Squared Circle: Who Was Really Tough Enough?

Al Constable@AlBleacherSenior Analyst IJanuary 23, 2011

Squared Circle: Who Was Really Tough Enough?

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    For those not old enough to remember WWF/E programming back in 2001 NXT was not the first of its kind. WWE had previously tried four times to find a unique way of introducing new wrestlers into their current roster of well established names. From 2001-04 WWE ran a reality TV show called Tough Enough. In it regular people with non-wrestling backgrounds were trained and prepared for a career in pro wrestling. Each week someone was eliminated and the last two contestants would win a contract with WWE. Despite this little detail many losers still went on to become wrestlers.

    This article will be looking at the contestants successful enough to get a wrestling career after their stint in the show was done. It will not be looking at those who decided to call it quits when it was over or those that barely made any impact.

    Before I begin lets talk about Tough Enough: Season 1. At a time where reality TV was becoming a big sensation it made sense to capitalise. What better way to get the fans behind a wrestler than to show that they to could become one if they were physically healthy.

    Problems raised from the fact none of the contests (bar one) had any prior wrestling experience. This meant they did not know the life or the strain their bodies would take. The show was supposed to eliminate one contestant every week but usually an injury occurred and forced the more competent athletes off the show.

    Despite the show not going quite as expected it was successful enough to warrant another season.

Taylor Matheny

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    Contest Result: Female Runner-Up

    Lets start off with the one from the first season you probably never heard of. Unlike a lot of the following Tough Enough contestants mentioned, Taylor Matheny never made it to the main roster of any big wrestling promotion. Its a real shame because she had the potential to be one of the all time greats if she had continued her career.

    After Tough Enough she floated around many independent and minor promotions such as World Wrestling Alliance in November 2001. For a small period of time show was with ARISON, an all women company based in Japan where she competed for titles but came away empty handed.

    Despite showing promise she was not attracting any big name companies or their developmental partnerships. By 2003 she retired after becoming unsatisfied with her wrestling life.

    Latest word has it that she is a make up artist, pursuing a job in Hollywood.

Christopher Nowinski

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    Contest Status: Tough Enough Male Runner-Up

    Major Championships and Awards: WWE Hardcore Champion (x2)

    For most fans of Tough Enough Chris Nowinski was the one that should have won the prize. He had prior wrestling experience, he was an intelligent guy and had a true respect for the business not many of the other contestants achieved until later in their careers.

    Nowinski started his proper career on 14th December 2001 wrestling for indie promotion Frontier Wrestling Alliance. He only wrestled one show and was quickly signed up for a developmental deal for WWE.

    On 10th June 2002 he made an appearance on WWE Raw helping William Regal retain the WWE European Championship against Bradshaw. Nowinski's character was that of a Harvard graduate (like in real life) and used this to build a heel persona. He came from a higher form of education in comparisond to most viewers. His character used that as his reason for believing in his own superiority.

    His union with Regal lasted until the Englishman joined the Un-Americans stable. Throughout Autumn 2002 Nowinski feuded with Tough Enough trainer Al Snow and winner Maven. After this story he was relegated back to Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW) and used purely as developmental talent.

    Nowinkski would have one last run in WWE after he joined Thuggin' and Buggin' Enterprises. A group managed by Theodore Long using race angles to further their causes. His alliance with the group awarded him with his first and only PPV match, a victory over The Dudleys (Team 3D).

    June 2003 saw Nowinski start suffering from Post Concussion Syndrome after taking a bad knock to the head during a house show. After a year on the sidelines he decided to call his career quits.

    He would have one more involvement with WWE in 2005 by aiding their SmackDown Your Vote campaign. Afterwards he wrote a book called Head Games:Football's Concussion Crisis. This piece of work, and several follow up articles, have made Nowinski something of a concussion expert who even had some involvement in the investigation of the Chris Benoit case.

    Nowinski was a huge loss for wrestling. If ill fate had not struck he could have been something big. But everything has a silver lining and his new career allows him to put that Harvard degree to good use.

Josh Lomberger

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    Contest Status: Male Runner-Up

    OK onto the first contestant the fans of today will recognise. Today this man is called Josh Matthews and he is constantly seen conducting his business on the commentary table for all major WWE shows.

