15 years ago, the World Wrestling Federation aired the first episode of a ground-breaking reality series on MTV titled “WWF Tough Enough”. The show mixed elements of “The Real World” with that of a professional wrestling training school. Trainers Al Snow, Tazz and Tori put 13 inexperienced hopefuls through the grueling process of learning to become a professional wrestler. The contestants lived together in a large house by night and trained in the ring and the gym during the day.
While Tough Enough showed some of the inner workings of the business (such as how to take a proper bump), most of the focus was on the performance of the individual contestants and their interactions with the trainers without going into too much depth on the technical aspects of performing certain maneuvers. With reality television only being in it’s infancy, the first few seasons of Tough Enough are refreshingly genuine, with little to no manufactured drama.
The original concept of the show would feature an elimination of a contest each week in a decision that would be made by the trainers and judges and based on performance and perceived potential and charisma, but more often than not, contestants were forced to leave the competition due to injury or of their own will. Nearly half of the competitors in the first season of Tough Enough left the competition by choice or due to injury. I recently interviewed one of those competitors for this article: Greg Whitmoyer.
Greg wasn’t even supposed to be on the show. He wasn’t picked as one of the final 13 contestants, but due to Tom dropping out of the competition due to failure to agree to terms in regards to the MTV contract, Greg was contacted by WWF officials and given a second chance. It was John “Big” Gaburick that drove him up to the house at the very end of the first episode of the show in an amazing visual. The smile on Greg’s face in that situation said it all. He went through all of the the emotions and thought that he didn’t make it, but was given a second chance. It was this story that hooked a lot of viewers into becoming fans of his.
Not only did Greg have a great story coming into the show (being the guy that was looking to show everyone that he deserved to be there), but he was well liked by the rest of the cast and perceived as a congenial “everyman” by fans of the show. I can tell you that by my experience speaking with him for this interview, he is every bit of that.
Greg never had the chance to finish the competition (having to leave due to re-aggravating an old back injury) and never ended up making it to the World Wrestling Federation, but his attempts cannot be perceived as a failure. Greg Whitmoyer didn’t quit, but it was his body that quit on him.
As you will read in this interview, when it came time to choose to continue pursuing his dream or be there for his family, he made the right decision as a man, proving to be more of a role model in how he carried himself as a human being than he could have ever done in becoming a WWF Superstar.
Most people know you as Greg from Tough Enough Season 1, but before we get into all of the questions about the show and the wrestling business, I’d like to learn more about the man, Greg Whitmoyer. What was life like growing up?
I had a great childhood, I grew up in a small town that had a ton of kids my age in it so I spent most of my time with my buddies playing sports and, you guessed it, wrestling. We used to make our own shitty little title belts, drag out mattresses, staple old phone cords to the walls and all that shit. We had a lot of fun.
Did you always know that you wanted to be a professional wrestler or did you have other aspirations?
I was always a fan of wrestling, but it was never something I thought I could do. When I was a kid, most of the superstars were huge. I looked at them as the best athletes in the world, so to wind up being around that organization even for a brief time was a thrill for me.
What were you doing just prior to Tough Enough?
Prior to the show, I had just graduated from college and was working as a personal trainer at a local gym. The opportunity came along at the perfect time for me as I really didn’t have a career I was working on.
What’s your earliest memory when it comes to wrestling and who were some of your favorites growing up?
When I was a kid I used to run home from Sunday school to watch WWF Superstars every week. We didn’t have cable, so that and Saturday Night’s Main Event was the only wrestling fix I could get–but I never missed it. I was a huge fan of the British Bulldogs and continued to be a big Davey Boy fan after Dynamite got hurt. R.I.P. Davey.
What motivated you to try out for Tough Enough and did you do any professional wrestling training (or consider it) at all prior to competing on the show?
