WWE Tough Enough, having originally aired on MTV, is a professional wrestling reality television program produced by World Wrestling Entertainment where the participants undergo professional wrestling training and compete against each other for a contract with the WWE. There were two winners per season for the first three seasons (one male and one female winner). The fourth season was held in 2004, with only a single winner, who was integrated into SmackDown. In October 2010, it was announced that the USA Network would finally be reviving Tough Enough. It was set to be aired immediately following Monday Night RAW. Beginning in April of 2011, season five began with Stone Cold Steve Austin serving as the host (an amazing host) while Booker T, Trish Stratus, and Bill DeMott served as trainers.
After the fifth season came to an end, fans clamored for more wondering when WWE Tough Enough would return as the show was set to relaunch on the WWE Network. It was to begin filming in 2014 but was halted due to budget cuts. Finally, the announcement we’ve all been waiting for came.
According to a report on WWE.com, USA Network President Chris McCumber announced Tough Enough will finally be returning to television again back on USA Network. "I am pleased to announce that USA is bringing back 'Tough Enough,' the action-packed competition reality show from the ratings juggernaut, WWE," McCumber said in a speech on January 15th, 2015, during the Television Critics Association winter press tour. "The show will have a completely new format, with live elements that will truly make this event television." McCumber continued, "After signing another multi-year deal for Raw and SmackDown, this is the perfect time to bring back the series and capitalize on the enormous audience appeal of sports-entertainment."
With the return of Tough Enough looming it seemed like the perfect time to take a look back at the top ten most successful contestants from the shows previous seasons.
10 10. Cameron
Believe it or not Cameron (real name Ariane Andrew) was on Season 5 of Tough Enough, where she was the first person cut from the competition. During the elimination, Stone Cold Steve Austin asked her what her favorite match was and she infamously claimed that her favorite match was Melina versus Alicia Fox, causing Austin to reply “Who?” in utter shock.
Immediately after being eliminated, Cameron confirmed on her official Twitter account that she had been signed to a WWE developmental contract, as she would then make her debut on July 7, 2011 as a ring announcer at an FCW house show. It was not until July 9 that she made her in-ring debut under the new ring name Cameron Lynn. On the January 9, 2012 episode of RAW, Cameron made her WWE debut as one of the dancers and valets (together with Naomi) for the returning Brodus Clay as a member of The Funkadactyls. She would team with Naomi until July 2014 when they would split seeing Cameron turning heel in the process. She also plays a main role for the reality show Total Divas produced by WWE and E!.
Additional Note: Cameron is the only participant from Season 5 still employed by WWE
Maven was the first male winner of Tough Enough, and unfortunately for him, that designation carried a burden. Forever, he’d have the stigma of being a product of Tough Enough. While other contestants were able to shake the branding, Maven came to the ring to Tough Enough’s theme music, was engaged in a feud with Tough Enough trainer Al Snow, and was pretty much the poster boy for the show.
Although he enjoyed three reigns as Hardcore Champion and even eliminated the Undertaker in the 2002 Royal Rumble, Maven was never able to overcome his association with Tough Enough. This ultimately led to a stale character and a release from WWE shortly after his initial contract expired in July 2005. He spent a little over two years wrestling on the independent circuit and after wrestling sporadically for the UWF (and in dark matches for TNA) throughout the year. Maven wrestled his final match on October 5, 2007, where he lost to Test in a match for Full Throttle Wrestling.
On April 2, 2012, Huffman was arrested in Florida after police revealed that he was doctor shopping due to an addiction to oxycodone and hydrocodone. He was released on a $2,000 bond and faced up to five years in prison if convicted of doctor shopping. On April 11, Huffman revealed that he was seeking help for his addiction and underwent WWE’s former talent rehabilitation program. As of September 2013, Huffman has been working as a bouncer in New York City at 1015 Midtown.
Like Maven, Nidia was a Tough Enough Season 1 winner. Upon her debut in the WWE, she initially suffered the same close association with the show that Maven was a victim of, even accompanying him to the ring on occasion. Nidia, however, was able to cast off the Tough Enough shackles and develop a character on her own. She worked as the valet and girlfriend of Jamie Noble, and the trailer park couple were a staple of SmackDown for a while. Perhaps best remembered for being blinded by Tajiri’s green mist, Nidia had a longer and much more successful WWE career than anyone could have forecast. She was eventually released from her WWE contract on November 3, 2004 along with several other performers, in a routine purge of talent.
