Lee Burton returns with the second part of his look at the women of Tough Enough, this time focusing on the best of the rest. Click here to read part one.
In the original part of this look back of The Women of Tough Enough, we checked out the three winners – Nidia Guenard, Linda Miles and Jackie Gayda Haas. In this concluding part, we should take a peek at some of the other contestants who ended up in the biz, as well as the applicants who didn’t make it into the house but still forged a career in wrestling anyway.
So let’s go through it season by season…
Tough Enough 1
As mentioned in the previous article, Nidia won the original season after being picked over her only other real competition, Taylor Matheny (now 30). At the finale, Taylor promised that she wouldn’t quit her dream of making it as a wrestler, and stuck to her promise… at first.
Taylor was a salty character on Tough Enough. Participating in the show at the disapproval of her parents and being very focused on the prize at the end, she pushed herself in the ring and was dedicated to learning the craft. However, things went south when the remaining contestants went on the road with Al Snow, as she got utterly hammered in a bar and was very delicate the next day. If anything, this might have been an indicator to the WWF that she had pangs of irresponsibility and had some growing up to do. If anything, Taylor wanted it TOO much.
Nobody could doubt her desire though – as evidenced on the final live episode where she looked utterly crushed when Nidia was announced as the victor.
After TE1 ended, Matheny wrestled dates in the US, Canada and Japan (most notably with the celebrated ARSION promotion), defeating the likes of Cheerleader Melissa along the way, and tangling with the likes of SHIMMER co-founder Allison Danger, earning her a 3rd runner-up spot in the Pro Wrestling Illustrated Rookie of the Year rankings. The problem was that by the time she had earned that honour, Taylor was starting to wind down as a wrestler.
In 2004, Matheny quit wrestling to take up a course studying Hollywood make-up, though she did appear in the Florida promotion Full Impact Pro in a special guest appearance with her then-boyfriend, now-husband. His name: Brian Kendrick.
Yes, THE Brian Kendrick – the one who held the WWE Tag Team Championship for a year and currently plies his craft in TNA. Even after removing herself from wrestling, Taylor’s still associated with it, thanks to her marijuana-loving beau.
While we’re on the subject of TNA, it would be worth mentioning the first Tough Enough contestant to appear in that promotion; 32-year old Paulina Thomas.
Paulina was described by Tazz as “clumsy” during the show, but also had an extremely marketable look by Al Snow. And it’s not hard to see why – standing 6 feet 3 inches, Paulina was taller than any of the other girls, and most of the guys on the show. However, that meant she had to throw her long frame around, and caused her pain when she was learning to bump.
The biggest flaw Paulina had was her confidence. While others around her were quitting, she questioned her ability and whether she was mentally strong enough to continue. In the end though, it wasn’t her mind that gave out, but her body – a knee injury meant she had to withdraw.
After leaving the show and recovering, Paulina competed in a number of promotions – none really worth speaking of – but also surfaced on TNA as Disco Inferno’s personal bodyguard in 2002, back when they were still holding weekly pay-per-views at the TNA Asylum in Tennessee, and was also involved in the production for Tough Enough 2.
There’s no indication that Paulina is still in the wrestling business.
One person who is still involved in the wrestling business though – and wrestled on the same show as our latest Women of Wrestling Podcast guest Serena Deeb just this weekend is Jessica Kresa… though you know her better as ODB.
Referring to herself as One Dirty Bitch even back in 2000, she was shortlisted in the final 25 of the first Tough Enough, but didn’t make it down to the final 13, much like TE2 winner Jackie. At the time, ODB said one of her physical goals was to get a six-pack of abs. As her character evolved, it would morph into a six-pack of beers.
Kresa decided against auditioning for TE2, and instead achieved the washboard abs she was after, and began wrestling in promotions around her native Minnesota, much of the time wrestling guys like current TNA star Ken Anderson and Ring of Honor’s Shawn Daivari. She even tried her hand at mixed martial arts, losing to Kelly Kobold via submission in September 2003.
Eventually, much like Serena, ODB decided to head to Ohio Valley Wrestling on her own dime to try and attract the attention of WWE scouts, who had OVW as one of their development facilities at the time.
