Three years ago on April 4, 2011, WWE Tough Enough was relaunched on the USA Network. For those unfamiliar with the concept, the show featured several aspiring athletes going through vigorous challenges in an attempt to become the WWE's next breakout star.
Tough Enough originally ran from 2001 to 2004 on MTV and UPN. Several Superstars emerged from the first four seasons, including The Miz, John Morrison, Matt Morgan, Maven and even Josh Matthews.
The show was brought back for a fifth season in April 2011, one night removed from WrestleMania 27. From that point forward, it aired in the time slot before Monday Night Raw, drawing decent ratings on a weekly basis.
Although upon its debut in 2010 the purpose of NXT was to find the WWE's next breakout star, the concept was terribly executed, featuring silly challenges and matches hardly anyone cared about. Granted, we got The Nexus and several other notable names out of the show, but it was in spite of NXT, not because of it.
Thus, the 2011 revival of Tough Enough was basically what a lot of people expected NXT to be, in that it was part wrestling, part reality television. It was far less scripted and much more compelling to watch than NXT.
Almost every contestant on that season of Tough Enough had a unique trait that made them stand out to the casual viewer. The raw emotion and tension between each of the aspiring athletes made for must-see TV every Monday night.
The best part about the program was Stone Cold Steve Austin as its host. Supported by Booker T, Trish Stratus and Bill DeMott, Stone Cold made for the perfect ring leader on the show, holding nothing back and not showing any sympathy for anyone.
This season was different than the first few due to the fact that viewers were able to get to know each of the contestants a bit more by learning their back story, what they had been through and what they were willing to go through to make it to WWE.
Other established veterans of the squared circle including The Rock, John Cena and Bret Hart also made appearances to light a fire under each of the contestants.
At the beginning of the June 6, 2011, edition of Raw, it was announced to the world that Andy Leavine had won the WWE contract over Luke Robinson. Robinson was on the receiving end of a slap from Vince McMahon and a Stunner from Stone Cold before never being seen on WWE TV again.
Leavine was sent back down to WWE developmental to hone his character shortly thereafter. A video package promoting his "Silent Rage" persona aired on the July 4 Raw, though never ultimately resurfaced on the flagship show.
Leavine was suspended by WWE for 30 days that August for violating the wellness policy before being released from his contract the following April. In a nutshell, Leavine's stint with the company was considered a flop, so why he was given a contract instead of Robinson (who had the full package, unlike Leavine) still boggles my mind.
Despite its critical acclaim among fans and success in ratings, Tough Enough was never picked up for another season. Austin and DeMott have both stated on multiple occasions in the past that they would like to see the show return, but it might be too late given that The Texas Rattlesnake is currently busy with other projects.
As it turns out, WWE's rebranding of its developmental territory, NXT, along with its newly opened Performance Center seem to have taken the place of Tough Enough as the launching pad for up-and-coming talent. However, unlike Tough Enough, NXT is solely a wrestling program and features no behind-the-scenes look at the rookies when the cameras aren't rolling.
Even if Tough Enough was to make a comeback, it wouldn't serve as the precursor to Raw on the WWE Network due to the Monday night program now running three hours long. However, with the launch of the WWE Network, I see no reason why the show can't be brought back for a sixth season on that platform.
It may not even be under the Tough Enough banner, but the concept of the series was excellent and can be easily used with the stars of NXT (or even those who are still striving to make it to NXT). A similar idea has been pitched for the network as of late, per SB Nation's Cageside Seats, so it may be more likely than we think.
Stone Cold's involvement in the reboot of Tough Enough was part of what made it such a success, and although he might not be able to return for a potential sixth season, there are several other names that could replace him. The likes of Bret Hart, Ric Flair, Shawn Michaels and Mick Foley come to mind.
As enjoyable as NXT is, it's lacking that realism that made Tough Enough so different and innovative. An exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the talent and what they have to go through to make it to the main roster is exactly what the show needs.
With the WWE Network offering old episodes of Raw and SmackDown, it should be only a matter of time before it adds the entire fifth season as well as the preceding seasons to the available on-demand content.
Would you like to see Tough Enough make a return on the WWE Network in the near future? If so, in what capacity and whom should be its host?
Thanks for reading, and be sure to drop a comment below with your thoughts on Tough Enough potentially making a comeback at some point. As always, your criticism and overall feedback on my latest piece is welcomed and greatly appreciated.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is a journalism major at Endicott College. Visit his website at Next Era Wrestling and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.