Imagine just a few years ago -- or ten years ago, being told The Miz would be one of the best things about professional wrestling.
I remember watching Mike Mizanin on The Real World. I was a pretty naive kid, and despite living in Kentucky, never saw a ton of outward racism. I remember watching Mizanin argue with Coral Smith and realizing that not being exposed to very many cultures wasn't healthy, safe, or ideal. I thought that would be the extent of which Mike Mizanin had on my life. But hey, that's a pretty good one -- a guy who hadn't been exposed to much learning life lessons and emerging better from it.
In 2004, Mizanin became a cast member of Tough Enough season 4. I loved the Tough Enough concept, and am a sucker for wrestling reality shows. When you look back at the cast, you had an eventual tag champion (Nick Mitchell), Ryback, a WWE prospect (Dan Rodman), an American Gladiator (Justice Smith), an undefeated MMA fighter (Daniel Puder). The Boogeyman didn't make the cut. It was a solid group.
The Miz made it far based on popularity, but eventually gave way to Daniel Puder. Needless to say, even by 2006, The Miz had proven more useful than the actual winner. He had some janky runs as Smackdown host, and a stint on ECW before moving on to teaming with John Morrison. Many expected John Morrison to be the guy who broke out and became a big star of the team. Despite liking them as a tag team, I didn't think either one of them would break out -- one of the first times Miz proved me wrong.
That's what the Miz does, and with regularity. Not just me, almost everyone. The stigma of MTV? He worked past that. Another stigma of Tough Enough? That too. Transitioning from host to wrestler -- another one. Being considered the "Marty Jannetty" of his team? Not if he has anything to say about it. Also, there was a miserable babyface run. He didn't give up.
Miz had his fantastic and unlikely WWE Championship run that saw him defeat John Cena in a WrestleMania main event that also involved The Rock. It was nowhere near the best work of his career.
That failed babyface run we talked about? It was a stinker. The endorsement angle doesn't work these days, and the WWE had Ric Flair present The Miz with the Figure Four leglock. It's a move that continues to serve Miz well, but it just wasn't working at the time. I guess it shouldn't be a shocker that 'smarmy duck-face' isn't a good facial expression for a babyface.
Then Maryse happened. Well, I mean I guess she happened before, but she came back to the WWE. Maryse was a splash of character in a Divas division that didn't have a lot of personality. She wasn't an top worker or anything, but she was what the division needed. Then she got the hell out at age 28, which became the norm during that period. In the next few years, she and Mizanin had a budding relationship that led to marriage, while his career remained stagnant as a singles talent.
Sure, Miz would have title wins -- plenty of them. He had a nice tag team with Damien Sandow that led to the tag team championships, along with four Intercontinental title reigns. To be quite honest, the latter title didn't really mean anything. Miz changed that.
In 2016, the Miz was a major beneficiary of the WWE Draft. Rosters were split in half, and the WWE had brought Miz's wife back to the company. Imagine that, a couple kept a together despite a brand split. They both thrived.
In six months, Miz made the Intercontinental title mean more than it had since the 1990s. He had a feud with Dolph Ziggler -- another guy who seemed stagnant -- and they made it one of the best of the year. He's doing the best work of his life in the ring, and that's not even the best part about him. It's those god damn promos.
Talking Smack is Miz's show. It's a vehicle for off-the-cuff promo work that isn't heavily scripted, something that the WWE has needed for a long, long time. Miz's tirade going off on the fan-favorite Daniel Bryan won Fightful.com's Promo of the Year in an absolute wash. His explosion after losing his championship last week was another indication that if you just let someone be themselves and you don't punish them for speaking their mind and exposing some of the negatives of the business, or even babyfaces, they could be something special.
The Miz is a perfect heel. I hate him. I enjoy his work, but he does it in such a fantastic manner that I want to see him get pretend punched in the mouth. I want to see Renee Young slap the piss out of Maryse.
Worked-shoot comments can be met with mixed reactions. In late-WCW, they were rough. We've seen Joey Styles and CM Punk cut cool anti-establishment promos, Cena call out the Rock for leaving, and Natalya trash Nikki Bella for having things given to her. It's an excellent way to further a storyline in a period where people not involved in the business of sports entertainment know more about it than ever before. I don't think anyone does it better in the scope of pro wrestling than Mike Mizanin.
Miz has always had a beef with Daniel Bryan, and he's able to transition that into promos that get him over, even though Bryan can't work anymore. Miz trashing a man who can't physically compete for NOT physically competing is infuriating. Daniel Bryan had to sit there and take it, or risk his six-figure paycheck that supports his wife and their child. Miz also implied that Bryan would have to go back to wrestling in bingo halls, instead of say, the Tokyo Dome. That son of a bitch.
Renee Young was another victim. The fact that she and Dean Ambrose are an item isn't a secret. It's a storyline on Total Divas. It's never been acknowledged on other programming and Renee Young has quickly drawn the affection of critics and fans alike for how good she is at her job. She's a professional. On one night she wasn't and the slightest bit of bias (her saying that Miz was 'obsessed' with Ambrose) opened the floodgates. It wasn't that Miz would 'out' Renee Young for 'sleeping' with Dean Ambrose, it was that she was so damn professional all the time! How dare you, Miz?!
His career transformation is really something to behold. In a business where many characters are looked at as unsalvageable and damaged goods, you're reminded of guys like Charles Wright, who had established runs before getting over to levels nobody though possible.
The thing about Miz is, he's a heel that doesn't really lie. He confronts the most wholesome of WWE characters with their shortcomings, or embarrasses them in a way that doesn't come across as cheesy or corny. Having a former Divas Champion at his side also allows him a little flexibility with the characters he targets. In a company where many storylines only involve people that could see a complete resolution (but often don't meet that resolution), the fact that he's targeted non-wrestlers like Renee Young and Daniel Bryan is a breath of fresh air.
The Miz is a treasure, and I hate him.