WWE tried to find success in the reality television world all the way back in 2001 with the creation of Tough Enough. The competition featured young aspiring wrestlers learn the craft through grueling training and other contests hoping to win a guaranteed contract with WWE. Vince McMahon hoped to make a big star from the show to make it a long-term success. However, the majority of winners just didn’t pan out. There have been quite a few contestants to make it in the industry despite failing to win it all.
We'll take a look at the memorable people to participate in the various seasons of the show. WWE brought Tough Enough back for six different seasons over the course of fourteen years. There’s a good chance we'll see it return again in the future if WWE receives network interest in it. The fact that only about fifteen names have left an impact enough to be included on this list shows just how poorly the project has gone in the long term. Are any current WWE stars products of the reality show? Where are the former winners today? How is life for the memorable contestants to leave wrestling? Find out all as we see what the fifteen memorable Tough Enough contestants are doing today.
15 Maven - New York Night Club Bouncer
The first season of Tough Enough featured Maven being the big male winner of the competition. WWE saw potential in Maven to get the historic prize of the first ever contract given out via a reality show. Maven spent a couple of years on the main roster doing solid work but never could stand out among the other actual wrestlers like he did with the trainees on Tough Enough.
WWE released him after realizing he would never improve to the level they wanted from him. Maven continued wrestling on the independent circuit for a short time period before finding other work. The current life of Maven sees him work as a bouncer for a New York nightclub. Maven did work a show in 2016 for Curt Hawkins as his tag team partner. However, that may have been it as Maven is not looking to return to the ring.
14 Nidia - Culinary Business/Mother
The other winner of a WWE contract thanks to the first season of Tough Enough was Nidia on the women’s side. WWE wanted a winner of each gender for the first season allowing Nidia to join the company. The in-ring talent of Nidia would never progress enough to look competent against the top names of the division like Trish Stratus and Lita.
Nidia’s best run in WWE came when she was the manager of Jamie Noble playing the trailer park lovers taking over in the Cruiserweight Division. After being moved to Raw, Nidia struggled as a face and would get released in 2004. The wrestling career of Nidia ended with no other promotions showing interest in giving her a contract. Nidia is currently in the culinary business and leading a family as a mother and a wife.
13 Chris Nowinski - Concussion Legacy Foundation
Chris Nowinski may have been the most talented performer in Tough Enough’s first season. The Harvard graduate used his alma mater to create a heel persona that impressed WWE. Nowinski was signed to a developmental deal despite not winning the competition. Promise was shown with Nowinski getting heel heat on the main roster.
WWE had high hopes for his future but concussions would shorten his career. Nowinski retired from wrestling in under two years. The concussions inspired Nowinski to found the Concussion Legacy Foundation. Thanks to this foundation, all sports are taking concussion issues a lot more seriously and they're using funds to research everything associated with it. Nowinski’s work has impacted WWE’s wrestling style and is making professional leagues take the head injuries seriously.
12 Josh Mathews - GFW Personality
Another memorable personality from the first season of Tough Enough was Josh Mathews. The passion and desire to get into the wrestling business was clearly stronger from Mathews than the others in the competition. Unfortunately, Josh was the smallest of the cast. Mathews impressed enough to make the finals but eventually would fall short to Maven and Nidia.
WWE later hired Josh as a broadcaster due to his smaller size and his desire to be a part of the show in any way. Mathews spent 12 years in WWE working as a backstage interviewer, studio host and commentator. Most fans remember him going back and forth with Michael Cole on commentary. Mathews was fired by WWE in 2015 and instantly signed with TNA. Josh still works as a heel personality in TNA/GFW today feuding with commentators, wrestlers and fans.
11 Jackie Gayda - Owner Of Custom Muscle Nutrition and Smoothie Shop
The second season of Tough Enough did not result in much more success when it came to creating stars for WWE. Jackie Gayda was one of the two winners of the competition. It was obvious that WWE loved the look of Gayda from day one leading to her winning the contract. WWE put Jackie on television right away which proved to be a horrible decision.
Gayda teamed with Chris Nowinski against Trish Stratus and Bradshaw in one of the worst matches of all-time. WWE sent her down to developmental but it didn’t help much. Jackie was still rather bad when returning leading to a release. One good thing regarding her WWE career was meeting her husband Charlie Haas. The two are still together today raising their four children. Haas and Gayda also run their own store named Custom Muscle Nutrition and Smoothie Shop in Texas.
10 Kenny King - ROH Wrestler/ The Bachelorette
The most talented wrestler from Tough Enough Season 2 was obviously Kenny King looking at them today. King’s passion for wrestling saw him continue his dream training until he became a professional wrestler outside of WWE. Ring of Honor signed Kenny and he started to make a strong career, so much so that made most fans forget he was ever even a part of Tough Enough.
King worked countless times against the likes of Daniel Bryan, Kevin Owens, Seth Rollins and numerous other top names today. Following a run in TNA, he's back in ROH today working full-time for the promotion. Kenny’s celebrity is also growing as a part of a more popular reality show today. The Bachelorette currently featured King as one of the contestants hoping to win the love of the lovely woman the show is about.
9 John Hennigan - Lucha Underground/Acting
The athleticism of John Hennigan made him by far the most successful winner of any Tough Enough competition. As the winner of the third season, Hennigan achieved a great deal of success in WWE under the names of Johnny Nitro and John Morrison. The body of work put out by John saw him win the Intercontinental Championship, Tag Team Championship and work in a number of main events.
Hennigan could have been a future World Champion if he didn’t choose to leave WWE. That's how good he was at his absolute best delivering classic matches. Currently, he's making his wrestling home in Lucha Underground as Johnny Mundo. The most important things for Hennigan however are his acting career and his relationship. John is engaged to fellow wrestler Tara Valkyrie and is trying to get his acting career going.
