September 11, 2011
Superstar's success is no Miz-tery
By JAN MURPHY - Kingston Whig-Standard
His name is The Miz and he's awesome.
At least that's what Mike (The Miz) Mizanin has WWE Inc. audiences believe week in and week out, where he is one of the elite talents within the company.
And having spent some time speaking with the former reality TV star and WWE champion, it's hard to argue with him.
After all, he's starred inside and outside the squared circle since breaking in with the company as a contestant on its reality TV series, Tough Enough.
Kingston wrestling fans will have an opportunity to see The Miz up close and personal when WWE Inc. presents Raw live at the K-Rock Centre on Sept. 11.
But long before Mizanin would essentially patent the expression "awesome" or invent his Skull-Crushing Finale finisher, a young Mike Mizanin had his own wrestling hero, and one who took the wrestling world by storm, not unlike The Miz has done in present day.
That aforementioned superstar was none other than Mizanin's hero, the Ultimate Warrior. In fact, Mizanin's earliest wrestling memory involved the Warrior.
"My mother (bought) me a jacket off the Home Shopping Network of the Ultimate Warrior because I loved the Ultimate Warrior so much," he revealed in an interview over the phone this week. "I guess the reason why I remember it so much is because it was the Home Shopping Network. I never remember anyone buying anything off the Home Shopping Network, but that's the one thing I've ever in my entire life bought off the Home Shopping Network."
Shockingly, Mizanin was never afforded the opportunity to sport that Warrior jacket to see his hero at a live event.
"It's funny because I didn't go to a live event until I was at UPW, Ultimate Pro Wrestling, in Los Angeles when I first started doing the independents and trying to become a WWE superstar," he said. "That's the first live event I ever went to.
"In Cleveland, my parents never took me to any of the shows. I would beg them -- beg them -- to take me and there was always some sort of excuse they would give as to a reason why they wouldn't take me."
He was asked if it maybe his parents didn't feel it was an appropriate thing to take their young son to.
"No. I just think they didn't want to, and I wanted to go really bad, so they would just make up excuses."
Before Mizanin would dazzle wrestling audiences with a microphone and his wrestling skills, he was a cast member on on MTV's The Real World: Back to New York, which first aired in 2001, and its spinoff series, Real World/Road Rules Challenge.
"It was a great time," he said of his reality TV experience. "When I tried out for that show, everyone always told me that I wasn't going to make it on the show. All my friends, all my family, everyone was like 'dude, you're not going to make it, there are 60,000 people that try out for that show ...' But I said screw it, I'm going to try out anyway. I ended up making it.
"Then those people who were telling me that I would never make it were asking me the next year 'how do I try out.'"
It was during an episode of The Real World that Mizanin debuted his alter ego that would become The Miz.
Reality TV and pro wrestling are vastly different in many ways, but do share certain similarties, Mizanin says.
"I would say they are a lot more different than they are the same," he said. "In reality TV, I just lived my life. I lived in New York City and I had cameras on me 24/7, non-stop every day. There was a lot of drama. We didn't have TV in the Real World house, which makes for nothing to do all day. It creates more drama, more conflict.
"With WWE, you have to master the art of professional wrestling and sports entertainment. I travel so much. I'm not in New York City doing a reality show. I am travelling all over the world, whether it's in China, or Qatar, Mexico, whether I'm coming up to Canada or going all over the States. We are non-stop each and every week, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday. We're doing live events and the Raw TV show. It's pretty incredible the amount of work that you have to do.
"It's not just living in a house and being filmed. It's mastering an art, it's performing in front of a live audience, whether it's on TV or in front of the live audience. It's pretty incredibly different."
But some comparisons can be drawn, he admitted.
"In ways that they're the same," he paused, "there are cameras around," he said with a laugh before turning serious.
"I think everyone wants to be on top. WWE is very competitive. Everyone wants to be the No. 1 guy. Everyone wants to be in the main event. And everyone tries to be the star of the show. I think in The Real World, everyone is trying to fight for camera time as well, to be the top guy, to be the No. 1 person that is talked about on the show."
Mizanin himself has had a taste of of the top, having been WWE champion and having headlined the greatest event in the business, WrestleMania, where he successfully defended his title.
How, then, he was asked, did he separate himself from the WWE pack, from the very people he had just mentioned, all wanting to be No. 1?
Two words: hard work.
"I said I was going to do more than everyone else," Mizanin said. "While everyone had days off, I would tell the media people or whoever could get me as many interviews as possible, whoever could get me anything to get my name out there, that I would do it during my days off. I don't need days off.
"In order for myself to have fans, or have people hate me even more, I wanted to do it grassroots style. Do every media possible; do every radio interview; every TV spot; anything I could possibly do, whether it's autograph signings or some sort of press ... anything. I would do it just to get my name out there more and more and more. That's kind of what I did to become one of the top talents."
