By Keith Elliot Greenberg
Over the past ten weeks, “Tough Enough” fans have witnessed a number of dramatic moments: Daria, the tough MMA fighter, being abruptly sent home, Dianna quitting when her competitors mocked her commitment to the business, Patrick being exiled from the show when the frequent reminders about his WWE knowledge were interpreted as signs of arrogance.
Time and again, ZZ and Sara Lee were relegated to the Final Three. Yet, each had connected with the WWE Universe in a special way, and ultimately escaped being voted off of “Tough Enough.”
During his first week as a judge, The Miz used his “save” option to pluck Amanda from the Final Three. And over the last several episodes, Josh – who appeared to blend into the background at first – began exhibiting the demeanor of a Superstar.
Of the 11,000 who applied for “Tough Enough,” 13 were selected for the show. Now, four were left. Tonight, there would be no second chances. Week Ten began with Amanda, Sara Lee, Josh, and ZZ all understanding the same thing. For two, the show would end in exhilaration, for the others, heartbreak.
The goal of the day: putting on an actual wrestling match. The four candidates met with costume designers, technicians and “Tough Enough” host Chris Jericho, brainstorming over everything from their music to their finishers.
The true test of whether an individual can thrive as a Superstar is determined in the ring. In years past, promoters would attempt to humble newcomers by matching them up with ruthless and gifted “shooters,” superior athletes who could hurt an aspirant who didn’t take his mission seriously.
Many of these enforcers were wrestlers who’d achieved international renown, like Lou Thesz, Billy Robinson, Karl Gotch or the Iron Sheik. This year, the male “Tough Enough” contenders were given their final and most serious challenge when they were forced to face off with Swiss gladiator Antonio Cesaro, whose knowledge of varied fighting styles can be compared to the four languages he effortlessly speaks.
It was an intimidating prospect. But the women’s challenge was equally as daunting: a one-on-one battle with former WWE Divas Champion Alicia Fox, known as much for her ring prowess and her crossover fame on “Total Divas.”
As the crowd cheered loudly, Amanda’s character, “Mandy Rose”, was introduced first, stripping out of a bright robe to reveal a sexy, two-piece outfit. At first, she humbly spoke to the audience as Amanda. Then, she switched roles to that of Mandy Rose, inviting everyone to her victory party after the match – except for The Miz.
Alicia said little, charging into Amanda and engaging her in a catfight. Amanda seemed to be favoring her nose, but kept fighting back, taking down Alicia with a sunset flip and a bulldog off the turnbuckles. Still, as the more experienced competitor, Alicia scored a believable win after a scissor kick.
Noted Jericho, “Wow. You guys beat the hell out of each other…That was a true fight out there. That was tough.”
Next, Sara’s character “Hope” came out with a flannel top and jean shorts, and delivered a heartfelt promo about proving her doubters wrong, and even predicted that Alicia Fox would become known as a “footnote” in Hope’s career.
In wrestling parlance, Hope “worked stiff,” applying a tight headlock and hitting Alicia with loud kicks. When Alicia answered with a suplex, Hope writhed on the canvas, but almost pinned her celebrated opponent with a schoolboy. As the two tussled with the referee between them, Alicia whacked her foe with a fist over the official’s shoulder, and once again scored a fall with the scissor kick.
The Miz appeared surprised by Sara’s promo – although he thought that she could have worn something more flattering. Even Paige, one of Sara’s harshest critics throughout the season, characterized the match as “pretty good.”
Jericho then told the women that the fans were about to vote for the female winner. As they waited nervously, he laughed and clarified that they’d have to find out the result at the end of the show.
When it was time for the men to show their skills, ZZ impressed by entering the ring in an alligator costume, under the ring name “King of the Bayou.” He vowed to devote the match to all his “baby gators” who’d been supporting him. For weeks, the judges had been questioning him, he said. Now, he asked whether Cesaro himself was Tough Enough.
At first, ZZ seemed surprisingly agile, evading a speeding Cesaro with a leap frog. He had a difficult time with a dropdown, but otherwise worked fluidly, hitting Cesaro with a down home version of a European upper cut and slamming him hard. Although Cesaro won with a submission maneuver, the judges were generally positive.
Nonetheless, there were questions over whether ZZ had the conditioning to last 30 or 60 minutes between the ropes.
Cesaro stayed in ring as Josh entered as “The Yeti”, covered in shredded fur and beseeching members of his “Yeti Nation” to stand up, eliciting a series of chants. Physically, he and Cesaro appeared well matched, and the Swiss Superman didn’t appear to be holding back with his blows. Like ZZ, The Yeti was victimized by a Giant Swing. But he fought back by standing and hurling Cesaro into the ropes, smashing him in the corner and hitting him with a powerslam that rattled the rafters. In the end, Cesaro lifted the candidate upside down and drove his face into the mat, capturing the victory.
Still, the fans seemed to embrace the new character.
Jericho described the match as a “little bit” choppy, but claimed that The Yeti truly looked like a star. Few could disagree with that assessment.
As the votes were tallied, WWE’s COO Triple H emerged with two contracts – and challenged the world to tell him which competitors deserved it.
As they had from the start, the WWE Universe remained loyal to Sara Lee, anointing her WWE’s next Diva. As she accepted her $250,000 contract, she no longer had to be self-conscious of the smile judges had criticized for weeks.
As with Sara, the fans had been rallying for ZZ since the first episode of “Tough Enough.” But in the end, Josh’s performance changed their minds. He was awarded his $250,000 contract to momentous applause.
Keith Elliot Greenberg was a contributor to WWE's magazines for 22 years, and is co-author of the autobiographies of Ric Flair, Freddie Blassie and Superstar Billy Graham.