BY: Dan Gelston
PHILADELPHIA – How’s this for a reality show pitch?
Take boyhood wrestling junkie, cast him in ‘The Real World,’ sign him to a World Wrestling Entertainment contract, watch him get ostracized by his peers because he’s a sports entertainment outsider, then — shocking twist time — make him the champion.
From growing up rooting for The Ultimate Warrior to becoming the ultimate reality star, it sounds like feel-good TV.
Mike Mizanin is a lifelong wrestling fan who gets choked up at times thinking about what it means to wear the same belt held by mainstream stars such as Hulk Hogan, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
His alter ego, “The Miz,” has a different spin.
“If anyone ever says you can’t do something, if anyone ever says you can’t live your dream,” he says, “Believe them! You can’t! It takes an exceptional person to prove everyone wrong and I did just that.
“I’m one in a billion!” the mouthy Miz told the Philadelphia crowd this week at Monday Night RAW.
Hey, The Miz might be right.
His rise from reality show cast member to headlining WWE events as the promotion’s champ is a swerve that not even a TV show producer could have scripted.
When reality stars leave their cushy made-for-TV apartments, are voted off the island or told to pack their bags because they can’t carry a tune, they look teary-eyed into the camera and vow the public hasn’t heard the last of them.
Then they mostly fall back into obscurity.
Not The Miz, and certainly not this week after his WWE championship victory propelled him and Vince McMahon’s sports entertainment empire back into the spotlight.
“Dude! I know! It was on everything!” Mizanin said. “I’m huge. I’m huge.”
Mizanin was once a fixture on MTV’s reality show circuit, flexing his muscles on “The Real World” and entertaining his New York roommates by adopting his wrestling persona, “The Miz.” When he ditched MTV to follow his childhood passion of becoming a pro wrestler, he was questioned by friends and family, and later was hazed and bullied out of the locker room by veteran wrestlers who didn’t want to share space with a TV star. Now, he’s on top of a wrestling organization that draws nearly 5 million viewers each Monday night for RAW.
“I don’t think it’s one of those things where you ever realize that you could be champion,” Mizanin said. “It’s one of those things where you build and build and build.”
For the 30-year-old Mizanin, the building started as a kid in Parma, Ohio, where he wrestled friends in his house when they weren’t watching pay-per-views and betting on matches of the WWE and other wrestling promotions. He briefly attended college at Miami (Ohio) before TV’s pull prompted him to try out for “The Real World.” Mizanin was cast for “The Real World: Back to New York,” which aired in 2001, and was so popular he was invited back for several MTV reality show spinoffs.
His MTV bio called him “a fireball of energy” who “has a deep need to be loved.”
Need to be loved?
In the squared circle, The Miz incites the crowd with inflammatory self promotion, feeding off the boos from the fans who love to see him get beaten. He doesn’t have Hogan’s 24-inch pythons or Ric Flair’s technical proficiency in the ring, so he’s developed a classic character fans love to hate in the mold of WWE loudmouths such as “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and Chris Jericho.
His catch phrase says it all: “Because I’m The Miz and I’m awesome!”
“It’s that easy,” Mizanin said, smiling backstage at RAW.
The Miz, 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, moved to Los Angeles after “The Real World” ended and paid $2,500 to learn how to wrestle, yes, for real. He worked for Ultimate Pro Wrestling before he was cast in another reality show — WWE’s “Tough Enough.” This program was about more than hot tubs, hot women and learning what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real — winners earned a WWE contract. Mizanin was runner-up in 2004 but was eventually signed by the WWE.
“I was a reality guy that everyone thought, just because I was on a reality show, I got my contract,” Mizanin said. “I don’t think that was the truth. I worked on the independents for three years. I was still doing reality shows because I wanted to be a superstar and any way you can get in is any way you can get in.”
Mizanin’s dad was against a move into professional wrestling.
“My dad was like, ‘No, you’re going back to college,’” he said.
Dad was wrong about Mizanin’s potential between the ropes. So were WWE wrestlers who made The Miz use public restrooms in full ring gear because they didn’t want him hanging around at the arenas with men who had “paid their dues.”
Even the WWE didn’t know what to do with him at first, using him for a stint hosting WWE’s Friday night show “Smackdown” in 2006 before giving him regular ring time later that year.
“I don’t think Vince McMahon, (and members of management) had a clue what he really did on the reality shows,” Prowrestling.net editor Jason Powell said. “I think they just thought, here’s a guy from an MTV reality show who wants to be a pro wrestler so we’re not going to pass on it.”
Mizanin found success in the tag-team division and was booked to win second-tier titles before his big breakthrough on Nov. 22, when he pinned Randy Orton to win the belt. His new real world as champ at last earned him respect from his peers.
“The Miz is a loudmouth, he’s obnoxious, he’s annoying. He’s everything you’d expect from a reality star,” said former WWE champion, Sheamus. “But he’s also one of the hardest workers I’ve seen in my life. He’s overcome obstacle after obstacle. No one gave him a chance when he first started. No one thought he’d last five minutes.”
Like an actor who wins an Oscar, The Miz couldn’t wait to go home for the holiday and show off his shiny new accessory to friends and family.
“Seeing it in their eyes, ‘You did it,’ that means more to me than anything else,” he said.
The Miz has found his place — in the locker room and in the main event.
“It’s never easy backstage. I’m still getting used to it,” Mizanin said.
“He’s used to it, don’t let him lie,” interjected actor Freddie Prinze Jr., now a producer/director for the WWE.
Wrestlers aren’t scripted for lengthy championship runs anymore as the WWE keeps trying to find the right guy who can become the next Hogan or Rock. The Miz wants to hold the belt at least until he can perform in the main event of Wrestlemania XXVII on April 3 in Atlanta — a long shot, but then again, Mizanin’s entire ride from MTV to Mr. Money in the Bank has been farfetched.
“What’s next? To be the biggest superstar the WWE has ever seen,” he said.
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