8 Matt Cappotelli - Battling Brain Tumor
The second winner of Tough Enough Season 3 was Matt Cappotelli. WWE believed he would become a future star and big player for them in the main event scene. Cappotelli spent his career in Ohio Valley Wrestling developmental before the heartbreaking news of a malignant brain tumor and cancer rocked his world. It forced him to retire sooner than anyone expected in order to recover from the sickness.
Cappotelli had the tumor removed but more bad luck recently came up on him. According to Cappotelli’s Facebook page, he was diagnosed with a grade IV GlioBlastoma Multiforme. This is the worst possible tumor one can have. The battle will once again continue as Cappotelli tries to beat cancer once again. Sadly, we'll never know how good of a wrestler he could have been without these horrible breaks changing his life forever.
7 Daniel Puder - Knockouts Hollywood MMA Gym
WWE strayed away from their prior concept for the fourth season of Tough Enough. It was no longer a reality show but rather a weekly competition segment on SmackDown. The aspiring wrestlers would participate in various contests ranging from wrestling Kurt Angle to eating pasta. A new prize of $1 million was on the line making it an even bigger deal to win than usual.
Former MMA fighter Daniel Puder won the contract due to WWE flat out believing he had more potential than anyone else in the contest. Puder proved how wrong they could be getting heat during his time in developmental. WWE released him within a couple of months throwing all that money away. Puder currently spends his time running his Knockouts Hollywood MMA Gym away from the spotlight.
6 The Miz - WWE Superstar
The Miz was the runner up behind Daniel Puder in Tough Enough Season 4 but goes down as the most successful star to ever participate in the competition. WWE signed Miz due to his charisma but weren’t sold on him being a wrestler. This is the reason he spent the beginning of his WWE career hosting segments before finally moving into the ring. The rest is history as Miz went on to become a huge star for the company.
Miz is the only contestant in Tough Enough history to win the WWE Championship and main event WrestleMania. WWE is still pushing Miz hard as the current Intercontinental Champion. The heel work of Miz was showcased a bit on Tough Enough and it proved to be his biggest asset in the long run. Miz will likely spend many more years with WWE.
5 Andy Leavine - World Wrestling Council
WWE tried revamping the Tough Enough concept back into television in 2012 with Steve Austin as the host. The star power of Austin along with Trish Stratus and Booker T working as coaches helped bring interest into the show. However, the idea blew up in smoke as this season featured the dullest cast in Tough Enough history. Andy Leavine won the contest and a contract with WWE.
The announcement of Leavine winning saw him get slapped in the face by Vince McMahon and hit with the Stone Cold Stunner by Steve Austin. This was the peak of his wrestling career. Leavine failed to improve in FCW leading to WWE releasing him. The wrestling career of Leavine is still quietly going on in Puerto Rico for World Wrestling Council run by Carlos Colon.
4 Josh Bredl - Done With The WWE Due To Injury
The most recent season of Tough Enough took place in 2015. Former NFL player Josh Bredl won a contract on the male side thanks to a fan vote. While the fans did vote for him, there was some manipulation going down. WWE reportedly tried to portray Bredl in a great light because both Vince McMahon and Triple H believed he could be a star.
Josh did nothing of note in NXT spending his entire tenure in the Performance Center. WWE hired many of the contestants to lose the contest and they all passed Bredl in the pecking order it seemed. The only memorable moment of Josh’s wrestling career was getting destroyed on Twitter by Kevin Owens and Cody Rhodes for calling the Social Outcasts faction “jobbers.” An injury ended Bredl’s career before it really even started. Josh has fallen off the radar since his release.
3 Sara Lee - Motherhood
The other winner of Tough Enough Season 6 on the women’s side was Sara Lee. Unlike Josh, everyone knew Sara was awful right away. She showed very little athleticism and was unable to stop smiling when cutting promos. However, the fans voting for Tough Enough liked Lee to get her all the way to winning a contract. Some people have speculated they voted for her ironically to make sure the worst person won as a joke.
Sara was a part of the Performance Center and occasionally worked NXT live event matches until it was revealed that she was pregnant. The couple of Lee and fellow NXT talent Wesley Blake had their first child in May of 2017. WWE released Sara after she was expecting the child. It was obvious she wouldn’t progress into a credible wrestler. Lee appears to be enjoying life as a new mother these days.
2 Linda Miles - Substitute Teacher
Linda Miles was the other winner of Tough Enough Season 2. WWE decided to go with signing two women this time around instead of one from each gender as expected from the prior season. Miles was the most athletic woman in the competition with a background in basketball and other sports. WWE felt she had potential to become a special performer for them.
Unfortunately, the ego of Linda doomed her from the beginning with the other wrestlers instantly disliking her. Miles is only remembered for her time playing a dominatrix character managing the Basham Brothers. The WWE career of Linda ended in fewer than two years proving she was not worthy of winning the contract. Today, Miles works as a substitute teacher in Cincinnati. Hopefully she doesn’t annoy her students as much as she did her fellow co-workers fifteen years ago.
1 ZZ - Wrestling In Louisiana
Despite not winning the competition, ZZ was the most memorable person from the final season of Tough Enough. The young man appeared to be lazy and showed zero work ethic, but he was endearing enough to get voted into the finals. ZZ would get insulted by the judges and his fellow contestants every week for not taking it seriously. Fans voted Josh over him to win the contract.
WWE ended up signing ZZ to a developmental contract. The lack of desire and the abundance of laziness once again hurt him. ZZ would get released a few months into his stint at the Performance Center. Despite looking bad at every aspect of the sport, ZZ is continuing his wrestling career locally in Louisiana. The main career path of ZZ is going back to his true passion of wrangling baby alligators.