A spiky-haired, babyfaced reality star stood in a line of powerhouses bursting out of their black T-shirts on the fourth season of WWE Tough Enough. Kurt Angle berated him and his fellow competitors. This loudmouth from The Real World would end up accomplishing more in the ring than anyone expected, except maybe himself.
The Miz became the poster boy for the ability of Tough Enough to discover new WWE talent.
Dubbed $1,000,000 Tough Enough, the revamped version of the series in 2004 ended up producing the most future champions, impact wrestlers and stars than any other cast in the show's history. The fourth season boasted two notable names in addition to a tag team champ and a man who once had Angle ready to tap.
The cast from that year's show included these finalists:
- Chris Nawrocki
- Daniel Puder
- Daniel Rodimer
- Nick Mitchell (Mitch)
- Ryan Reeves (Ryback)
- Mike Mizanin (The Miz)
- Justice Smith
Nawrocki, Rodimer and Smith are far from household names. Nawrocki took on Angle during Tough Enough and, as noted on Pro Wrestling Torch, Rodimer's brief stay on the WWE roster included a title match against John Cena at a house show in 2007.
Beyond that, the WWE resumes of that trio are nothing notable. It's their fellow competitors who went on to press their fingerprints on the company's history to varying degrees.
Season 3 boasted future ECW world champ John Morrison. The first season gave us Maven, and Cameron emerged from the fifth. Their success stories don't compare to the collective accomplishments from the cast that starred The Miz.
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Morrison pushes the third season into second place in each of these categories.
He has no help from his fellow Tough Enough contestants, though. His co-winner, Matt Cappotelli, went to work for WWE's developmental system but never made it past that stage. As WWE reported back in 2007, a brain tumor cut his career short.
The rest of the cast, like so many of the men and women who come on Tough Enough had no WWE career whatsoever.
The grapplers from the season when $1million was on the line outperformed many of the winners and losers from other editions of the reality series. Strangely enough, the man who came away with the victory in 2004 made less of an impact than the three men he outlasted on the show.
With a MMA background, a healthy supply of swagger and natural in-ring talent, it looked as if WWE had found a star in Puder.
In his brief stay with WWE, he defeated Hardcore Holly on a few house shows. He knocked off The Miz in Dixie Dog Fight at Armageddon 2004 and competed in the 2005 Royal Rumble. As a wrestler in the developmental system, he faced Mr. Kennedy and Chris Benoit.
Puder is most known, though, for an incident that derailed his career before it began.
Angle challenged the Tough Enough contestants, daring any one of them to take him down. Veering off the script, Puder accepted but quickly turned the worked match into a shoot. He soon had Angle in a Kimura lock.
The hold nearly broke Angle's arm, as Puder told Title Match Wrestling:
Having the Olympic gold medalist in such a precarious situation became his claim to fame. It surely didn't do him any favors with WWE brass, though. Puder was gone from the company less than a year after that clash with Angle.
Still, he got a chance to mix it up with Hall of Fame-caliber star Benoit, work a few pay-per-views and scratch his name into the WWE timeline with that wrenching of Angle's arm.
Before adopting the Ryback moniker, Reeves was a weightlifter trying to earn his way into the wrestling world. The blond behemoth made it to the final four on Tough Enough, but fans voted him off the show.
A year later, Ryback entered the WWE developmental system and has been with the company in some form ever since. He was among many during that season and others who had the prototypical WWE look, but he has carved out a better career with the company than any of his fellow powerhouses from Tough Enough.
Ryback began his WWE run as Skip Sheffield, moving to the main roster as part of The Nexus. That earned him a spot on the SummerSlam 2010 card.
A broken ankle allowed him time away from the camera to reconfigure his persona. He returned as the bulking brute Ryback, who dominated low-level competition for months.
Before long, he was stepping inside the Hell in a Cell as Cena's replacement against CM Punk for the WWE title. It's a championship he has yet to win, but one he fought for on other occasions against both Punk and Cena.
Through moving up and down the card, he's maintained a steady presence with WWE. And the volume of "Feed me more!" chants speak to the level of popularity he's been able to earn.
Most recently, he came away the winner in the first Elimination Chamber for the Intercontinental Championship.
The Big Guy looks to be making progress up the WWE ladder, but even if he doesn't, his title win and high-profile feuds make him far more of a success than the bulk of Tough Enough alumni.
Nick Mitchell didn't last long on Tough Enough. The former college football player was eliminated first, having to watch the rest of the series from home.
As Mitch of The Spirit Squad, though, he would experience a brief stay in the WWE spotlight.
The company signed him to a developmental deal in 2005, sending him down to Deep South Wrestling. Mitchell tagged with both Matt Striker and the man who would become Ryback during his time there.
A switch in gimmick earned him a promotion not long after he was moved to Ohio Valley Wrestling. He was one of five male cheerleaders who stormed Raw in 2006. The Spirit Squad was the proverbial double-edged sword.
It afforded him chances to battle major stars from Triple H to Cena, Edge to Ric Flair.
The gimmick also limited his and his partners' progress, though. How much could a gaggle of cheerleader wrestlers get over with the crowd? The answer ended up being: not much. The group disbanded by the end of the year.
Its most famous member—Dolph Ziggler—went on to enjoy a long, fruitful run with WWE. Mitchell, meanwhile, exited the company after being released in 2007.
The debate about which Tough Enough alum has had the most successful WWE career comes down to The Miz and John Morrison. They raked in the most titles and made the most high-profile appearances after the reality series.
The two standouts from the show paired up as tag team partners at WWE. For years, the two flashy athletes competed with the tag division's best talents. They won six tag titles as a pair and took home the 2008 Slammy Award for Tag Team of the Year.
The Miz, though, went on to collect far more gold with the company on his own or with other partners.
Working alongside Big Show, Cena and Damien Sandow, he became tag team champion four additional times. He's also held the United States and intercontinental titles and rode a Money in the Bank win in 2010 to a WWE title reign.
Beyond just titles, The Miz has been a fixture on the WWE scene for years. He is often relegated to the midcard, taking on someone like Kofi Kingston or Wade Barrett, but has also been asked to go up against marquee stars.
He has closed pay-per-views against Cena, Randy Orton, The Rock and CM Punk and served as the headlining act at WrestleMania XXVII.
In the last few months, he has elevated his game as a heel to become one of the most entertainingly irritating characters on the roster. Few wrestlers have mastered that art like he has over the years.
Say what you want about the quality of his world title reign or if he really belonged in those prominent spots, but the fact remains that his resume boasts all those accomplishments. Morrison is the only one from Tough Enough who comes close to matching that.
Combine The Miz's long career with the brief spurts of wrestling prosperity from Puder and Mitchell, as well as everything Ryback has been able to do thus far, and the fourth season of Tough Enough is the clear benchmark for turning a reality show appearance into success inside the squared circle.