”The Doc” Chad Matthews has been a featured writer for LOP since 2004. Initially offering detailed recaps and reviews for WWE’s top programs, he transitioned to writing columns in 2010. In addition to his discussion-provoking current event pieces, he has written many acclaimed series about WrestleMania, as well as a popular short story chronicle. The Doc has also penned a book, The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment, published in 2013. It has been called “the best wrestling book I have ever read” and holds a worldwide 5-star rating on Amazon, where it peaked at #3 on the wrestling charts.
QUESTION OF THE DAY: True or False: Given his career renaissance since 2016, The Miz is now among the Top 50 WWE Superstars of the WrestleMania Era
Modern WWE lore is rife with stories of wrestlers from all walks of life changing their career narratives by making it big in a highly competitive environment reminiscent of the early 2000s, when sports entertainment’s version of the NBA-ABA merger occurred in the aftermath of WCW’s death. Names like AJ Styles and Finn Balor are often at the forefront of that conversation, but another name that should be included with theirs, albeit for different reasons, is The Miz. If you would have told me two years ago that, over the ensuing 24 months, The Miz would become widely regarded as one of the most important members of the WWE roster, I’d have called you a liar, Mean Gene.
Watch pro wrestling long enough and the number of things that will legitimately surprise you shrinks to maybe a handful per calendar (if that); count Miz and his career renaissance since 2016 among the most pleasant surprises of the past decade for yours truly. As recent time has passed and his upper-limit relevancy has continued to be maintained, he has become one of the more interesting case studies of the post-Attitude Era. To see where he started, to reflect back to when we all thought he had peaked, and to now bear witness to the role he plays as a linchpin of whichever weekly program he calls home is fascinating, really.
Going back to the beginning, few were worse in their debuting years in the business, yet consider his circumstances. In hindsight, he watches in 2005/2006 as one of the prominent victims of WWE trying to figure out how to bring in new talent after the Monday Night War had ended. You see, Vince McMahon may have turned a regional company into an international conglomerate, but each glorified period in the WrestleMania Era has been hallmarked by WWE taking already established acts and honing them into something greater. Like the NBA uses college athletics and international pro leagues to groom future stars for it, the world’s biggest basketball entity, WWE has regularly poached the finest prospects from wrestling promotions in some ways considered its competition but which should more accurately be thought of as its feeder systems; love it or hate, in principle, WWE – by the time WrestleMania 1 went off the air – had become the Atlantic or Pacific ocean and the other promotions either smaller oceans, lakes, or ponds, with the exception being the brief period from ’96 to ’99 when WCW rose up to challenge WWE’s industry supremacy. However, for the ten years after peace time began, WWE tried to act like it could groom all its future stars in house and, though the massive success of the OVW Class of 2002 showed that it might be possible for them to do that, the experiment was not sustainable and WWE found out eventually that its talent recruitment strategy had to change (i.e. more CM Punk and less Chris Masters).
The Miz was a fresh act rushed to television faster than he should have been. He did not have the luxury of honing his craft in the shadows. By the time of his debut, the days of the stacked roster post-WCW merger were over; WWE needed bodies and Miz had enough innate charisma and on-screen presence to take on a role for Vince McMahon and Co. that he just flat out was not ready to play.
Within a few years and against long odds, though, Miz rounded into something of a potential breakout star. Those of you who are newer in your WWE fandoms may not recall just how eye-opening it was when he took the microphone on Monday Night Raw after 2009’s incarnation of the Superstar Shake-Up and started calling out John Cena. His next-level promo skills were, “Holy you-know-what, The Miz might actually be a headliner someday” –caliber. So many WWE manufactured talents from last decade were basically charisma-vacuums, sucking the energy of the arenas with their emotionless at worst and bullet-point-ridden (or in Mr. Kennedy’s case, catchphrase-dependent) interviews; bearing in mind that this was about a month before the first WWE “Summer of Punk,” The Miz came out of nowhere and was just crushing it in his segments ripping on Cena.
His problem was that, again, WWE wanted to push him too fast. If you are an NBA coach and a little-used 12th man on the roster suddenly starts earning minutes off the bench by hitting timely shots and playing good defense, the next step is not to play him for forty minutes a night and ask him to be the second banana to a superstar; it would be to, instead, increase his minutes, maybe make him a starter, and see how he responded before asking him to take on a starring role. WWE had gotten into a bad habit of seeing breakout potential and falling into the instant-gratification trap.
