it in a ladder match. She then proceeded to go about installing, repositioning, and even firing people at will, replacing long-standing Knockouts with new women who would become indebted to her and help her be handed the championship. This worked for a time, but in the end it fell apart.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass:
    • Seriously. Girl can't remember who the President is, but she can spout off a stream of perfect legalese during the Bischoff Trial arc in a fabulous Take That! to everyone who was stereotyping her as a ditz. To everyone who doesn't know how it started, Bischoff forced her to fight against Kurt Angle when Maria was interviewing him. Maria got hit by a vicious Angle Slam and could've had the Ankle Lock on her had Cena not come in. Then when she's called for duty, she asks Mick Foley to bring out Mr. Socko so she can explain her opinion on Bischoff. Instead of being bubbly and sweet, she turns serious and gives this answer:
      Maria: "Last week, Eric Bischoff abused his power in a way that was malicious and capricious. It is this rash discourse that has ultimately led the locker room into disdain and mutiny, and should be grounds for his immediate dismissal."
    • Nowadays it's more like "Crouching Sweetheart, Hidden Baroness".
  • Damsel in Distress: During her 2004-2008 run as a face, quite frequently, with John Cena riding to the rescue every time. Most famously against Umaga.
  • Designated Girl Fight
    • Defied, as Kanellis learned from her unprovoked attack on The Queen of Wrestling — it was better to assault the similarly respected MsChif with the rest of The Kingdom in tow. Even when The Briscoes aligned with ROH newcomer ODB, Kanellis leaned on Bennett and Taven until a singles match was made in attempt to enforce it.
    • Lisa Marie Varon happened to be at Glory By Honor XII and assaulted Maria when it became clear she wasn't content with simply helping Mike Bennett win his match against Kevin Steen.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Maria has fallen victim to this a couple times:
    • In 2005, when Maria – in her ditzy interviewer persona – asked an innocent question to Eric Bischoff. This set Bischoff off as he demanded she be placed in a match with Kurt Angle, who proceded to show her no mercy. John Cena came to stop Angle.
    • In an infamous 2006 episode, Maria spilled hot coffee on Bischoff's brand new custom-made suit. Instead of sending her a bill to have it dry cleaned (or at worst have it replaced), he places her in a match with Umaga, with the additional stip that she either take the match or be fired on the spot. Maria didn't last very long in the match, and the only thing that stopped Umaga from doing worse to her was Cena running in to run him off.
  • "Do It Yourself" Theme Tune: Performs her own theme song on the indies, "Sevin Sins". It's also part of what sent her there, as this is the titular track of the album that got her fired from WWE because she wouldn't let them control it.
  • Double Standard: Totally avoids this. Has no problem with either herself or her husband showing off their body and attracting the opposite sex, as long as they continue to stay loyal and go home to each other.
  • Evil Redhead: Since leaving WWE. Became one in a line of them in ROH.
  • Expy: To the Lovely Lacey, the "original" First Lady of ROH (Allison Danger's the first in the most literal sense, but we digress). Lacey was more a generally insufferable loudmouth who comically overestimated herself than a despotic schemer, but they were both managers whose high profile romances caused the locker room a lot of grief. And they both antagonized Sara Del Rey.
  • Face: In WWE and early on in FWE. On an Afterbuzz discussion panel, several former Divas talked about how hard it would have been to book Maria as a heel in WWE. Maria agreed and said that it was easier in the indies, due to the Periphery Hatedom of the Diva Search girls. She returned as one during her Ring of Honor return as part of the Board of Directors, and as the chairwoman of her own all-female promotion Women's Wrestling Army.
  • Face–Heel Turn: In FWE, though it was less a decisive turn and more a gradual shift as Mike Bennett got more involved in helping her career there and she became a more conniving character herself.
  • Fiery Redhead: When she dyed her hair, coinciding with her ditziness giving way to a more aggressive in-ring persona.
  • Fix Fic: Believe it or not, she participated in a live-action Fix Fic, as the "Elizabeth" at ringside to Jay Lethal's "Machismo King" against Delirious as "Ultimate Warrior". It was a recreation of Savage and Warrior's "retirement match", save a few crucial details…
  • Flanderization: A positive example. After competing in WWE's 2004 Diva Search, she was hired to be one of their backstage interviewers, but her inexperience caused her to constantly trip over her words and flub simple lines. She was eventually given the character of The Ditz to better paper over the nerves, and Kanellis pulled it off with comedic gusto and solidified herself into the business as a result, outlasting just about all of her contemporaries in the process.