    Interesting fact: Only member of Tough Enough: Season 1 to still be in the WWE today!

    Josh was the runt of Tough Enough. In all honesty he was always going to have a hard time forging a career because he was small. What he did have was a lot of enthusiasm that captured the inspiration of many watching the show.

    Like the others he went on and travelled through the indie circuit before being hired by WWE as an announcer and interviewer for SmackDown in 2003. He gained great popularity as the Play-by-Play of WWE Velocity showcasing a great knowledge of the business.

    In 2004 he had is first official match to date after briefly feuding with John Bradshaw Layfield and his cabinet. He would compete in a tag match with Booker T against JBL and Orlando Jordan. This was followed by a singles match against Jordan. Matthews was victorious on both occasions. Of course this would lead to him receiving a Clothesline From Hell at Booker T's WWE Championship match at Survivor Series.

    2005 was an odd year for the announcer. He would be attacked by Kurt Angle, possessed by The Undertaker and shot by ex-referee Tim White... I'm serious, that actually happened.

    In actuality it was to send him to FCW to act as a colour commentator opposite Todd Grisham. This would last until 2009 when he was promoted to ECW. With Matt Striker he commentated until the end of the show and ended up on NXT.

    Arguably the most successful of the original Tough Enough cast. After all he is the only one still with a wrestling job.

Nidia Guenard

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    Contest Status: Female Winner

    So let's look at the first winner of this list. Nidia was forgettable on Tough Enough and wasn't any more memorable on proper WWE programming. Sure she won but it was because the best were injured and dropped out early. Unlike Maven who debuted on SmackDown shortly after the first season was completed, Nidia was not seen for a few shows and even then had only a minor role.

    She was quickly shipped off to OVW and wouldn't turn up again until 2002. When she returned it was mostly in a managerial capacity playing the on-screen girlfriend of Jamie Noble during his trailer trash gimmick. She only had two moments that I can truly remember off the top of my head.

    The first was when she wore The Hurricane's mask as underwear and the second was when Tajiri sprayed "Black Mist" into her eyes. After her break up with Noble she was drafted to Raw in 2004.

    For a while it seemed she was going to get a serious push after defeating wrestlers like Molly Holly and even competing for the Women's Championship at the first Taboo Tuesday. Come November though the WWE had a purge of unwanted talent and she was gone.

    She toured indies for a short time but retired wanting to be free of the strenuous wrestling life. She currently has a career in culinary.

Maven Huffman

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    Contest Status: Male Winner

    Major Championships and Awards: WWE Hardcore Champion (x3)

    WWE really wanted Maven to be successful. If he could make it, then Tough Enough was worth it in the eyes of potential viewers and contestants. The problem was ( and not wanting to sound like a cynic)  in some ways Maven won the show on a pity vote after it was found out his Aunt (who was like a Mother to him his entire life) had contracted a terminal illness during the show. Whilst he was charismatically superior to the other contestants, when compared to Chris Nowinski he never seemed as talented when it came down to the actual wrestling.

    Once the show ended he was placed in short feud with Tough Enough coach Tazz managing to overcome him on the third attempt. Maven would disappear into developmental until 2002 re-emerging at the Royal Rumble, eliminating The Undertaker that began a rivalry between the two. During this time Maven actually fought Chris Jericho for the World Championship.

    Like all wrestlers WWE didn't know what to do with during the Attitude era Maven was a regular in the Hardcore division winning the belt on three occasions. Once the division was gone though he was a regular fixture on Heat (where he would ironically get another World Championship match against Triple H).

    He made no notable waves again until 2004 where a victory over Evolution's Batista had him in the sights of Triple H once again. Maven was part of Team Orton at Survivor Series in a victory over Evolution. This allowed Maven to be Raw GM for one week. He booked himself another World Championship match against Triple H that he lost. This was the highest point of his career.

    Maven turned heel a couple of weeks later but his credibility was destroyed at New Year's Revolution 2005 when getting squashed twice in the same night by Shelton Benjamin. Maven was shortly released after this event.

