As another year draws to a close, it’s natural to reflect on what has come and what is yet to be. Last month we looked at several things to be thankful for and as wrestling fans—though we are given ample reason to complain—there is much worth celebrating.
And there is one superstar in particular worth celebrating as we close the door on 2017. It’s not AJ Styles, though he’s had a phenomenal second year. It’s not Roman Reigns, though he’s continued to improve in the ring and his comeback with the Shield has softened a lot of the angst against him. It’s not Brock Lesnar’s gut and it’s not Triple H’s beard. No, the real treat this year has been freaking Miz.
That’s how I used to describe him almost every time a story featuring him made the news or a title was thrust upon him, or he found himself in the middle of an interesting program. I would always say “Have you heard who is going to be working a storyline with Cena? Freaking Miz.” or “Did you see who won the IC title last night? Freaking Miz.” or “They’re making another Marine. Freaking Miz is going to star.”
And such like.
That was then and this is now. It’s time to tip our hats and recognize that The Miz is freaking awesome. The Miz is not just one of the best heels on the roster right now, he’s one of the best heels Vince McMahon has ever employed. He deserves to stand on the same stage as Roddy Piper, Billy Graham, Triple H and Mr. McMahon himself. The previous names are (with the exception of the boss) prototypical wrestlers, who came up in the business through grueling training, a grinding road life for little pay in front of sparse crowds, and who scratched and clawed their way to the top.
The Miz? He was this guy
And when he finally got his break, it wasn’t on account of his broken down old wrestling trainer taking a liking to him while training him in his rat-infested gym. No, it was because he was a reality TV star in an era where such stars hopped from show to show, competing against each other for who can have the biggest personality and garner the best ratings’ retention. While on The Real World, Mizanin introduced an alter ego dubbed “The Miz.” It was his own personality turned up to eleven, to use one of the most clichéd phrases in pro wrestling. After ending his time on the show he reappeared on several Real World spin-offs before landing a spot on the coveted “Battle of the Network Reality Stars.”
That’s when you know you’ve made it.
Along the way, Mizanin realized his “Miz” persona would make a lot more sense in the world of pro wrestling, instead of just spoofing it. After a cup of coffee at Ultimate Pro Wrestling (where he received rudimentary training), Mizanin achieved his dream of appearing on WWE TV.
As a reality TV star.
Tough Enough afforded Mizanin the chance to show off the “Miz” character he’d been playing for years in front of the only people who could do something worthwhile with it. Despite being one of the least physically-impressive competitors, Mizanin excelled through sheer personality, and made it all the way to the finals. He lost to Daniel Puder but his work was strong enough that WWE offered him a contract anyway. And with that, Mizanin achieved his dream of actually working for WWE.
As the host of Smackdown.
Throughout the summer of 2006, Smackdown viewers could—occasionally—see “The Miz” introducing the show to the live (and TV) audience as well as conducting the occasional backstage interview or throwaway skit. It was a little bit “let’s start every Raw with a boring Authority promo” and a little “let’s send it over to Mike Adamle to get ______’s thoughts on tonight’s matchup.” At the time, Miz’ wrestling talent (he worked dark matches and house shows, as well as wrestled regularly for Deep South and OVW before moving up to Smackdown) was below mediocre. He was clunky and awkward in the ring, with little sense of timing, often leading to botches and jeers from the crowd. Since his personality was his strong suit, it made sense to feature him with a mic in his hand more than in between the ropes. But he wasn’t the best (yet) on the mic either in those days. Case in point was a Raw appearance that summer as he co-hosted the WWE Diva Search Challenge Thingy…
Here’s where it gets interesting though. A lesser performer would have wilted after such a disastrous outing. Miz however maintained a remarkable confidence in who he was and what he knew he could (eventually) do. He didn’t quit. He persevered. He eventually improved enough to be allowed to work like a real
wrestler sports entertainer, and thanks to an initially-odd pairing with Johnny Nitro, Miz tasted success for the first time. Together Miz and Nitro won the Tag Team championship, giving Miz his first WWE gold, and they won the internet with their great (for their time) wwe.com show The Dirt Sheet. It was here that Miz’ promo skills really started to find a consistency. The flashes of greatness he’d shown over the past few years became a regular occurrence every time he picked up a mic. It was just a matter of time before he was given a proper outlet to channel his talent as a true singles star.
