Wrestling Reality: Was TOUGH ENOUGH A Success?

WrestleZone


Love it or hate it, reality TV has proven itself to be a platform and launching pad for unknowns to become superstars in a multitude of industries. As the reality TV universe casts its net wider and wider, it has produced mega successful business men, fashion designers, singing talents and so on. Not only does a show like American Idol entertain on its own, but it has genuine lasting effects on the music industry. For example, Kelly Clarkson is a huge superstar in the real world of music. And even several of the non-winners of these shows have gone on to have impressive careers in their lines of business. We don’t need to look very far in the fight world to find examples of how reality shows can create stars. In the UFC, The Ultimate Fighter has yielded many of the organization’s top stars including Josh Koscheck, Chris Leben, Diego Sanchez, Kenny Florian, Rashad Evans, Joe Stevenson, Michael Bisping, and current Light heavyweight Champion Forrest Griffin. So did it work for the WWE? A few years later…was Tough Enough a success in finding the next big thing in wrestling? Let’s find out.

Note that for the purposes of this conversation, I’m going to overlook the Diva Search…not only was it not a show onto itself, but I have good reason to believe that many of these girls would have ended up in the federation either way. Let’s take a look at what the show produced:

THE NEVER WERES

Of the 46 wannabe wrestlers to appear on the show, a whopping 32 never stepped foot into a true WWE ring (major leagues or developmentals) after their season ended. That is a pretty damning figure right off the get go. Additionally, a shockingly large amount of this group of 32 left the show without ever even being eliminated. Reasons included not wanting to sacrifice a relationship with a girlfriend, not really wanting to be a superstar at all (truly just wanted to pose for Playboy), a multitude of injuries, and even one mental breakdown from Season 3’s Lisa. Although it was presented as if she simply wasn’t passionate about wrestling, Lisa actually completely went off the deep end, running into walls and being institutionalized. Legend has it that she even weaseled her way back into OVW training sessions a few times thereafter by claiming that Big John Gaburik and Al Snow arranged for her to be there. They did not. Security crews were given her picture for future reference. Haha. Honorable mention here goes to Season 1’s Darryl for providing the funniest moment in show history, spiking a loaf of bread at the Supermarket. And a shout out to Season 2 auditioner, Wendell, whose incident passing out and moaning in the gym still puts a smile on my face to this day.

THE DEVELOPMENTALS

Since Tough Enough trainers Al Snow and Bill DeMott also ran these territories, one would expect to see a lot of names in this category. Yet strangely, this group is a small one. Hard to say if you’d consider this better or worse for the guys themselves, but this bunch advanced to the WWE developmental territories post-Tough Enough and were ultimately wished well in their future endeavors before ever making it to TV. Season 3’s Jonah had a few tryouts and a painfully brief run in the minors. Season 4’s Chris Nawrocki, Ryan Reeves, and Daniel Rodimer all lasted for a while, with Reeves and Rodimer making it til mid-last year before being let go. Reeves, aka “The Silverback” is a Vince McMahon dream come true…just a massive guy – so he must have really stunk up the joint to be down there as long as he was without a call-up. At the end of the day, add these 4 into the failure category, bringing our total thus far to 36 out of 46.

THE MODERATE SUCCESS STORIES

The news is not all bad though for the show’s alum. In fact, our remaining participants have gone on to do some pretty decent things for themselves.

Josh Matthews – Held a regular announcing gig on Velocity, and hosted backstage segments on RAW. Due to his training, Josh was able to be incorporated into storylines that required bumps, most notably getting brutally attacked by Kurt Angle and “possessed” by The Undertaker. Plus, he was a part of the best angle in WWE history…the Tim White suicide angle that ultimately resulted in Matthews’ on-air death on .com. Classic!

Justice Smith – Well, his wrestling career didn’t exactly take off, but he’s still parlayed his experience on the show into cool things. He has appeared on NBC’s AMERICAN GLADIATORS as Justice for the past two seasons. Pretty nifty if you ask me.

Nick Mitchell – Doesn’t sound familiar? What if I were to take half of his last name and make it his first name (typical WWE logic)? That’s right…he’s MITCH from the Spirit Squad. While he wasn’t really a breakout character (or even a breakout member of his own stable), he still spent all of 2006 main eventing on RAW, including PPV matches against DX. Not half bad.

Chris Nowinski – His report card is incomplete. Although he didn’t do anything overly impressive on TV, there’s no telling if he would have lasted if post-concussion syndrome didn’t derail his career. It seems as if he was considered a company man, as he was kept on board in various capacities after his injury-induced retirement. Of course, knowing WWE they were probably just trying to avoid a lawsuit. Nonetheless, Nowinski held TV victories over Bradshaw, Tommy Dreamer and Al Snow to name a few. Plus, he’s now an advocate and speaker on the matters of safety in sports and the effects of injury.

THE PINK-SLIPPED SHOW WINNERS

Nidia, Linda Miles, Jackie Gayda, and Daniel Puder. These names should sound familiar to you…they all won the show and they all appeared in some capacity for some length of time on WWE TV.

Linda Miles, aka Shaniqua (cause after all, taking a girl named Linda and switching her name to Shaniqua isn’t even remotely racist), lasted under a year on SD!. Her biggest role was managing the awesome Bashams. Safe to say her run wasn’t particularly memorable or important to the landscape of wrestling.

Although her WWE run wasn’t groundbreaking, Jackie did somewhat better for herself. Her most notable storyline was with Rico, which is bad. However, she did meet her husband, Charlie Haas, which is good (for her at least – he seems a tad dull if you ask me). And she had a run in TNA as well, so she has managed relative success in the industry.

