After reality check, The Miz finds his form as WWE champion

Former 'Real World' star headlines Raw World Tour at 1st Mariner Arena

December 28, 2010|By Kevin Eck, The Baltimore Sun

As a cast member of MTV's "The Real World" in 2001, Mike Mizanin had an epiphany.

Having adopted an obnoxious alter ego known as The Miz on the reality show, he realized that his talent for getting under people's skin would translate perfectly to a career as a bad guy in pro wrestling.

"Nobody on that show liked me and nobody would listen to me, so I created this character called Miz that literally would just yell at people and start screaming at everyone and tell them like it is," said Mizanin, who was a huge wrestling fan as a kid. "When I started doing that stuff, it started to really catch on.

"Being on 'The Real World' gave me the idea that I can do anything I wanted with my life. I basically went home and said, 'I want to be a WWE superstar.'"

The Ohio native was signed by World Wrestling Entertainment several years later and, after an inauspicious start, he gradually worked his way up the ranks in the pro wrestling company. With his ever-present smirk, Mizanin — who performs in WWE as The Miz — has gone on to become one of the faces of the company and is the current WWE champion.

Since attaining the championship (the same title that has been held by the likes of Hulk Hogan and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) last month, Mizanin has been all over the place, appearing on late-night talk shows, MTV, ESPN, Fox, CNN and TMZ.

On Wednesday night, Mizanin will be at 1st Mariner Arena, where he headlines WWE's Raw World Tour event.

Mizanin's transition from the "Real World" to the unreal world of pro wrestling — or sports entertainment, as the business of scripted athletic contests is called these days — certainly wasn't seamless.

After training for a few years with a California-based independent wrestling company, Mizanin landed a spot as a contestant on "Tough Enough," a televised competition in which participants vied for a WWE contract. Mizanin didn't win (he finished second out of eight competitors), but he impressed WWE brass enough that he was offered a developmental contract.

Mizanin spent some time in WWE's minor leagues honing his skills before making his in-ring debut on WWE programming toward the latter part of 2006.

Wrestling fans made it clear that they were not impressed with the obnoxious newcomer. Rather than booing Mizanin — which is the reaction a wrestling villain seeks — they were groaning and rolling their eyes.

Mizanin's fellow wrestlers didn't exactly welcome the former reality star with open arms either.

"I've had it pretty rough in the WWE just because I'm an outsider, and WWE is kind of like a close-knit family or like a fraternity," said Mizanin, 30. "Once you're an outsider trying to lurk in, they will haze you and haze you and try to see if you're up for the task or if you're just going to quit."

As part of the initiation process, Mizanin was kicked out of the locker room for six months.

"I got kicked out for eating a piece of chicken over a guy's bag in the locker room," he said. "I had to find a place to shower, to use the restroom, to change."

Mizanin, who several years earlier had dropped out of Miami of Ohio University — where he was majoring in business — to audition for "The Real World" on a whim, said the thought of quitting WWE crossed his mind, but he was determined to prove that he was "tough enough."

"I had many times when I questioned myself, but I always rose above it," Mizanin said. "I'm the type of person that doesn't quit."

Mizanin continued to work hard to improve in the ring and on the microphone (trash-talking and having the gift of gab is a big part of being a wrestling star). Eventually, he became a guy the fans loved to hate rather than a guy they just wanted to go away.

Not only did Mizanin win over the fans, but also his peers in the locker room.

"He came from being a reality TV star who I wouldn't have given a snowball's chance in Hades of ever being successful in our business," said WWE star Paul "The Big Show" Wight, who has wrestled against Mizanin and also been his tag team partner. "I just thought there's no way this kid's going to make it. He's too soft. This business will eat him alive. And Miz has proved me wrong. I respect Miz for that. He has fought and dug and clawed for everything that he has."

While The Miz is a sarcastic know-it-all, Mizanin takes his craft seriously, which has not gone unnoticed by Wight, a 15-year veteran.

"I was really impressed when I was tag-teaming with Miz in how he wanted to absorb everything — every story, every detail, every experience," Wight said. "I mean you could just see him processing it and breaking it down and saving it to apply for himself later. That's how you become successful in this business. You have to learn from the people around you and apply it and make it work for yourself, and I think Miz is excellent at that."

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