Maryse and a babyface work ethic made The Miz the heel he is today

For someone who has played as great a heel as The Miz has over his past 10 years in the WWE, there's an undeniable babyface quality to the journey of his career behind the scenes.

Ask about the constant battle for respect after his unlikely transition from reality television personality to legitimate WWE superstar, and the arrogant qualities of his villainous character quickly fade from his voice. Instead, you'll hear the real Miz, born Michael Mizanin in the Cleveland suburb of Parma, Ohio, who credits his success to the kind of attributes -- hard work and perseverance, to name a couple -- typically reserved for the back of a John Cena T-shirt.

Those same attributes were put to the test when his career was at a crossroads in 2015. With The Miz increasingly booked as a punchline, it seemed laughable to imagine him ever returning to the pinnacle of sports entertainment, a level he achieved when he won the WWE championship in 2011 and successfully defended it against John Cena in the main event of WrestleMania XXVII. His character's constant reminders of his one shining moment became his calling card and added fuel to the idea that The Miz had been something of a one-hit wonder.

Although he retained plenty of fans for his comedic microphone work as host of the recurring "Miz TV" segment on RAW and SmackDown, the idea that, at 35, his future had more value as a full-time mouthpiece than in-ring performer was gaining traction. The Miz won't budge on whether the chatter got to him as he toiled away on the lower mid-card -- he prefers to mention that fighting off critics is "the story of my life" -- but what has come to pass over the first half of 2016 can best be described as a career renaissance, with The Miz putting forth arguably the best work of his career.

"Think about when I first came to WWE," The Miz told ESPN.com. "Everybody said I'd be gone within the first three months, and then here I am 10 years later, still at the top of my game, performing at the top level.

"People are always going to criticize you. They are always going to tell you that you're horrible and you suck. But if you keep evolving and putting the work in, then someday, somehow, they will respect you and will learn that I'm not just a guy who can do commentary. My prime is still right now in that WWE ring."

What changed? His wrestling certainly became more crisp and fluid. But the catalyst of the rebirth of The Miz's confidence was the return of his wife, former two-time WWE Divas champion Maryse, who debuted as his manager one night after WrestleMania 32 in April.

Maryse, who left WWE in 2011, emerged from the crowd to aid in The Miz's victory over Zack Ryder on RAW, which allowed him to begin a fifth reign as WWE Intercontinental champion. More importantly, Maryse provided an instant boost to the look and credibility of her husband's character.

"As soon as she got hired, it gave me a whole new confidence in everything -- in my ability to do promos, in my ability to be in the ring," said The Miz, who gives his wife full credit for his reinvention. "When your wife is sitting there watching you ringside, you are kind of showing off, and you don't want to look stupid -- ever."

Maryse's full-time return to the road has meant even more to their two-year marriage.

"I'm not in one of those relationships where I'm like, 'Ugh, I'm with her all the time, and it sucks,'" The Miz said. "I'm like, 'This is what I want.' I want to be around her all the time because she's my best friend, and we talk about everything. It brings a whole new light to my life. To be away from her kind of puts you in a down mood."

The Miz's turnaround has become one of the WWE's best feel-good stories, with his journey resonating with fans who view him as more of a common man than other larger-than-life superstars. Many have watched him grow from a 21-year-old frat boy on MTV's "The Real World: Back to New York" in 2001 into a performer who has regularly defeated the backstage odds.

In fact, it's a testament to how far The Miz has come that his first brush with celebrity was a negative moment that is largely forgotten. During the season opener of "The Real World," he stumbled into a heated argument about race with an African-American roommate that presented him as ignorant, if not racist. When the show aired nine months later, there was enough heat and bad press building up in Cleveland that he moved in with his grandfather in Florida until it died down. But as the season progressed, Mizanin went on to win over both castmates and viewers.

"Sometimes the worst things that you can say really teach you a lot about what you can learn," The Miz told MTV.com in 2014. "It made me realize where I was at in my life. I'm glad I went through it because it allowed me to open my mind even more and get educated."

Subsequent stops on the reality show circuit further showcased his personality (and penchant for cutting pro wrestling promos), which caught the attention of WWE. He was added to the fourth season of WWE's reality show, Tough Enough, and despite finishing as the runner-up, he was offered a developmental contract. Over the next 15 months, in stops at Deep South and Ohio Valley Wrestling, The Miz found the work ethic he grew to rely on.

"They put me through everything -- hoops and ladders -- and I realized that I could take anything and apply it to any work, life or career," he said. "The WWE doesn't just get you ready for the WWE ring. It gets you ready for life."

Looking back at his early WWE promos, the influence of The Rock -- whom The Miz calls "the reason I wanted to become a WWE superstar" -- is undeniable. But over time, he began to add from others, including the late "Ravishing" Rick Rude.

"I sometimes literally take some of his lines out and use them because it's just an homage to him and how much I really loved his promos," The Miz said. "I'm looking at this guy basically swinging his hips around and saying, 'Hey, I want all you fat, lazy sweat hogs to shut your mouth while I take off my robe.' That's just one of the best promos I could ever think of."

The Miz is quick to point out that nothing has ever come easily for him as a wrestler -- not even talking -- but he quickly learned the importance of being a student of his craft. After botching some early speaking chances, he went to an improv school in Los Angeles and got an acting coach. From there, he practiced cutting promos on everything in sight, including stop signs while stuck in traffic.

There's a very real underdog mentality to The Miz, and it still drives him.

"I wasn't born talented," he said. "My dad didn't have that great genetics. It wasn't just honed in on me. I was always the person that had to kick, scratch and claw for any ounce of talent that I ever had. I have a competitive edge to me. I'm not the most talented person in the world, so I have had to earn every ounce of talent that I had."

As The Miz walks confidently into the second half of his WWE career, he's mindful of the lessons he learned from his first run at the top.

"When you main event WrestleMania in front of 80,000 in a sold-out Georgia Dome, there's a huge and immense amount of pressure," he said. "Can you live through that pressure? It made me realize that I have to work harder to get back to WrestleMania. It's hard enough to get to WrestleMania, but to get back to the main event of WrestleMania is even twice as hard. So now, I'm on that upward slope of basically trying to get back to where I was in 2011."