On Saturday, December 18, NBC will broadcast the annual event produced by World Wrestling Entertainment, WWE Tribute to the Troops, which honors the men and women of the American military serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition to celebrity entertainment from such performers as Diddy Dirty Money, Cedric the Entertainer, and Ariel Winter among others, select wrestlers from WWE will engage each other in a special match in an outdoor arena.
One of the star attractions will surely be Mike "The Miz" Mizanin, who became the current WWE Champion on the November 22 episode of WWE Raw. Mizanin first gained public attention as a cast member of MTV's The Real World 10: Back to New York in 2001 followed by several appearances on The Real World/Road Rules Challenge.
This year's Tribute special will not be held in Iraq or Afghanistan as in years past. For the first time, the WWE will travel to the Fort Hood military post, located outside of Killeen, Texas. It is one of the largest United States military installations in the world and made headlines last year, when, on November 5, 2009, a gunman opened fire in the Soldier Readiness Center of Fort Hood, killing thirteen people, and wounding thirty-two others. US Army Major and psychiatrist, Nidal Malik Hasan, is alleged to be the gunman and has been charged with thirteen counts of premeditated murder and thirty-two counts of attempted premeditated murder.
The WWE has announced that there will be two versions of this special. Besides the one-hour version on NBC this Saturday, there will be a two-hour version on December 22 on NBC Universal's USA cable network, the broadcaster of WWE Raw.
USTOWNHALL SPEAKS TO WWE CHAMPION MIKE "THE MIZ" MIZANIN OF WWE'S TRIBUTE TO THE TROOPS:
USTH: What does it mean for you to be able to entertain our troops and their families at Fort Hood? Do you consider yourself to be very patriotic?
MIKE MIZANIN: Yes, I do feel very patriotic. And, I feel that it’s incredible just to go out there and do that for our troops. I’ve been to Iraq twice in the past two years, and just going over there and seeing what these soldiers go through – I mean, these guys have a day-to-day life where it's literally like they wake up; they're in the desert; there is nothing to do. They wake up. They eat breakfast. They go to work. They eat lunch. They might have time to Skype with their families and friends for maybe three minutes if the Internet is working. Then they work out. Then they go to bed. And that's literally their daily routine when I went out to Iraq.
So this year, instead of going to Iraq, we decided to try to get to the most military we can possibly get to. And this year that's why we did it at Fort Hood which is our largest base in the free world. And we did our show with over 50,000 military personnel. Whether it was soldiers, families of soldiers, or friends. Some of these guys just got back from Iraq or all over the world. And they just needed something to escape reality and be entertained with. And it's the least we can do from WWE because these guys are putting their lives on the line each and every day for us.
I remember going to Iraq and talking to a kid that was 19 years old. And he was driving an MRAP [Mine Resistant Ambush Protected] which is basically an armored vehicle. And there was a pole sticking out of the front and I was like, "Well what's that pole for?" And he was like, "Oh, that's to heat up land mines so they don't blow us up." And I'm like, "Oh right, like you've been blown up before." He goes, "Actually, I was blown up yesterday." And I go, "What, you were blown up yesterday?" The technology that these soldiers have is so amazing. And thank God for it because that armored vehicle saved this kid's life. And the amazing part was he was talking to me about being blown up like it was a day-to-day thing, like it just happens all the time. Like it was nothing, which was amazing to me. You always see stuff on the news, and you see all the war and that kind of stuff on the news. But when you go out there and you really are hands on with everything, it's incredible. So, I'm really happy that we got to do our show in Fort Hood to get to as many personnel as we could, which was 50,000. As well as [getting] celebrities involved. We have Diddy-Dirty Money performing, Trace Adkins performing, Cedric The Entertainer, Ariel Winter from Modern Family, a 12 year old girl sing the National Anthem, Miss USA [Rima Fakih], Sherri Shephard, the Raw and Smackdown Superstars and Divas. We brought the show that you see every Monday and Friday night to Fort Hood and just entertain and try to put smiles on their faces just so they can escape reality just for that moment.
USTH: That sounds great. How does it feel to be living your dream as a professional wrestler? And did your stints on The Real World and Road Rules help you or hurt you in getting your foot in the door in professional wrestling?
