By Todd Matthy

Maria Kanellis won our hearts as the cute and ditzy backstage interviewer on “Monday Night Raw” who loved watching paint dry. But as time went by Maria proved she was more than just a pretty face. She showed how tough she was by taking brutal bumps at the hands of both female and male wrestlers, all while engaging in a hilarious on screen romance with Santino Marella. It wasn’t long before Maria caught the eyes of PLAYBOY, who made her a cover girl in 2008, and Donald Trump who cast her on “The Celebrity Apprentice.” It was also around this time that I conducted my first interview with Maria for Coed Magazine.  This year Maria, along with former Divas Jillian Hall and Taryn “Tiffany” Terrell, embark on a nationwide appearance tour called “Diva Mania.” I recently got to talk to Maria again about the tour, her WWE tenure, and plans for the future in an exclusive interview. Click below to read.

What is Diva Mania?

Diva Mania is gonna be a tour of the country which is going to be me, Tiffany, otherwise known as Taryn Terrell, and Jillian and were going to be going around to different bars and having lots and lots of fun parties as well as doing interviews, signings, and going out there and meeting fans.

When are you going to be announcing tour dates?

Within the next couple of weeks we’ll be able to lockdown exact dates but we already have interest in Baltimore, Chicago, Miami, all over the country people are very interested in this. It’s very funny because as soon as I put the blast out on Twitter, I got so many responses back from people wanting to do interviews, wanting to know how to bring us to town. It’s more relaxed than a wrestling event would be. It’s more like going out and having a good time.

Will you be hitting New York?

Oh yeah. I would love to hit New York. I haven’t been there in so long, ever since I was on “Celebrity Apprentice.” I’m excited to get back there. New Yorkers love to party.

Will you be singing?

I don’t know yet. It depends on the venue. It might be something that I roll into. I definitely want to be able to play my music and I’m going back into the studio and recording two more songs this month, so I’m very excited about that and as soon as I’m done with that I plan on recording a second music video. So these next couple of months I’m out here in Los Angeles and doing all these Diva Mania extravaganzas. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

So, what’s life like outside of WWE?

It’s kind of boring to be honest with you. I’m so used to being on the road that not being on the road is a big adjustment. I’m used to being out of my house four to five days a week and now I’m home all the time. It’s interesting. I’ve cleaned out all my closets and repainted a lot of rooms in my house. I did all that kind of homey stuff and I’m also in acting classes. It’s weird because when your doing it it’s like you’re on a runaway train and then all of a sudden your just not and it’s so much slower.

Who did you travel with when you were going too and from events?

I traveled with Mickie and Jillian for a while when I was over on RAW and when I was on SMACKDOWN I traveled with Layla and Eve for a long time and sometimes Nattie would jump in and ride with us. I rode with Beth for a little while, especially when we were doing house shows. I rode with Candace and Carlito and Umaga for a little bit and that was probably the craziest because Umaga would just get us a limo and we’d ride around in limo. I’ve traveled with so many different people.

Who was the worst to travel with?

The worst to travel with, oh gosh, I’m trying to think if anybody was really bad…you know what, Nattie was horrible because every time I’d bring my dog she’d bring her cat. And she was always about how her cat’s so much better than my dog so we always had a little fight about that.

What kind of dog do you have?

I have two longhaired Chihuahuas.

Do you still stay in touch with any of the Divas?

Yeah, I do. I keep in touch with a lot of people. I just talked to a lot of people over Christmas. I talked to Nattie and Mickie. I talk to Jillian like almost every day since we started coming up with “Diva Mania.” I talk to Beth from time to time. I talked to Michelle, especially about the tables match, because I was so excited for them. I talk to Layla. I talk to Dolph Ziggler a lot. I still talk to Carlito. Vince text me and wished me a Merry Christmas so WWE still has a lot of my heart and I still talk to a lot of people there it’s just I wanted to try out new things and it’s kind of an exciting challenge to try new things.

You got a text from Vince? That’s a big deal. It sounds like the doors still open.

