When Tough Enough first graced our screens way back in 2001, the objective of the show was to create new ‘superstars’ for the WWE roster. Yet six seasons later, how many bona fide ‘superstars’ have been created? Certainly not as many as WWE would have hoped for, but that’s not to say that it’s been a complete failure. There are former contestants that have found success since featuring in the competition whether that be in WWE or elsewhere.
Participants such as Daniel Puder and Andy Leavine failed to impress despite winning their individual seasons, but this article will look at 5 contestants from the Tough Enough franchise who have gone on to forge decent careers for themselves in the wrestling business.
Where better to start than with the inaugural winner of Tough Enough, Maven Huffman.
Maven, along with Nidia, was announced as Tough Enough Season 1 co-winner in September 2001 and went on to have a fairly successful career. Although he never became a top star, his 4-year tenure with WWE did include some memorable moments, none more so than eliminating The Undertaker from the 2002 Royal Rumble match.
It could be argued that Maven never really reached his full potential, especially after being named PWI’s 2002 Rookie of the Year, but three Hardcore Title reigns and some high profile feuds make Maven one of the most successful participants to come out of WWE Tough Enough.
#4 Matt Morgan
Matt Morgan competed in the second season of Tough Enough and looked like one of the favorites to win before he was forced to leave the show due to injury, however, he was later signed by WWE and competed briefly on the Smackdown brand before later joining TNA.
Morgan’s WWE run was underwhelming and he was used mainly as ‘muscle’ for other superstars such as Carlito and as part of Team Lesnar during the 2003 Survivor Series. He did have a short-lived singles run in WWE in which his gimmick was an angry big man with a stutter but, astonishingly, this failed to make him a star.
It was during his time with TNA where Morgan was granted more freedom to showcase his talents and managed to cement himself a place on the roster with his ‘Blueprint’ gimmick. He would go on to have two Tag Team championship reigns in TNA and enjoyed a number of high-profile feuds during his 6-year stint with the company.
Another former Tough Enough participant who failed to win his respective season yet still earned a WWE contract is the outspoken Ryback.
Competing in the “Million Dollar Tough Enough” in 2004, Ryback was the last to be eliminated and missed out on winning the series to Daniel Puder, however he did enough to impress WWE officials and was signed to a developmental contract soon after. Six years later, he would find himself competing in a similar themed show as a rookie on the first season of NXT under the name Skip Sheffield. Despite again not winning this series, he debuted as part of The Nexus in their memorable ‘invasion’ angle in 2010.
The ‘Skip Sheffield’ gimmick never really got over and he was later re-packaged as Ryback.
Ryback has been a mainstay on the WWE roster since his 2012 debut and appeared to be destined to be a main event star after headlining a number of PPVs with CM Punk soon after his re-debut. However since then he has steadily declined to become a mid-card talent and after his recent ‘contract dispute’ with WWE, it appears as though his current run may not last much longer.
#2 John Morrison
Since being named the co-winner of Tough Enough III in 2002, John Morrison has forged an impressive career for himself and earned the respect of many of his peers with his athletic and unique in-ring style.
It was in the tag team division where Morrison first began to showcase his talents earning five tag team title reigns, first as part of MNM alongside Joey Mercury and Melina, and then later teaming with The Miz. It was the latter pairing where ‘The Shaman of Sexy’ was able to illustrate his verbal skills and hone in who exactly the John Morrison character was, this was in no small part to the exposure he would gain on the wwe.com show ‘The Dirt Sheet’.
Morrison did go on to have a decent singles run in WWE winning both the ECW Title and becoming a three-time Intercontinental Champion. However, it is since leaving the WWE and becoming an integral member of the Lucha Underground roster, now performing under the name Johnny Mundo, where he has excelled as a singles competitor and is arguably doing some of the best work of his career.
#1 The Miz
Arguably the biggest success story to come out of the Tough Enough franchise is Mike Mizanin, a.k.a. The Miz.
As with Ryback, he participated in Tough Enough in 2004 and although he didn’t win, earned a developmental contract with WWE. From being somewhat of a laughing stock when he first arrived and being rejected by most of the locker room to becoming a reliable member of the roster, The Miz’s journey has been truly inspiring and a wonderful story. He has risen through the ranks of the WWE from the bottom of the ladder all the way to the top and is arguably at the peak of his talents in his current gimmick as a Hollywood A-lister.
He is by far the most decorated talent to come out of Tough Enough with numerous title reigns, both as a singles superstar and as part of multiple tag teams, and remains the only former contestant to not only win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship but also headline a WrestleMania. The Tough Enough franchise doesn’t have a great track record of unearthing top talents but The Miz is proof that it is possible and he must be considered the biggest Superstar to come out of Tough Enough.