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WWE Diva & Playboy cover girl, Maria speaks to phillyBurbs.com
PhillyBurbs.com, March 17, 2008

    Maria Kanellis Imagine for one minute waking up one morning and not only being a television superstar seen by millions of people every week, but also on the cover of Playboy magazine. WWE Diva Maria Kanellis is not only going to wrestle in her first WrestleMania in a few weeks, but she is on the cover of April's Playboy magazine. Can life get any better for this shy, bubbly, sweetheart from Ottawa, Illinois?

    The story of Maria is a fantastic story in achieving the American dream. The odds of a small-town girl watching pro wrestling on television going to the WWE and conquering the world were against her. Yet, this is not a surprise to the WWEís most popular Diva. This is something that she has been working towards her entire life.

    Maria had dreams of being in the WWE long before she stood up for herself to Santino Marella on Monday Night Raw. Mariaís first attempt at becoming a WWE Diva ended at number five. Maria first stepped into a WWE ring as a contestant in the first-televised WWE Diva competition. Maria left her mark by showing her opponent Carmella DeCesare what she thought of her with one finger. Maria made it to the top-five but was eliminated from the contest. Like fellow Diva Melina, Maria used this as motivation to work harder at becoming a WWE Diva.

    Maria worked her way into the WWE the old-fashioned way. Maria studied for the big-time at the WWEís developmental territory Ohio Valley Wrestling. Under the tutelage of the genius Paul Heyman, Maria quickly stood out from the pack and earned a spot on the main-roster. Maria was so dedicated to learning, that Heyman recently said that Maria contributed booking ideas while in OVW.

    Maria first became known to WWE fans as the ditzy interview girl. Maria would ask dumb questions as wrestlers would do a double-take in the interviews. Fans would laugh, wrestlers were shocked, and the adoration from the fans and the WWE for this star in the making was just beginning.

    Maria soon found herself inside of the wrestling ring, most of the time as an unwilling participant. Ironically enough, her first match was a pillow-fight against the winner of the Diva contest Christy Hemme. This was the start of what is turning out to be one of the most fun wrestling careers inside of the ring on WWE television.

    Mariaís role varied for the next few years between manager, occasional wrestler, and interviewer. The only constant in Mariaís role was the fun. There wasnít a moment when Maria appeared on television when you didnít laugh or smile. It was obvious to even the most casual wrestling fan that the person with the biggest smile was Maria herself.

    Maria is no longer the butt of the joke on Monday Night Raw. Maria has turned the page from innocence to confidence. Mariaís skills in the wrestling ring are no longer anything to be laughed at. The gorgeous Diva ended the undefeated streak of WWE Diva Beth Phoenix. The win not only earned her the respect inside of the ring of her colleagues and fans all over the world. The win over Beth Phoenix ďearnedĒ Maria the cover of Playboy magazine. Maria unveiled her Playboy cover the following week on Monday Night Raw. Maria also finally stood up for herself to Santino Marella. This was a huge moment in the career of Maria as she would not be pushed around anymore. Maria will also wrestle on WrestleMania for the first-time in a Playboy Bunny Match.

    Maria was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule and speak to phillyBurbs.com. I canít remember interviewing anyone in pro wrestling in the last ten years that has laughed more than Maria did during the interview. It is inspiring to hear someone have so much fun in a business that has broken down even the strongest of wills. Maria talks dating, being a Playboy cover girl, wrestling at WrestleMania, getting smacked from Trish Stratus, kissing Ric Flair, and more in this exclusive interview.

    Maria Kanellis Eric Ė So you are on the cover of Playboy magazine. What is it like to be a Playboy cover girl?

    Maria Ė Itís amazing. It is such a great compliment. Itís Playboy, itís been around for 53 years, itís such history, itís Americana, itís amazing.

    Eric Ė How has your life changed?

    Maria Ė Well, the funny thing is that I have been traveling so much that I donít even know whatís changed because I have been from here to there to wherever. Iím busier right now, but the WWE keeps you pretty busy anyway so not a whole lot.