While she didn’t get signed by WWE, ODB did make history in OVW by forcing them to create a Women’s Championship in June 2006 after declaring herself the champ. As well as being a two time champ, she also won the Miss OVW crown, before appearing in TNA as part of the promotion’s movement to create its own women’s division.
ODB made her debut at Bound For Glory 2007, competing in the Knockouts Gauntlet to crown TNA’s first Knockouts Champion, which was won by Gail Kim. Originally booked as a heel, she started gaining more support due to her beer-drinking antics and acting like “one of the guys”. In her time at TNA, she won three Knockouts Championships and won the New Years Knockouts Eve Tournament before parting ways with the promotion in June of this year.
Tough Enough 2
You’ve never heard of Jessie Ward. Standing just 5’5” and weighing in at a scrawny 110lb, Jessie was the smallest contestant of any Tough Enough. Showing very little aggression, Jessie was overshadowed by the imposing Linda, beautiful Jackie and sultry Anni. But this little slip of a thing had probably the most heart out of anyone in the show’s history and pushed herself to the very ends of her ability – almost the end of her life.
Jessie ended up having to quit training after experiencing numbness in her hands and legs after taking a bump. A medical examination discovered she had vasovagal syncope (a heart condition that causes sufferers to faint), and was suffering from extreme lethargy attributed to her condition.
While that sounds like a sad story, it does have a happy ending. During the TE1 and 2 reunion show, Jessie revealed she had been offered a job with WWE as part of the production team for Tough Enough 3. While Jackie and Linda won the contracts, Jessie won something much more valuable to her – medical insurance, something staff at WWE get, but wrestlers, as “independent contractors” have to sort out themselves.
After Tough Enough concluded, Jessie went on the road with WWE as a stage manager for both Raw and SmackDown, working with the company for close to two years until going to work behind the scenes at TNA in October 2004. She worked there part time until May 2007 while studying for a degree in television/video production.
Since then, 30-year old Jessie has worked on independent films, as well as putting together shows for the History Channel, Discovery Channel and Animal Planet. Her latest project is a new series premiering in January of 2011 called Must Love Cats.
However, while Jessie has carved out a career in television, the most successful woman to appear on Tough Enough 2 never even made it past the audition stages. Step forward, Amazing Kong.
In 2002, Kia Stevens appeared on the Discovery Health Body Challenge as a contestant trying to lose weight in hopes of becoming a professional wrestler. It was around this time that she rocked up to the auditions in Las Vegas to try and get onto the show.
She didn’t get a look-in.
Undeterred, she trained at Jesse Hernandez’s School of Hard Knocks in San Bernardino, California before debuting as part of the Empire Wrestling Federation. With the financial help of her family, Stevens then travelled to Japan to learn more there – which is where Amazing Kong was born.
As told to the Women of Wrestling Podcast, Kong was thrown in at the deep end in All Japan Women in October 2002, with her fourth match being inside a steel cage. Proving herself to be a quick learner, she was given the name Amazing Kong to replace legendary female grappler Aja Kong in a number of matches, and eventually formed a team with her, known as Double Kong. Arguably her grandest accomplishment while in Japan was winning the WWWA World Heavyweight Title from Ayako Hamada in January 2004 – a title which has a lineage all the way back to Mildred Burke in 1930.
Back in her native US, Kong tore through the SHIMMER rankings – though never won the SHIMMER championship itself – won the NWA World and Midwest Women’s championships. During that time, she also competed in the UK as part of the ChickFight promotion, winning the ChickFight IX tournament in summer 2007. Just a couple of months later, she debuted in TNA as Awesome Kong, where she won the Knockouts Title on two occasions, and the Knockouts Tag Team Title with her old rival Hamada. All her accomplishments were rewarded in 2008, when she was also ranked the number one female wrestler in the world as part of the Pro Wrestling Illustrated Female 50.
Kong left TNA at the start of this year following a confrontation with shock-jock Bubba the Love Sponge, currently wrestling independently, and also is an investor in Nu Skin Enterprises, a line of skin and nutritional products.
Arguably, Amazing Kong is the most accomplished Tough Enough applicant, but probably not the most famous. Who is? Read on…
Tough Enough 3
So that brings us to the third installment of Tough Enough, which didn’t really produce any female wrestlers out of the 5 girls who made it into the final 13. That being said, it did produce the most shocking tale – one which never made it to TV.
