Sunday, May 05, 2002

Puttin' the smack down


Hughes grad chases WWF dream on MTV

By Gary Estwick, gestwick@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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Linda Miles is one of seven contestants remaining from 13 on MTV's Tough Enough 2.
(Courtesy photo)
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        If Linda Miles has her way, she soon will be known as Hot Mocha.

        “Hot Mocha is strong,” she said. “She's sexy.”

        She's even intimidating. Hot Mocha is every bit a part of the former Hughes High School basketball star.

        “I see myself as a tough, beautiful female, all in one,” she said.

        Hot Mocha is the stage name Miles wants if her dream of becoming a professional wrestler is realized. Then again, the dream might already be happening. She won't say. She can't say.

        Her pursuit of wrestling is part of MTV's reality television show, Tough Enough 2, which airs at 10 p.m. Thursdays. The shows were taped, and only 10 of the 13 episodes have aired. So far, seven of the 13 finalists remain in contention, including Miles. The final two cast members will be awarded World Wrestling Federation development contracts.

        Will she make it?

        “Watch the show,” Miles, 23, said last week while back in town, catching up with relatives and friends in Avondale. No matter what the results of Tough Enough 2, Miles will simply say she wants to wrestle. Her only other career goal is to be a sportscaster.

        Beth Holmes, supervising producer of Tough Enough 2, said Miles' outgoing demeaner helped Miles stand out among the approximately 5,000 people who sent in audition tapes.

        “She obviously was in tip-top shape,” Holmes said. “She really wanted this. She really had drive and was serious right away. On both sides of the coin, MTV and the WWF, we were really looking for that drive.”

        And Miles was looking for the opportunity.

        “I think everything in life is about changing and growing and experiencing life,” Miles said. “I was with a group of people that I didn't know, and they didn't know anything about me.”

        Until last year, Miles had all but abandoned a childhood dream of a wrestling career. She was the seventh of 10 children, and growing up, she and her brothers and sisters would use their bunk beds like ring ropes.

        Later, as a basketball player at Rutgers University, she often would pass the WWF offices in Stamford, Conn.

        I'm tough enough, she thought during the end of her collegiate career.

        Miles averaged 5.7 points and 5.1 rebounds her senior season (2000-01) at Rutgers, graduated in communications and signed a free-agent contract with the WNBA's Seattle Storm. But Miles was cut after three weeks. Contemplating her next move, she sent MTV an audition tap for the Tough Enough series.

        Miles was one of 250 people invited to Las Vegas to participate in one-on-one interviews. Miles made the cut to 25, then again to the 13 cast members.

        She was off to Encino, Ca. for nine weeks of training and taping. Her challenges were just beginning.

        Because of her sports background, Miles was accustomed to being in front of a camera. She simply adjusted to a camera following her around most of the day.

        “I wasn't there to act,” Miles said. “We didn't have a script. I was there to be Linda Miles. I don't change when the camera cuts on or off.

        “That's what I think separated me from a lot of them.”

        That wasn't all. A check of the Web site toughenough.com shows that on the third episode alone, Miles argued with cast member Pete about a pile of dirty dishes that drew ants, she overreacted to a slight bump on the forehead during training, and her female counterparts (many of smaller physiques) complained to instructor Al Snow, a WWF wrestler himself, that Miles might hurt them in the ring.

        “Being 6 feet tall and dark-skinned and being good the way I am, I don't want to come off as an intimidating woman,” Miles said. “To some people, I am intimidating, but I don't mean to be that way.”

        Miles said she was just focused.

        “I block a lot of things out,” she said. “At times, that might seem like I come off as an aggressive person. When you don't compete on the same level, it makes you stand out. When people don't know something, they label it as bad.”

        Miles fed off her own energy. She came up with a quote of the day or listened to Kirk Franklin and U2 on her headphones.

        “I really focused on myself,” Miles said. “I was my biggest enemy or challenger. I would explode for no reason because I was getting frustrated at something.”

        In that third episode, according to toughenough.com, Snow told Miles she had to relax more and work better with the other contestants. Miles also heeded the advise of WWF wrestler Big Show, who told everyone to keep their egos in check.

        Even for Miles, the training was harder than it looked. Running into the ropes, for example, can scratch up your back if you don't know the correct technique. Miles said the arm drag was difficult for her.

        “The fact of the matter is, training to be a WWF superstar isn't easy,” said Holmes, who will be executive director of Tough Enough 3. “It's obviously very physically grueling. It's 100 times what you see on the screen.”

        Physical strength aside, Miles said, mental toughness helped her through many long workouts.

        “That was something I was capable of doing,” she said, “but I felt a lot of other people weren't capable of overcoming.”

       



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