The son of a prominent wrestler, he seemed destined for greatness in the ring, but despite his noted technical capabilities, he will be long noted for having one of the greatest gimmicks in the history of the business.
Real Name: Ted Dibiase
Stats: 6′ 4″ 250 lbs.
By Steve Slagle
Pro wrestling has always had more than its share of wild, larger-than-life ‘gimmick wrestlers’ or men who are known more for their ‘character’ than for their ability to perform inside of the ring. In many cases, the result has been embarrassing for both the wrestler and the “sport.” However, when the wrestler’s talent level is equal to the gimmick’s entertainment value, the result is almost always the emergence of a new wrestling superstar…
Without question, Ted Dibiase was one the most talented performers in the business during his time in wrestling. The athletic second-generation grappler (both Dibiase’s father as well as his mother were professional wrestlers) burst onto the scene in the mid-seventies and was almost immediately pegged as a future NWA champion. Ultimately, he never wore the NWA belt, however, the former West Texas State lineman (with the aid of one of Vince McMahon’s greatest ideas) went on to transform himself from one of the best scientific wrestlers in the “sport” into a character that will go down in the annals of wrestling history as one of the best, most successful gimmicks ever…the cackling, money-grubbing, delightfully evil & sinfully wealthy Million Dollar Man.
The story of The Million Dollar Man actually begins with another man by the name of Dibiase…”Iron” Mike Dibiase. For nearly two decades, “Iron” Mike was a popular fan favorite and a frequent champion during the middle portion of the twentieth century. A former national amateur champion, the elder Dibiase also wore a version of the World Junior Heavyweight champion (precursor to today’s Cruiserweight/Light Heavyweight title) and was well known by wrestling fans across the country. However, tragedy would strike the Dibiase family on a hot summer night in Lubbock, TX. The healthy, perpetually physically fit “Iron” Mike suffered a heart attack while performing a match and, sadly, died in the ring.
A little over a decade later, Ted Dibiase followed in his father’s footsteps and entered the wrestling business in 1975. An athlete of great natural ability, the young, tall Dibiase was trained initially by the Funk brothers, and quickly graduated to the territorial circuit of the day. After learning the fundamentals in Texas, Dibiase began his career in the heartland of the country, wrestling for Bob Geigel & Harley Race’s Central States promotion (Kansas, Iowa, Missouri) and Sam Muchnick’s popular St. Louis-based group. Success came early for the young fan-favorite, and he soon won his first title — the Central States Heavyweight championship — from ‘Drill Instructor’ Bob Slaughter (the future Sgt. Slaughter) on July 19, 1977. Dibiase scored another Central States title in January of `78, and followed that win by also snaring the very prestigious Missouri Heavyweight championship (often known as the ‘stepping stone to the NWA title’) a month later. It was as the Missouri champion that Dibiase began getting his first national write-ups in the wrestling magazines, and the handsome young “good guy” quickly found himself in high demand across the country…
In 1979, less than five years after entering the business, Dibiase was called to New York by Vince McMahon, Sr. and brought into the World Wrestling Federation as the inaugural WWF North American champion. However, a few months after debuting his new championship (and titleholder), it was brought to McMahon’s attention that another North American title already existed, in Bill Watts’ Mid South territory. With the wrestling business being what it was at that time, McMahon respectfully withdrew his “new” version of the N.A. title. On a televised match, Pat Patterson defeated the young WWF North American champion for the title. Patterson then went on to “enter” his title into a “tournament” that was being held in Rio De Janeiro to determine the first Inter-Continental champion. By virtue of his recent title win over Dibiase, Patterson represented North America and, in one of the biggest upsets in history, “won” the fictional tournament. Thus, the WWF I-C belt was born, while the short-lived WWF N.A. belt was forever buried. It was also during this, his first WWF tenure, that Dibiase met — and was defeated by — a gargantuan young heel by the name of “The Incredible” Hulk Hogan in Hogan’s 1979 Madison Square Garden debut.
While, at 6’4″ and weighing in at just under 250 pounds, Dibiase was big enough to handle himself against the super-heavyweights, he was very much a ‘scientific wrestler’ who relied on finesse and a solid repertoire of moves, not brute power. After gaining some seasoning in the Northeast, Dibiase traveled to the rugged Mid-South territory, and once again became a North American champion, this time for Bill Watts. After a successful run in Mid-South, Dibiase returned to Missouri, and once again captured the state’s Heavyweight title when he defeated Olympic weightlifting bronze medalist Ken Patera. The national spotlight of TBS’s Georgia Championship Wrestling was next up for Dibiase, and by this time, he was a full-fledged superstar, one of the hottest young babyfaces the NWA had at the time, and, slowly-but-surely, he was being groomed to defeat Harley Race to become the new NWA champion. A successful, and very controversial heel turn — first in Mid-South and a few months later in Georgia — proved that Dibiase could fulfill another requirement of any NWA World champion and truly work ‘both sides of the fence.’ However, due to a number of political factors and some plain old bad timing, Dibiase was never allowed to defeat Race for the NWA strap.
Dibiase spent the first half of the eighties traveling primarily between the Georgia, Missouri, and Mid-South territories, winning titles (such as two National Tag Team championships and two National Heavyweight title reigns in Georgia, five Mid-South Tag Team titles and four North American Heavyweight titles in the Mid-South territory and a Missouri Heavyweight championship) everywhere he stopped. His heel turn long forgiven (and forgotten) by his fans, Dibiase was once again one of the most popular fan favorites in the sport.