In episode 3, Lisa left the show. We didn’t see her quit, nor did we see her leave the house. What we did see was her being left alone in the house while the other trainees went on a night out, and the last image was of her making a phone call. Fellow contestant Kelly told MTV: “(TE3 winner) Matt Cappotelli and I were noticing her and how she was closing herself off and we were concerned. We don’t know what happened to her after we left that night. It’s sad.”
Afterwards, wishy-washy phrases were thrown around like “it wasn’t for her” and “her mind gave out before her body”. The latter statement may be more telling.
According to the October 5, 2002 edition of the Pro Wrestling Torch, Lisa had to be removed from the show after what was described as a “psychotic breakdown”. She started throwing herself against walls and had to be talked down from jumping off the roof. When her parents came to collect her, she physically attacked them, claiming she didn’t know who they were. She then escaped custody in Los Angeles’ LAX airport, causing a whole wing to be shut down while she was found. Lisa was subsequently checked into a psychiatric facility, but checked herself out, and called the Tough Enough producers, saying she was ready to return – that’s when she was told she had been removed from the show.
Lisa surfaced at Ohio Valley Wrestling, saying she had been told to report there by WWE, which wasn’t true. She even managed to get backstage at a number of WWE shows in September of 2002, helped with setting up the pyro for a TV taping, and reportedly even had a face-to-face conversation with Vince McMahon, who didn’t know she had been on the show or her psychological issues.
After that, a photo of her was circulated to security at every venue WWE was appearing at to make sure she was barred from the building.
So from the most infamous, to the most famous:
See that woman with an overwhelmed, studious look with a plait of hair so thick that it could double up as a bullrope? That’s Melina, that is.
It’s no secret that Melina Perez almost made it into the final 13 of Tough Enough 3. She didn’t get much coverage on the first episode, but if you looked out for her, she was there. Although she was cut by WWE, Al Snow reportedly pulled her aside to tell her that she should continue to pursue her dream to become a wrestler.
As it turns out, Melina had already received training at the same place Amazing Kong did – the School of Hard Knocks – at roughly the same time, 2002. Like Kong, she debuted for the Empire Wrestling Federation. It wasn’t until after that time that she received the chance to audition for Tough Enough.
Fun fact: while getting experience, Melina participated in a pilot for a new all-women’s wrestling promotion. With its over-the-top characters, legitimate grapplers mixed with models who had been taught the basics and lots of “comedy” skits, CRUSH was looking to be picked up by a TV station. While it never found any interest, promoter Jimmy Hart didn’t give up hope, and pitched his idea to a money man some years later. Said money man funded the idea, got it raised from the ashes and found it a place on TV in almost exactly the same guise as the original pilot all those years ago.
The promotion’s name? Wrestlicious.
When she started out, Melina was a Lara Croft-style character, wrestling in black cargo pants and arming herself with Vale Tudo gloves. That would change.
Like ODB, Perez moved to Ohio Valley Wrestling to get noticed by WWE – debuting in March 2004 as a supposed ex-girlfriend of TE3 winner John Hennigan (now John Morrison) by fellow winner Cappotelli. She then turned on Cappotelli to joining with Hennigan – in a case of life imitating art imitating life, Perez and Hennigan became a real-life item, and Hennigan changed his name to Johnny Nitro. The couple then welcomed Joey “Mercury” Matthews to the mix, and MNM was born.
While Nitro and Matthews won the OVW Southern Tag Team Title, Melina was making sure she had her share of the attention by showing her flexibility in her splits entrance. Coupled with short skirts and the constant potential flash of underwear, it was a hit with the guys in the crowd.
While Melina’s official WWE TV debut was on SmackDown in mid 2005, she did make a couple of appearances on Raw in late 2004 in a diva lingerie fashion show, and also in a limbo contest a couple of weeks later.
Melina found her way from valet to full-time wrestler in WWE in late 2006, winning her first Women’s Championship on February 9, 2007 – making her the first woman of Mexican heritage to hold the title in its history, stretching all the way back to 1956.
31 year old Perez was ranked in third place in the 2009 PWI Female 50, has won the Women’s Title three times and the Divas belt on two occasions. When it comes to fame, exposure and recognition, Melina may have only featured on one solitary episode – and enjoyed no more than a few seconds of screen time – but she is undoubtedly the Queen of Tough Enough.