  • Four Is Death: The Kingdom's usual lineup ever since she and Bennett got involved with Cole.
  • Genius Ditz: Particularly in WWE. On one hand, she can accidentally say the wrong thing, but on the other hand…
  • Giving Them the Strip: When Eddie Edwards brought Sara Del Rey in to keep Maria at bay in his feud with Mike, Sara tried to break her in two at one point but ended up with just her clothes.
  • A God Am I: The Bennetts seemed to consider themselves this in TNA. Maria would welcome the Impact Zone to "[her] place of worship" as she introduced Mike under the Red Baron "The Miracle", while he added himself to the long list of hyped-up guys calling themselves the savior of professional wrestling and even went so far as to proclaim himself "Pro Wrestling's Jesus". For Maria's part, she also considered herself to be the "arrow", the "leader", and the "guiding light" that the Knockout division needed because she wasn't "just a wrestler", but also a businesswoman, in contrast to the likes of Gail Kim.
  • Heel: In ROH and later on in FWE, TNA and WWE in 2017. Back as one in Impact and later AEW in 2022.
  • In the Hood: Subverted—she's adorable and cute and blows kisses when she takes her hood off.
  • Kindhearted Cat Lover: She likes leopards, and she got a specially-designed leopard print outfit from Project Runway. Subverted on the kind-hearted part in ROH and FWE, where she gradually became more mean and conniving. By the time she got to TNA it was completely averted.
  • Kinky Spanking: Has been on the receiving end of a few of these from Mike Bennett's foes. She even got one in a match where they were tagged up together against two guys—ironically, in that case it allowed Bennett to kick the guy's head off and then Maria to pin him for the win.
  • Love Triangle: Averted—though her last would-be beau in WWE storylines and her real-life then-fiancé were both part of the same stable with her in the Kingdom, no such storyline ever built up between them. Probably because Matt Hardy left for TNA to reunite as a team with his brother before the idea had a chance to come up.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Is totally this, but it's more often used to her advantage than to denigrate or define her.
  • One-Steve Limit:
    • One of many women employed by WWE with a derivative of Mary as part of their real name from 1999 forward, but aside from her and Dawn Marie (who were never on the same show), none of the others used it as part of their ring name—most likely because it was their middle name.
    • Ironically, this was averted anyway, as she was part of the WWE roster in the same time period as when Maria Menounos started making appearances and even occasionally wrestling there. This was particularly glaring since in WWE, Miss Kanellis only went by her first name. Menounos later joked that the two of them should become a Tag Team since they were also both Greek.
  • Perky Female Minion: When she was Santino Marella's valet, then again with Dolph Ziggler. Seemed to be going this way at first when Mike Bennett brought her on as his valet in ROH, but this is a much more in-control Maria than the WWE Universe ever got used to.
  • Power Stable: The Kingdom with Adam Cole, Mike Bennett, and Matt Hardy, with Hardy later replaced by Matt Taven.
    • She was part of Honor No More in Impact Wrestling, again with Bennett and Taven, but joining Vincent, Kenny King, PCO and Eddie Edwards, the latter serving as the leader.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: In her return to Ring of Honor, she assumed an important role in the Board of Directors for the recently relaunched ROH Women's Division until the last ROH of 2021.
    • She later plays this straight again as one of the co-founders of the all-female promotion Women's Wrestling Army.
  • Red Baron:
    • Was briefly referred to as "The Bodacious Brunette" on This didn't catch on.
    • Goes by "The First Lady of Wrestling" in her post-WWE career. This one did catch on.
  • The Runner-Up Takes It All: Maria is the second most successful contestant of the 2004 Diva Search — the first being Michelle McCool. She would outlast the winner Christy Hemme in employment by at least four years, and after being released, would embark on a successful career in the indies as both manager and wrestler. Hemme would wrestle in TNA for a couple years before an injury ended her career, so she was transitioned into being TNA's ring announcer.