MIKE MIZANIN: Very good question. It's funny, this has been a lifelong dream for me. As a kid growing up, The Ultimate Warrior and The Rockers were my idols. I mean, these guys were larger than life – they were my heroes. And growing up in Parma, Ohio, you kind of just go through the paces where you go to high school. You go to college. After college, you go back to Parma. You get a family, and you get a job, and that's your life. But once I tried out for The Real World and made it on to the show, it made me realize I could do everything I wanted with my life. So, I started wrestling on the independent and WWE didn't call until three years later. And finally, I made it on Tough Enough where I didn't win. I came second place, but, I got lucky that I impressed the WWE execs so much that they gave me a developmental contract. And I basically took a pay cut coming into the WWE. However, when I got to the WWE, the WWE Superstars were not very receptive to me. They thought I was a Reality star that just got a contract because I was a Reality star, and that was the only reason why. I never paid my dues; I didn't earn my stripes. And so it was very, very hard in the beginning. However, as time progressed, people saw how hard I worked. How much I wanted it, and all those hard times, all those obstacles that I had to go through were all worth it in the end because now I am the WWE Champion. I have conquered my dream. You know what it's like? I mean, I don't know how many people have ever gotten to say, "I've lived my dream," and now I have to find a new dream. It's incredible. And the new dream I found. Now, it's not only do I want to be WWE Champion; I want to be the poster child of WWE. I don't want you to think John Cena when you think WWE. I don't want you to think The Rock or Stone Cold Steve Austin. I want you to think "The Miz." So that's the new role.
USTH: I'm sure we will. Now, I'm assuming there are going to be wrestling matches on this Saturday's special. So can you tell us who your opponent will be?
MIKE MIZANIN: My opponent – I'm actually in a six man tag match with Rey Mysterio, Randy Orton – who I have a tables match with at the TLC Pay-Per-View this Sunday – and John Cena, versus myself, Alberto Del Rio, and Ray Barrett. So, we had a six man tag match that I think the fans really, really got into. They were having a blast with it, and you'll definitely have to see what happens in it because I'm not going to give you the spoiler.
USTH: Okay, I will tune in to that. I heard that you are in a new video game, WWE Smackdown versus Raw 2011. What does that feel like? Are you into video games and what was your participation in that?
MIKE MIZANIN: I love video games. Growing up as a kid, Nintendo was my life. Tetris, Super Mario Bros., Contra – that was what I did. So, to sit there and remember playing these video games as a child, and then to literally step in and be on WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 where children can play as my character as me, and I can play my friends as me is just surreal. I mean, it's incredible. Because, my friends will come over and try to beat me in the video game, but I don't let them because that'd be embarrassing if I'm playing [as] myself and literally they beat me – it's not good.
USTH: No, no. As far as this special is concerned, do you have any favorite memories that you take away? Obviously, you taped this a while back, so with meeting Sherri Shephard, meeting Sean "Diddy" Combs, and all of these people, what are your memories that you take away from participating in this year's special?
MIKE MIZANIN: My favorite part of the special is not usually the celebrity [aspect]. Granted, P. Diddy is absolutely incredible in concert. He is the most entertaining person I've ever met. Sherri Shephard is a sweetheart and is great. But the thing that I love the most is looking out in the crowd during my match –because I was in a tag match I can stand on the apron and look out there – and just seeing the crowd get so into the matches, that's what it's all about. Whenever you're in these solider environments where they don't really get to see much or do much but they get to escape reality for this one moment, like the faces and the electricity that's in that – well it's really not an arena because it's outdoors. But this outdoor venue is just incredible and, that's what I take out with me. Just the electricity, and the fans getting so involved with what we're doing that it just puts a smile on my face.
USTH: Do you keep in touch with any of your old cast mates from Real World or Road Rules today?
MIKE MIZANIN: I get that question a lot, and its funny. I – when I won the WWE Championship – I haven't talked to Coral in probably three years. But when I won the WWE Championship, I didn't even think she watched the show or followed me or anything. But she actually texted me and said, "Congratulations, I knew you would do it." And that kind of means the world to me especially when you haven't talked to someone in so long that it kind of rekindled our relationship because we were such good friends on the show, but when I went to WWE, I kind of fell off the face of the earth with all of these [Real World/Road Rules] Challenge people because I don't see them as often as I used to because we're on the road so much. So, I keep in touch with Coral, Mark Long from Road Rules and Ace I still keep in touch with as well and Veronica from Road Rules as well.
USTH: Thanks to Mike "The Miz" Mizanin for taking the time to speak with us today.
WWE Tribute to the Troops airs Saturday, December 18 at 9:00 PM Eastern & Pacific / 8:00 PM Central on NBC. A two-hour version of the event airs Wednesday, December 22 on the USA cable network.