Nidia fits a similar profile – two years and one Jamie Noble storyline later and she was given her walking papers. She’s easy to dismiss, but many people never even make it to the big show and last anywhere near 2 years…so it can’t be entirely dismissed.

Daniel Puder lasted about a day. Puder is notorious for shooting on Kurt Angle during a Tough Enough competition by locking him in a kimura. In turn, he got shot on by the entire roster in a Royal Rumble match and was immediately fired.

THE CREAM OF THE CROP

Let’s just start with a special acknowledgement of Matt Cappotelli, one of the winners of Season 3. Matt was on the verge of a call-up to the main roster in late 2005, when he was diagnosed with brain cancer. Recent reports state that his recover is going extremely well. Cappotelli profiled as having the potential to be the next Brian Pillman. Here’s wishing him all the best in his future.

Although Maven is no longer around, but he has to be considered at least a moderate success story. He was a title holder (Hardcore champion), defended that title at Wrestlemania, and he actually eliminated The Undertaker from the Royal Rumble. He participated in at least 10 WWE PPVs and also main evented RAWs in matches teaming with the likes of Goldberg & HBK and Orton, Jericho, and Benoit. He had the look, the charisma…he was almost like a mini, very poor man’s The Rock. He had a solid 4 year run of things prior to being let go.

This next one is a special case, as Marty Wright never actually made it onto the show. He was featured on the program though, as he was let go during the casting process for lying about his age. Even though he was disqualified and over 40 years old, miraculously Marty Wright managed to get signed and do quite well for himself. HE’S THE BOOGEYMAN…AND HE’S COMIN’ TO GETCHA. With a PPV victory over JBL and a Wrestlemania squash of Booker T, he is actually towards the very front of the Tough Enough class. Plus, he’s one of the few who still remain under WWE contract.

As an aside, much like The Boogeyman, several current WWE stars got their beginnings by trying out for Tough Enough and not making it. Shad Gaspard of Cryme Tyme was slated to be on Season 2, but failed his physical prior to the show. Daivari was shown during the season 3 auditions and Melina actually made it to the top 25 on Season 3 before being cut.

Our next entrant has the potential to probably be the biggest star to emerge from Tough Enough. Unfortunately for the WWE, it won’t be for them. Many people forget this, but Matt Morgan was a contestant on his way to potentially winning Season 2, but had to leave the show with injury. He was then signed to a development deal and had 2 short-lived stints on WWE TV. His tenure started well enough (forming Team Lesnar with Brock, A-Train, and Nathan Jones at the Survivor Series). But then he written off of TV almost immediately…only to return a year later with a stuttering problem. Perfect way to get over a giant, right? Give him a speech impediment! So stupid. Now that he’s being given a chance though, he is thriving as another past contestant to appear on American Gladiators (see above for Justice Smith), and more notably, in TNA. I think his current gimmick and nickname say it all…this guy is The Blueprint for success in the wrestling industry. Great look and developing skill set. I, for one, think he will take the ball and run with it. He can be a big star.

Mike Mizanin is not only a premier example of turning reality television into stardom, but this guy has truly lived the good life. For one thing, on his initial season on The Real World, he was portrayed as an ignorant hick-ish frat boy, who was highly disliked. In fact, “The Miz” character debuted as his dangerous, drunken, alter ego…and not in a good way. Yet somehow when he reemerged on at least 5 seasons of MTV’s Real World/Road Rules Challenge, he was a beloved stud. The entire “chick magnet” gimmick is real to life…this guy has dated some hot girls in his time and a lot of them. Tack on appearances on Battle of the Network Reality Stars, Fear Factor, and Identity and this guy has made a lifetime of free vacations, prizes, girls, and TV appearances. Then, add on the fact that he parlayed all of this into realizing his childhood dream of becoming a pro wrestler, and this gone has done great for himself. And to top it all off, he’s actually pretty good and constantly improving. Naturally, we all know about his long tag team title run and I think we’d all agree, there are likely at least another one or two title opportunities in his future.

Last but not least is The Miz’s tag team partner, the prized jewel of the Tough Enough graduating class, John Hennigan aka John Morrison. Morrison holds the distinction of being both the Tough Enough participant to accomplish the most thus far and he is undoubtedly the most likely candidate for future success. I think John brings together some of the favorable elements of Curt Hennig, Rick Rude, and many upper card heels that have come before him. In addition to his tag team title run with Mizanin, he also was a 3 time tag champ as a member of MNM, a 2 time Intercontinental Champ, and had a run as the ECW Champion – far and away the biggest major title to be held by a show alum. WOW! This guy is a stud. Very impressive resume. Plus he’s still young and likely has his best work ahead of him. Now if they’d just let him do his standing shooting star press or twisting/corkscrewing/720 splash again. I wonder if he’ll ever get elevated to true elite status…think how long Edge was around before reaching those lofty heights…but either way, he’s already accomplished a lot in a short amount of time.

THE FINAL REPORT CARD

46 participants. 36 complete flops. Roughly 10 contributors. 3 champions. 1 superstar. Ya know what, I think that’s a pretty good success rate. I mean, the premise was never that every contestant would become a superstar. That’s certainly not the concept of any other reality show either. Out of 8 seasons of American Idol, they may have 10-20 breakout players and that’s the most popular show on television. From WWE’s standpoint, Im sure the show made good money off of advertising etc. – I mean, the show was very cheap to produce and held up with decent ratings for 3 seasons. Therefore, anything else has to be considered gravy for them. Did Tough Enough produce the next mega star? No. But did it yield some useful main stay players? Indeed it did. Overall, it’s hard to not view it as a success…maybe not a smash hit, but definitely a worthwhile endeavor.

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