Or actually don’t enter; Miz took a page from Stone Cold’s 1996 playbook and started calling out the absent face that runs the place, claiming the upperhand just because Cena was unable to respond to his challenges. But where Austin eventually faced the man he’d been pestering (Bret Hart) in a hard fart contest at Survivor Series, there was no star-making moment for the Miz in his feud with Cena. Instead, Miz was squashed like an ant under an elephant in a five minute nothingburger at the 2009 “Bash” PPV.
It was neither “Great,” nor was it “at the Beach.”
Miz bounced back, however, where so many who tried to step up to Cena’s level did not. He had acquired many fans during this period, hardcore viewers who rooted for him to succeed. Yes, once upon a time The Miz was an internet darling. But it didn’t last; MIz continued his upward trajectory but as he ascended, fan support for him dwindled as hardcore viewers turned to more skilled in-ring talents. Miz went on to win the WWE Championship during one of the worst stretches of main-event storytelling in fifteen years, and main-evented a terrible WrestleMania with a terrible main-event against John Cena, that ended with a terrible finish.
His WWE Championship reign lasted well past the expiration date and when he finally did drop the title, he lost a lot of the feeling of relevance that big belt gives to superstars. Some guys can drop the title and keep right on being important; others are immediately tossed aside by fans hungry for a new face at the top. That was The Miz, but he stayed around the top throughout 2011, even taking part in the historic tag match at Survivor Series against The Rock and John Cena.
After that, however, he fell down the card and looked like he’d never again be relevant beyond the occasional funny promo in a meaningless mid-card segment. Once again, however, The Miz refused to disappear. After filming the fourth Marine movie for WWE Films, Miz returned to WWE TV as a self-proclaimed “must see movie star.” With aviator shades and flamboyant clothing, his character shift was just subtle enough to be fresh while still being the same insufferable heel he’d been for so long.
But it really took Damien Sandow to make us (or at least me) come to appreciate Miz.
Sandow of course spent a considerable amount of time as Miz’ lacky/stunt-double. And as entertaining as his antics were and as much as fans longed for the moment when he would finally turn on Miz, the fact is it wasn’t Sandow that was carrying the team. After he finally did split he whithered away into eventual irrelevance and unemployment. And Miz—who many thought would lose a step without “Mizdow” to play off of, kept right on chugging. And somewhere along the way we (that is to say “I”) realized something that I would have laughed out loud to hear just a few years ago.
The Miz—at some point in the recent past—got really really good at this pro wrestling thing.
His in-ring skill is not going to blow anyone away, but he improved steadily from his rookie days and works a style that, as he said in his now-legendary Talking Smack promo, has allowed him to remain largely injury free for his entire WWE Career. And as little as that in-ring style will impress or excite, the man makes up for it through one of the most polished, self-assured and finely-tuned characters in pro wrestling history.
His match with Cena at WrestleMania 33 was, by all accounts, a complete dud, but the one thing that can’t be denied was how The Miz had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hands. The superstar who had fallen into the rut of fan rejection and disgust in 2010, kept working, kept grinding and eventually won over nearly every critic that ever dared to say he was done.
Right now The Miz is away, shooting yet another Marine film. He’ll be back soon, however, and hopefully will get another opportunity (hopefully at WrestleMania) to tell everyone the same thing he’s been telling us for a decade, as he climbed a different kind of ladder from obscurity to superstardom, through a remarkable work ethic and drive to succeed; the same thing he’s been saying to make us boo and laugh at what we used to dismiss as mere irony, but upon closer inspection is actually right on the money:
He is the Miz.
And he’s actually, genuinely…awesome.