WWE’s Hulk Hogan and Paige talk return of Tough Enough

Scott Fishman
"Tough Enough" judges Hulk Hogan and Paige posing for the camera.

After a four-year absence WWE Tough Enough is returning to USA Network on June 23 to find the next superstar.

When the dust settles after weeks of grueling competition, it will be one man and one woman awarded one-year, $250,000 contracts. The concept was born 14 years ago and became a popular staple on MTV.

"Tough Enough" judges Hulk Hogan and Paige posing for the camera.
“Tough Enough” judges Hulk Hogan and Paige posing for the camera.

Judges Daniel Bryan, Paige and Hulk Hogan nominate a person they believe should be cut. Fans are given unprecedented power by voting via the show app and deciding who goes and who stays from those choices provided.

Hogan is taking his role on Tough Enough very seriously.

“This is placed as an immediate opportunity, but they won’t last long even if they do make it through Tough Enough and are picked as the next WWE superstar if they are a poser,” Hogan said. “I can tell you if they are not for real, they will not last long. Once you get in the schedule is brutal, the lifestyle is brutal. I’ve seen John Cena go from India to California and back to Japan and then ‘Good Morning America’ on no sleep and wrestle and get a workout done. There is the choice if you are going to eat, sleep or do a workout. Of course, John works out and then he will eat and worry about sleep later. It might be postured as an immediate opportunity, which it is. However, if they don’t want to fit into the lifestyle, and if they don’t want to work hurt or handle the schedule, they won’t last long.”

Virtually Paige’s entire family is made up of professional wrestlers. The business runs through her veins, which makes the English beauty an ideal candidate for the judging panel.

DSC_0408“My dad was wrestling for more than 30 years,” she said. “He brought me up the old school way. You never fall asleep in the car, I learned. He would get so mad at me every time I would try to fall asleep. He would be screaming in my ear. I don’t know how I would be if I were in their shoes. However, they are so luck y to have this. If they had to go through getting paid no money, but traveling 10 hours because you love wrestling, who knows how they would do.

“They have access to a doctor at the Performance Center if they get injured,” she continues. “Any time they do get hurt, there is someone on standby. They even have a masseuse and everything they can possibly need at the Performance Center. I don’t know how I would deal with it. I like that I did it old school. I’m proud of that.”

Cameras are going to chronicle the 13 prospects’ respective journeys. Viewers will see their progress training under the coaching staff’s Booker T., Billy Gunn and Lita at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, as well as watching how they do living together in the “Barracks.”

The live Tuesday telecasts at nearby Full Sail University are going to capture all the activity that went on during the days leading up to the vote. Dave Franko, Full Sail’s vice president of academic affairs, is happy to expand the school’s relationship with WWE.

“NXT grew so huge over those three years that it became obvious we needed to consider what other options WWE would like to do on our campus,” he said.

“It was a perfect marriage to bring ‘Tough Enough’ to our soundstage. Those students have the opportunity to work alongside the WWE crew on the build of the physical set of the show, production runs and everything that goes on for the Tuesday live broadcasts.”

The judges are having very little interaction with the competitors heading into the first decision day. The Hulkster likes this because it keeps the mystique up and leaves the opening for more groveling when voting happens. Paige believes when Tuesday hits they are not going to be overly friendly at that point. This leads to the question of who will be the “Simon Cowell” on the panel.

“I think it’s me just because of my accent,” Paige says with a laugh.

“I think we all have that tendency [of being the bad cop] because Daniel is way old school. He has been beat up all down the highway. You name it, and he has experienced it. I think we all have a little edge that if someone is coming in here looking for this as a stepping stone to become a model or an actor, then we can be kind of barbaric if we have to be. I have a feeling we will be cool and want to do the right thing because we want someone here that wants to be here. I think there is that fine line that if they crossed, I just think there is that little edge that we can all become Simon Cowell if someone steps out of line and doesn’t respect this business.”

For Paige, the judging panel has a good dynamic. The 22-year-old former Diva’s champion is the youngest of the trio, but still brings a wealth of experience. She is excited to be on a team with pillars of the industry like WWE Hall of Famer Lita.

“I think it’s amazing,” she said. “I definitely looked up to Lita when I was growing up. I also looked up to Bull Nakano. Those two were wrestlers who stood out and were anti-divas who dared to be different. They got as big a pops as the men did. I’m here to be in a similar position as them. I want one day for the Tough Enough contestants to say, ‘I want to be just like Paige.’

“They are already saying that,” Hogan responds without hesitation.

  • WWE Tough Enough premieres 8/7 CT Tuesday, June 23 on the USA Network.
  • For everything on the show, visit the Tough Enough website.
  • Fans, here’s how to meet Paige at the Florida Supercon.
  • Follow me on Twitter @smFISHMAN

Photos credit: Nicholas Mayberry