WWE's Maria turns on the charm

By Troy Rawhiti-Forbes

It's early morning and the phone is about to ring. On one end of the line: a weary nzherald.co.nz reporter with a notebook full of questions and a head full of cobwebs. On the other end will be 26-year-old Maria Kanellis - wrestler, designer, musician and - gulp - Playboy model.

The phone rings, and greetings are exchanged. How is Maria on this fine day?

"I'm in bed right now!"

P-p-pardon?

"I'm doing some phone interviews, and sleeping in between," she says with a giggle, and there it is: the infectious, playful charm which has made Maria a hit with WWE fans. Evidently she sees the humour in being a world famous pin-up who calls an unsuspecting guy up and tells him she's relaxing between the sheets.

Maria first came to worldwide attention as a contestant on the reality TV show Outback Jack, a series which featured a number of American beauties doing and eating all sorts of horrid things, with the grand prize being an Australian underwear model.

Maria reached the series final, but didn't get to go home with the hunk.

So she turned her sights on World Wrestling Entertainment when it announced its inaugural Diva Search in 2004. She didn't win that either, but her personality was enough to get her in the door.

"I thank my lucky stars all the time," Maria says of her runner-up placing on the reality romance show. "After I got home from the show, I realised it was like spring break. I would've dated Outback Jack for a while." Instead of dwelling on that, Maria charged into WWE at full speed and is now one of the company's most popular performers.

"I watched it when I was a child," she says of the wrestling spectacle which seems like a natural fit for someone so vivacious. "I did sports in high school & volleyball and tennis. I danced for 17 years. I've always been very physical in that way."

Maria appreciates the opportunities that performing with WWE has given her. "I've seen some of the world through doing bikini contests, but (with WWE) I've been to Europe, Japan, all over - but I've never been to New Zealand! I think WWE does it on purpose."

Maria's biggest career opportunity so far would appear to have been her recent spread in Playboy - a pictorial effort appreciated by thousands in the pro wrestling community, and beyond.

"I wasn't nervous," Maria says of her nude experience. "I had a good time doing it, and I would definitely do it again!"

Maria says her profile - and the knowledge that anyone with a computer can access photos showing her with nothing on but the radio - earns her plenty of gawkers, but she takes it all in her stride. "I loved doing Playboy. You have to be comfortable in your own skin."

* The stars of WWE Raw perform at Auckland's Vector Arena on Friday, July 3rd. Tickets are on sale now at Ticketmaster.

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