Historically Speaking: So WWE’s Definition of Tough is The Miz?

“[Some historians hold that history] is just one damned thing after another.” – Arnold Toynbee

The Opening Chapter
One of the big news stories that came out of the IWC last week was the realization that Matt Cappotelli’s brain tumor has now grown in size since being diagnosed some 14 months ago. He will be undergoing dangerous surgery on May 1 in hopes of alleviating some, if not all, of the tumor. He had been pegged to be called up to the WWE main roster approximately three times, but all were derailed due to injuries. Unfortunately it looks like he may never get the call-up to the main roster, let alone wrestle ever again.

So this week let’s take a look back at the franchise that spawned Matt and countless others. Some have been successes and some have been failures, but ultimately they first had to prove they were “Tough Enough.”

Season One: Al Snow’s Career Renaissance
Reality shows on television have been all the rage since 2000 when Survivor debuted and caused a sensation. The WWF didn’t want to miss out on the sensation and created their own reality show, dubbed Tough Enough, in the summer of 2001. The show was originally broadcast on MTV and featured a group of wannabe wrestlers that were to be trained for several weeks by a group of WWF wrestlers, in this first case the trainers included Al Snow, Tori, Jacqueline and Tazz. Thirteen contestants started out, but it ultimately came down to five-Chris Nowinski, Maven Huffman, Josh Matthews, Taylor Matheny and Nidia Guenard. The live finale saw Nidia and Maven chosen as the first Tough Enough champions.

Nidia was immediately sent to Ohio Valley for more training while Maven went over Tazz a few times on television before being sent away for more training as well. Maven received his big break at Royal Rumble 2002 by eliminating the Undertaker from the match. He earned himself a full-time spot on the roster after that. He remained a plucky underdog babyface through 2002, 2003 and most of 2004 before turning heel at the end of the year. He continued on as a low card heel and was ultimately fired during a purge of talent in July 2005. He has since appeared on a season of Vh1’s Surreal Life. As for Nidia, she first appeared in the spring of 2002 as the white trash girlfriend of Jaime Noble. She remained in that role until early 2004 until she turned face after being “blinded” by Tajiri. She was ultimately drafted to RAW after WrestleMania 20 and stayed there until November 2004 when she was released in a talent blood-letting.

But it was the runner-ups who have had more success, as Josh Matthews was signed by WWE in 2002 as ringside commentator for Velocity and backstage announcer for the SmackDown! brand. Despite Velocity being cancelled Matthews is still employed, primarily working with the WWE’s mobile and on-line services. Chris Nowinski also earned a job in 2002 as an on-air talent. He used his Harvard education to craft a wonderful heel persona. His in-ring career was cut short after he was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome in the summer of 2003. He has since written a definitive book on concussions and still works for the WWE in a PR capacity.

Season Two: Hardcore Holly’s an Asshole
Season two saw a return to MTV for the same format of show and 13 new wannabes. Joining Al Snow as trainers this time around were Hardcore Holly, Ivory and Chavo Guerrero. By this point Snow had established himself as the premier trainer and found a new niche for himself and some solid job security within WWE. Holly also established himself as a tough-as-hell bad ass trainer who was the drill sergeant of the group.

This year’s finale saw two women, Linda Miles and Jackie Gayda, beat two men, Kenny King and a jacked-up meathead named Jake to win the two contracts. Both girls made brief appearances on television but Jackie’s inexperience provided one of the most unintentionally funny matches ever when she teamed with Nowinski against Bradshaw and Trish Stratus live on RAW. She blew spots left and right, ultimately blowing the top rope bulldog finish completely. She was promptly sent to Ohio Valley as JR apologized profusely on air for the mess of a match while Stratus was beside herself in anger. She reappeared in late 2003 as a valet for Rico. She & Rico were sent to SmackDown! after WrestleMania 20 where they paired up with Charlie Haas. She remained with Haas even after Rico was fired. The pair was both fired during the same July 2005 purge that saw the release of Maven. The pair had been married less than a month when they were fired. They are still together and have a daughter. Jackie is now employed by TNA but is off TV due to her new baby. As for Linda, she appeared on WWE TV in June 2003, as Shaniqua, manager of the Basham Brothers. She stayed in that role until February 2004 when she was written off of TV. She was later released in November of that year.

Once again it was the runners-up who proved to have some success as well. Kenny King showed up on TNA television in the fall of 2005 as enhancement talent and was used that way for the rest of 2005 and into 2006. Jessie Ward, who was eliminated early in the competition, was eventually hired by WWE in a backstage capacity. She eventually left to get more schooling and now works for TNA in a backstage role. Perhaps the biggest success to come out of TE 2 was Matt Morgan. Morgan had to pull out of the competition due to injury but was still hired on the spot to a developmental deal. He made had two runs on WWE TV, once as a heavy for Paul Heyman in the fall of 2003 and again in the spring of 2005 as a bodyguard for Carlito who had a stuttering problem. He was also released in that fateful July 2005 talent firing.

Season Three: Bill DeMott’s Career Renaissance, and Holly’s Still an Asshole
Season three was the final season broadcast on MTV. Snow and Ivory returned as trainers but Bill DeMott replaced Holly in the asshole drill sergeant role.

Third time became a charm as far as getting the formula right. Two men, John Henigan and Matt Cappotelli, were chosen as the winners of the competition and are still employed by WWE today. Both were sent immediately to Ohio Valley for seasoning. They made brief appearances on TV as tag team enhancement talent.