Nidia worked several wrestling matches post-WWE, including versus Gail Kim for Mexico's Turyumon and for Australia's World Series Wrestling. In addition, she worked for TNA overseas "a few times." In a ClubWWI.com interview, she said they were fun to work for, but she liked her freedom from wrestling, in general. Geunard also wrestled for Northeast Wrestling (NWE), where she feuded with Jackie Gayda (co-winner of the second season of Tough Enough). In February 2010, Nidia started her culinary career at the Culinary Institute LeNotre in Houston, Texas.
Believe it or not, Ryback participated in Season 4 of Tough Enough, otherwise known as the $1,000,000 Tough Enough that took place on SmackDown in 2004. He competed on the show under his real name, Ryan Reeves, and was actually one of the eight finalists that season. Reeves later signed a developmental contract with WWE and wrestled in Deep South Wrestling, Ohio Valley Wrestling, and Florida Championship Wrestling. He then participated in the first season of NXT in early 2010 under the ring name Skip Sheffield but was eventually eliminated by the Pros. Skip Sheffield would return as a member of the Nexus and wrestle in the WWE under that moniker until he broke his ankle in a tag team match with David Otunga against The Hart Dynasty.
Reeves underwent extensive surgery after breaking his ankle but eventually made his triumphant return to the WWE in 2012 as Ryback. He was well received in this role having solid singles career before teaming with Curtis Axel as RybAxel. On August 26, 2014, Ryback underwent hernia surgery. Upon his return, Reeves would leave RybAxel behind him, deciding to focus on his singles career instead. He returned on the October 27 edition of Monday Night RAW and would eventually join Team Cena in their match against The Authority at Survivor Series. However, after Seth Rollins coaxed Cena to bring The Authority back into power, Ryback was 'fired' (along with Erick Rowan and Dolph Ziggler) as punishment for insubordination.
6 Chris Nowinski
Chris Nowinski was one of the three finalists of season 1 of Tough Enough. After failing to win the competition, Nowinski made appearances in various independent promotions before finally being hired by WWE. Nowinski competed as Chris Harvard, capitalizing on his status as an alumnus of Harvard University. Nowinski would wrestle his final match with WWE due to him suffering with post-concussion syndrome, on the June 23, 2003 episode of RAW, in a losing effort against Maven. After a full year of post-concussion symptoms he chose to retire from wrestling. To this day, he is renowned for being WWE's first Harvard Alumnus and is also recognized as the youngest Hardcore Champion in WWE history.
Following his wrestling career, he wrote Head Games: Football's Concussion Crisis, which examined the long-term effects of head trauma among athletes, and also became a documentary.
Since Nowinski's departure from WWE and the publication of his book Head Games, he has garnered a significant amount of media attention, making numerous appearances on networks such as ESPN and CNN to discuss sports-related head injuries. Nowinski continues to work as a consultant for Trinity Partners while serving as president on the board of directors for the Sports Legacy Institute (SLI). SLI was founded on June 14, 2007 in Boston, Massachusetts by Nowinski and Dr. Robert Cantu in reaction to new medical research indicating brain trauma in sports had become a public health crisis.
Additional Note: Although he is only no.6 in this article, Nowinski is clearly the most successful Tough Enough contestant outside of professional wrestling.
5 Kenny King
Kenny King was one of the four finalists on Season 2 of Tough Enough. Although he’s never wrestled in a WWE match, he’s still made quite the name for himself around the independent circuit, ROH, and in TNA. King began working on the indies until he debuted in ROH in September 2007. In ROH, King would form a successful tag team with Rhett Titus, known collectively as the All Night Xpress. Together they would regularly challenge for Tag Team Championships until June 24th at Best In The World 2012: Hostage Crisis. They defeated World’s Greatest Tag Team (Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin) to win the titles.
After making an appearance for TNA, ROH severed its ties with King and five days later officially stripped him and Titus of the ROH World Tag Team Championship. On June 24, 2012, King's contract with ROH expired. King would then begin wrestling for TNA where he’d ultimately defeat Rob Van Dam to win his first X Division Championship in 2013.
Kenny King is still competing in TNA as a member of the Beat Down Clan along with MVP, Samoa Joe, Low Ki, and Eric Young. Not too bad for someone who never wrestled in a WWE match.