    Although not retired Maven rarely wrestles anymore. If he does its for the indies. The first Tough Enough champion usually makes ends meet by working for Home Shopping Network and taking reality TV jobs.

    Interesting Note: When ECW was revived in 2006 he was offered a job as part of the New Breed.

Tough Enough 2

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    So out of the five who tired to make a career from their Tough Enough experience only one is still active and even then he is a commentator. Surely the second season was more successful?

    I never actually watched Tough Enough 2. Mainly because I had no idea what channel it was being broadcast on. Sky One in the UK showed the first season but apparently MTV would show corresponding TEs.

    The show was mostly known in the end for a controversy. You see it turned out that not many of the remaining male participants were really that good at their desired profession. So two female winners were picked instead. Of course as we will see they were no better but at least they can look pretty if all else fails.

Jessie Ward

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    Contest Status: Eliminated During 7th Week

    OK I'm cheating a bit with this one because she technically never went on to become a wrestler. Although in all fairness it was because she never could even if she wanted to. During training she took a nasty bump that caused her hands to go numb and feel pretty bad in general. It was discovered she had a rare heart condition and medically she could not become a pro wrestler without huge risk. She decided to call it quits on her career but decided to move backstage.

    From late 2002 she began to work as a stage director for WWE working on all major shows and Tough Enough III. This only lasted until 2004 when she joined TNA as an assistant director. Her last involvement with pro wrestling was back in 2007. Today she works on films producing many indy movies and documentaries.

Kenny Layne

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    Contest Status: Co-Runner-Up

    Those that follow Ring of Honor will know a bit about this next fellow. After failing to win his season of Tough Enough, Kenny went straight into the indy circuit changing his name to Kenny King in the process. It is interesting to know that in 2003 he would actually defeat The Miz in a match for Ultimate Pro Wrestling. In 2005 he got his big break.

    TNA would hire him and although he was primarily used as a jobber it gave him experience performing for a major promotion. After a year he was released but this allowed him to appear for both Full Impact Pro and Ring of Honor.

    In ROH he has had some championship opportunities and some notable feuds against Bryan Danielson (or Daniel Bryan for the uninformed) and Jerry Lynn.

    So this one is worth watching in the future. He does not have to be a Tough Enough failure like many others who have competed on the show.

Matt Morgan

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    Contest Status: Eliminated During 6th Week

    Major Championships and Awards: TNA World Tag Team Champion (x1)

    From ROH to TNA. If Matt Morgan had lasted until the end of Tough Enough I can almost guarantee he would have been a winner. He was injured and dropped out but was quickly signed to OVW to develop. Whilst at the WWE-feeder promotion Morgan would gain a reputation for being able to win handicap matches despite being the one at disadvantage.

    Once he was promoted to the main roster he would become an ally of then WWE champion Brock Lesnar. Morgan would lose most of his main event matches, usually taking the fall for his tag partners. He would injure his shoulder during the Royal Rumble in 2004.

    He would have another spell with OVW to develop a new gimmick. In the end he was promoted back to WWE with a stammer. He was underused and pretty much a bodyguard for Carlito until they were separated by the draft.

    After being released by WWE in 2005 he would work for several Japanese and European companies before being signed by TNA.

    Morgan has shown himself to be a valuable asset to TNA. He has been placed in several feuds including, but not limited to, Abyss and Kurt Angle. He has also worked tirelessly for the company sometimes performing when injured in reality.

    To date he has a TNA World Tag Team Championship to his name that makes him a whole load more successful than most of Tough Enough cast. They have also been pushing him as a potential World Champion.

Linda Miles

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    Contest Status: Co-Winner

    Onto the winners, first with Linda Miles. Since both winners were female WWE had a brilliant idea. Let's have the two rookies have a rivalry. The problem is one of themed needed to turn heel and that one wasn't Linda Miles.

    Now for reasons I shall explain the next slide she was sent to developmental. She would return a year later to manage the tag team called The Bashams (or The Basham Brothers if your prefer). She also had a dominatrix gimmick if you can't tell from the picture.

    Since The Bashams spent most of their time on SmackDown she would never have any opportunities for a championship (There was only one belt for Divas and it was Raw exclusive). Most of the matches she had against the likes of Torrie Wilson and Dawn Marie were squashes.