I didn’t have any training prior to the show, I was still playing a lot of baseball at that time in my life, so most of my time went to that. It was actually one of my baseball buddies that encouraged me to put in for the show in the first place. I was a pretty decent athlete at that point and he knew I was a big fan.
What happened when you weren’t selected as a finalist? How long was it between when they cut you and when you were brought back? Did they ever say that you could have a chance to step in if someone else backed out or was it a total surprise to you?
It did suck to make it to the last day and not make it (onto the show) initially, but I chalked it up to a cool experience and went home. It was only a week or so till they called me and asked if I was still interested, which I jumped at the opportunity immediately. It was a total surprise.
Did you ever watch the show? If so, was there anything important or noteworthy that happened during the course of Tough Enough that did not come across on the TV show or was omitted?
I did. I usually would either watch it at home with my parents, or go out to a sports bar with my friends to watch it… Honestly, everyone came off exactly how it was. Nothing important was omitted from the show and everyone was represented 100% accurately.
What was a bigger challenge: the training or having to live in a house with Darrell?
Ah, Darrell–he’s an alright dude actually. I was honestly so focused on winning, that I had very little tolerance for any bullshit (which he provided plenty). Looking back, he wasn’t hurting anybody else with how he was, so no big deal. The training was no joke man, but I enjoyed it so much I didn’t mind. It was one of the best challenges I’ve ever had physically, but it was really rewarding for me.
During the show, there was a drawing to determine which two contestants would have the opportunity to fly in someone from back home. You were one of the two that won the drawing and you ended up selling your pick to Chris Nowinski because your girlfriend couldn’t make it that week, but later found out that her schedule changed and she could make it after all. How did you feel about the way that Chris handled the situation when he did not want to give it back?
I didn’t care. I was fine with him keeping it. I was so driven at that point to winning, the less distractions the better, I felt.
You didn’t quit and you weren’t cut—it was an injury that put you out of the competition. How hard was that to take and what do you think your chances would have been if you didn’t have to bow out of the competition? Also, how did you originally injure your back?
That’s what brought me to tears in the first place, man. I knew once that feeling shot down my leg, that my epidural was wearing off and my time was up. I originally injured it on a leg press sled in college, but I had 2 epidurals to get me through my last season of college baseball. When I think about how things could’ve been, I really liked my chances of winning the competition, and if I’d have continued to have the opportunity to train in the ring everyday, I think my life would’ve turned out a lot different.
After Tough Enough, were you ever contacted by WWE in terms of a development deal or a tryout?
Yes, they did call after I had my back surgery. Unfortunate timing in that my girlfriend was 8 months pregnant with my son at the time and I didn’t feel leaving was the best thing to do. I’ve had my chances, so there’s nothing to be bitter about.
Unlike a lot of the contestants, you continued to try to chase your dream (wrestling on the independent scene for 3PW, CZW, ROH, etc.) after the show was over–When was your last match?
I just did a match last year for a promoter that I had worked for for years and did it as a favor to him. I broke 2 ribs in that match and that was enough for me. I had a lot of fun and met some great people in my years in the wrestling business, but now it’s just time to work and be the best dad I can possibly be to my son.
You and Josh got really close during your time on the show–Is it purely a coincidence that you both used the last name “Matthews” in the wrestling business?
Total coincidence. We talked and joked about it backstage at a SmackDown taping I was at a few years ago. Funny, huh?
I know that 15 years is a long time, but are there any contestants from the show that you still keep in contact with or did after the show? How about the trainers?
Nope, not a one of them. I’m friends on Facebook with Al (Snow), but that’s about it.
Not being picked as a finalist and then being brought in as a last minute replacement, it seemed the story was writing itself for you to be the Cinderella story of the show. Although your story of redemption didn’t turn out how you would have liked, what did you take away from your time on Tough Enough and how has those experiences helped shaped your life in the 15 years since?
I took away a whole new sense of work ethic from the wrestling business. I never call off sick, it never hurts too much to not do something, the show (and life) must go on.