Henigan was the first to make to the main stage. He appeared in early 2004 as an apprentice for RAW GM Eric Bischoff using a variety of gimmick names before settling on Johnny Nitro. He was sent back to Ohio Valley in June of that year for more seasoning. It was here that he formed the MNM team with real life girlfriend Melina Perez and Joey Matthews, now dubbed Joey Mercury. The trio showed up on SmackDown! in April 2005 and instantly won Tag Team gold. The pair teamed until May 2006 when Mercury was sent to rehab and Nitro and Melina went to RAW. They reunited with Mercury in November 2006 and teamed off and on until Mercury’s release before WrestleMania. Nitro remains on RAW to this day, a far cry from his early days as Tough Enough winner John Henigan.

His co-winner Matt Cappotelli had a rougher time of it. He was first stiffed and injured by Hardcore Holly during a training session when Holly showed up as a guest trainer. Later in 2004 on a WWE live event Holly gave Capotelli a concussion, further sidelining his call-up to the roster. He broke his leg in July 2005 and impeded another call-up and just before he was seemed to be brought to SmackDown! in the winter of 2005 he was diagnosed with his brain tumor. As mentioned earlier he is about to undergo surgery in May in hopes of helping his cause.

Ultimately those two men were the stars of Tough Enough 3, as no other trainees have emerged from the show to be a star on the wrestling scene. Al Snow continued to see his stock rise as a trainer while DeMott saw a resurgence and was briefly pushed on television as no-nonsense bad ass.

Season Four: You’re all Assholes for Taking So Much TV Time
This time the format was completely different. Taking a lead from RAW’s Diva Search, eight men were chosen to eat up precious TV time and perform weekly skits and challenges hosted by Snow during the SmackDown! broadcasts from October to December 2004. The winner would walk away with a $1 million four year WWE contract and a spot in the 2005 Royal Rumble. The men were then eliminated weekly by fan vote.

Ultimately the seven men who participated (the eighth quit before taping) came out alright as far as a success rate goes. Chris Nawracki was eliminated early but was signed to a developmental deal later. He was released in 2005. Nick Mitchell, another early elimination was also signed to a developmental deal and spent the better part of 2006 terrorizing the RAW brand as Mitch of the Spirit Squad. He is still employed, but is down in developmental hell currently. Dan Rodimer was signed to developmental in July 2006. He is currently training in Ohio Valley and his proposed push from Stephanie McMahon has been postponed for the time being due to his greenness. Ryan Reeves who was signed, was making headways in Ohio Valley but was released in January 2007 during a talent firing spree.

Ultimately it was two finalists and a man who didn’t even make the competition that have seen the most success. Mike “the Miz” Mizanin, already semi-famous for his role on MTV’s Real World was runner-up to Daniel Puder, who made his name by trapping Kurt Angle in a keylock during one of their challenges on SmackDown! Puder won the competition and the money and Rumble spot, but that’s the best it got for him. He promptly got hazed in the Rumble match by Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero and of course Hardcore Holly. He was released in September 2005 and is trying to make a name for himself by calling out Kurt Angle for a shoot fight. Miz, despite losing, was offered a contract and is now seen on SmackDown! But the real odd story to come out of Tough Enough 4 was Marty Wright. He was featured in the tryout videos as a potential finalist but he lied about his age, as he was over 40 and deemed to old for the competition. He was signed to a developmental deal later on and began training in Ohio Valley for his debut as The Boogeyman. Vignettes of Boogeyman began appearing in July 2005 but he hyper-extended both knees during a match and his debut was delayed. He eventually appeared in October on SmackDown! He was injured again in April 2006 and released in September. But remarkably he was re-signed less than a month later at the bequest of Booker T and the fact he was commanding good money on the indy circuit. He has since healed from his injury and is on SmackDown! currently.

The Perspective
Four seasons of what some old-timers have called a “business exposing” program can be viewed as semi-successful. Of the seven winners only two are still employed by WWE and only one is currently on television. Season one did bring us Josh Matthews and a prematurely injured Chris Nowinski. Season two is pretty much a failure but season three brought the goodness with Matt and Johnny. It’s hard to imagine that Henigan and Nitro are one in the same based on his improvement and his straying away from the Tough Enough stigma. Matt really did catch a lot of tough breaks but he’s proving his toughness and here’s hoping for a successful surgery and promising recovery for Mr. Cappotelli. And season four brought us Miz, Boogeyman and a cheerleader. I don’t know if I should be thankful for those additions or not.

For this week the vault is closed…

Linked to the Pulse
Brashear takes a look at the son of a former World Champion who just didn’t quite make it. I’ll let you click to find out who that is as there are a lot of choices out there.

Eric gives everyone his thoughts on ECW plus some good caps of Extreme Expose…and CM Punk’s ass…so I guess there’s something for everyone in there.

Murray continues to look at the positive and calls out Eric on his wonky “you can’t use these names” rule, so it’s double goodness.

Everyone Likes to See Their Name in Print
Jeff D pointed out a mistake from last week as I erroneously said that Stone Cold beat Undertaker for the WWE Championship at Fully Loaded 1999. It was actually on the June 28 RAW that Austin won the belt and their Fully Loaded match was merely their final blowoff. I appreciated the feedback and the correction as I hate to print wrong information, even if it is just about wrestling results.

IP Wrestling boss MM dropped me a note and called me out for not making a bigger deal of Undertaker’s winning of the World Heavyweight Championship for the first time as Taker was one of the few left from the Attitude/nWo golden era other than Austin, Goldberg and Sting that hadn’t won both the WWE belt and some version of the Big Gold Belt. There isn’t anything else for Undertaker to do now as any other accomplishment left is beneath him. We both did agree that we hope Taker gets to use this reign to put over someone huge at the end.

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