    She was quite successful as a manager. The Bashams managed to win the WWE Tag Team Championship from Los Guerreros. What may have destroyed her credibility could be linked to nothing was though of it. At least nothing until it was pointed out that her breasts had enlarged in size...

    According to Miles (who was going under the name Shaniqua at the time) Bradshaw's attack had caused some swelling and it was permanent. OK.. where to begin?

    Wrestling fans, myself included, do not have the sharpest memories. Heck I doubt that many of us had noticed her boobs had gotten any bigger. After all this is why she was taken off TV so no one would notice right? But by pointing it out we all noticed and could all laugh at WWE's stupid reasons for giving her fake boobs.

    This wasn't like with Stephanie McMahon back in 2001. Where as the size increase was apparent in her case, thus the fans were already aware of the jokes,  it wasn't quite as obvious with Linda Miles. Her credibility was destroyed the WWE way.

    Her last match was in a 3-on-2 handicap match against Rikishi and Scotty 2 Hotty. She received a Bonzai Drop and disappeared from wrestling forever.

    Today Linda Miles can be found teaching in Cincinatti.

Jackie Gayda

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    Contest Status: Co-Winner

    Take this moment to go onto Youtube. Search for "That Jackie Gayda Match."

    Okay now you know why she needed to go to OVW.

    It takes a lot, and I mean A LOT, of terrible stuff to happen in a completely arbitrary inter-gender tag match on Raw to be worth noting for how bad it is.

    So pretty much WWE gave up on her as a wrestler instantly. But get this... she's hot! WWE have made loads of money from women who have little in-ring talent but nice pretty faces. This is why she was placed as the manger of Rico and her biggest memorable moment was when she flashed a member of La Resistance.

    It was all in the build up to an Evening Gown match with Stacey Keibler against Torrie Wilson and Sable at WrestleMania XX. I use the term match sparingly. Go find that on Youtube as well.

    Soon after she was drafted to Smackdown with Rico and would end up managing Charlie Haas as part of a Tag Team and the duo did become WWE Tag Team Champions.

    Later in 2004 Gayda did start to gain confidence from the company. After having a rivalry with Dawn Marie she began to get a lot more singles matches but was released not long after. It was rumoured to be down to the fact she and Charlie Hass became married (he was released on the same day). She would go around the indies for a while before finding employment with TNA.

    Gayda did start to find her way in the company but had to stop after becoming pregnant. Since leaving TNA she is in a state of semi-retirement. Occasionally she makes appearance in other companies (most notably at WrestleMania XXV) but spends her time being a mother and running her and Charlie Hass' nutrition shop.

Tough Enough III

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    So Tough Enough 2 was slightly more successful at creating stars but not proper wrestlers. Keep this in mind when we look at Tough Enough III.

    This was the series no one watched. The problem was since people were seeing these Tough Enough "Champions" not really making it the appeal somewhat faded. Also times were changing.

    The first season was introduced at the tail end of the Monday Night Wars. Pro wrestling was still one of the most popular products to watch on TV. Three years later this was not the case anymore.

    As a result many of the competitors of Tough Enough III did not aspire to become pro wrestlers (or at least did not make enough impact) after the season was over. Take a look at the picture. This series was so unpopular I couldn't even find a Tough Enough III logo, I had to use the DVD boxart.

    Ironically there are only three names worth mentioning.

Melina Perez

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    Contest Status: Preliminary Elimination

    • Major Championships and Awards: WWE Women's Champion (x3)
    •                                                    WWE Diva's Champion (x2)

    Praise be to Al Snow. If it was not for him, Melina may not be in the current ranks of WWE or in any organisation at all.

    Once again I technically have defied my rules to allow Melina in. She was never truly a contestant in Tough Enough III as she was eliminated during the audition stage of the show. Al Snow convinced her to continue pursuing her dream and today we have one of the finest female performers in the business.

    Melina did have prior wrestling training so if she had of made it through to the actual competition I'm sure she would have at least made it to the finals.

    I won't go on for too long since her entire career has particularly been spent in the confines of WWE. Plus she hasn't been around that long. If I didn't include her then the list for Tough Enough III would have only included the winners.

