From Dino Bravo and Rick Martel to the Rougeau brothers, Quebec has long been synonymous with professional wrestling. That tradition is now being carried on by Laval's own Maryse Ouellet, a model turned WWE Diva who has quickly made a name for herself in the squared circle. For more than three years now, Maryse has been holding her own against the big boys on first SmackDown and then Monday Night RAW, regularly rubbing (and dropping) elbows with the likes of John Cena, Triple H, and the boss himself, Vince McMahon. We caught up with the lifelong Habs fan to find out what life in sports entertainment is really like.
NHLers talk about the physical toll an 82-game season can take, but it can't possibly compare to chair shots, suplexes and the rigors of life on the road in the WWE, right?
MARYSE OUELLET: Well, we're on the road 280 days a year, so if you were to count it like hockey I guess we play about 280 games in a year. (laughs) But to be fair, they do play games that last a few hours while your average wrestling match is 10 to 15 minutes.
You were born in Montreal and lived a while in New Brunswick before returning to Quebec a few years later. So at what point did you become a Canadiens fan?
MO: I was born and raised in Laval and my first memory of the Canadiens was their rivalry with the Nordiques and that series in the 1993 playoffs. I was only in grade school but I remember everyone going crazy about the Canadiens that year.
How much down time do you get over the course of a calendar year? Where do you take it - do you have a place in Montreal to chill out?
MO: Not really. It's been rough for me because I've always gone somewhere hot for a few weeks each year, but since 2006 when I joined the WWE those trips are long gone for me. But we do have shows in some pretty exotic places, so I still do ok.
Who was your favorite Habs player growing up?
MO: Well I still have my Patrick Roy jersey from when I was a kid, so he'll always be my favorite.
You have "Guy" tattooed across your left wrist. Was Guy Lafleur that big an influence in your life?
MO: No, it's for my dad. My apologies to Guy Lafleur, though! (laughs)
Given you're on the road so much, how do you keep tabs on what the Canadiens are doing back home?
MO: You know what? It's pretty tough to follow in the U.S. since I live in L.A. now and I'm always traveling. I'll hear things from my friends and family about how the team is doing and I always try to make it to the Bell Centre whenever I pass through town. I see crowds all the time in my business, but there's nothing like watching a hockey game in Montreal.
Are you ever not sore from getting tossed around the ring?
MO: (laughs) I don't wrestle all that often. I'm more of a troublemaker, but when I do get thrown around, I feel it.
You were a model before joining the WWE. What drew you to a career in wrestling?
MO: In the summer of 2005, I went to see RAW at the Bell Centre with some friends and I was hooked. I always knew I wanted to work in TV or be an entertainer. Even though in 2006 I couldn't even speak English yet, I was determined to work in the WWE so I auditioned. My friends still can't believe that I was chosen among the 20,000 girls trying out to become a WWE Diva.
Whose side were you on regarding the "Montreal Screwjob" at the 1997 Survivor Series: Bret Hart's or Shawn Michaels'?
MO: I wasn't a fan back then; I was a little too young. I do know that people still talk about it all the time and it's the first thing fans cheer about whenever the WWE comes to Montreal.
What do you think leaves a bigger mark: an NHL body check or your finishing move, the "French Kiss"?
MO: (laughs) Honestly, both will do some damage. Hockey players can hit pretty hard, but you can't forget that the first body part that hits the mat when receiving a "French Kiss" is your face, so that's pretty much all you need to know.
From a business standpoint, what type of stuff does the WWE do that you think could work in the NHL?
MO: We do a lot of charity work. The NHL should do more of that or maybe make it more visible. It seems to me that other sports do a better job of publicizing what they do in the community. We have a guy like John Cena who does a lot of charity work and that stuff quickly spreads throughout the media. I think it would really help the NHL grow its popularity in the U.S. if it were to do more of that.
Speaking of charitable work, you've been an official spokesperson for the Montreal Children's Hospital since 2006. How did that come about?
MO: I met with their representatives at an event at the Olympic Stadium. They approached me about getting involved and we took it from there. It's been tougher since I left Montreal, but now I'm also involved with the Make a Wish Foundation though the WWE.
Who would win in a cage match between NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and WWE chairman Vince McMahon?
MO: I'll go with Vince. He's pretty dangerous when you see him in person. He can be really intimidating. You have no idea. (laughs)
Vince's wife, Linda McMahon, campaigned to become a U.S. Senator in Connecticut. We suspect you'd get some votes if you decided to enter Quebec politics.
MO: No thank you! That's not for me. I'll leave that to Mrs. McMahon.
You have a martial arts brown belt. How do you think you'd do in the Octagon against UFC champ Georges St-Pierre?
MO: Not very well. (laughs) I don't ever see that happening. I work in sports entertainment and I intend to keep it that way.
What wrestling star were you the most excited to meet or work with?
MO: I remember the first time I met Hulk Hogan was at a hotel somewhere in Cleveland. My bags were really heavy and he walked over and helped me. He even knew my name, so that was a big thrill for me.
What do you think The Rock was actually cookin'?
MO: (laughs) I have no idea, but I love chocolate cake. So every time I hear him say that catchphrase, I imagine him in the kitchen baking me a chocolate cake.