    Eric Ė Have you been to any of the Playboy parties?

    Maria Ė Actually I went to one not too long ago. I met Heff that night. I thanked him for everything. So yeah, Iíve been to one.

    Eric Ė What is it like to be on a WrestleMania?

    Maria Ė Iíve been with WWE for 3 Ĺ years. Iíve been to WrestleMania, this will be my fourth year and this year is the first year that Iím actually in a match. I donít think it has sank in completely yet. Iíve been working on different wrestling moves and stuff that I can do in the ring because I definitely want to be up to my game and up to par when Iím out there doing it. It really hasnít sunk in yet. I remember last year crying at the end of WrestleMania when I was watching all of the highlights, so Iím sure that it will be very emotional and very, very cool.

    Eric Ė What do you think has turned the corner for you in your WWE career?

    Maria Ė You know I donít know. I think that the fans have always been there with me and just kind of kept with me the entire time. I donít think there was actually a moment that was, ďOkay now weíre with her.Ē But, I definitely feel like everyone can relate to what I said last Monday and that was that ďNo man and no one is going to make this decision for me,Ē because everybody has that in their life where they are trying to figure things out and other people are trying to put their two-cents in to make a decision where really, the only person that you really have to be respectful of is yourself at the end of the day. So I feel that, that moment there people could connect with a lot.

    Eric Ė How important is it for you to be confident in your wrestling abilities before you go out there on live television?

    Maria Ė Oh it is so important and my confidence is building, but Iíve still got a lot of work. There are girls that have been here a lot longer than me and I respect them so much for it, so every night that I go out there I feel like my confidence is built up a little bit more, and I feel a little bit more comfortable out there, and hopefully looking a little better. So, Iím definitely working my butt off.

    Eric Ė How discouraging was it not to win the WWE Diva Search?

    Maria Ė Well, Iím glad now that I didnít make it all of the way to the end. Because I have always been a fighter, I fight for what I believe in. It doesnít matter that I placed five. I still showed my feistiness, my aggressiveness you know flipping the bird at Carmella and getting out of there. I called every single week. I wanted to be a part of the WWE, I was addicted. I was addicted to the energy from the live crowd. I was addicted to our amazing fans so it wasnít discouraging at all. If anything, it was motivating.

    Eric Ė Melina had mentioned that Al Snow pulled aside after the Tough Enough tryouts and encouraged her to continue. Did anyone pull you aside after you were eliminated from the contest?

    Maria Ė You know there were a few people that gave me advice and stuff like that, but actually when I was leaving the arena going back to the hotel, the driver in the car said, ďI can tell that you really want this.Ē He was driving the limo. ďI can tell that you really want this. If you fight for it, youíll get it.Ē WWE is all about having that passion. He said, ďJust keep going.Ē Iíve never forgotten that. Never.

    Eric Ė Is it true that you turned down the original offer to pose in Playboy?

    Maria Ė I was asked to do Playboy from the time that I was 19. I just wasnít ready. I didnít feel like it was my time. I just didnít feel like it was there yet. When I became a woman and started to feel comfortable, and felt like it was everything that I wanted it to be, thatís when I did it. So yeah, I had turned it down a few times. I got the advice from my family, my friends, and the people that are closest to me and decided that this year was the year to do it.

    Eric Ė Have you had any embarrassing moments yet with the magazine?

    Maria Ė No not at all, everybody has been extremely sweet and nice. One of my best friends came to the New York signing at the Virgin Megastore and she actually had a couple of Playboys with her, I didnít know she was coming and sheís like, ďI wanted to surprise you!Ē That wasnít uncomfortable at all. A few people that worked with my dad actually came and got it signed. Itís completely sold out in my hometown of Ottawa, Illinois and they donít get any more in until Tuesday. We sold out the Virgin Megastore. Itís great, itís such a great experience, no embarrassing moments, Iím really proud of it, so you know I donít think there could be an embarrassing moment.

    Maria Kanellis - Playboy Playmate Eric Ė What do you remember about your very first wrestling match on live WWE television against Christy Hemme?

