James Dixon: Before The Ultimate Fighter took the world by storm and changed mainstream perception of UFC from human cockfighting to a legitimate athletic sporting pursuit, there was Tough Enough, a WWF and MTV combined production that aimed to create a WWF superstar of the future. Years later WWE opened up its own permanent Performance Center, which is basically just a non-televised equivalent of the show for aspiring talent that wishes to be part of the company. This taster tape promises to go behind the scenes of the first Tough Enough show.
There were 4000 applicants, and many of them were complete goofballs, as shown by an intro segment delightfully subtitled “The Rejects”, which shows some of the videos submitted by guys and gals who didn’t make it. From watching them, it is easy to see why. One nut job, ‘The Custodian’, a bald tattooed mini Steve Austin wannabe, beats the piss out of someone for walking on his clean, freshly mopped floor and then sings a song. Another, ‘Vampyre’, who looks like a fat Kevin Thorne, tries to cut a promo but keeps falling over and bringing himself to mischief on the mic. Another girl holds her nose open into the camera and says he wants to be a superstar so she can fix her face. Charming. A black guy with a stutter and a series of very noticeable ticks walks on the spot as he puts over his potential. A chick called ‘Ice’ clad in revealing silver lycra spanks herself and unconvincingly offers: “I’m always naughty, never nice”. She then says she wants to “stupify”, which is Disturbed’s gimmick. Another dude beats up his mom with a full nelson…
Out of that selection of arguments in favour of abortion, the WWF/MTV managed to pick 230 people for live trials. Many of them are the shits too. A blonde chick with fake Kevin Dunn-esque teeth and a pretend baby bump pops Tazz, but makes Al Snow roll his eyes. Another dude smiles a lot, then punches the ring furiously before turning into either the Hulk or a dinosaur.
Finally thirteen were picked, and we go through each of them and a snippet from their promos to the panel of judges, which actually includes KEVIN DUNN! Yes, the man who hates his own face so much that he won’t allow a picture of himself to be on the WWE corporate website, agreed to let himself be filmed for TV! Wow, I bet that blonde chick from earlier feels like a total douche having done that act with him there. Anyway, the luminaries and what we learn about them from this are:
- Maven Huffman: a teacher who wants to make thousands of kids happy
- Victoria Tabor: who doesn’t like losing because it “sucks”
- Shadrick McGee: who is unsure if he has a girlfriend or not, even though she is right there at the tryout and thinks they are an item
- Chris Nifong: who gives an answer that only an American could about having “found himself” and that he “knows who he is” now. The panel asks him if he is an asshole, and he says he is
- Bobbie Jo Anderson: who is happy to show off her body. Gee, I wonder why she got through
- Greg Whitmoyer: who has plenty of friends and doesn’t need any more
- Chris Nowinski: who wants us to ignore all of his best qualities, but then remember them again, or something
- Jason Dayberry: who is roided to hell but gets blown up delivering his promo
- Taylor Matheny: who says she is quick, snappy and witty, though doesn’t appear to be any these things in her promo
- Paulina Thomas: who is tall and can’t cut a promo
- Josh (Mathews) Lomberger: who wants to set the world on fire wrestling. Yeah…
- Nidia Guenard: who wants to lose her pot belly and “get it on”
- Darryl Cross: who wants to stop his mom from working
“Poor bastards”, reads the caption. We get footage of Tazz throwing Rhyno around before seeing him act like a tough guy prick towards everyone on the show and making some swears at them for being pussies. “I won’t ever hurt you” he says, then gives a couple of reasons why he might do just that, before footage airs of him apparently “shooting” with someone. Given that the hold is a top wristlock, I’m more inclined to think that that this is just fabricated for the sake of the cameras.
Al Snow is next to get the random moves highlight treatment, and he is very much good cop to Tazz’s bad cop. He is a funny guy with a good sense of humour and is much friendlier towards the contestants, more like a fun uncle who gets not angry but disappointed when they mess up. We see some more of the training, and Tazz says he has nothing to prove and then stomps the piss out of Nowinski.
Talk moves to Maven’s collection of thongs, which tickles Nadia immensely. She goes through his stuff to show Josh, which is a pretty cheeky thing to do. We see more of the cast dicking around, including a prank involving shaving cream and one of the guys farting during training in the ring. It doesn’t sit right with Al: “It won’t clear out! I’m starting to get a headache; it’s like mustard gas!” he complains in his Terry Funk sounding voice. Elsewhere in the house, there is the inevitable sexual tension that you get when you put a bunch of jacked up testosterone laden guys in there with a harem of big fake-breasted, athletic girls. Naturally, with that, comes bitchiness and denial. As well as this, there is the usual cabin fever-induced heightened levels of tension because of everyone being forced to live together for weeks on end and also being in competition with each other. Nobody likes Darryl, nobody likes Nowinski, some other dude is weird, some chick is full of herself, etc. It’s all playground bullshit.