  • She Is All Grown Up: Her 2017 return to the WWE (along with real-life husband Mike Bennett, who was competing as "Mike Kanellis"). Upon her return, she made passing references to her earlier "ditz" persona (during her 2004-2008 run) before saying she was not that way anymore and unveiling her "madly in love" heel persona.
  • Ship Tease: With Matt Hardy around the Valentine's Day period in 2010. Got released before more could be made of this.
  • Show Some Leg: As true of most wrestling valets/female managers, this is her favorite method of interference/distraction against Mike Bennett's opponents. In her case it even works well on some men whose marriages are acknowledged as part of their characters—just ask Karl Anderson and AJ Styles.
  • Sickeningly Sweethearts: With Mike Bennett. One example: sometime after Matt Hardy left ROH, they took the vanity belt they helped Matt steal from Jay Briscoe (which Matt had restyled in his own image as the "Iconic Championship") and had it restyled again for themselves as the "Championship of Love". Continued in WWE in June 2017; the duo were given a love power ballad as their theme song, as well as Mike wrestling under her last name.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Got her hair dyed red and was given something of a push after Christy Hemme was released and Lita retired.
  • Terrible Trio: Initially with Mike Bennett and Brutal Bob Evans in ROH.
  • The Dog Bites Back: After weeks if not months of dealing with Santino Marella's overboard jealousy over the possibility of her posing in Playboy 2008, she openly dumped him for the magazine on national television and went on to compete in a tag team match at that year's WrestleMania. (She lost, but still.)
  • Token Trio: The white girl to Matt Hardy's white boy and the Great Khali's minority guy in early 2010 before she was released.
  • Treacherous Advisor: Seemed to slowly become this to Adam Cole in The Kingdom. Bennett and Taven pretty much followed her at one point more than Cole, and she'd started openly talking about looking for a contender to the world title as though he didn't exist or wasn't one of them anymore. Only stands to reason this would happen, what with Maria becoming increasingly more devious, Bennett being her husband and Taven as his tag team partner. Subverted as Cole would screw his old friend Kyle O'Reilly out of the world title at All Star Extravaganza VII, the same event in which someone wearing Chris Sabin's KRD mask attacked the Addiction and helped lead to the Kingdom taking the tag titles away from them and the Young Bucks — revealing that it was all a master plan on the part of the Kingdom. Then the singular master plan turned out to be an intersection of master plans — The Kingdom's title aspirations and Cole's gambit against O'Reilly had coincided with Alex Shelley's decision to return to ROH and give the KRD, especially his former tag team partner Chris Sabin, a taste of their own medicine.
  • Use Your Head: This is how she defeated Santino Marella in their 2008 match. More specifically, a bunch of other women held his legs apart while she headbutted him in the groin.
  • Villain Has a Point/Well-Intentioned Extremist: Her goal as the "leader" of the Knockouts division was to transform it out of a stagnant state which has seen the same people on top for too long into something fresh, new, and captivating again. Through matches with her bodyguard Sienna (otherwise known as Allysin Kay), she has fired Velvet Sky, a longtime on-again, off-again Knockout and decent-at-best wrestler whose desire to go to WWE is well documented, and attempted to fire Gail Kim, the woman who (three-year stint with the 'E for financial security aside) has been the face of the Knockouts since 2007. Why is she the villain in all this? She seems to think lording her power over everyone is the way to go, and clearly would prefer if she got to install herself as champion without even wrestling, but has to skirt her way around it and play nice because Billy Corgan may be friends with her and Mike but he's also a good guy. Eventually she does manage to steal the title without wrestling through abuse of authority, only to lose it to Gail in their match at Bound for Glory and subsequently end up losing her authority in a rematch.
  • Villainous Valor: Once volunteered herself as a human shield to help Mike Bennett against Mark Briscoe. In a subversion of the typical heel power couple dynamic, this was the one method of Maria's interference Mike refused to let happen.
  • You're Just Jealous: When former enemy turned friend Melina tried to warn her that Dolph Ziggler wasn't a good guy, she initially thought Melina was just being jealous, taking Dolph's in-ring competitiveness too seriously, and not wanting to let her be happy for once. Given their history in kayfabe, you can forgive her for thinking this. Of course, Dolph proved Melina right by dumping her when she wouldn't help him win a match and since she had to take time off to do Celebrity Apprentice right afterwards, that was the end of that.

Alternative Title(s): Maria