Mike Bennett had a rollercoaster ride in WWE.
After a few years of performing as Mike Kanellis, Bennett was released by WWE in April due to financial cutbacks related to COVID-19. The last 16 months had been tumultuous to begin with. Bennett had asked for his release well over a year ago, but then ended up re-signing with WWE in mid-2019 with a new five year deal. The move left many confused, and Bennett understands that.
"It’s kind of difficult to explain to people when it seems it should be so black and white, cut and dry. Everyone wants it to be black and white, cut and dry. Everyone wants it to be like, “Well, you weren’t getting what you wanted creatively, so why did you re-sign?” Well, I don’t know if anyone realizes how incredibly difficult it is to work towards… Like, when I was 12 years old, I said I want to work for WWE. That’s where I want to be. That was my love, that was my drive, that was it. That’s what I wanted to do. Then you finally get there and you know in the back of your head that if you’re not being used eventually they’re going to get rid of you. Because why would they keep someone who they’re not using," he told Fightful.
To Bennett, when WWE approached him about a new deal, it set up several things. It provided him security in length and finances, and addressed the source of his frustration to begin with -- not being used.
"You do have to figure out ways to try to leverage yourself. Especially if you don’t have a name, if you’re not Brock Lesnar, if you’re not Goldberg. You have to figure out ways to leverage yourself, you have to figure out ways to try to make them care or make them want you. It’s just negotiation and its business. So, we were constantly talking and constantly talking and then eventually it gets to the point where they offer you a new contract. Then, when they throw amounts of money at you, then you have to look and say, “Alright, I’ve got a daughter at home now, too, and this is five years of guaranteed money.” On top of that when they tell you, “Well, if we pay you more we will have to use you more.” Then you go, “Okay, that makes sense to me. I want to be used.” It’s a very fine line of being like, “What is more important right now? Is it more important to be creatively satisfied or is it more important to provide for your family," Bennett told us.
For a guy who had been around the world in ROH, TNA and New Japan, he'd reached a personal goal of making it in WWE, and it seemed like they wanted him. Bennett had his reservations, and had told himself things could change, but played it safe in some regards.
"We got to the point, right before we got released, where we were settled in. “Alright, we’re gonna build a nice little nest egg and we’re gonna take what we got. We’re gonna work our asses off and we’re gonna keep pitching ideas,” and if nothing sticks, nothing sticks. It’s a fine line. I get why people are like, “Well, why didn’t you just leave when your contract was up.” You’re right. That’s a good argument. Should I have? Maybe. If someone comes at me with that, I’m gonna be like, “Yeah, you’re right. You’re absolutely right. I’ve got nothing to say to that.” But, on the flip side, I have a family and I gotta to think of them first, too. I think there’s always that thought in the back of your head that you convince yourself that things will eventually work out for the better. You’re like, “If I just stick this out, I’m gonna get paid well. If I just stick this out, and I just keep knocking on Vince’s door, something’s gonna stick eventually. It just wasn’t meant to be.” Eventually I got to the point where my frustrations at work were coming home and I was like, “Well, this isn’t doing anybody any good.” If I’m trying to look out for my family and I’m coming home and I’m upset and I’m frustrated and I’m depressed, what am I really doing? It just wasn’t worth it to me at that point," he said.
Bennett quickly found himself back in the same position, and wanted out of WWE just a few months after signing the new deal. In a bit of cruel irony, when he first started to enjoy his work again was when he got the unfortunate call that he was released.
"Finally you get to the point again where you ask for your release. I started talking with Triple H and we worked out to bring me down to NXT and team with Tony [Nese]. Ever since I was teaming with Tony I was like, “This is fun.” We weren’t doing a lot. We were doing 205 [Live], we were on NXT house shows, but for the first time I was having fun and I was like, “I’ll just ride this.” Then this happened. It is what it is."