In 2004 Daniel Puder won season four of Tough Enough and along with that a contract to become a WWE Superstar. That season was billed as $1,000,000 Tough Enough as that was the prize awarded to the winner as part of a four-year contract worth $250,000 each year.
However, Puder didn’t last to year four and he didn’t even last to year two as he was released by WWE. He talked about why he didn’t see the end of the contract when he joined The Chris Van Vliet Show.
“The biggest part was after about nine months in the contract, they offered me a contract that was crap. And I called my coaches, I called a couple of my mentors ? I said this is what just happened ? what do you think? They go, ‘Well if they don’t respect you in the beginning, they’re not going to respect you long term,'” recalled Puder. “And I heard different stories of that with other wrestlers and I made a decision at that point that if a company doesn’t take care of me now, they’re not going to take care of me in the future. I was young and I took the advice. I could have stayed for $50,000 a year? Sure, and this is what I do with our corporations now. I hire people and I take care of them to the best of my ability because I know how my experiences were to not be protected or not taken care of.”
While Tough Enough billed it as a $1 million contract, Puder revealed the real details of the deal and how much of it was guaranteed.
“So, it was guaranteed one year and they let me go after the first year because they offered me another deal. But what’s interesting is they offered me another deal and because I didn’t take it, then they let me go. So, it was a little shady on that. What they should have done is release me out of my current contract and then offer me a contract. But it is what it is,” Puder said before being asked about his supposed $250,000 per year deal not coming into fruition.
“They’re a multi-billion dollar company? I mean, at the end of the day, I talked to a few lawyers and tried finding a law firm that is connected in Connecticut that will take them on, that will sue them on contingency. I called around and nobody wanted to do anything. I just want to be protected in this deal. I want the deal and I called probably three or four different firms and at the end of the day, it was not even worth my time. If somebody wants to screw me or not take care of me, I don’t want to be associated.”
While Puder became known because of Tough Enough and his infamous shoot segment with Kurt Angle, many others like The Miz, John Morrison and Ryback experienced much more wrestling success following their appearances on the show. Puder was asked if he would do Tough Enough again if given the chance.
“No. Here’s the thing: entertaining people is great. In my 20s, it was awesome to push myself. I was in the best shape of my life. I was an elite athlete. I was No. 26 in the world for heavyweights at one point [in MMA],” stated Puder. “I did a lot of great stuff but we have a lot of entertainment today and we have more mental health, more challenges, more issues in our community and nothing is getting solved.
“So, what I get to do every day is I get to put things in place and people in different positions to solve problems and add tons of value to this world. The wrestlers aren’t adding a ton of value to humankind. They’re entertaining them for a time period which is an amazing thing. I’m not knocking it, but at the end of the day, I want to see more athletes really get into something to serve versus just being an elite athlete.”
Puder’s last WWE appearance was when he was a part of the 2005 Royal Rumble match. He was the third entrant, lasted over four minutes and was the first person tossed over the top rope. But before being eliminated, Puder received a rookie hazing during the match with repeated chops from Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero and Hardcore Holly.
While most aspects of the Royal Rumble are meticulously planned, Puder admits that he didn’t know the vets were going to continuously chop him before tossing him out.
“So, that was interesting. I didn’t know that was coming like that. Again, companies not taking care of people, it’s simple. What’s crazy is this ? certain athletes will do whatever it takes to get on TV and do what their puppet master says. It doesn’t matter how harmful it is. It doesn’t matter if they’re against it morally or whatever, they will do what they’re told and that’s how people are in this world. That’s why we have the problems we have. That’s why we have the violence and the situations that are going on. That’s why we have three percent of the population of the world in America and America holds 25 percent of the prison population of the world,” said Puder before referencing someone else who treated him poorly.
“So, that’s why we have it. At the end of the day, there was somebody that did some stuff to me and his daughter died in a drunk driving accident. It’s interesting to look at how people are and then, what takes them to actually become good humans in life and shift things when they have to lose something to learn something.”
He was then asked again if the Royal Rumble spot was planned out amongst the vets themselves.
“I have no clue. I don’t even give them a second to think about it and at the end of the day, they did what they did and I’m blessed that I’m not with WWE. At the end of the day, it’s not the culture I want to build. It is what it is and it’s the brand of the world,” said Puder. “Everybody wants to wrestle for them and people talk to me and I’m like, ‘I have no desire’ because it’s the context of how they live. It doesn’t serve a bigger purpose in this world.”
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit The Chris Van Vliet Show with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.
Mehdy Labriny contributed to this article.