The Miz and Maryse are changing the game on SmackDown

The Miz praises Ziggler, doesn't condone him as champion (5:34)

WWE superstar The Miz explains what his match with Dolph Ziggler for the Intercontinental championship at No Mercy was like and why he believes he deserves to be champion, how important it is to have a good opponent to work with in the business. (5:34)

For 17 of the 36 years that the WWE has existed in its current iteration, one of its premier shows, SmackDown, has aired to hundreds of thousands of viewers on Tuesdays, Thursdays or Fridays.

With its 900th episode set for Tuesday, SmackDown enters its 17th year with a new and unexpected identity. It's now broadcast live instead of on a taped delay, which has been the case since the 2016 brand split in July, has received critical praise as it challenges WWE's other flagship show, Raw, for the mantle of WWE's best weekly program.

At the core of all this positive momentum has been Mike "The Miz" and Maryse Mizanin, one of two of the WWE's current married superstar couples. The Miz, a former WWE champion, has been one of the biggest benefactors of the brand split, using the opportunity to breath new life into his career.

For their parts, The Miz and Maryse, alongside the likes of AJ Styles, Bray Wyatt, and others, have anchored SmackDown Live's roster of heels that have offered perfect foils for Dean Ambrose, John Cena, Dolph Ziggler and a wide array of up-and-comers who have helped keep SmackDown feeling fresh and exciting.

"Raw is a great show -- SmackDown Live is better," The Miz told ESPN.com. "SmackDown Live has better characters, better stories, and I think we have better talent. Does Raw have great talent? Absolutely. Is it a good show to watch? Sure, go ahead and watch it. But I guarantee if you watch Raw and SmackDown, you're going to watch SmackDown and go, 'I like these guys better.' Why? It's because there's competitiveness between Raw and SmackDown Live. We are fighting, clawing, scratching to get everything that Raw gets."

Having a collective chip on their shoulders after the draft has allowed SmackDown Live to take a more limited roster and make the most of it. Even with three talents drafted to Raw for every two that SmackDown got, and a number of top stars stacked at the top on Raw, The Miz believes that the main reason SmackDown Live has received praise since the brand split is the particular talent that ended up drafted to the show.

"We will make do with what we have and with the talent that we have," exclaimed the Miz. "The AJ Styles, the Dean Ambroses, the Dolph Zigglers, the Bray Wyatts, the Randy Ortons, the Maryse and the Miz. We have stars that know how to get things done, and we're doing it."

While most might feel that a conflict between Raw and SmackDown is just another manufactured part of the story being told on WWE, there is a very real competition that goes on between both shows. The Miz and Maryse both believe that the support and praise that SmackDown has received will show up in the TV ratings. Raw, which has aired on Monday nights since its inception in 1993, is WWE's flagship program, and while SmackDown has a clear history of its own, the fact that it's moved time slots and networks on a number of occasions hasn't done it any favors in terms of consistent viewership.

"[We want to] beat Raw every single week in the ratings," The Miz states. "It takes time to develop, because Raw has always been on Monday nights.

"Even though we think SmackDown is the better show, they'll look at it as 'Oh, Raw gets more ratings. Raw is automatically better,'" Maryse continues after her husband finishes his statement. "Raw has 25 years behind it, they've been on Monday night for decades; we just started SmackDown on Tuesdays. It's just going to take a while."

The Miz's current position as one of WWE's best heels was not something many would have predicted when he made his debut 10 years ago on SmackDown. Originally a host for promos, such as the famous Diva Search competition, The Miz seemed a cheesy wrestler at the time -- a manufactured product of the WWE cashing in on Miz's 15 minutes of fame after being a part of the "Real World: Back to New York" cast.

"It's amazing, man, [to look back at my career in the WWE]," Miz said. "It's one of those situations where you never imagine in your wildest dreams that you'll be able to become anything more than what you're supposed to be, which was in Cleveland, I was going to go to college, after college I was going to go back to Cleveland and run maybe my dad's business or something like that. Get a job, get a family, and that's what you do for the rest of your life. But once I go into "The Real World", it made me realize I could do whatever I want with my life. I don't just have to go for 'This is what you're supposed to do.'"

He'd ultimately start to find his identity as a tag team wrestler, following a trade to another WWE brand in ECW, when he teamed with John Morrison and eventually won a tag team championship in 2007. He continued to work his way up, step by step, and reached several major milestones in his career. The first was winning the Money in the Bank ladder match in July 2010, and the next was successfully cashing it in that November to become WWE champion.

That title reign carried into that year, allowing The Miz to accomplish the biggest dream of almost anyone who's been a professional wrestler in the last 30 years -- headlining WrestleMania.

"I'm thinking [at WrestleMania 27], wait a second, I was in my living room 10 years ago with my buddies, watching The Rock versus Steve Austin as the main event," he reflected. "I'm that guy, and it just goes to show that with hard work, sacrifice, dreams do come true."

Despite some shenanigans, The Miz can truthfully proclaim that he successfully defended the WWE world championship against John Cena in the main event of Wrestlemania. Despite such a tremendous peak, in a career that has included a No. 1 overall ranking in Pro Wrestling Illustrated's yearly "PWI 500" in 2011, along with five Intercontinental championship reigns, four tag team title reigns and two runs with United States championship, the Miz entered something of a slump throughout 2012 and 2013.

While his professional career hit something of a lull during that period, The Miz's personal life was as good as it had ever been. In 2013, he became engaged to Maryse, then known as Maryse Oullet, a retired professional wrestler and former Divas champion. Maryse stepped back into the ring on the night after Wrestlemania 32, but not as a wrestler -- she became an on-screen manager to her husband, The Miz, when she attacked Zack Ryder's dad and helped the Miz begin his fifth (and most successful) reign as Intercontinental champion.

"We just mess around with each other all the time, we travel all the time together, it's great," he exclaims. "And I think that's another reason why my career has revitalized as I like to say, because I get to have [Maryse] with me all the time, rather than being at home or being away, FaceTiming, or Skyping, or talking on the phone. That's not real human contact. It's bring a whole new light to everything."

"I totally agree, I agree that it's really helped my husband," Maryse continues. "He was brave, but you know behind every great man, there's a great woman, and I'm that woman. How obnoxious do I sound right now? [laughs]. We just love to joke around. It's been a lot of fun, it sounds cliche when you say you work with your husband all the time, we're on SmackDown Live, we're filming Total Divas, and now we're going overseas for the tour with the WWE, so it's a lot of stuff, but somehow it's really fun. Somehow being together 24/7, we're like best friends."

And even though both play serious, determined and, at times despicable characters on television, they have an undeniable chemistry that plays out a bit differently in the real world. As you might imagine, they have the same kind of conflicts, jokes and stories any married couple might have.

On one occasion in particular, The Miz's well-documented passion for the world of fantasy sports got in the way of a romantic moment that was two years in the making -- and their ability to joke about it shows just how strong a connection they have, which is clearly visible any time they're in the ring together.

"There's an episode of Total Divas where we go onto my honeymoon and basically, you know, I was very excited because we got married in 2014 and I've never had a chance to go on my honeymoon," Maryse says. "We finally got four days off, which we never get; between SmackDown and Total Divas, we get no days off. We get four days off and we go to the Bahamas and on the first night, I'm thinking, 'Woah, first night on the honeymoon, right guys? It's gonna be fun.' My husband is in the kitchen looking for WiFi, why? Because he's looking for a WiFi signal because he needs to do his Fantasy Football draft."

"I had a draft!" The Miz retorts. "See, every guy she tells this to, they're like, 'I get it.' I HAD A DRAFT!"