Standing 6’6” and weighing in at 250 pounds, not much scares Stu Bennett. The man formerly known as WWE superstar Wade Barrett was, however, genuinely frightened when he lost feeling in his right arm during a match in November of 2015.
“There is nothing more terrifying than lying in the ring and feeling that your hand has gone numb,” said Bennett. “My whole arm went numb, but the feeling returned about a minute later and I was able to finish the match. I immediately thought of Tyson Kidd, who suffered a terrible neck injury recently. He was, in many respects, lucky to survive. Many people don’t realize just how dangerous professional wrestling actually is. People can get seriously injured and even paralyzed.
“That’s when I came to the realization that I didn’t want to put my body on the line doing something that wasn’t inspiring me, and I decided to move my career in a different direction.”
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Bennett spent nine years in the WWE portraying Wade Barrett. Now he finally has the chance to be himself.
“When you’re with WWE, you are operating within very fine boundaries that you cannot step outside of,” explained the 36-year-old Bennett. “Now I have offers for movie roles that are completely out of what you would expect for me, and that’s really exciting. The opportunity to go away from WWE and be myself and become Stu again is exactly what I needed.”
The narrative of breaking into wrestling is well-documented, but the reality of breaking away from the business is far more complicated.
“I’ve had a lifelong passion, and really obsession, with professional wrestling since I was a very small kid,” said Bennett. “That passion never left me. I was always inspired to be involved and be part of good TV and do projects that would inspire me professionally. Unfortunately, in 2015 and again in 2016, I was asked to play a character and perform storylines that I found thoroughly uninspiring. After making repeated attempts to change my career trajectory and having those efforts turned down, my passion for playing the role of a WWE Superstar went away.”
Bennett loved that his creativity was allowed to flourish in the role of “Bad News” Barrett, but he was denied much of that creative liberty when he became King Barrett.
“‘Bad News’ Barrett was a really fun time,” explained Bennett. “The reactions from the crowd I was getting were really about my speaking and my portrayal of a character rather than my in-ring work. You can even go back to the Nexus era, when I was cutting promos every single night. People were really hanging on my every word, and I was really dictating a lot of the shows that we were doing. I’ve always had that confidence in my performance ability and my ability to speak in character. One of the most exciting parts of the Nexus and ‘Bad News’ Barrett eras were I had a lot of influence in the character and I had a lot of influence in how I was going to portray myself. When I became King Barrett, the influence I had in the character was taken away. I was told, ‘This is your outfit, and here is your promo that you have to say word-for-word.’ Any time I tried to tweak the storyline because I thought it wasn’t working, or because it wasn’t me, I was denied. The lack of control over my career reduced my passion more than anything.
“For the first time in my life, I was questioning why I was even getting out of bed and going to work. I wasn’t enjoying it and it wasn’t motivating me at all. For that reason, I made the decision that I couldn’t re-sign a contract and continue for three more years when I knew nothing was going to change. My choice was: to take the paycheck and accept that I was probably going to get the same kind of creative that I’d had for the last couple of years, or alternatively to walk away and look for something else. So I decided to do the latter. I’ve always been smart with my money, and I saved a lot during my time with WWE. I’m not in a position where I’m living paycheck-to-paycheck, and I can afford to explore other avenues.”
Bennett remains grateful for his time involved in wrestling, especially the warm reception of wrestling fans.
“The best thing about being a pro wrestler was having that fan base behind you,” said Bennett. “The fans never, ever stopped inspiring me. What stopped inspiring me was the fact that the material that I was performing on screen wasn’t something that I found interesting. If I don’t enjoy it and I don’t have a passion for it, then I can’t see how anyone else watching it could enjoy it. If you look back at my career in 2015 and 2016, most people would struggle to pinpoint anything that they thought was good. There simply weren’t those moments, and I’m aware of that as much as anybody. I’m aware when it’s not entertaining because I’m the guy right in the middle of it. That wasn’t the only issue—it wasn’t purely a creative thing, there were other issues going on behind the scenes between me and WWE, but that was the most obvious one.”
Bennett has pursued acting in his time away from WWE, and a familiar feeling of comfort returns whenever he is in front of the camera.
“I’ve done four movies now, and one was released this month called Eliminators,” said Bennett. “I shot that a year-and-a-half ago in the U.K. with a talented actor named Scott Adkins and a great director in James Nunn. I shot another film, Vengeance, about three months ago in the U.K. I play the lead in that one, and it should be out in May. I certainly felt natural as the lead, though it was a different role for me. I’ve always played the bad guy, that’s been the story of my career. Playing the lead in Vengeance as the good guy was slightly different, but the role called for a good guy with a dark side to him. There was a dark edge, which came a lot more naturally to me. Getting to work with people who were dedicated to perfection and making the film as good as we could possibly make it within the budget that we had was a tremendous experience, and I’m very excited for people to be able to have a look at it. It felt great to exercise my creative side once again.”
As Bennett’s time in wrestling has proven, he is naturally good at being bad.
“I always wanted to be the bad guy,” explained Bennett. “It was a natural fit for me to want to antagonize, and another aspect of that role is my size. I’m 6’6” and 250 pounds, so generally it’s best to portray the bigger guys on the roster as villains. People like to see a bigger guy bully a smaller guy, like a Rey Mysterio, and then see the smaller guy overcome the odds. Americans are also used to the British bad guy from a lot of movies, and that tends to rile people up a little, so there were a lot of factors that went into me playing a bad guy. There was a point in my career where I felt that WWE should have turned that and made me the good guy during the ‘Bad News’ Barrett run when I was getting such positive reactions. They made a mistake in not turning me into a babyface, but that’s water under the bridge at this point.”