Eventually, with the WWF’s expansion in full effect, Dibiase settled on Mid-South as his full-time base of operations. In order to compete with the ever-invading WWF, as well as Jim Crockett’s NWA group, Mid-South became the U.W.F, the Universal Wrestling Federation. Known for it’s hard-hitting, non-stop action, the UWF set up a national syndication package, and the once regional group was seen by wrestling fans nationwide. The UWF, led by top babyfaces Dibiase, Steve Williams and Jim Duggan as well as a roster of some of the best heels in the business at the time, quickly became known as the toughest promotion in wrestling…both on camera and off. However, when the UWF was eventually sold to Jim Crockett Promotions, Dibiase was lured away from another tenure with NWA by one of Vince McMahon, Jr.’s greatest gimmicks ever, and he chose to return to the World Wrestling Federation….as The Million Dollar Man!
As the snickering, egotistical and downright evil Million Dollar Man, Dibiase quickly established himself as the Federation’s #1 ‘bad guy’ and WWF champion Hulk Hogan’s chief rival. Still one of the greatest scientific wrestlers to be found, Dibiase now had another ace up his sleeve — the fact that ‘everyone has a price’ and that The Million Dollar had the money to buy, literally, anything he wanted…from first-class service to people to the WWF title itself! Some of the WWF’s funniest and most entertaining vignettes involved Dibiase, whose character truly had a passion for humiliating and degrading ‘ordinary’ people with his countless riches and bottomless savings account. With his silent, imposing bodyguard Virgil always by his side, Dibiase not only embraced being ‘the guy fans love to hate’ but also excelled at it, transforming himself into the quintessential heel.
However, it was on February 5, 1988 that the legend of The Million Dollar Man was (arguably) born. On that evening, a national audience of millions tuned in to NBC (the first time one of the networks had aired a pro wrestling event in nearly forty years) to see the WrestleMania III re-match of Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant. Prior to the monolithic re-match, Dibiase had flatly stated on WWF programming that it didn’t matter who came out on top between Andre and The Hulk, because he intended on simply buying the prized Heavyweight championship. After all, everyone has a price…
What then took place was (history has since proven) one of the most brilliant wrestling angles in the annals of the “sport.” Twin referees, a bogus pin, the World Title wrongly changing hands — twice — and some of the most entertaining “rasslin” the world had ever seen. When “evil twin” ref Dave Hebner (or was it Earl?) cost Hogan his belt, ending Hogan’s four-year long first WWF title reign, with Dibiase then immediately trading Andre (and his manager, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan) a briefcase full of cash for the WWF strap, the fans in attendance — as well as those watching at home — were enraged.
For a small percentage of the wrestling fanbase, their anger stemmed from the fact that the highly theatrical spectacle was yet another example of how wrestling purists of the day felt Vince McMahon’s WWF was destroying the “sport” and turning it into a cartoonish circus. However, far more importantly, a much larger percentage of people were completely captivated by the shenanigans of Dibiase & Co. The debut episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event drew a huge rating for the WWF and NBC, even eclipsing that of Saturday Night Live, which normally aired in S.N.M.E.’s time slot and was still one of NBC’s top programs at the time. Following the success of the debut episode, S.N.M.E. was a hit for the WWF & NBC for several more years to come, including one (highly rated) edition that featured Dibiase squaring off against Hogan one-on-one for the WWF championship.
Although it appeared that the impossible had truly happened, and that Dibiase had, indeed, “bought” the Heavyweight title, the WWF refused to recognize his title claim, and the ramifications of that night on NBC led to the single-themed WrestleMania IV, which featured a tournament for the held-up WWF championship. After advancing to the finals of the tourney, Dibiase faced off against “Macho Man” Randy Savage…and lost. Although fans of the day never knew it, Dibiase had actually been scheduled to win the WWF title against Savage, but, just as had happened in both the NWA and UWF previously, backstage politics ended up costing Dibiase his elusive World Title reign. Still, following his high-profile role in the main event of the inaugural S.N.M.E., The Million Dollar Man became an overnight household name.
Over the following decade, there were many twists & turns (including a memorable run as the ‘Million Dollar Champion’ complete with his famous diamond-studded title belt, as well as three WWF World Tag Team titles with fellow money-grubber Irwin R. Shyster) in the story of the Million Dollar Man. Even after the years & injuries finally took their toll and he was forced to retire, Dibiase still maintained a high profile and was an integral part of the World Wrestling Federation’s telecasts, both as the “New Generation” WWF’s top heel manager, and later, color commentator. But, as the WCW vs. WWF war began to heat up in the mid-nineties, Dibiase, like so many other former WWF stars before him, eventually found his way to World Championship Wrestling, and more specifically, the promotion’s ultra-successful band of renegade heels known as the N.W.O., the New World Order…
The arrival of “Trillionaire” Ted, the NWO’s new ‘financial advisor’, was further validation that the New World Order was, indeed, “taking over” and Dibiase was involved in several key WCW storylines during his three-year tenure with the Atlanta-based promotion. Eventually, he parted ways with the NWO, and became the ‘babyface’ manager of multi-time WCW/WWF/New Japan World Tag Team champions Rick & Scott, the Steiner Brothers. After his run with The Steiners, Dibiase kept busy behind the scenes at WCW until the late nineties when he parted ways with the promotion.
Following his retirement from wrestling, Dibiase vigorously pursued his new passion…religion. As a born again Christian, Dibiase started his own ministry, and began traveling across the country once again…this time, however, it was to churches and schools instead of sold-out wrestling arenas. And despite his strong personal beliefs, which often clash with his former vocation, Dibiase has found ways to occasionally return to his first love, most notable of which was his run as the color commentator for the family-orientated, but short lived, WXO syndicated program.
Truly one of the most gifted and successful performers ever to step inside of the ‘squared circle’, it is our privilege to induct the great Ted Dibiase, wrestling’s Million Dollar Man, into the T.R.C. Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame……