Awesome: The 15-Year Journey of The Miz (VIDEOS)

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Photo: instagram.com/mikethemiz

With his mortal enemy Daniel Bryan now turned heel as the new WWE Champion, The Miz is now seemingly stuck in his storyline. After all, for the better part of the last decade, The Miz has been the WWE’s top heel. No matter the ire he instigates, audiences remained fixated on his every word and either secretly adore him or want to see his smug face get kicked in. But if any indications from the dark match videos that have surfaced from Tuesday’s SmackDown Live in Los Angeles, The Miz may be being prepped for a face run on the Blue Brand. And it may just be a perfect time.

It was eight years ago today that Mike “The Miz” Mizanin defeated Randy Orton on Monday Night Raw to become the WWE World Champion and hold it for 160 days, including defending it against John Cena at WrestleMania 27 in Atlanta, Georgia. While many would revel in that situation today, eight years ago it was looked upon as a travesty. A reality TV star just inserted into the WWE and fast-tracked to the World title, while “more deserving” talents are ignored. But consider The Miz has now spent 15 years in the wrestling industry. He made his main roster debut in 2006. But he started with the WWE in 2003. What’s often overlooked is the three years he spent in WWE developmental, including nearly two years in their pre-developmental, and suddenly The Miz’ background is similar to many other stars on the roster.

The Real Miz

Photo: MTV

Miz first made the national zeitgeist in 2001, when he appeared on MTV’s The Real World: Back To New York during the boom of reality TV. He would go on the following edition, 2002’s The Real World: The Lost Season, and appear on several reality specials. But on Real World, Mike Mizanin made it very clear that his love was for professional wrestling. It was on an episode of The Real World where he revealed his future plans for a character named, oddly enough, The Miz.

Starting In The Indies

One of the biggest preconceptions is that The Miz signed straight to the WWE and was fast-tracked to the main roster, yet neither is actually true. In 2003, he left the world of full-time reality TV star to become an actual professional wrestler. At the time, Mike “The Miz” Mizanin was only 23 years old. He headed to Anaheim, California’s Ultimate Pro Wrestling (UPW), owned by Rick Bassman. Much like how EVOLVE works today, UPW worked as an independent promotion that had an alliance with the WWE. UPW would sign and train new stars (which the WWE would have first shot at) and the WWE would send some of their other developmental stars from Deep South Wrestling (DSW) to UPW for more ring time. The Miz spent almost two years with UPW, working and training alongside such future stars as John Cena, Samoa Joe, Frankie Kazarian, Joey Ryan, Sara Del Rey, and Victoria.

Is He Tough Enough?

Photo: WWE

In 2004, Mike Mizanin was selected as a contestant for the fourth season of WWE’s reality show, Tough Enough, where the winner won a $1,000,000 WWE contract (balanced over four years). While the eventual winner was future MMA fighter Daniel Puder, The Miz was offered a contract following the show’s end, along with other contestants Ryan Reeves (Ryback) and Nick Mitchell (who became Mitch in The Spirit Squad). While Puder became a public failure with the WWE, The Miz quietly went to WWE’s developmental in DSW.

Developing The Miz

Photo: WWE

Mike Mizanin arrived in Deep South Wrestling into the hands of head trainer Bill DeMott and joined a class of wrestlers that included Kenny Omega, Luke Gallows, MVP, Heath Slater, Angelina Love, Ray Gordy (Jesse of Jesse & Festus), and The Ascension‘s Konnor. He was with DSW for a year, and then got moved to Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW) in 2006, leaving as a one time DSW Heavyweight Champion.

In OVW, The Miz was continued to be pushed as one of the top singles guys on the roster but was also transitioned into a tag team wrestler. He was paired up with an OVW veteran, Chris Cage, who was already a 3x OVW Tag Team Champion in Adrenaline with Tank Toland and was a coming off a run as OVW Heavyweight Champion (he would be renamed Caylen Croft for his own WWE debut, where he was paired in another tag team with future NJPW/ROH star Trent Baretta). The pairing showed promise, and the duo began to work WWE Live Events together, in unaired matches against the likes of The Highlanders and Snitsky & Tyson Tomko. It was in OVW that The Miz first developed the segment MizTV, that he continues to use on WWE television today.

A Blue Debut

Photo: WWE

The Miz’ long-standing association with SmackDOwn Live is partly due to the fact it’s the brand he debuted with during the WWE’s first attempt at the brand split. It was on the September 1, 2006 episode of Friday Night SmackDown that The Miz debuted, against returning WWE Legend Tatanka. With the announcers heavily hyping up The Miz’s reality show backstory – and conveniently leaving out the three years of training on the indies and developmental – it made The Miz and easy target for scorn. Back then, the US indies were still rebuilding itself from the NWA collapse of the 1990s, with new promotions like Ring of Honor, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, CHIKARA and TNA/IMPACT only a few years into their existence. People weren’t used to the indies being “a thing” to speak – if you didn’t come from a promotion like WCW or ECW, chances are no one had heard of you. And being a cocky pretty boy from an MTV reality show made you pretty easy to dislike. And while he would pick up quick wins over Tatanka, Matt Hardy, Scotty 2 Hotty and Funaki, he would ultimately lose his WWE PPV debut against The Boogeyman at WWE Armageddon ’06. By early 2007, The Miz’ star seemed to be fading, as he was fed to people like Kane, Chris Benoit and The Undertaker. But in the summer of 2007, a move happened that would kickstart his career in the WWE Universe. He was sent to the rebooted ECW in a brand draft.

Extreme Miz and The Dirt Sheet

Photo: WWE

The Miz would resume his winning ways upon debuting with ECW on SyFy, claiming victories over the likes of Tommy Dreamer, Balls Mahoney and a pre-ROH Silas Young. But he was soon relegated back to the tag team division, paired with a former 3x WWE Tag Team Champion John Morrison (who had already had a successful tag run with Joey Mercury in MNM as Johnny Nitro). Originally rivals in ECW for the ECW Championship, the two were forced to work together in an ad-hoc match against WWE Tag Team Champions Matt Hardy & MVP on SmackDown, winning the belts when MVP turned on his partner.

Morrison and The Miz brought the WWE Tag Team Championship back to ECW, where the pairing of not one, but two Tough Enough competitors, made the ECW loyalists livid. The two would even host their own vignette segment called The Dirt Sheet, where they would spread malicious lies about their opponents and other WWE Superstars. The partnership would end up with two reigns as WWE Tag Team Champions, before the 2009 Brand Draft split the team up, sending The Miz to Raw.

Unleashing The Dragon

Photo: WWE

The Miz was finally given a singles push on Raw, where he became a 2x WWE United States Champion in his first year, as well as winning tag team gold once again with his bodyguard, The Big Show, in ShowMiz. And during his mid-card push, he was picked to be the mentor for a hot indie darling named Daniel Bryan for the first season of NXT, when the concept was still just a reality show (and developmental was still held at Florida Championship Wrestling).

By 2009, the upstart indies like ROH, PWG and Beyond were in full effect, and the internet had opened up a lot of people’s eyes to these hungry new wrestlers who would become future legends like Seth Rollins, CM Punk and AJ Styles. One such indie star that everyone was hoping to see head to the WWE (well, except for ROH fans) was former ROH World Champion “The American Dragon” Bryan Danielson. Now that he was signed to the WWE (as Daniel Bryan), pairing an indie superstar like Danielson with the perceived fast-tracked spoiled reality star was the perfect pairing. It would go on to lay the foundation for a feud that still continues to this very day.

The World is Awesome

Photo: WWE

At Money In The Bank 2010, The Miz won the MITB briefcase, announcing to the world he was gunning for gold. The Miz would hold onto that briefcase for four months, before he cashed it in for his opportunity. After The Nexus attacked WWE World Heavyweight Champion Randy Orton and left him battered in the ring, The Miz came out and handed in his briefcase. By the end of the night, he was the new WWE World Champion. Seven years after starting his pro wrestling career, The Miz was WWE Champion.

Fans were livid. In their eyes, The Miz was still that spoiled celebrity who had bought his way into the WWE and only won the gold for mainstream media attention. Despite the fact he spent his first year on the independents alongside Samoa Joe and Frankie Kazarian, spent two years in developmental with the likes of Kenny Omega and Luke Gallows, he was still the reality star that had no business being in the business. It only added to the heat when he successfully defended his WWE Championship against John Cena at WrestleMania 27 in 2011 – albeit from an assist from The Rock – and left The Grandest Stage of Them All still WWE Champion. The Miz would hold the title 160 days, before ultimately losing it to John Cena at Extreme Rules 2011. Despite The Miz’ character development throughout his reign, many people look back at this being one of the worst WWE Championship reigns of the past 20 years (although it’s most likely based on a bias of information from the time).

Miz-Dow

Photo: WWE

By 2012, The Miz had turned babyface for the first time since his 2006 debut, but after a year, it didn’t seem to be working. While The Miz had developed a cult following with his sharp wit and biting tongue, the turn felt forced and his character lost much of what had made the cheeky heel so appealing in the first place. All that changed when he returned from filming The Marine 4: Moving Target. The Miz returned an arrogant heel, the Hollywood A-Lister character that he would carry through for nearly the next five years. And shortly after his return, he began to employ a stunt double to take his worst attacks and abuses, to save his Hollywood “good looks”. That stunt double was portrayed by Damien Sandow, and the union created the unit affectionately known as Miz-Dow.

The chemistry between the two was undeniable and the two became one of the hottest parts of WWE programming. The viler The Miz became as an employer, the bigger Sandow got over with the crowd as the taken advantage of employee. Sadly, the end of a perfect story was ruined by a fast-tracked ending, and Sandow would leave the WWE in the spring of 2016.

The Greatest Intercontinental Champion

Photo: WWE

It took a year for The Miz to recover from losing his WWE World Championship, but a year later he would win his first WWE Intercontinental Championship. It would be on Raw 1000 on July 23, 2012, that The Miz would defeat WWE Intercontinental Champion Christian for his first ever IC title. Over the next six years, it would become a title that would help define The Miz as a singles competitor.

The Miz would go on to win the Intercontinental Championship an astounding eight (8) times in six years – one behind Chris Jericho‘s total of nine – and his combined total of 599 days is only 20 shy of Pedro Morales‘ combined reign total of 619. In the past few years, The Miz’s reigns as IC Champion have been regarded as the runs that have helped bring the title back to prominence.

The Smack Talk Heard Around The World

Photo: WWE

It was in 2016 that The Miz finally transcended from being a “cult fave” with fans of his heel performances to someone that maybe had been underrated prior, when he gave his best promo yet – on the post-SmackDown Live talk show, Talking Smack. During an interview with then-retired Daniel Bryan – who was now the SmackDown General Manager – that The Miz responded to comments from Bryan about The Miz’ career. Bryan mentioned all the bullet points that the majority of internet fans and WWE Universe fans believed, that The Miz was a cherry picked reality star while Bryan was an indie veteran. This sent The Miz on an outrage – it was as if all the resentment he’d held up over the past 13 years finally came out in one blistering diatribe. And thus, a new star was finally recognized.

Must See TV

Since then, The Miz’ entourage has grown to much more than Curtis Axel, Bo Dallas and his wife, Maryse. His fans have grown exponentially and The Miz’ segments have indeed become “Must See TV”. The Miz’s comfort on the microphone has become so legendary, that he is often employed to handle celebrity appearances, as his quick wit can easily wrangle in even the most eager of egos who go off script.

The Miz has spent the last two years hovering around the main event players once again, closing out 2017 with his Entourage against Roman Reigns and The Shield, and spent the majority of this year fighting his adversary Daniel Bryan since the latter returned from his two-year retirement. He’s even pushed the buttons of AJ Styles. It was Miz’s manipulation that instigated the WWE Championship rematch that saw Daniel Bryan turn heel and defeat then-Champion Styles last week on SmackDown Live.

The Face of SmackDown Live

Which brings us back to this weekend. Following this Tuesday’s SmackDown Live, The Miz fought Daniel Bryan in a dark match following the broadcast went off the air, and the Los Angeles crowd were completely now behind The Miz. Every time he would connect with punches or knee strikes, the crowd would now chant “YES! YES! YES!”, and booing the very man that the YES Movement was built around. With stars like Roman Reigns, Becky Lynch, and now Braun Strowman out with health issues, the ascension of The Miz to the new face of AJ Styles could be just what the WWE needs to freshen up its storylines. And perhaps we’ll still get the heavily anticipated Daniel Bryan vs The Miz matchup for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 35 – only this time we’ll be cheering the other side.

 

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