Well, here we are. It’s the first Wednesday in quite a while that doesn’t feature my usual insights (or lack thereof) on WWE Tough Enough, and I’m starting to think I may have come down with a minor strain of Stockholm Syndrome. If I’m going to identify with my captor, at least my captor is Billy Gunn with a megaphone, right? But anyway, quitting Tough Enough cold turkey may not be the best course of action, so I decided to list it up for you guys and gals. We don’t know what the future holds for anyone on the 2015 season, but five past seasons of the show have given us a few standout pro wrestling careers among the many flameouts. Here’s my ironclad ranking of the ten most successful Tough Enough alumni.
10. Josh Mathews
Competed As: Josh Lomberger
Right from the start, Josh had a big hill to climb due to his size. Fortunately, he proved that his heart was in it and ended up as a season one runner-up. From there, he became a backstage interviewer before eventually graduating to commentary on Smackdown and the revived ECW. He was released from WWE after more than a decade of service, and can now be found as the lead commentator on TNA Impact Wrestling.
9. Christopher Nowinski
Another runner-up from the inaugural season, Nowinski was the first Harvard graduate to make the WWE roster, beating David Otunga by a few years. His less-than-remarkable wrestling career was headlined by two reigns with the Hardcore Championship, but that’s not why he’s on this list. Nowinski’s success has come outside of the ring, where he has become THE name in sports-related head trauma. His 2006 book Head Games shone very harsh light on the National Football League’s handling of concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and he gained further media attention after the Chris Benoit murder-suicide when he correctly hypothesized that Benoit was suffering from catastrophic head trauma. In all seriousness, Nowinski has changed professional sports so thoroughly that I was considering giving him the No. 1 spot on this list.
Competed As: Maven Huffman
As the first male Tough Enough winner, Maven was given a pretty forceful head of steam right from his start on the WWE main roster. His signature moment came at the 2002 Royal Rumble, when he surprisingly eliminated a distracted Undertaker. All in all, he was a three-time Hardcore Champion, he competed at WrestleMania, and he had one of the most underrated entrance themes in WWE history. Not bad, but he did burn out fairly quick.
7. Marty “The Moth” Martinez
Competed As: Martin Casaus
Marty was a promising contestant on the 2011 revival season of Tough Enough. Unfortunately, he suffered a broken ankle late in the competition and was forced out. He went quiet for a few years after that, but roared back onto the scene when he made his Lucha Underground debut as the increasingly psychotic Moth. If/when we get a second season at the temple, watch out for him. Nobody pays attention to the minor villains, but they really should! Everyone’s so busy trying to shut down Scarecrow’s fear toxin that no one notices Firefly burning down Gotham.
(I realize there was an easy Killer Moth joke there, but he wasn’t in Arkham Knight.)
6. Matt Morgan
Much like Marty, Matt suffered an injury mid-competition and was forced to drop out. He would eventually make his way to Smackdown, where he was mostly a henchman for more established heels. He didn’t really come into his own until signing with TNA. Once there, “The Blueprint” got more of a chance to shine, becoming a three-time TNA Tag Team Champion before eventually retiring from in-ring competition. His final match for the foreseeable future was a victory against Bram at TNA Slammiversary in June of this year.
5. Son of Havoc/Matt “M-Dogg 20” Cross
Competed As: Matt Capiccioni
Season five was the Lucha Underground feeder program, basically. Already an established independent wrestler at the time, Matt joined Tough Enough to try and turn some heads. Shockingly, he was eliminated in only the second week of competition. Unfazed, he returned to the indies and continued to build his reputation, eventually striking gold in Dario Cueto’s temple as the masked Son of Havoc. Fittingly enough, I think he was slightly outshined by…
Competed As: Ivelisse Vélez
Yeah, there’s definitely some history between Son of Havoc and The Huntress. Knowing Lucha Underground, they’ll probably find some way to make it canon. Despite suffering an injury mid-season, she impressed enough people to earn a spot in WWE developmental before eventually being released in 2012. WWE isn’t really the place for a Puerto Rican assassin like her anyway, so she adjusted just fine to various promotions like Shine, AAA, and Lucha Underground.
3. Johnny Mundo/John Morrison
Competed As: John Hennigan
After emerging as one of the winners of Tough Enough’s third season, the man formerly known as Johnny Nitro graduated to ECW before competing on Raw and Smackdown. His most entertaining phase was arguably his tag team championship run with The Miz, but he also held the Intercontinental Championship several times. He would leave WWE in 2011 to focus on acting and independent wrestling before finally returning to television as Johnny Mundo on Lucha Underground. Could Dario Cueto be the biggest Tough Enough fan in the world?
Competed As: Ryan Reeves
The current WWE Intercontinental Champion was a far cry from being The Big Guy back in 2004. Despite not winning the competition, he eventually signed a developmental deal and made it to the first season of NXT as Skip Sheffield, thereby allowing him to be a part of The Nexus. An injury forced him to take some time off, but he would eventually become The Ryback, slaughter jobbers by the score, and fight for the WWE Championship several times. And since we’re on the subject of the title…
1. The Miz
Competed As: Mike Mizanin
As much as I dislike saying it, The Miz is far and away the most successful wrestler to come out of this competition. He did not win his season, though, losing out on a million-dollar contract to Daniel Puder. He (alongside John Morrison) gave us The Dirt Sheet. He’s the only alumni to win the WWE Championship or main-event WrestleMania. He’s a movie star. He’s married to Maryse. You want to be The Miz right now, don’t even pretend like you don’t. No wonder he was so hard on ZZ this season: He’s the final boss of Tough Enough.