Yeah, that’s what they said when I left. The doors always open. It was funny to get a text message from Vince McMahon saying Merry Christmas. I kind of danced around my house a bit and was like “yay he remembered me!” even though he’s a hard boss he’s a great man to look up to in the sense that he would do anything that the boys would do. Say I want you to jump off that cliff well he’d be the first to do it so it was exciting when I heard from him.

Do you still watch?

I do still check it out. Especially if I know the girls have something major coming up like when Eve won the title, I definitely checked that match out on Youtube. When there’s been different matches the girls have told me about I definitely check it out just because the girls still are my friends and were my family, my road family, for a long time so I still have to check in with them, email them, and see what they’re doing, it’s still exciting for me. I still love wrestling I’m just no longer there.

Did you see their new Internet show NXT when they were introducing new Divas?

I have not seen that show yet. I know that one girl got released that everybody had voted for and I was curious of what the story was there, but no I haven’t watched the new Internet show.

Have you ever protested a skit that you thought was inappropriate or felt was stupid?

Well <laughing> I did a lot of stupid things. I liked the challenges. The crazier it was the more I enjoyed it. For some reason I was always the one who was getting beer sprayed on them or chocolate milk dumped on their head, Carlito spit in my face, all that different stuff. I always took it with a grain of salt. Or when me and Candace got thrown into the pudding, it was all part of the excitement of doing the show.

How difficult is it to wash off pudding?

It’s kind of hard actually. I smelled great for a while. I smelled like chocolate pudding, it was awesome.

In a previous interview you said that in order for WWE to become more mainstream they need to appeal to girls.

Oh yeah. Definitely.

Why do you think they always push the Divas to the back? Is it because they target audience is boys and they don’t think girls watch?

The audience is about sixty percent guys and forty percent female. And that’s a worldwide fan base. I noticed it when I did Playboy and I’ve noticed it at different signings that it’s about half and half girls to guys, especially young women. Young women; you can either watch the wrestlers and watch the women who are strong fight for what they believe in or you have other people out there doing different things. Maybe that’s not quite the approach, you got the Hollywood girls and you’ve got the wrestling girls, which side are you going to go on? And when you’re young you pick whichever side you feel the most on. I feel like it could be extended further. I feel like you could reach out to that fan base even more. But, I also feel like it’s gradually changing and a lot of that is happening because of women like Beth Phoenix and Michelle McCool and Nattie and people that have a true heart and soul in wrestling. With Nattie you have her entire family that’s in wrestling. With Michelle she just has this intense love for wrestling. With Beth, women can look up to her and go “she’s not a twig but she’s still hot and so I’m going to look up to her because you know what I can do that, I can accomplish that,” and I feel like it’s turning in that way. But with anything it takes time and this shift is going to take time. I see it happening more and more. I see more and more females going toward it and the better the girls get in the ring the more time they’ll get. I truly believe that. Witness the table’s match, they never would have been able to do that two years ago but now they’re getting those opportunities. They have such a great group of women there that they are turning things and they are going to be able to change the future of women’s wrestling. I’m excited to watch it and I’m sure a lot of other people are.

This next question is a little detailed. Pretend I’m Vince McMahon and I’m putting you in charge of the Divas. Who would you put the belt on? What feuds would you create? Off the top of your head.

I think you are only as strong as your weakest member so you build up the weakest girls first. You give each and every girl a certain character, a certain role whether it be on an Internet show or on the actual TV show. You make sure every single girl is portrayed in a certain way. When you do that then you can have feuds and fights that are “oh you stole my boyfriend,” “oh you stole my title,” “oh you did this,” “you did that,” because then you can create real conflict. I would also make sure every single show has a certain amount of time set aside for just the Divas. And that amount of time every single week, whether it be fifteen minutes for all the girls that are on that roster or it could be even ten, it would give the girls an opportunity to show their goods and their bads. I think that that would be the best approach. Then I would start getting them in all the women’s magazines. I would start, whether it be a very small article or something on an Internet site, and just start building that approachablility of the women in wrestling because that’s one thing that I always run into out here in Los Angeles is when people meet me they’re like, “Oh your approachable. Your not scary or mean” and you’ve got to show that and if you want to go mainstream and you want to build up the Divas division that’s what you have to do. You have to give them time on television. You have to give them time outside with the magazines, with the Internet, with all these different venues and show how amazing all those women are.

