I'm told that I have 15 minutes to speak to WWE Superstar Mike "The Miz" Mizanin.
I don't know whether he has another interview after mine, so I write out all the bullet points I want to hit. I have to move quickly from point to point and direct the conversation if I'm going to get some good quotes out of it. And for the first couple of questions, my interview with Mizanin moves at a steady clip. But then, I hear a baby crying in the background. It's his newborn daughter, adding her two cents to the conversation.
“If you could hold on, I think she’s hungry," Mizanin says in a slightly bemused tone. "This is something new I have to master—conducting phone interviews while taking care of my daughter.”
It's a juggling act for sure, and Mizanin credits his wife, WWE Superstar and manager/valet Maryse, with shouldering much of the domestic burden. When he's home, he does everything he can to make things easier for her,
“My wife and I make an awesome tag team," Mizanin says. "I see this loving, maternal side of her when she’s taking care of Monroe Sky, and I’m in awe… [Fatherhood] affects every part of [my] life. I’m changing diapers. I’m feeding her. I’m putting her to sleep. I’m being a full-time dad.”
The Rise Of An Unlikely WWE Superstar
It's a different side of a man who is known to millions of people as a villain—who makes his living antagonizing his co-workers and getting slammed on a hard mat. Mizanin is WWE's 25th "Triple Crown Champion"—over the course of his career, he's held the Tag Team Championship, the Intercontinental Championship, and the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. (He main-evented 2011's WrestleMania XXVII with John Cena while holding the latter title.) But for the past two years, Mizanin has been razor-focused on his pursuit and holding of the Intercontinental title—a championship that, particularly in the past 20 years, has often been an afterthought when compared to its heavyweight counterpart.
“My favorite wrestler growing up was The Ultimate Warrior,” Mizanin says. "I used to run around with the tassels on my arms. And he held the Intercontinental title, and so did wrestlers like Shawn Michaels and Ravishing Rick Rude.”
In fact, the main event of 1990’s WrestleMania VI was The Ultimate Warrior vs. Hulk Hogan—an Intercontinental Champion vs. World Heavyweight champion, winner-take-all showdown which Warrior won.
Warrior held the Intercontinental title for a combined 432 days over the course of two title reigns. Miz has exceeded his childhood hero; he's held the title eight times for a total of 599 days. He recently lost the title at WrestleMania 34 on April 8 in a Triple Threat match against Seth Rollins and Finn Balor that was widely considered one of the show's highlights. Should Mizanin regain the Intercontinental belt before he retires, he only needs 21 more days to surpass Pedro Morales' all-time record of 619 combined days—a record that has stood since 1983.
“I want the Intercontinental title to be seen as more than just a ‘mid-card belt,’” Mizanin says. "The Intercontinental Champion used to be seen as a threat to the WWE Champion. My goal is to return the Intercontinental Championship to that level of importance.”
Miz has done more to elevate the title than just about any other WWE Superstar in the past decade. And one of his most passionate, iconic defenses of the Intercontinental title came not in the ring, but during an interview segment.
It was August 2016. Mizanin, the current Intercontinental champion, had just been drafted to Smackdown, but the show's producers had some bad news for him when he showed up for work that week.
"I was told that I wouldn’t be on the show with the Intercontinental title," Mizanin recalls. "And I was really angry about that—that they couldn’t make time for the Intercontinental Champion. And I kind of took that out on our Smackdown general manager Daniel Bryan.”
Mizanin was a guest on Smackdown's post-show wrap-up, Talking Smack. Bryan, at that point retired due to concussion-related seizures, dismissed Mizanin as wrestling like a coward. Mizanin blew his cool; he turned to Bryan and delivered one of the most scathing, memorable promos in recent memory. Some excerpts:
It was not only mean and sharp, but it had the ring of truth to it. Mizanin didn't do death-defying dives out of the ring, but he was consistent and reliable. Unlike Bryan (who returned to in-ring competition on April 8 at WrestleMania 34), he still had a career. Bryan stormed off the set while Miz continued his rant, angry tears glistening in his eyes.
“People backstage were packing their bags and leaving, and suddenly, everyone just stopped,” Mizanin recalls. "I only remember parts of that moment afterwards, because I was so angry. But I was just pacing. I didn’t know what to do with myself.”
And since then, Mizanin has undergone a career renaissance. His promos have been more cutting, his in-ring work has been sharper. This past January, Mizanin won his match against top guy Roman Reigns on the 25th anniversary episode of Raw, clinching his eighth Intercontinental Championship title. Not bad at all for a guy who many fans initially dismissed as a joke, a reality show contestant who was merely trying to extend his 15 minutes.
Reflections On Reality Television
It was on reality television, as a participant on MTV's The Real World in 2001, that Mizanin first showed off his alter ego, The Miz, for his disbelieving housemates. He subsequently appeared multiple times on spin-off show Real World/Road Rules Challenge, which he won twice. He returned to The Challenge in 2012 after a seven-year absence, fulfilling duties as host for the season finale and reunion.
On Tuesday, April 17, at 10 p.m. ET/PT, MTV will premiere the latest season of The Challenge, titled The Challenge: Champs vs. Stars. As in prior seasons, the competitors consist of celebrities and champions from the show. But unlike previous seasons, where the two respective groups faced each other, they'll be mixed together this time, which will force the newcomers to acclimate and learn the game on a steeper curve. The contestants will compete for $150,000 of charity money.
Celebrities include Drake Bell (Drake and Josh child star), Lil Mama (recording artist), Hennessy Carolina (fashion designer and Cardi B's sister), and Booby Gibson (former NBA player), among others. And Mizanin will star as the show's host, no longer threatened by the negative reputation that reality television once held.
“I think that [the reality show stigma] has passed," Mizanin says. "Everyone is a reality star these days. If you go on Instagram, you can see everything that The Rock is doing. But back in my day, if you were a reality star, you could only be a star on that show.”
Everyone is a reality star these days. but back in my day, if you were a reality star, you could only be a star on that show.
Clearly, Mizanin is beyond that sort of stagnancy. He has several projects either ongoing or in the works. In addition to being a WWE Superstar and Challenge host, he will star in the film The Marine 6: Close Quarters alongside fellow WWE Superstars Becky Lynch and Shawn Michaels. He'll also be appearing on a new USA reality show titled Miz and Mrs., which gives WWE fans a closer look at his home life.
“I think all [the different Miz characters] are sides of me," Mizanin says. "There’s the WWE Miz. There’s The Challenge host Miz, who stirs the pot and gets the contestants going, because I’ve won this game; I think that’s why they wanted me back.”
“There’s the version of the Miz you see on Total Divas, where you get to see my home life, and that's why we also agreed to do Miz and Mrs., because you’re going to see a side that’s very relatable," Mizanin continues. "The way that you interact with friends you’ve had for 20 years is different than the way you would interact with people in a public setting.”
Ironic, considering that Mizanin has been entertaining us for close to two decades, albeit in different incarnations.
“I’ve never had any resentment about being a reality TV star," Mizanin says. "The Real World allowed me to have all of the success that I have today. It was difficult to deal with people’s perceptions, yes. But everyone’s negativity—everyone who boos me, and everyone on Twitter who’s told me I suck—I use it as fuel.”
Mizanin has taken a decidedly unconventional path to stardom. But now that he's made it, it makes little sense to fuss over the means.