Matt Cappotelli

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    Contest Status: Co-Winner

    In a complete turn around from Season 2, this year saw two male winners. I guess it was to even the numbers. Matt Cappotelli was possibility the biggest tragedy of Tough Enough because like the other winner he showed so much potential. It was an unlucky twist of fate that ended his career.

    After a brief appearance on WWE Raw he was sent to OVW. During his time there he became one of their best talents in development but there was still controversy. Unfortunately for Matt he was put into a practise match with Hardcore Holly. Any wrestling fan knows what it means to pair a rookie with Bob Holly. To make matters worse since the match was not being viewed, Hardcore went to town. Cappotelli came out of it hurt and to further his problems Holly concussed him at a live event in April 2004.

    Despite the injuries he would continue to receive during his time in OVW, he would always come back but had to halt his career once he formed a Brain Tumour. On May 1st an operation successfully removed the tumour. He decided to retire from wrestling in January 2009 when WWE released him from his contract.

    Originally he began to Tag with The Miz during Dark Matches before live Raws and SmackDown tapings. It's a shame to think he would of had a bright career had fate not taken him from the wrestling world.

    Today he is happily running a gym in Kentucky.

John Hennigan

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    Contest Status: Co-Winner

    • Major Championships and Awards: ECW Champion (x1)
    •                                                    WWE Intercontinental Champion (x3)
    •                                                    WWE World Tag Team Champion (x1)
    •                                                    WWE Tag Team Champion (x4)
    •                                                    Best Tag Team 2008 Slammy
    •                                                    Best WWE.com Exclusive 2008 Slammy                                                

    For a long time this man was the stand-out alumni of Tough Enough. He won several major championships, was given lots of screen time early on and pretty much was WWE's main attraction on their ECW show (along with CM Punk) for 2007.

    If you've been watching WWE programming recently you'll know that he is on the hottest push of his career that has so far included a shot at the WWE Championship. He has come a long way from his first appearance on Raw, getting beaten to hell by Tommy Dreamer's Singapore Cane. Then of course there was the time he became Johnny Nitro, apprentice to Eric Bischoff. Actually it's quite remarkable he managed to make it this far considering his unlucky gimmick history. I don't need to tell you much more since we probably all know the John Morrison story by now.

    Interesting Fact: He did audition for Tough Enough 2 but was turned down for being too arrogant.

$1,000,000 Tough Enough

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    So this was the other season of Tough Enough I actually watched because it annoyingly took up 15-30 minutes of SmackDown every week it was running.

    The concept of this series is closer to that of NXT. Rookies didn't compete in the ring or show how hard they were training. Instead they were given stupid challenges and voted off by the fans (from North America Only).

    On the other hand it produced the ultimate success story out of a collection of forgettable faces.

Daniel Rodimer

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    Contest Status: 3rd Elimination

    I actually don't remember Daniel Rodimer being on the show. He was quite a forgettable contestant in comparison to the opposition he had.

    Apparently Daniel Rodimer competed for the WWE Championship once. He got this by having a dark match with John Cena. That was the highlight of his career as a pro wrestler. He almost made it to TV a couple of times facing the likes of Val Venis on Heat but was constantly sent back down to developmental.

    After being released he found out the hard way wrestling was not for him. He decided to go back to the career he was in before Tough Enough. He works in real estate.

Nick Mitchell

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    Contest Status: 1st Elimination

    Major Championships and Awards: WWE World Tag Team Champion (x1)

    Once again, I don't remember this guy being on the show at all. He was the first elimination though so I think I can forgive myself.

    So this guy's biggest moment in his career was the fact that he was a male cheerleader who got to be a Tag Team Champion with The Spirit Squad via the Freebird Rule. Despite being tag champs they never fared too well. They lost a 5-on-2 handicap match to DX despite it being elimination rules (In a clean sweep I might add). That pretty much shows how useless they were. They also lost those titles to Ric Flair and Roddy Piper.

    Nick Mitchell was released of his contract shortly after The Spirit Squad was shipped back to OVW (in a literal sense) by DX. Today he trains as an MMA fighter currently with a win/loss record of 0-1. At least he can say Dolph Ziggler was once his tag partner.