    Maria Ė It was a pillow fight wasnít it? I remember going out there and thinking to myself how cool it was to be actually out there doing it. I believe we were in Miami, I think we were in Miami. If it was in Miami, my best friend was there and she was watching and I remember coming backstage afterwards and her being, ďThis is your job?Ē You know? Itís amazing, itís so much fun.

    Eric Ė Melina talked about the difficulties in dating with her WWE schedule. Do you have difficulties dating with your schedule?

    Maria Ė It was much more difficult for me to date someone nine months ago than it is now. I have to say that I have no difficulties with it. Yes itís complicated. Yes weíre always traveling, but if you want something bad enough and if you want to make something work, you will and it will be everything that you want it to be. My biggest problem before in dating someone while I was in this business was that communication was totally bad. Communication is the key, it definitely is. There have been times when heís flown in to see me in New York or I flew down to Mexico to see him, and if you want something to work, it will. Youíve got to make that time. So, I think right now Iím having the best relationship of my life and it is the busiest time of my life. Like I said, if you want it bad enough and itís real enough, itíll work.

    Eric Ė Do you have any advice for aspiring female wrestlers?

    Maria Ė Yes. Follow your dreams, follow your goals. Find a wrestling school, start learning. When the Diva Search comes around, enter in the Diva Search. Keep fighting. There is a school down in Tampa, Florida and Iíd go to the tryouts there. WWE is involved in that school. Never, ever, ever give up because the moment that you give up is the moment that you could have made it. I didnít come in as a wrestler. I came in as an interviewer and a person that just loved wrestling, and a person that loved entertaining. So, you donít necessarily have to come from a particular place to get everything that you really wanted.

    Eric Ė Ric Flair is closing in on retirement. What has been your favorite Ric Flair moment?

    Maria Ė WWE fans will remember that I made out with Ric Flair once. And he proceeded to take a bump on to his face, afterwards. You know, I made out with Ric Flair. A legend among legends, he is incredible. Iíve done amazing interviews with him. That man right there, they were playing an homage of all of the different Ric Flair moments. I sat backstage crying. He is amazing. He is a gift to World Wrestling Entertainment and to wrestling, and I will never forget that I did make out with Ric Flair on national television.

    Eric Ė What is your favorite angle or moment that you have been a part of thus far in your WWE career?

    Maria Ė I watched paint dry one week which was rather interesting. That same night I also had a match with Jeff Hardy, and coming out and being able to do Jeff Hardyís dance, I might have looked like I was doing the chicken dance but I gave my all into that chicken dance! It was amazing, that was great. I team up with (John) Cena once. Heís another great kisser. That was so much fun. You know, as disappointing as it was when I revealed my Playboy cover and Santinoís face was all over my cover, it was also extremely entertaining, and it was also so nice to stand up for myself, that was another great moment. The very first time that I did anything physical was with Trish Stratus and she knocked one of my fillings out. I never told her and I never told anybody, but I had to get my tooth fixed. She slapped me so hard that she knocked a filling out and I will never forget that. It was amazing. She was incredible to work with. I had a few matches with Lita who was always somebody that I had looked up to and Iíll never forget any of those. Recently beating Beth Phoenix who has never been beaten by anybody, she was undefeated until I beat her a few weeks ago which was an incredible moment for me. There has been so many. I would say that every moment Iíve ever had with WWE has been absolutely incredible and nothing compares to that.

    See Maria wrestle a Bra & Panties match on the WWE - New Year's Revolution 2006 DVD

    See Maria team with Mickie & Torrie & Michelle & Kelly and take on Beth & Melina & Jillian & Victoria & Laylawrestle on the WWE - Survivor Series 2007 DVD.

      Eric Gargiulo writes about pro wrestling, MMA and more in his blog, The Camel Clutch. He can be reached by e-mail at egargiulo@phillyburbs.com. Eric's "Pro Wrestling Radio" airs on WBCB 1490 AM every Saturday from 12:05-1PM/EST and can be heard live online at http://www.wbcb1490.com/

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