Ted DiBiase ascended to the very summit of professional wrestling. He headlined Wrestlemanias. He developed one of the great characters in WWE lore— the maniacal Million Dollar Man — who was voted the “most despised villain” of all time.
His matches with the likes of Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Ric Flair and Hacksaw Jim Duggan are legendary.
But when DiBiase walked away from his craft two decades ago, in essence, he began his real calling. He repaired his failing marriage. He became a full-time father to his children. And he became an ordained Christian minister, so he could share his new-found faith with others.
“When I was on top in my profession, what did I really have that mattered?” DiBiase said earlier this week. ”I really didn’t have a thing that mattered. I had a wonderful wife and children at home — and I had trashed my blessings so many times.”
A restored Ted DiBiase is sharing his stories about wrestling — and his life renaissance — tonight at Southwestern High School with fellow wrestling legends Lex Luger, Nikita Koloff and Road Warrior Animal. The former Million Dollar Man has been sharing his tales with Pulaski countians all week.
DiBiase is a WWE Hall of Famer and a part of the organization’s Legends program —he is featured on video games and his likeness can still be found on trading cards and action figures. But his ministry is now his life’s work.
“My ministry is a non-profit organization — and I’m not really the Million Dollar Man,” DiBiase said with that smile that wrestling fans loved to hate in the late-80s. “I have to get out on the road and speak if I want to eat. But I love what I do. I love connecting with people.”
The irony is not lost on DiBiase that his life changed forever when he was at the very height of his wrestling career. He had just worked a WWE tag team championship match with his partner Mike Rotunda (AKA IRS and the father of current WWE sensation Bray Wyatt) at Wrestlemania VIII at the old Indianapolis Hoosier Dome.
“I was cruising all over Indy in a limosine, with a couple of ladies on my arm,” DiBiase said, his eyes casting downward. “I didn’t sleep that night. I stopped to check in at home, and my wife confronted me about my infidelity. I told her I’d be home to discuss it in person and she told me, ‘You don’t live here anymore.’”
For two years, DiBiase worked to save his marriage. During the process, he re-ignited his dormant faith. And he credits the faith of his wife for repairing the relationship he destroyed.
“When I realized that God loved me despite all that I had done, it was overwhelming,” DiBiase said. “I never wanted to be the person who was so self-destructive again.”
DiBiase leaned on his faith as a teen-ager when his step-father and idol, Iron Mike DiBiase, died at the age of 45. Mike was a wrestling star and succumbed to a heart attack while working a match.
“That changed my life. I leaned on my faith during all of that. It got me through,” DiBiase said. “But when I got to college, I put God on the shelf. People do that — they go to God when they need him, but then they put him on the shelf when they feel that they don’t.”
DiBiase became a star offensive guard for the West Texas State football program — a football program known more for cranking out pro wrestlers than gridders. The WTS alumni includes the likes of Terry Funk, Tito Santana, Manny Fernandez, Stan Hansen, Bruiser Brody, Bobby Duncum, Barry Windham and Tully Blanchard.
A knee injury ended DiBiase’s dreams of becoming an NFL lineman, so he turned to professional wrestling.
He had a successful stint in Cowboy Bill Watt’s Mid-South promotion, as he evolved into the group’s heel champion.
During his stay in Watts’ territory, he had an unforgettable feud with Duggan that culminated in a loser leaves town/tuxedo/coal miner’s glove on a pole/cage match.
“We threw all the gimmicks into that match,” DiBiase said with a laugh. “Bill Dundee was booking for Watts and came up with that. It was fun.”
Watts eventually turned DiBiase babyface in a bloody angle that involved NWA champion Ric Flair and DiBiase’s “mentor,” Dick Murdoch.
“I received the title shot with Flair and Murdoch wasn’t happy about that,” DiBiase said. “Murdoch sucker-punched me before the match and rammed my head into the post.”
Now, of course, Murdoch really didn’t ram DiBiase’s head into a steel post. But to sell that to the fans, DiBiase “bladed” his forehead to draw blood and make the injury look real. Problem is, DiBiase hit an artery.
“Every time my heart pumped, the blood would spurt out of my head,” DiBiase said. “They bandaged me up and the angle was I would come out and put up a great fight against Flair despite the injury. But even though they had a big bandage on my head, I was a bloody mess.”
DiBiase joined West Texas alum Hansen in Japan in the mid-80s and became a sensation in the Orient. While he was overseas, Watts sold Mid-South to rival Jim Crockett Promotions (the forerunner of Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling). Instead of staying with the Mid-South talent roster and working for Crockett, DiBiase was courted by Vince McMahon’s juggernaut, the World Wrestling Federation.
“I went twice to meet with Vince ... the first time he wouldn’t tell me what he had planned for me, because he didn’t want a good idea to get to someone else if I decided not to come,” DiBiase recalled. “But when Vince left the room, Pat Paterson, who was Vince’s right-hand man, told me that this character was one that Vince came up with — and this was a character that Vince would like to play if he was a wrestler.”
DiBiase made a call to Terry Funk, who was reassuring.
“If it’s Vince’s idea, pack your bags,” Funk told DiBiase.
And the Million Dollar Man was born.
“It really was a great character for me, because Vince wanted to market the idea,” DiBiase said. “He wanted people to think I was really a millionaire. I flew first class, stayed in first-class hotels, rode in limosines. They gave me money to throw around in public. It was a blast.”
DiBiase was immediately installed as the WWF’s top heel, as his character was interwoven with the company’s two top-notch babyfaces, Hogan and Savage.
DiBiase stayed on top for several years. But as his professional successes mounted, his personal life was crumbling under a brutal travel schedule and all the temptations of life on the road.
“I had a void and I filled it with drugs, booze and other women,” DiBiase lamented. “I gave my faith lip service and I gave in to the temptations.
“Money and fame were not the answer — at least not for me,” he added. “I was doing all of these things to stroke my ego when I had a wonderful woman at home taking care of my family.”
DiBiase stayed involved in wrestling for several years after he reinvested in his faith, as an in-ring worker, manager and commentator for both WWE and its rival, WCW.
But when he reached the age of 40, with injuries mounting and a desire to get off the road, DiBiase called it quits.
“I could have probably stuck around and had one of those million-dollar contracts, but I had some neck and back issues and I remembered my dad dying in the ring at 45,” DiBiase said. “I didn’t want to stick around too long. When I made the decision, it really was easy to walk away.”
DiBiase is still around WWE on occasions — his son, Ted Jr., was a WWE superstar a few years ago. He since has left the profession to be closer to his family.
“I’m doing what I want to do now. I’m blessed,” said the once-reviled villain. “I’m at peace.”
And that’s something DiBiase wouldn’t take a million dollars for.