Tough Enough was a reality competition series produced by WWE for six seasons between 2001 and 2015. The series saw various aspirants undergoing professional wrestling training and tasks, with the winner receiving a WWE contract. Many notable wrestlers have gone through the Tough Enough system and have achieved great things in their careers, and some of them even went on to become world champions across various promotions.
While the winners ended up receiving WWE contracts, there are certain contestants in each season who went on to achieve greater things in their careers than the wrestler who won their season. With that said, let’s take a look at ten Tough Enough contestants who found more success than the winners.
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10 Ivelisse Vélez – Season 5
The fifth season of Tough Enough in 2011 saw WWE legend and Hall of Famer Stone Cold Steve Austin acting as the host while other legendary wrestlers like Booker T and Trish Stratus served as trainers.
Fourteen contestants participated in the fifth season, and Andy Leavine overcame all the competition to become the winner and received a WWE contract. After the victory, WWE sent Leavine back to FCW, where he remained until he got released in April 2012. However, Ivelisse Vélez, who got eliminated from the competition due to a leg injury, ended up being more successful than Leavine. Despite her WWE career not working out, she went on to become a 4-time Shine Champion, a 2-time Lucha Underground Trios Champion, and also won the AEW Women’s Tag Team Cup tournament in 2020 alongside Diamante.
9 Josh Mathews – Season 1
Maven Huffman and Nidia Guenard emerged as the winners of the first season of Tough Enough in 2001, and while the latter didn’t do much in the company, the former became a 3-time Hardcore Champion. He also had an unforgettable moment with The Undertaker and competed in notable matches in WWE before his release in 2005. Following that, he went on to compete for Impact Wrestling and in the indies before disappearing from mainstream wrestling in 2006.
On the other hand, Josh Lomberger, who was one of the runner-ups, ended up receiving a WWE contract and debuted as a commentator and backstage interviewer under the name Josh Matthews. Despite not making it as a wrestler, Matthews went on to get more television time than Maven and remains in a significant position in the business as a Senior Producer and Senior Director of Digital Media at Impact Wrestling.
8 Kenny King – Season 2
The second season of Tough Enough had 13 contestants competing for the chance to obtain a WWE contract, and one of them was Kenny Layne. He finished as one of the season’s runner-ups as Linda Miles and Jackie Gayda emerged as the winners.
However, the two winners didn’t go on to achieve more success in their careers, but Kenny Layne went on to become a 2-time Impact X-Division Champion, 2-time ROH World Television and 3-time Tag Team Champion under the name Kenny King and is still going strong in Impact Wrestling.
7 Chelsea Green – Season 6
The sixth season of Tough Enough had fourteen contestants and produced more successful wrestlers than any other season in the entire series. Chelsea Green was one of the contestants and was already a 1-time Impact Knockouts Champion when she entered the competition. She finished in the fourth position for the women but ended up receiving a WWE contract and reported to NXT.
She performed in NXT between 2018 and 2020 before getting released in April 2021. She made her return to Impact Wrestling, where she continues to compete and is clearly doing better than the female winner of the season, Sara Lee.
6 Sonya Deville – Season 6
Despite winning the sixth season of Tough Enough, Sara Lee couldn’t do much in her pro wrestling career as she disappeared from active in-ring competition following her WWE release in September 2016.
However, that’s not the case for Sonya Deville, who also took part in the sixth season of Tough Enough under her real name Daria Berenato. She was the third contestant to get eliminated from the competition, but she ended up becoming an integral part of WWE television following her main roster debut in 2017. Despite not winning any championships, she continues to get featured on WWE’s weekly television shows.
5 Matt Morgan – Season 2
The Blueprint Matt Morgan was also one of the contestants in the second season of Tough Enough but left the show due to an injury. But unlike the season winners, Matt Morgan had some decent moments in WWE and also went on to compete for other promotions like NJPW, AJPW, and Impact Wrestling.
He became an integral part of Impact Wrestling’s programming and went on to become a 2-time Tag Team Champion and also won the world championship of Impact Wrestling’s failed Indian venture Ring Ka King.
4 The Velveteen Dream – Season 6
Former NXT Superstar The Velveteen Dream was also a contestant in the sixth season of Tough Enough under his real name Patrick Clark. He got eliminated from the competition due to a perceived lack of humility but ended up receiving a developmental contract with WWE and made his debut for NXT.
He became one of the most famous wrestlers in NXT and went on to have stellar matches in the former black & gold brand. He also became a 1-time North American Champion before his release from the company after being accused in the Speaking Out movement.
3 Mandy Rose – Season 6
Current NXT Women’s Champion Mandy Rose was also a part of Tough Enough 6, in which she competed under her real name Amanda Saccomanno.
She was one of the runners-up of the season alongside ZZ Loupe but went on to achieve more success than the two winners of the season. She continued to get more TV time during her time on the main roster, where she debuted as part of Paige’s Absolution faction. Her storyline with Otis had some of the most entertaining segments in WWE history, and she has achieved even more success with her current NXT run as she leads the Toxic Attraction faction as the NXT Women’s Champion.
2 Ryback – Season 4
The fourth season of Tough Enough saw eight contestants stepping up to the challenge to get the chance to win a WWE contract worth $1 Million. Former WWE superstar Ryback was also a part of the competition under his real name Ryan Reeves but couldn’t go all the way.
Daniel Puder became the winner of the season, but the fans are well aware of how his WWE career turned out. Despite having an undefeated MMA record, he couldn’t replicate the same success in professional wrestling. However, that wasn’t the case for Ryback as he went on to make his main roster debut as Skip Sheffield of The Nexus before getting repackaged as the monstrous Ryback. He went on to compete in several high-profile matches for WWE and also became a 1-time Intercontinental Champion in the process.
1 The Miz – Season 4
The Miz is the most successful wrestler to come from the Tough Enough system. He was part of the fourth season of the series but was not able to go all the way, but he did receive a developmental contract with WWE and reported to DSW.
He made his main roster debut as The Miz in 2006, and from there, he went on to become a 2-time United States Champion, 8-time Tag Team Champion, 8-time Intercontinental Champion, a MITB winner, and a 2-time WWE Champion. He is considered one of the greatest Intercontinental Champions and heels in WWE history, and he’s still going strong as one of the key players on WWE television.