Bennett just wrapped filming the movie Fanged Up last week, and he is looking forward to furthering his film career but is still keeping his options open regarding a potential return to wrestling.
“My agent is negotiating contracts, and acting is something I really enjoy,” said Bennett. “I’m very much open to acting, but also to wrestling. I’ve spoken with quite a few wrestling companies about some opportunities that might be coming up. One of the things I wanted to do when I left WWE was give myself a break from wrestling. I’d been with WWE for nine straight years. As most people are probably aware, it’s more than a full-time job. It takes over all of your life, and you’re not allowed any significant down time to do other things. I wanted to give myself a break from that and that burned-out, dropping passion that I felt, and it’s felt good to be away from the business for over six months. Maybe, at some point, I’ll step into the ring or a commentary position with a renewed passion.”
One reason why a return to the ring isn’t out of the question is that Bennett is fully healthy. He did suffer nerve damage in his neck last year but that injury has healed and Bennett is back in tip-top shape.
“My neck feels great,” said Bennett. “I had the incident back in November of 2015 when I got a stinger in a match. WWE, at that point, knew that I was leaving in April, so they asked me to take a few weeks out of the ring and make sure it was one-hundred percent. I didn’t want to make it any worse, so I took the time off, and it feels great now. The smartest thing to do, all around, for myself and from WWE’s perspective was to make sure I was one-hundred percent before I started moving around again in the ring. I definitely thank WWE for giving me the chance to take a few weeks off to heal in 2015. They were always great with the medical side of things.”
One piece of the wrestling business that forever endeared itself to Bennett is the locker room.
“Of all the aspects of the wrestling industry that I don’t miss, the one thing I miss more than anything is sitting in the locker room with the guys and shooting the breeze with them,” said Bennett. “Making jokes and having that banter made our locker room really unique, and that’s something I really miss. I’m still in touch with a lot of the guys from the WWE locker room, and I still hang out and text with a lot of them, but there is something you can’t replicate about the locker room. It’s a very unique thing, and it’s certainly something I do miss.”
Bennett admitted that he was a bit of a loner when it came to travel, but he was tight with Cody Rhodes, Heath Slater, and Bray Wyatt, as well as tended to gravitate to his fellow Europeans in Neville, Cesaro, Alberto Del Rio, and Rusev.
“Generally speaking, if a guy liked soccer, I would become very good friends with him,” said Bennett. “That’s something I missed from the U.K., so a lot of times I’d sit down with Alberto Del Rio to watch Real Madrid play, or sit with Rusev and talk football.”
Bennett is also open to broadcasting, providing his color commentary expertise on soccer or wrestling.
“I’ve done some soccer broadcasting for a U.S. station, and that’s something I love,” said Bennett. “I’m more of a natural at the color commentary side of things – I’ve actually done color commentary before when I was in FCW, which was WWE’s developmental before NXT – and it’s something I’ve always enjoyed. The play-by-play really isn’t my thing, and the problem with someone who isn’t from a soccer background, like myself, is that people really don’t want to buy into you as an analyst. If that opportunity came up, I’d certainly look at it.”
But soccer isn’t the only sport Bennett is passionate about. Even though Bennett’s hometown of Penwortham, Lancashire, England, is nearly 4,000 miles from Chicago, the former five-time WWE Intercontinental champion grew up a Bears fan.
“Oddly, the Chicago Bears became strangely popular in the U.K. in 1985 when I was five years old,” said Bennett. “Bizarrely, the coolest thing in the world in the U.K. at that point was American football. The Bears had Walter Payton and William “Refrigerator” Perry, and my parents bought me a Chicago Bears jersey. Within a year, that fad disappeared, but the Bears have stayed my team ever since. They’ve had these terrible seasons lately, and they’re struggling this year at 3-11, but they’re my team and I’m sticking with them. I’m still a huge NFL fan, and I love the fact that they’re trying to grow in the U.K. I can’t wait until they have a team out here.
With that in mind, Bennett was asked his take on Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning, and explained that was a match worthy of a WrestleMania.
“Brady wins that battle, one-hundred percent,” said Bennett. “Manning was great, but Brady is, by far, the best ever. I’m hoping the NFL moves the Patriots to England and renames them the Old England Patriots. That’s the ideal team for us.”
As for his future, Bennett explained that he will be even more visible in the next calendar year.
“I’ve had some offers for 2017, both in the wrestling world and in film, but it’s going to be a little while before I can announce those,” said Bennett. “I want to finally get back out there and meet up with some fans. I’ve enjoyed having my down time, but I’m looking forward to getting back out there again.
“Nine straight years of the WWE grind took its toll on both my body and my mind. I’m a bad sleeper, and being a bad sleeper on a WWE schedule is torture. A lot of the guys catch up on sleep on flights, but I’m a tall guy and don’t fit in the seats very well, and I can’t sleep on a plane. Month after month, I’d average four hours of sleep a night, and after a while my brain started shutting down. I’m a big reader, I love reading books, and I remember trying to read on planes while everyone else slept, but then I’d read two or three pages and realize I didn’t remember a word I just read. It gets to the point where your mind is so grinded down by what you’re doing, and your lack of sleep, that it just doesn’t work properly. I’ve been sleeping better than ever these past six months. Every single night, I feel like a whole new human being and I have a much healthier outlook on life.”
With a refreshed view of life and a renewed focus on work, Bennett is ready to get the new year started.
“Certainly, I’m excited about what’s coming in the future,” said Bennett. “I’ve got an agent in the U.K. and in LA, and there are a lot of cool things coming up in 2017.”