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The Tough Enough Curse: An analysis of the show's winners and losers

Pro Wrestling

The Tough Enough Curse: An analysis of the show’s winners and losers

Josh Bredl, formerly known as The Yeti and later as Bronson Matthews, has been released by WWE along with NXT wrestler Chris Atkins and backstage interviewer Andrea DiMarco after battling concussion issues since last summer. Bredl is just another one in a long line of Tough Enough contestants who have failed to make an impact on WWE’s main roster after winning–it’s almost like WWE’s version of the Madden Curse.

The first season of Tough Enough was moderately successful: Maven became a mainstay in early Ruthless Aggression era, winning the Hardcore Championship, teaming with Tough Enough trainer Al Snow and feuding with fellow alum Christopher Nowinski. Maven’s biggest claim to fame, however, came when he eliminated The Undertaker from the 2002 Royal Rumble.

Past the inaugural season, you have to go back to 2002 to find any memorable name in the list of Tough Enough winners, where John Morrison won a particularly bereft season 3. Morrison is far and away the most successful winner in Tough Enough history, winning the ECW, Intercontinental and Tag Team Championships in WWE and the Lucha Underground Championship as Johnny Mundo.

2004’s season 4 winner, Daniel Puder, achieved a certain amount of infamy when he attempted to shoot on Kurt Angle on an episode of Smackdown by locking him in a legitimate Kimura lock. Not the most intelligent of choices ever made. Despite being a promising prospect–Puder was a professional mixed martial artist–his career was pretty much stopped dead in its tracks after that.

It’s not all about the winners, though–Puder’s season was actually one of the more successful overall, being the breeding ground for future stars The Miz, Ryback and Spirit Squad member Mitch. As a former WWE Champion and six time Intercontinental Champion, as well as a WrestleMania main eventer, Miz is easily the most successful Tough Enough contestant ever. The most recent season, 2015’s, was also highly successful in the runner-up department, giving stage to current NXT Supterstars Mandy Rose, Patrick Clark and Daria Berenato, as well as TNA Knockouts Raquel and Laurel Van Ness.

Season Year Winner(s) Achievements/Status Notable Contestants
1 2001 Maven, Nidia Maven: Former Hardcore Champion, eliminated Undertaker from 2002 Royal Rumble. Released in 2005
Nidia: Valet of Jamie Noble. Released in 2004
Chris Nowinski, Josh Mathews
2 2002 Linda Miles (Shaniqua), Jackie Gayda Linda Miles: Valet of The Basham Brothers, Shelton Benjamin. Released in 2004
Jackie Gayda: Valet of Charlie Haas, Rico. Released in 2005
Matt Mordan
3 2002 John Morrison Former ECW, Intercontinental, and Tag Team Champion. Did not renew WWE contract in 2011. Currently in Lucha Underground None
4 2004 Daniel Puder Legit attempted to break Kurt Angle’s arm. Released in 2005 The Miz, Mitch, Ryback
5 2011 Andy Leavine (Silent Rage) Received slap from Vince McMahon and Stone Cold Stunner from Steve Austin. Released in 2012 Cameron
5 2015 Josh Bredl (The Yeti), Sara Lee Josh Bredl: Lost to Cesaro in Tough Enough finale. Released in 2017
Sara Lee: Pregnant with Wesley Blake’s child. Released in 2016
Mandi Rose, Patrick Clark, Daria Berenato, Raquel, Laurel Van Ness

2011’s season 5 was arguably the most entertaining season thanks to host “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, despite producing lackluster talent–“Silent Rage” Andy Leavine had an unremarkable stint in FCW, the precursor to modern-day NXT after being humiliated by Vince McMahon and Austin on Raw after being announced as the male winner of the season.

Cameron is most famous for being one of Brodus Clay’s Funkadactyls along with Naomi. Her most memorable moment on Tough Enough was telling wrestling legend “Stone Cold” Steve Austin that her favorite match was Melina vs. Alicia Fox. She also once tried to pin an opponent on her stomach.

The moral of the story? Well, much like the Madden Curse, there’s not much concrete we can draw from this, but it’s fun to look at the data nonetheless. Runners up have historically done much better than the winners, spawning household names like The Miz, Ryback, and (shudder) Josh Mathews. So if you ever find yourself competing in a future season of Tough Enough, shoot for the stars, but don’t shoot too far.

One has to imagine WWE doesn’t truly see Tough Enough as any sort of reliable method for creating stars, but rather more cheap, easy quick programming they can churn out–all positives for WWE. It has brought us some seriously memorable characters to boot, so even though it’s been a couple of years, don’t be surprised to see the concept tried out again in the future.

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