Ahead of WCPW's final 'Loaded' taping on Tuesday 3 October at Bowlers Exhibition Centre, Manchester, we caught up with the promotion's recently appointed General Manager, Stu Bennett, best known to professional wrestling fans as five-time Intercontinental Champion Wade Barrett.
One of the Brits to have made it big in WWE, the 37-year old was hugely popular during his nine-year stint with the company but the recurring theme during his time there was that any hot storyline he was involved in, or any gimmick he made work, fizzled out before its full potential was realised.
And so, having become disillusioned with the way things were going, he made the decision to turn down a new contract from WWE when his existing deal expired after Wrestlemania 32. He's since taken a lengthy hiatus from the business and appeared in several films, but has been dipping his toe back in again by doing bits of commentary for the soon-to-be rebranded WCPW, before taking on the General Manager position.
SPORTbible had the pleasure to speak to Stu about Nexus, the stable he led when he made his WWE debut, his dissatisfaction with management, the booming UK scene, Bad News Barrett, winning King Of The Ring, his acting career and his feud with Wayne Rooney and whether he still wants his revenge.
What's more, we got the diehard Preston fan to partake in our new 'Locker Room Talk' feature, where he sheds light on the Superstars he's shared a locker room with over the years.
SPORTbible: First of all, how are you enjoying your stint in WCPW/Defiant Wrestling as the new General Manager?
Stu Bennett: It's a lot of fun! I kind of took a break from the wrestling industry for a little while and did some other stuff - did some acting, some TV hosting, but WCPW had me involved when I did a tour not so long ago and I did some stuff for them. I was actually really impressed with the company and so when the chance came to come back in, in this kind of role, I had to take it.
I think they've had some turmoil recently with some of their regular guys leaving, which a few fans were upset about because they are used to certain personalities. I think it was good from their perspective to have a bit of a surprise, me coming back, especially because I've kind of been keeping away from the wrestling industry for a while so it was a big name for them to use and the positive reaction's been great.
It's a lot easier on my body, that's for sure! My strongest suit has always been my talking. Night one went pretty well, so we had 'Refuse to Lose' and I think that was an amazing show. I did a bit of commentary, a bit of promo work out there and it was probably one of the better shows we have seen from WCPW.
SPORTbible: How is the acting going at the moment and how busy are you with it all?
Stu Bennett: Yeah, really good. So, I've done four movies now - I did two with WWE and their studios, and two since I've left; one's called 'Vengeance' and the other's called 'Fanged Up - two British independent movies and they are coming out in February. I'm very happy with those and looking forward to the response they get. I've just hosted a TV show for Netflix so done a bit of hosting too, which will be out in six months to a year I think. Just trying some different things at the moment and seeing what works, what sticks.
I've got my acting agent in LA at the moment working on stuff, in London too, and it's definitely something I'm interested in doing more of - I enjoy it. I think, at this point in my career, I needed to start doing work away from the ring, it was time to kind of parlay from wrestling into other areas and hopefully I can have work for the foreseeable future.
SPORTbible: Is there an intention to get back in the ring or are you enjoying the schedule at the moment?
Stu Bennett: I have my good days and bad days. There's days where I think I don't miss it all and then there's days like yesterday [at Refuse to Lose on October 2] where you see the kind of reactions the guys were getting and get that desire to get back in the ring. I'm 99 per cent certain I will wrestle again at some point, I just couldn't tell you when. I have those days where I'm like "no, everything hurts, I don't ever wanna get back in a wrestling ring again" - but I have days where I feel great and can't wait to get back in. I know at some point I'll be wanting to get back in, so if the right opportunity comes along we'll get it done.
SPORTbible: How good do you think the UK Scene is at the moment?
Stu Bennett: It's amazing. I mean, I started fourteen years ago, before I went to the US ten years ago, so the wrestling here was pretty poor and there wasn't the kind of companies you have around now, like WCPW, we had World of Sport make a comeback - hopefully they continue, I'm not sure what's happening there. Even WWE coming over and having their own UK tournament is pretty wild and the level of wrestling here is so beyond what it was when I was wrestling here and it's great to have these places for the guys to work.
I think when I was wrestling on the indies out here, there was one guy that was making a full-time living out of it and that was Doug Williams - these days there must be fifty guys making a sole living out of pro wrestling and that really tells you how much things have changed.
SPORTbible: You left WWE just after Wrestlemania 32. What were reasons why you asked to be released?
Stu Bennett: I didn't really ask to be released. My contract was coming to an end, I'd been there just over nine years at that point - I was not happy with the way my creative had gone and not happy with some stuff behind the scenes, and the way I'd been treated by certain people there, so in my opinion it was time to move on and do something else, at least for a while. I'd been offered a new contract by them, I didn't want to sign; I told them, I was upfront with them. I don't think they were thrilled about it but there's not a lot you can do - I felt that I was wasting my time there.