Triple H turns up at the training centre all pissed off and snarly. He cuts a promo on everyone, in the same style that he does on television, with all the additional unnecessary punctuation and occasional shouty bits. However, what he says is actually fairly accurate and good advice. He rounds on the guys for having been given an easy path to success, and says he doesn’t care that they are hurting because he is hurting every day. His biggest issue is with respect, which he says has to be earned. He leaves out the bit about pushes, which have to be politicked for…
Kurt Angle discusses pre match nerves and then says how the contestants probably know more holds than 60% of guys in the business, because it has moved away from actual wrestling. He reckons that because the business goes in cycles (though, increasingly longer cycles it must be noted) that it will come back. Yeah… when exactly? This, in the mainstream at least, did not transpire. Sure, there were some great wrestlers in WWE and there will be again, but actual wrestling itself will never be the focus. It’s a dirty, dirty word. The irony of Kurt then sharing a laugh with one of the biggest detractors and murderers of good old-fashioned wrestling, Kevin Dunn, is unintentional brilliance from MTV.
Steve Austin shows what a genuine, down-to-earth, regular guy he is during his visit, as he tells stories about breaking into the business. He recounts his famous “tuna and potatoes” story from when he was breaking in, before adding that these guys have it pretty easy. He lectures that whatever they do in life, they should strive to be the best at it, be it flipping hamburgers or wrestling. Sound advice. He then touches on his ring style, saying he has cut out a lot of what he used to do because there are so many other guys doing more impressive things athletically, that nothing he does like that makes a difference anymore. Again, tremendous advice to any aspiring wrestlers. Less is more.
Mick Foley, whose hair is completely unacceptable, brings his latest book with him for a cheap plug, and says that even though he is a New York Times bestseller he doesn’t know that many words, but it’s not about the quantity, it’s about the arrangement. He says the same holds true with wrestling, which echoes what Austin said, but Foley does add that a base knowledge of technical wrestling holds is important to avoid stinking up the joint when matched with certain style opponents. I agree with that to a point, though mat wrestling for the sake of it that doesn’t lead anywhere and only exists to kill some time does bug me. Rick Martel and Bret Hart used to do that all the time when they worked each other. They would have a long technical sequence at the start of a match and it would go absolutely no-where at all, and then they would go to the finish. You see that shit on the indies all the time from guys who don’t know how to work and just want to “do some tech” to try and make it look like they are proficient and know what they are doing.
The Hardy Boyz and Lita tell their story, which you can learn about elsewhere in this book via their respective tape offerings. Matt does the majority of the talking, with Jeff appearing to be asleep while his brother drones on. Damn those Vicodins.
We finish off with Al Snow almost breaking down with tears of pride because of the way the final five contestants have conducted themselves and how hard they have worked. But they have one final test, and that is impressing Vince McMahon and Kevin Dunn over in Titan Towers. Vince’s intimidating office returns to the small screen after debuting in Beyond the Mat, and Dunn actually gets a few lines here. I guess the lure of MTV was too much for him to turn down, given his love of all things in the entertainment industry outside of wrestling.
“There’s nothing fake about this!” says Maven to McMahon, prompting Vince’s famous hearty laugh. Vince and Dunn are impressed with all of the final five (Maven, Chris (Nowinski), Josh, Nidia and Taylor), discussing how invigorating it is to see their positivity and how proud they rightly appear to be of themselves for having reached this stage. I guess this wasn’t all for the cameras either, because as well as the two winners Maven and Nidia, Vince also hired Josh and Nowinski too down the line. Dunn beams about what a good group they are, with Vince offering that: “The process itself, generally, it weeds out all the assholes”. They continue to shoot the shit about the contestants, and an interesting discussion takes place within this as Dunn claims: “It’s a young man’s business” and Vince responds in agreement: “It really is a young man’s business. My dad was right when he told me that years ago”. As I sit and review this, that was 13-years ago, and as of 2014 the now 68-year old Vince McMahon still presides over the empire, with many observers of the belief that he no longer understands what his audience wants and that his archaic ways of determining his stars are not in keeping with what people are clamouring for. This whole behind the scenes piece with an out of character Vince and the usually never seen on camera Kevin Dunn is absolutely fascinating, and probably worth picking up this tape for alone if you are interested in the inner workings of things.
Summary: I am not really sure what the purpose of this was. It seems to me like a teaser tape specifically to promote the release of the main series box set, but it rather seems like a colossal waste of time. I guess the cheap retail price was designed to work as encouragement, but surely anyone even remotely interested in the WWF would already know about the show, and wouldn’t need this to remind them. And what are the chances of any non WWF fans picking this up and deciding to give it a try? Unless there is a secret underground group of people hitherto unknown to me who always buy taster/teaser tapes in the hope of discovering something new that they want to see? Somehow, I just don’t see it. Anyone who does pick it up though, will probably find it an enjoyable enough waste of half an hour, but don’t go in expecting a great deal of actual content, because there just isn’t the time for that. As a promotional piece it does work a charm and will make you want to watch the show, but as a standalone thing it is not worth the investment.