In 2009, Miz was reminiscent of Chris Jericho in early 1998. Pre-Y2J, Jericho found his groove as a character and rounded into a dependable upper mid-carder who could perform spot-duty in headlining-type situations until he was ready to become a consistent top flight star 3 ½ years later. Miz was a prominent mid-card singles wrestler for a year before winning the Money in the Bank Ladder Match, which segued into what many felt to be his ill-fated WrestleMania 27 main-event position. Granted, one should never take too much away from a guy who accomplishes the new age Holy Grail in pro wrestling of main-eventing “The Showcase of the Immortals,” but he was ill-prepared to wrestle in that spot because, even though he was a main-event microphone maestro, he was still a mid-card level in-ring performer prone to awkward timing and “green” snafus without the larger-than-life attributes necessary for WWE to give him a pass for them. When the critical consensus was, predictably, that he bombed in his match with Cena in Atlanta, it was not surprising. Had he been afforded the extra year or two to get better in the mid-card, maybe the script on his career after 2011 might have been written differently.
On The Doc Says podcast, I have sporadically referenced what I call WWE’s “Lost Generations,” a nickname given to the main roster call-up classes from 2003 to 2011 which produced only two bonafide mega-stars with resumes worthy of the Top 50 of the WrestleMania Era conversation (Punk and Daniel Bryan, who are essentially responsible for stimulating WWE’s new talent acquisition approach). Prominent members of the “Lost Generations” include Bobby Lashley, Mr. Kennedy, Jack Swagger, Alberto Del Rio, and Sheamus, who along with Miz is probably the only other guy who has managed anywhere near the caliber of career that even The Shield trio has amassed in half of the time in WWE. The argument about the “Lost Generations” is that they were a combination of creatively mishandled and, on the harsher side of the spectrum, just flat out less talented than those who came before or after them, the latter thought process revolving around their collective failure to thrive in an overall weaker talent period in WWE history.
What is interesting about The Miz, though, is that his renaissance has come during one of the more talent rich periods ever. It has been said that WWE’s roster right now is as talented as the roster was during the boom periods (and, boldly, one could argue that WWE is experiencing a boom period, given that it makes more money now than it ever has before and that it sustains a really good reputation in the mainstream media for, among other things, its genuine performance art ethos now more than ever before); Miz has gotten considerably better as the talent around him has gotten considerably better and, just in case someone attempts to counter that his improvements are less a function of his own design and more an example of a rising tide around him lifting his game, remember that his most critically-acclaimed outings in the past two years have come opposite Dolph Ziggler, another notable contemporary from the “Lost Generations.” Miz has been like a phoenix rising from the ashes of a by-gone, disrespected period in modern pro wrestling lore.
Retroactively, he got his time to be a featured mid-card act after TLC 2011 basically ended his initial run as a headliner. Was there a better utility player in the game from 2013 to 2015? The Miz could be moved all around the mid-card, having 3-star matches in single-digit minutes when the Intercontinental Title was still much in need of a renaissance of its own or helping to get something goofy over like his “A-list face” or Damian Mizdow. He could also tour the world doing promotional work as well as any peer. Like so many stars from the now distant past, he translated that mid-card success to something greater when the opportunity presented itself; unlike many stars who identify as being near his level of WWE longevity, he represents just as well what creative should not do to young stars before they are truly ready as he does the benefits of persistence and hard work regardless of perception.
The Miz, firmly in the midst of a second act that will go down as comparable to Jericho’s in 2008-2009, now sits on the precipice of joining Y2J in a very exclusive club of former WWE Champions who have been able to re-enter consideration for a peak spot in the hierarchy more than five years after they last held the title based on nothing less than busting their butts. That prominent publications named him MVP of WWE in 2017 and that it is generally regarded that he both led the resurgence of the Intercontinental Championship and was one of the Top 5 stars in the game these past two years speaks to his enormous value, to his fast-ascending stature in the WrestleMania Era history books, and to the fact that it would be downright criminal if he never wears World (or Universal) Championship gold again. The Miz is everything that is right about modern professional wrestling, and who would have ever thought that we could say that?