There's a lot of guys who are not happy with their lot there, I wasn't happy with my lot there for several years but always believed I was capable of getting to the next level through my work or through my performances, and my ability to get over. It got to the point where I didn't believe I was getting the opportunities to get to the level that I wanted to and I think once I'd seen the writing on the wall from that perspective, it was a very easy decision for me to leave and I'm guessing it was the same for guys like Ryback, guys like Del Rio, guys like Cody, who perhaps, like me, decided it was best to move on too.
SPORTbible: Just on Nexus, how far do you think that could've gone if it was done properly and the talents were used properly?
Stu Bennett: It was a massive deal at the time and the number one storyline - the biggest storyline they had a for a long time, I think it was written badly in the sense of making Nexus a bigger name, I think it was used as a vehicle to enhance [John] Cena. If that's the way the company decides to do things, that's fine, it's their choice. I think it could have been way bigger than that but I wasn't the guy writing it so don't blame me!
SPORTbible: And what about the Bad News stuff as well, because that was immensely popular and then quashed?
Stu Bennett: That's another thing that could have been way bigger than it was but again, it was another thing that kind of added to my perspective of the company not wanting to get me any bigger than I already was, and in fact, turned me in the opposite direction. I think it got over more than it was ever intended to get over and I think when certain people saw that, and perhaps didn't like that I was getting bigger than they wanted me to be, it was time to cut it out and give me something else that perhaps wasn't as good a vehicle as me personally. Again it was another thing that added to that desire for him to move on and do other things.
SPORTbible: When you were doing the King of the Ring stuff, did you expect to be wrestling R-Truth on pre-shows as the pay-off?
Stu Bennett: Even when I won King of the Ring, I was fairly jaded at that point. I'd kind of seen a few false storms, I'd had several Intercontinental title reigns where I get the title, been built up with all this hope that it was going to be different this time and a week later I'm losing to Sin Cara on Main Event in three minutes. I'd seen this before, just because I'd been given a crown and a plastic scepter, I didn't suddenly think like, "wow, this is the big one". I think one per cent of me thought maybe it'll different this time but within a week or two I knew I was wasting my time.
SPORTbible: Do you think the King of the Ring stuff even actually contributed to the previous thing of the Bad News stuff? Because it almost killed 'Bad News'.
Stu Bennett: The problem with Bad News was that I was getting a babyface reaction. It was one of those things where it was supposed to be a heel thing but I think people were so entertained by it that they started cheering it and look forward to it, even though I am insulting them. Vince never wanted me was a babyface, he thought I wrestled like a heel and I was English. He didn't want me to be a babyface at all, which was fine and I was happy being a heel.
But I think sometimes the crowd dictates things and even though Vince wants me as a heel, you can't put me as a heel and the only way we could really turn me back into a heel, and stop them cheering for me, was to take away 'Bad News'. At that point, I was just a guy who had nothing, so I was coming out, I wasn't allowed to do the catchphrase or anything like that. I was just a very bland guy. So they gave me King of the Ring as something to do, I suppose, but doing a King of the Ring in this day and age just doesn't work. It might have worked in the 80's but I think wearing a crown and scepter in this day, to me, it doesn't work.
SPORTbible: Why do you think there is that mindset to not go with what the fans do want? In the past ten years, maybe Daniel Bryan has been the only one the fans have managed to get behind and it's worked?
Stu Bennett: I think there's a select few of eight or so guys that the company or management want people to get behind and if anybody else gets too big, it kind of detracts from the guys they are looking to get the reaction from and that's the time to take the reaction from the guys they are not looking to get over and move it on to other stars. I think that happens, I believe that's the way it works - no-one's ever said that to my face but reading between the lines I think that's how things work, and again that was one of the reasons I left.
SPORTbible: Did you leave on good or bad terms, and could you see a potential return in the future?
Stu Bennett: I would never rule out going back in some capacity. I wouldn't say it was the best of terms that we left on; I think there was a lot of resentment, certainly from my side, with certain people in management there. I don't think we'll be sending each other Christmas cards at the moment but I've certainly not gone out my way to trash them, they haven't gone out of their way to trash me, so I think a little water under the bridge might do us both some good.
SPORTbible: Is it true that the 'League of Nations' was purely to get you all on the Wrestlemania card?
Stu Bennett: I've never heard that before. I think the 'League of Nations' was probably set up six months before so I'd be surprised if they were specifically like, we need to get these four on 'Mania'. There's a million ways you can get us on 'Mania', including the Andre the Giant Battle Royal or something like that.
I think we were put together as a means to enhance Sheamus as the champion at the time and make him look stronger because he hadn't been booked particularly well leading into that cash-in. He probably would have looked like a very weak champion. And then, the fact that they wanted to use that as a means to get Roman over and have this adversity for Roman to overcome, I think was probably the reason we were put there.