Not only that, but he honed his craft, he says, by "practising promos over and over and over again."
"That's what helped me the most. Basically my drive to be that No. 1 guy, that top seed. To not take days off, to really get my craft and really perfect it.
Not surprisingly, his path to WWE Inc. came via reality TV, specifically the WWE show Tough Enough, in which competitors vie for a WWE contract.
Mizanin entered the fourth season of Tough Enough, which was eventually won by Daniel Puder.
Miz was asked about Puder's admission that he was more interested in the financial opportunities that winning the competition than he was with anything else.
Mizanin says he never personally heard that, but that he for one, certainly knew that was the case behind the scenes.
"Everyone always knew that he was kind of in it for the money, but the thing is, the WWE Universe, the WWE fans, don't get to see that," he said. "They get to see whatever is on TV and whatever Daniel Puder wanted to portray himself as. As much as I could tell the audience, I still wanted to win on my own. I could have called him out and said, 'oh he's only here for the money,' but then it makes me look like I'm jealous and I'm just trying to make up excuses for him. I just tried to beat him with more talent. But, as always, the WWE Universe never liked me. They've always hated me. They always couldn't stand me."
In the end, not winning Tough Enough proved a blessing in disguise for Mizanin.
On his way to becoming a top star, he won the WWE tag-team titles (three times), the United States Championship (twice), the World Tag Team Championship (twice) and Money in the Bank, to go along with his reign as WWE champion. He's been successful on TV, in the WWE and he's still in his early 30s.
What, then, is left?
Plenty, says Mizanin as his Miz character takes over mid-interview.
"I want to be the poster child of the WWE. I want to be the top guy, the No. 1 person. For the past five years, I think John Cena has been that guy. I think John Cena has done an incredible job at keeping himself at the top. What a lot of guys do, I think, is they will get to the top and then all of a sudden they will drop off and not still be that top talent, but John has been able to keep himself on top for the past five years and that's what I plan on doing.
"Not only that, but I plan on taking the spot of the person who people are waiting to see the most, the person who sells the most T-shirts, the person who's on every single poster, the person who when you think WWE -- they think The Miz -- not John Cena, not CM Punk, not John Morrison, not anybody ... The Miz. That's where my goal is. People ask me, 'you already main-evented WrestleMania, you were a WWE champion and you retained your title, what's next? You're already at the top.'
"My thing is I've always strived to be at the top of the game, but to be the person, to be that guy that WWE calls and goes 'listen this is our guy, this is the one.' So until I'm that guy, I won't stop."
Thanks to social media, it's not hard to follow that guy anymore either. The Miz, whose Twitter handle is @mikethemiz, is one of the more active WWE superstars when it comes to social media.
"I think social media is very, very important nowadays," Mizanin said. "I think in the beginning people in the WWE made fun of it and said, 'oh, I'm not going to tweet, it's TWEETING.' Now I think as it's gotten more popular, more people are accepting it."
There is no better example of the success social media can breed than that of one fellow WWE superstar.
"If you look at people like Zack Ryder, who has a show called the Z! True Long Island Story. He wasn't on TV at all, nobody cared about him, nobody liked him, he was just kind of just sitting there being this person that would get beat up every week. Now if you listen to the audiences, or if you see the audiences, they have signs, they're chanting his name, everytime he comes out they want to see him. It's because he used social media the right way. He uses Twitter, he uses YouTube, he uses Facebook to really promote himself and to get a cult following fan base. And that's basically the right way to use that social media."
"It's basically to embrace it and to say 'hey, this is a great platform to gain more fans,' to let them have an insight into what you are actually doing and to promote yourself. Every Monday night, I can promote. 'Hey, watch Monday Night Raw, I have a new T-shirt out, go to WWEshop.comand fans will go there and buy my stuff. It gives me a new voice."
Kingston fans will get a chance to follow Mizanin as he makes his way to the K-Rock Centre next week, for an event he promises will be fun.
"I love live events," he said without hesitation. "Live events are really a time to play with the audience. You'll see when I go there. I always love to cut a promo. Some guys will just go out there and wrestle a match, but I like to bring what you see on Monday Night Raw to every live event and to really make it more fun than anything they've ever experienced in their lives. I always think live events are almost more fun than Raw because we can do whatever we want.
"It is a blast for me. Especially looking out in the crowd and finding that one person who really can't stand me and the one person who's really cheering for whoever I'm going against and really calling them out on it. On Monday Night Raw, I never really do that, because it's TV, you're worried about camera angles and that kind of stuff, but when you're at a live event, it's all about the audience. It's all about those fans. It's just so much more fun for me and I think it's more fun for the fans as well. I think people will really, really enjoy it. Granted you don't have the big stage, you're not going to be on TV, but you're going to enjoy yourself as much as, if not more, than the real TV show."
Put simply, he's promising the show will be "awesome," something he knows a thing or two about.