4 Josh Mathews
Josh Mathews has never wrestled a televised match, but that doesn’t mean he’s not one of Tough Enough’s greatest success stories. Finishing as a runner-up to Maven in Tough Enough Season 1, Mathews took independent bookings for a while before being signed by the WWE as a backstage interviewer. He’s since joined the commentary team, and worked his way up from B-shows to Monday Night Raw and even WrestleMania. However, on June 25, 2014, Mathews was released from WWE.
After being released from WWE, it was reported that Mathews had signed with TNA to work in their offices in Nashville, Tennessee. Throughout November and December, Mathews appeared in an episode of #ImWithSpud Wednesday on TNA's YouTube channel. In December 2014, TNA confirmed that Mathews would take Mike Tenay’s place as lead announcer of Impact Wrestling starting in January 2015 when the show relaunched on Destination America. Mathews is the only member of the Season 1 cast to still be living his dream in the wrestling industry, and that alone solidifies him a spot in the top five of this list.
3 Matt Morgan
The Blueprint Matt Morgan is the one that got away, as far as Tough Enough contestants go for the WWE. He participated Tough Enough Season 2 but had to leave the show early due to an injury.
Although Morgan spent some time on WWE’s main roster, they were never able to utilize him to his true potential. During his run with the company, he was given the gimmick of a stuttering big man who was defensive over his speech disorder. He was never really given the chance to shine, and was subsequently released by the WWE on July 5, 2005. Following his release, Morgan spent some time in Japanese and European promotions before debuting in TNA in 2007.
It was in TNA where Morgan would truly find his niche winning the TNA World Tag Team Championships twice (once with Hernandez and once with Crimson). However in 2013, after initial asking that same month, TNA granted Morgan his release from the company on July 9. Over the next six months, Morgan would wrestle for companies including AAA, NWA Florida Underground, and Family Wrestling Entertainment before announcing his retirement from professional wrestling in January 2014 in order to be with his wife and newborn son, as well as begin a career as a regional manager for a "big-time medical device company.”
2 John Morrison
John Morrison is what Tough Enough was designed to create. In an ideal world, every Tough Enough contestant is a John Morrison waiting to happen. Plucked from absolute obscurity, John Hennigan was selected for the cast of Tough Enough 3 after he submitted his second audition tape. Impressing the judges with his unorthodox approach, which included a standing shooting star press, Hennigan won the competition along with Matt Cappotelli.
He’s since been on a fixture on every brand the WWE has produced, and has evolved from Johnny Spade to Johnny Nitro to finally John Morrison. Morrison is a former ECW Champion, 3-time Intercontinental Champion, and 5-time Tag Team Champion. On Morrison's last advertised WWE appearance on a late 2011 episode of RAW, Morrison faced his former tag team partner The Miz in a Falls Count Anywhere match. The Miz won the match by delivering his Skull-Crushing Finale maneuver on the steel stage. This was used as an injury angle to write Morrison off television, as Morrison was stretchered away after the match. The next day, WWE acknowledged the end of Morrison's contract, and moved his profile to the alumni section of its website. He is easily Tough Enough’s most successful winner.
In September 2014, it was reported that Hennigan had signed with the El Rey network's new television series, Lucha Underground. He has since wrestled for the company under the ring name Johnny Mundo. On the December 10, episode of Lucha Underground, Mundo defeated Prince Puma and Big Ryck in a three-way ladder match to win a hundred thousand dollars.
1 The Miz
While Morrison has proved to be Tough Enough’s most successful winner, The Miz is without a doubt the show’s most successful contestant. Who would’ve ever thought the guy from the 10th season of MTV’s Real World would make such an impact in professional wrestling? After failing to upset Daniel Puder in the finals of Tough Enough’s fourth season, The Miz refused to give up on his dream and continued to train with the hopes of getting into a WWE ring.
When he finally cracked the main roster, it was merely as a host, but his determination would eventually pay off. The Miz has been a tag team champion with three different partners (most notably fellow Tough Enough alum John Morrison), a United States Champion twice, Intercontinental Champion four times, and a Money In the Bank winner. He even won the WWE Championship in November 2010, after he cashed in his Money In the Bank briefcase, winning the title from Randy Orton on an episode of RAW. This accomplishment made him the first Tough Enough alumnus to capture wrestling’s most prized championship. He even main evented WrestleMania 27 (he won the match too).
The Miz starred in the WWE Studio film The Marine 3: Homefront and over time has truly become a staple of the WWE’s main roster. He even married former WWE Diva Maryse Ouellet. There really is no debating it – Mike “The Miz” Mizanin is the greatest success story to ever be birthed by WWE’s Tough Enough.