Holding a toy championship belt in one hand and a throw pillow in the other, Mike Mizanin stood atop a couch and posed triumphantly.

He had just reclaimed the plastic title from his housemates after hitting them with a series of pantomimed punches and chasing them through the house. He applied a cartoonish version of the claw hold, spoke in a bassy voice and sauntered along the floor as he messed around with Coral Smith and Lori Trespicio. And now the costume-store championship was his again, a fact made clear by his prideful stance on the furniture. 

This was an ordinary sight in the house. 

Cameras often caught Mizanin morphing into his alter ego, The Miz. During his time on The Real World: Back to New York in 2001, a college kid from Parma, Ohio, became an amalgamation of pro wrestling personalities. 

“There were pieces of Ultimate Warrior, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, DX [D-Generation X], you name it. I was taking from all of them,” Mizanin told Bleacher Report of the inspiration for his Miz character.

He roughhoused with his housemates. He held a lamp to his mouth as he issued trash talk. He grew brash, loud and ridiculous.

Mizanin couldn’t know at the time that these ventures into another self would be the genesis of a WWE career. 

What began as a playful act from a frat boy ended up being the first steps into the world of the squared circle. Eventually, Mizanin would become The Miz full time. Years after his six-month stint on reality TV, he became one of WWE’s most recognizable faces, holding the WWE Championship, serving as intercontinental champion six times and headlining WrestleMania XXVII. 

Before wearing those gold straps, though, he first carried around a plastic one, when The Miz wasn’t a ring name, but a persona he slipped on for fun.

The Birth of The Miz 

A native of Parma, Ohio, Mizanin went to college less than 300 miles from his hometown.

His time at Miami of Ohio began conventionally enough. He studied business, joined the Theta Chi fraternity, went to class, partied, the usual. 

But while watching TV, he found the inspiration to step into the reality TV world. 

“I remember sitting on my couch on a Saturday watching reruns of The Real World. And it said, ‘Do you want to be on The Real World? Go to and you can try out there.’ And I said, ‘I want to be on The Real World.’ And I sent in my tape,” Mizanin recalled.

After producers reviewed the VHS of his audition and interviewed him, Mizanin found himself in a house full of strangers in Greenwich Village, New York.

It was a shock to the system for a young Ohioan. 

“I’m 20 years old. I move to New York City, the biggest melting pot in the world,” Mizanin explained. “You go in there. You have these cameras on you. You have roommates you’ve never met before, people from all different walks of life.”

Viewers could see how uncomfortable he was. Mizanin struggled to click with his housemates early on.

He felt that he struggled to fit in from moment one.

“Right from the start, it felt like I was the outcast, the person that nobody was going to like,” he said.

Things changed when he began to embody what become known as The Miz.

Mizanin issued over-the-top threats in a low, gravelly voice. He crashed into a trailer to show it didn’t hurt him. He goofed around under the guise of a wrestler invading The Real World.

He told the cameras, “The Miz is a character I created. He’s basically a wrestling star. And he’s ready for the big leagues.”

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