Mike Bennett’s had a roller coaster 2020. The year started with him being unhappy in WWE and wanting to leave the company. Previously, Bennett had twice asked for his release but his overtures were rebuffed.
Bennett finally got his wish in April, who did a mass exodus of cuts due to COVID-19. Along with getting his walking papers, WWE also let go of his wife, Maria.
Now, Bennett has a clean slate as he’s back in Ring of Honor for the first time in five years. Ahead of ROH’s final pay-per-view of the year on Friday night, Final Battle, where Bennett teams with his best friend Matt Taven against Vincent and Bateman, Bennett talks with Sporting News about his return, his WWE exit and why he chose to return to the company that put him on the map.
(Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Sporting News: 2020 has been a challenging year for everybody. How would you view 2020 from Mike Bennett?
Mike Bennett: For me, it’s been a learning experience. It’s been tough. My heart absolutely breaks for everyone that has lost a job or has lost a loved one because of this virus. I’m the type of person who believes that there’s a silver lining in everything negative or anything bad. I truly believe there’s a silver lining. I don’t know what it is, but I know we’ll probably start to see glimpses of it. Whether it’s the advancement of modern medicine with how quickly we came up with this vaccine or just the appreciation of people. I think we’re going to appreciate human to human contact, like actually talking to people, hugging people, and being around people. I think we started to lose that. I think this virus has kind of been like, ‘Hey, that’s an important part of our lives, and we shouldn’t let this technology and social media replace the fact that having a good old conversation with someone is probably better than tweeting that back and forth.’ I’m always just trying to see the silver lining. Yes, there’s been ups and downs, peaks and valleys. Losing my job sucked. Not working sucked. All this stuff sucked. But, at the end of the day, I’ve been fortunate, and I feel like I’ve been lucky and blessed that I’ve been able to lose my job and then go back to another job. I don’t try to put myself in the position of others who have truly been affected by this by losing loved ones or are still looking for a job. I’m trying to see the silver lining. That’s always been my attitude towards difficult times.
SN: As you said, you did lose your job with WWE, but then you ended up coming back home to Ring of Honor. Do you feel like you have gone full circle?
MB: I think 2020 was definitely a wake-up call. It was definitely a push in the right direction. I think 2020 gave me not closure, but because I had asked for my release numerous times at WWE, and they weren’t going to give it to me. 2020 came around and was like, ‘Hey, we’re gonna give you your release’. I don’t know if this hadn’t happened; they probably never would have released me. They probably would have just kept collecting and hoarding talent like they’ve been doing. I’m looking at it as a good thing. Because from the minute I got back to Ring of Honor, I’m genuinely happy at work. I’m genuinely in a good place. I put out a video the other day on Twitter, where I was talking about just how truly blessed and privileged I feel to be able to go and feel safe, be put in the Ring of Honor bubble, and know this company is protecting us, paying us and giving us a place to work. I get to go to work and do what I love with my best friends in the whole world. I’m not taking that for granted. I think 2020 gave me that kick in the ass to be like, ‘No, this is what you want. You’ve always wanted this. You were just always a little hesitant’.
SN: Many fans were mad that WWE was releasing all these people while the company’s recording record revenue. When you look back at what happened, was it a sigh of relief to be released?
MB: Definitely, for me it was. It was scary at the time they released me because the pandemic had just started, and no one really knew what was going on. No one really knew what the industry was going to look like. Everyone’s like, ‘Is there going to be fans? How’s it going to be run’? All these other companies that you hope to go to weren’t running. It was a very confusing, scary time. But in the grand scheme of things. I was happy because I didn’t want to be there anymore.
It was worse for my wife. My wife didn’t want to get released. She was happy where she was. She wanted to stay. She was still on maternity leave. I just thought it was a really shady way they did business. To be like, ‘Hey, we know you’re an entire family. We’re going to release the entire family when they didn’t have to.’ Not only did they not have to release either of us, they damn sure didn’t have to release both of us. I get why they released me. I wanted to go. I asked for it publicly. It was their last way of sticking the knife in my back to be like, ‘We got one over on you.’ I’m okay with that. But to do it to my wife, who gave them almost six years in the first run, and then three years in the second run. So nine, almost ten years of service to that company. And for them to just be like, see you later, here’s a kick in the ass when you just had your second baby.
I truly believe that in times like this, these companies that have put people in front of profit, like Ring of Honor, who haven’t fired a single person, have kept paying people, have kept paying people that are on per appearance contracts. We’re going to look back at this time and we’re going to say, ‘Yeah, there’s a ton of companies that made a ton of profit, but let’s look at the companies that took care of their employees first’. Ever since I got back to Ring of Honor, they have been taking care of us and making sure we’re safe, putting the employees in front of everything else. Maybe it’s because I’m a softy now and a dad. That goes a long way. In my book, you take care of my family, you take care of my friends, and you’re okay in my book. That’s what Ring of Honor has been doing.
SN: What led to you ultimately deciding Ring of Honor was the place for you to go back to because you had options with AEW, MLW, and Impact?
MB: There was never any doubt in my mind. Every time I asked for my release in the past, my mindset was I want to get out of there to go back to Ring of Honor. I wanted to get out of this company because I know where I wanted to be. I wanted to be back at Ring of Honor for the longest time. Let me go to work for a company where I can be happy. Matt Taven is my best friend. I was in constant contact with him. We’d always joke about how the reunion is going to go. There was never any question. It was like either go wrestle or go and wrestle with your best friends in a place that really feels like home. That’s where I want to be.
SN: You reteam with Matt on Friday night at Final Battle. I watched the episode you guys got back together. How proud are you of him? Because when you were gone, he won the world title at Madison Square Garden. Not many people can say they did that.
MB: It’s enormous. The performer, the wrestler, everything that he is now is night and day compared to when I left. That’s just a testament to how good he is and how much work he puts in. We were texting back and forth, and I was saying to him, ‘Dude, I can’t wait to team again.’ We’re two entirely different wrestlers. We’re older, more mature, have better ideas. We’re different wrestlers. I can’t wait to see what happens when we put our minds together. When he won the title of Madison Square Garden, I was giddy. I was a proud father. I’m so happy because I remember when people said he didn’t belong in Ring of Honor, New Japan, and The Kingdom. He’s in the history books now, whether you like it or not. That is a testament to how much time and effort he’s put in.
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