Ryan Reeves

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    Contest Status: 4th Elimination

    Bodybuilder Ryan Reeves was one of the standout stars of this season's Tough Enough. Through numerous injuries he would continue working on the show and was the final contestant to be voted off before a winner was decided. He is the first contestant I actually remember because he almost won the capture the flag challenge against The Basham Brothers and was the only contestant to give them any trouble. His work ethic impressed WWE who took him on a developmental contract.

    He pretty much was traded between the different developmental organisations until he was called up to the first season of NXT. Apparently he became part of a group called The Nexus... whoever they are. Unfortunately for Reeves despite showing some promise he injured his ankle shortly after his main roster call-up and is still on the injured list.

Mike Mizanin

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    Contest Status: Runner-Up

    • Major Championships and Awards: WWE Champion (x1)
    •                                                    WWE United States Champion (x2)
    •                                                    WWE World Tag Team Champion (x2)
    •                                                    WWE Tag Team Champion (x2)
    •                                                    Raw Mr. Money in the Bank (2010)
    •                                                    Best Tag Team of 2008 Slammy
    •                                                    Best WWE.com exclusive of 2008 Slammy

    Really? You want me to talk about The Miz? Really? Seriously isn't he now recognised as the most awesome contestant Tough Enough ever saw? He is the WWE Champion after all.

    If you are desperate for something Miz related read my article about why the belt is one this man.

Daniel Puder

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    Contest Status: Winner

    Daniel Puder was suprising in the fact he never made it. WWE at least took a chance on the other winners. Maven got lots of TV time, Nidia had a PPV match once, Jackie Gayda and Linda Miles were shaped into decent valets and of course there is John Morrison.

    With a history of MMA he pretty much was the fan favourite of the contest from day one and he showed a certain degree of respect for the wrestling business that many in his line of work don't share. I think what most people remember about this guy is that shoot-fight he had with Kurt Angle on SmackDown. Angle had made all the contestant do squat thrusts until they dropped. The winner of the challenge was Chris Nawrocki whose prize was a wrestling match with Angle. Now being that he had no legit fight skills and was knackered he was beaten easily.

    Angle then asked if any other guy wanted to try. Puder put his hand up and entered the ring. Within seconds of the fight starting Puder locked in a legit kirmura lock. The referee realised what was going on made a quick three count when Puder's back was on the mat. This pretty much screwed his chances of making it in WWE. Angle was one of the top guys in 2004 and putting his health at risk (he would have eventually broke his arm if he never relinquished) was never going to sit well.

    The proof of this pretty much came once he won the contest. When you are the winner of a popularity vote the last thing you need is to be turned heel. That is what happened the moment he won the fan vote to get a contract he was made out to be a bad guy. This is what you do to people you don't want in the company.

    After an appearance in the Rumble (which saw him get a Bob Holly wooping) he was sent to OVW. WWE as a cost saving measure gave him an option to either be released or work for Deep South Wrestling for less money. Puder declined and returned to MMA for a couple of years.

    In 2007 he signed on with Ring of Honor but never made an impact during his short stay. Once again he returned to MMA in 2009 but signed on with another pro wrestling organisation in 2010. New Japan Pro Wrestling was his destination this time. For the time being news is quiet but I'm sure we will hear from him again.


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    So after after four series of contestants and several years of gruelling work only three remain in the company today. It nice to see some other companies taking on the rejected talent and working them into something worth watching but in the end I would say one thing to anyone who wanted to join the upcoming Tough Enough.

    Don't do it! Run away and never look back!

    It appears like most reality TV winners the quick and easy path never truly prepares them for their chosen profession. When Professional Wrestling is taken into the equation there is possibly no harder life to live until you become a major success. Even then people like John Cena, The Miz and Randy Orton spend most of the year on the road away from their families.

    If this new Tough Enough is to be taken seriously then only wrestlers should be allowed to apply. No average joes. After all when only one of the winners remains with the company, the show doesn't look appealing to the everyday person.

    Coming Soon: WWE Diva Search Talent Retrospective.


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