SPORTbible: The legends segment at Wrestlemania 32, did you enjoy that or did you feel it overshadowed the current talent?
Stu Bennett: Ultimately I think that was to give the fans a bit of excitement, which we understand because that's what wrestling's about. As far as I was concerned, I already knew that was my second to last day - I was mentally already checked out at that point. I like Steve, I like Shawn, I like Mick, and I'd be more than happy to take bumps for them in the ring whenever but ultimately was I excited to get in the ring and take finishers from those guys? No, I was beyond that at that stage.
SPORTbible: Do you we think we could see a British WWE champion at some point?
Stu Bennett: I think we one hundred per cent could. There's been enough talent in the past and looking forward there's so many talents there. But it comes down to the decision of one man to say, "yeah, put it on him, put the title on this guy". If he thinks he's cool, or there's a business reason like the British market needs a boost, as we've seen with Jinder Mahal in India, there might be a situation where they are like,"the British market is sagging or we have a new TV deal coming up, we need to push the figures up" - then I can see a British guy getting the title. I don't think it's as simple as saying, "this guy is really good, he puts on a great performance; he deserves to be the champion". I don't think that's how the business works.
SPORTbible: When can we expect round two with Mr Rooney?
Stu Bennett: Anytime he wants! If there's one thing I'll get back in the ring for, WCPW, bring Wayne Rooney along anytime he wants. We're in Manchester today, I'll be back in December again - anytime he wants, come along. He's not having the best of time lately and I'm sure it'll be even worse if he gets in the ring with me in WCPW.
SPORTbible: How did that [the Rooney feud and slap on Raw in Manchester] all come about?
Stu Bennett: That happened because Man United played Preston North End in the FA Cup, first time in my lifetime PNE had played Manchester United, I was very excited; very close game, and I think we took the lead at one point, then they equalised late in the game and five minutes to go he dived.
I wasn't expecting it but I called him out on Twitter, accusing him of being a diver, tagged him and obviously fans are laughing at that and then he responds, starts laughing and says he'll get Stone Cold Steve Austin to beat me up, and then I made a challenge to meet him at Wrestlemania and he kind of seemed down with that but nothing happened there - obviously he was under contract with Manchester United.
But eventually he came to a show in Manchester and I spoke to a few people and said, "hey, you've gotta give me the mic and let me tear a strip off Wayne". So I did that, which happened in the break of course; you guys didn't see that, and you saw what happened after that - it sort of backfired! I feel like I owe him though, so maybe we'll meet again.
Locker Room Talk:
SPORTbible: Most underrated?
Stu Bennett: I'll go with Neville.
SPORTbible: Most intelligent?
Stu Bennett: Kane. Very smart guy. He's the guy that guys will go to, to talk about finance, 'where should I invest my money?', 'what do I do insurance wise?', he seems to know. He's very smart about the stuff people find very boring, he seems to get really excited about the kind of dry business, finance and stuff like that so he's a very good guy to talk to about that stuff.
SPORTbible: Stiffest worker?
Stu Bennett: Sheamus. There's no doubt about that. I think he's broken my nose several times - he's never busted a tooth out fortunately, Drew's [McIntyre] busted a tooth out before - he used to be pretty solid too. The pair of those two, I think we upped the ante when were in the ring with each other, they'd probably say the same about me to be fair. It's kind of like fighting with your brother, you don't want to lose with that guy. We kind of bend the rules a bit with each other and hit each other a little harder than anyone else tends to.
SPORTbible: Most vain?
Stu Bennett: Drew, definitely. The worst thing you can ever say to Drew is that you're seeing him losing hair, that he's receding, or developing a bald patch. Anything like that, it's agony for him.
SPORTbible: Longest in the shower?
Stu Bennett: Batista. I've never actually see him in the shower, I've heard the rumours though! Maybe not in the way you're thinking!
SPORTbible: Worst travel partner?
Stu Bennett: Brodus Clay. Sweaty gear laid out all over the car, food lying around - stuff like that.
SPORTbible: Loudest or most talkative?
Stu Bennett: Heath Slater. Doesn't shut up, loves the sound of his own voice.
SPORTbible: Worst taste in music?
Stu Bennett: You can pretty much pick 90 per cent of the locker room because 90 per cent of the guys there are obviously American and they all like either Rap, or Country and Western - if there's musical genres that I hate, it's those two. So take your pick; any American. I love Indie, Britpop, The Beatles, Rolling Stones. Anything British really, give me that.
SPORTbible: Best drinker?
Stu Bennett: I'm not going to say Sheamus because he would love me to say that, but it's got to be a Brit. I'll go with Drew, then.
Featured Image Credit: WWE