Mike Mizanin isn’t a heel, but he does play one on TV.
His character, The Miz, is a great heel. Arguably one of the best in the WWE, and at the very least one of the best bad guys on SmackDown Live. His now infamous Talking Smack tirade with SmackDown Live GM Daniel Bryan only further proves that point.
What made the heated exchange so great is a simple idea, but more complex in practice: make it feel real.
Creating the “real” feeling garners attention and viewers. Look at the Attitude Era. Characters and storylines that felt and looked real drew an audience. Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels rivalry. Vince McMahon’s promos after the Montreal Screwjob. The Stone Cold Steve Austin character. And the list goes on and on.
Even at SummerSlam, the WWE’s second largest annual pay per view, there was a "real" ending to the main event. The finish of Brock Lesnar vs. Randy Orton, intended or not, was Lesnar winning by TKO. Essentially, the match was ended because Orton was badly busted open and bleeding profusely.
The end of the match may have angered wrestling fans, but it got a lot of attention outside its immediate audience. It didn’t end with a pin fall or submission. It ended with a stoppage made to look like Orton and Lesnar were in the octagon, not the squared circle.
On Talking Smack, Daniel Bryan talked about SummerSlam’s main event and how angry he was about the marquee match. He said some of the reasons the match angered him he couldn’t talk about on air. Daniel Bryan (the character) or Bryan Danielson (the person) would likely say that about Lesnar vs. Orton. Those comments established a shoot feel that would continue throughout the show.
The SmackDown Live pseudo post show continued with Bryan and host Renee Young talking to Nikki Bella about her ring return. She was eventually attacked by Carmella in a run that felt like a surprise altercation. Later, the Usos came on to talk about the tournament for the new SmackDown Live tag team titles, inevitably trash talking American Alpha to possibly set up an angle. Both segments further established the “real” feel of the WWE Network program. The way the banter and dialogue were delivered felt like a backstage conversation, and the show was pulling back the kayfabe veil.
As host and scheduled guest continued, Young and Bryan talked about the current WWE Championship picture, with Champion Dean Ambrose now in a developing program with AJ Styles.
The boisterous Intercontinental Champion walks on set with Maryse, grabbing mics from underneath the Talking Smack table.
“You know what I think?,” Miz starts. “The fact that the Intercontinental Championship wasn’t highlighted on SmackDown Live is a crock.”
The timing made the interruption that much better. Miz jumping in during a segment with nothing to do with him or his title seemed unexpected. Who would write that into a scripted post show? Also, for the first 5 to 10 seconds of Miz talking, his mic wasn’t on. Scripted or not, a little detail like that continues to build the episode as a legitimate post game or highlight show, like a SportsCenter.
As the drop-in appearance develops into a presumed shoot fest, Miz talks about the prestige of the title, with champions like Pat Patterson, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Mr. Perfect.
“I have respect for the title. I don’t have respect for the person holding it,” Bryan said.
He continues, prefacing his next verbal blow with there being “no gentle way” to phrase it. “You wrestle like a coward. You wrestle like someone who’s afraid to get hit,’ Bryan continues, saying that Miz has a stereotypical soft WWE wrestling style.
And it’s all downhill from there.
Miz defends his style saying he wrestles that way because he can “do it day in and day out” and has done so for 10 plus years. Never having to take extensive time off because of injury, which allows him to perform “each and every week.” Miz then talks about Bryan promising fans he would be back to wrestle in a year, after being forced to take time off and the vacate IC title. He insulates that Bryan is a liar.
“If they would let me come back, I would come back,” Bryan said.
So far in the segment, Bryan said he doesn’t respect Miz and called him a coward. Miz defends his “soft” wrestling and gets visually and audibly emotional. At this point, there is no turning back for either side. Things have been things said and whether they were planned or not, have cut each man deep emotionally. What is left to be said? How could this get worse?
“Why don’t you quit? Why don’t quit and go to the bingo halls with your indy friends then?” Miz says.
Young interjects and tried to calm Miz down, but that’s not happening.
“I need to talk to you (Bryan) real quick because the fact of the matter is you’re the one that calls me the coward, but you’re the one that doesn’t get in the WWE ring again.”
Mic drop. Exit Daniel Bryan.
A segment that started with Bryan in good spirits, ends with him walking out.
Miz calls to get the camera “right here” on him, finishing the segment and episode with a monologue.
“This is my show, my show. And I’m sick of all of you, my GM, sitting there criticizing me calling me the coward. You’re the coward. I’m the one here, day in and day out, in that wrestling ring beating people up. Thank you very much.”
In a matter of minutes, Miz was able interrupt Talking Smack, confront his general manager and take away one of the focal points of the program (Daniel Bryan). On a much, much smaller scale, Miz was able to highjack the show like Bryan and the Yes Movement famously did on Raw. Obviously, under much different circumstances.
Maybe Miz's intentions were to garner more attention for the Intercontinental Title. Maybe they were to really shoot on Daniel Bryan and the independent wrestling scene. Talking Smack, at least this past week's episode, did a great job of presenting "real" content.
His current stretch from WrestleMania 32 to late August has brought a peak in popularity for Miz. The last five months have been possibly the best for him in WWE in recent years. This year has been his best stretch, perhaps since winning the WWE Championship in November 2010 and then defending and retaining his title at WrestleMania 27 against John Cena.
Say what you want about Miz, but Mizanin has a knack for finding his way on screen and stealing the show.