Monday, April 23, 2012

Maybe he wasn't "Tough Enough" after all

A year ago, WWE revived their Tough Enough reality series, with a great deal of promotion, fanfare, bells & whistles, you name it. When it was over, Andy Leavine was awarded a WWE developmental contract. Perhaps it was a sign of things to come when Chairman-CEO Vince McMahon struck Leavine on national television that night.

Once assigned to Florida Championship Wrestling to begin his full training, Leavine was given the stage name of Kevin Hackmann. However, he wasn't heard from much after that, and was forgotten. Over the weekend, Leavine was released by WWE, less than a year after winning his contract.

This is not unprecedented. 2004 winner Daniel Puder, more proficient in MMA than wrestling, made his only PPV appearance in the 2005 Royal Rumble, and was cut a few months later after toiling at Ohio Valley Wrestling. For all intents & purposes, Puder is out of the wrestling business and is more involved in other pursuits these days. He didn't even consider giving TNA a sniff, which was a smart business decision, given their erratic business practices.

For Leavine, it's a different scenario. No one really knows why he regressed instead of progressed in Florida. However, with some of the other contestants in the indies, capitalizing on the brief flirtation with the national spotlight for however long they can, Leavine may still get a call from TNA or even Ring of Honor, or follow the rest of the Tough Enough class of 2011 onto the hard roads of the independent circuits.

As it stands now, WWE only has 2 Tough Enough alumni left on their active talent roster: 2004 runner-up Michael "The Miz" Mizanin, who has racked up an impressive resume the last few years, with a WWE title, 2 US titles, and 3 tag team titles, all in the last 5 years, and Josh Mathews, who traded his tights & boots for an announcer's blazer & microphone, though he did get 2 matches in the ring in 2004. As for the rest of the winners:

Season 1: Maven Huffman retired from the ring a few years back while on the indy circuit after he was cut by WWE in 2006. He recently made the news for the wrong reason a week ago with a DUI bust. Nidia Guenard also retired after she was released in the winter of 2004-5.

Season 2: Jackie Gayda left the company around 2005, married Charlie Haas (now with Ring of Honor), and spent a little time in TNA as a valet for Jeff Jarrett before leaving on maternity leavem and never returning. Linda Miles spent a few months in 2003-4 under the name, Shaniqua, but was released in 2004 and was never heard from again.

Season 3: John Hennegan, better known now as John Morrison, was released last year after nearly 9 years with the company, counting his TE stint, with 3 Intercontinental titles, a ECW title, and 5 tag titles to his credit. Matt Cappotelli, after some rent-a-jobber appearances, won the OVW title, but retired after it was discovered he had a brain tumor.

USA Network & WWE haven't yet decided if Tough Enough will return again. If the ratings weren't that strong last year, I could understand the reluctance, but now there's the stigma attached, given how the winners have been cashiered out rather unceremoniously, with Leavine the latest victim. Under the right conditions, it could work, but as long as Vince McMahon continues to micromanage things behind the scenes, the right conditions aren't going to be there.

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