Were there any particular sketches that were your favorite during your time?

Anything with Santino was my favorite. I love that man. He was amazing. I also, when I first started, got to work with Cena a lot and doing stuff with John was GREAT, he is such a strong, powerful, character that it was so great to work with him.  But then I had a lot of great times with Edge and Edge was just so funny and he wasn’t even trying to be funny but he’s funny. And when it comes to the girls, I loved my matches with Michelle. I always had a really great time with her. When I was on RAW, doing my matches with Melina, I loved that. When she slapped me across my face I thought I was going to go blind.

I felt that one. That looked like it hurt.

Oh yeah, she hits hard. I loved everything on screen. As long we got time, I loved it. When I worked with Umaga, that was another time when I was scared, SO SCARED, to get in the ring with that man. But he was gentle as all can be. When he gave me the butt to the face in the corner though, oh my gosh I had heard every single bone in my back crack. That scared me.

I was surprised that right as he was about to do that they didn’t hit Cena’s music for him to make the save.

<Laughing> No, just after I thought that I had broke my neck. It was pretty brutal.

Speaking of Santino, I know you have no love for Jim Cornette. Were you there when he slapped Santino Marella a bunch of times in OVW?

I was right next to him. Me, Beth, Mickie, Melina, and Jillian, we were all there. So we all witnessed it. I have no love for Jim Cornette because he was very rude to me in a bunch of interviews. I know he has a new book out and I’m sure he criticizes a lot of people but he told some interviewer that I knew nothing about wrestling and I didn’t know anybody in the company and anybody’s names but at the time I had been watching since I was little girl and I was so nervous meeting the Undertaker, I almost peed my pants because he was so incredible and mysterious to me. Even meeting the Rock, I almost screamed because I looked up to him. And Lita, I’ve never gotten over just how much I am in awe of that woman because I had watched her when I was younger, and the fact that Jim Cornette thinks that he knew me after working with me for maybe a month is just hilarious to me.

Quick ‘Taker question, is it true that at the arena he does not break character?

You know I admire him because he does it. He has an aura about him he really does.

So, he’s like a method actor?

He is the Undertaker. That’s it.

When you went to Iraq, what was that like?  Were you nervous?

I had a different approach to it. My brother had gone to Iraq, he’d been over there for a year and because he went I figured, I could do it. And maybe that’s naïve to think you can go over there and not be afraid but I figured if he went over there, and he was actually fighting, and he went over there in the beginning when there weren’t buildings and he was living in a tent and driving Hummers that didn’t have the proper armor on them. So, since he had done it, I thought that it would be a disservice to him if I went over there and didn’t enjoy it and enjoy meeting with all the troops. The only time I got scared was when we were about to do the show and the day before there was bombs going off in the distance and we didn’t understand what was going on. I got a little scared then. But, it was an incredible experience and me, Ashley, and Jimmy Hart all went over and did a tribute in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and spent two weeks visiting different troops. So I’ve done it a bunch of times. Afghanistan was scarier than Iraq. Afghanistan, when I went over there, was scary because if you don’t walk exactly where they tell you to walk you could step on a landmine. Because what had happened was, I guess, they had dropped landmines all over Afghanistan and they’re trying to clean it up but they’re in random places so you never know when you might have something bad happen. So, that one was scarier.

Is there anything you want to tell your fans right now?

I appreciate everybody and I appreciate everybody’s support over the last year. I cannot wait to share all the new fun and up and coming projects I’m doing over the next year. I’m doing a film called “Manos” and it’s a remake of a film from 1966 and Gene Snitsky is one of my co-stars, which I’m super-excited about. I’m excited for the future and I’m happy to be doing this tour because now we can go back out there; me and Jillian and Tiffany, can all go back out there and visit the fans and you can party like a diva with the divas, so it’ll be fun.

And my final question is something that’s been on everybody’s mind since you did the “Dating Game” sketch. Babies or puppies?

Puppies, I have two of them. Actually, I guess have four <laughing>.

Thank you very much to Maria Kanellis for taking the time to speak with me. For more information about Maria, check out her official website here.


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