Ted DiBiase Page 2

DiBiase’s work rate and crowd appeal caught the eye of St. Louis promoter and NWA President Sam Muchnick, who brought him to St. Louis and gave him a push that thrust him into national prominence as a perennial top contender to the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. DiBiase, on two different occasions while working in St. Louis, captured another prestigious regional crown: the Central States Championship.

While the Central States crown was an important regional belt, perhaps an even more important one in the eyes of the national wrestling media was the Missouri State Heavyweight Championship — a title created by Sam Muchnick in 1972 and held and defended into the mid-80s; a title held at various times by 7 former or future NWA World Champions and three future WWF Champions. Ted DiBiase wore the Missouri strap on two occasions. The first was on February 12, 1978, when he defeated Dick Slater in St. Louis. He lost it two weeks later to Dick Murdoch, his former tag team partner.

Besides competing in St. Louis, Ted also worked for the Amarillo promotion as well as his "home" territory — Mid South. In Amarillo, he captured the International title and also held the Mid-South North American title several times. He also toured Japan regularly and held the All-Japan United National Championship from October 14, 1983 to January 28, 1984.

Ted also worked for the Georgia Championship Wrestling promotion out of Atlanta, holding both the Georgia National Heavyweight title and the Georgia National Tag Team titles for them.

As he continued to work for the St. Louis office as well as for Bill Watts in the Mid-South territory and the Georgia Wrestling promotion, he also won several regional championship belts (Texas All-Star Heavyweight championship, the Mid-South Tag Team championship) against the top stars of those areas.

But changes in the national wrestling scene were already occurring. Watts was developing national syndication for the Mid-South area and with the advent of cable TV deals, that territory became the Universal Wrestling Federation (UWF) and DiBiase, along with people like Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Steve "Dr. Death" Williams and "Gentleman" Chris Adams, were among their top attractions. DiBiase, along with Steve Williams held the UWF World Tag Team titles during his time here.

During this same time, the NWA was developing a national program of its own. Sam Muchnick had already retired and the center of the NWA shifted to the Mid-Atlantic area.

But the biggest, and most publicized, national expansion was Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation. His inroads into the business, his attempted (and sometimes successful) takeovers of territories and TV spots, his development of Hulk Hogan into a major multi-media star, and his recruitment of other media celebrities were becoming legendary in a very short time.

Meanwhile, Bill Watts’ attempt to make the UWF the third major organization in the national scene was failing. He had a great stable of stars, some cable and syndication slots and lots of attention in the newsletters and magazines. But he was being thwarted at virtually every turn in trying to promote the UWF in major cities like St. Louis and it wasn’t long before the NWA had bought out the UWF, pushing a few select stars like Sting, and burying the others.

Ted DiBiase, by this time (the mid-80s) was becoming understandably frustrated. He was one of the most respected workers in the business, he had won several regional single and tag-team titles, had toured Japan several times and had a good following among hardcore fans. But he had never achieved the national recognition that performers like Hogan or even Ric Flair had received. So it was only natural that Ted would be responsive to the highly successful and visible Vince McMahon.

Actually, DiBiase had worked for McMahon before. During a brief stint in the old WWWF in 1979, Ted captured their version of the North American Heavyweight title, a title that is no longer recognized.

McMahon’s focus, once Hogan was established as his main attraction, was on developing characters and storylines, particularly heel characters that would challenge Hogan for supremacy in the World Wrestling Federation. Thus, in 1987, DiBiase entered the WWF as "The Million Dollar Man". Of note however, should be DiBiase's short All Japan PWF Tag Team Champion title reign with partner Stan Hansen in the summer of 1987.

To put it simply, the Million Dollar Man was a bully with money. His motto was: "Every man has his price….for the Million Dollar Man". He paid fans to humiliate themselves in public; he offered money to a little boy to dribble a basketball, then took the ball away from him so he couldn’t earn the money. Skits were shown on the WWF TV shows, showing DiBiase’s lavish mansions, expensive cars and chauffeur-driven stretch limousines. But probably his most repulsive act of all was his treatment of his valet, a black man named Virgil.

Always lying under the surface of the DiBiase-Virgil relationship were the ugly racial overtones of a black man working for a rich white man, creating echoes of the long gone days of slavery. Playing into the angle even more, DiBiase heaped verbal, and sometimes apparent physical, abuse on Virgil. He stayed away from obvious racial references, but the implication was there.

Almost buried under all this characterization was the fact that Ted DiBiase could really wrestle. Once the overblown dinner jacket with the large dollar signs was removed and Virgil took his place at ringside, DiBiase’s in ring ability came to the front, if only for a few minutes. But in the world of Vince McMahon’s WWF, in ring activity takes a backseat and is overshadowed by what goes on outside the ring. So the ultimate irony of the whole situation was that Ted DiBiase finally achieved the national notoriety he had always craved by virtue of his character—not his victories in the ring.

In fact, and even more ironically, DiBiase’s only claim to a "world" title resulted not from an in-ring victory but an angle that saw the Million Dollar Man arrange to "buy" the WWF Championship from Andre the Giant after Andre defeated Hulk Hogan on network TV following the famous "evil twin referee" incident. Of course, DiBiase’s "reign" was short lived as the belt was "held up" by President Jack Tunney and put up for grabs in a tournament at Wrestlemania IV in 1988. DiBiase disposed of Jim Duggan and Don Muraco to reach the finals against Randy "Macho Man" Savage. Savage captured the crown in that match.

According to DiBiase, McMahon provided the money for Ted’s "Million Dollar Man" character and pretty much gave him free rein to use it as he saw fit to sell the character. And sell Ted did. A "Million Dollar Belt" was created for DiBiase to wear to show that if he couldn’t buy or win a championship belt, he would just have one created.

DiBiase did defend this gaudy monstrosity of gold plating and costume jewelry on several occasions, and it was the subject of several angles, skits and finishes during his WWF career before it was eventually phased out.

By this time, the inevitable turn of Virgil on his boss had occurred and fans popped for it pretty much as expected. Of course, DiBiase played the situation to the hilt, labeling Virgil as an ingrate whom DiBiase had rescued from the streets and given a good life.

DiBiase’s other in-ring success during his WWF career came with his partnership with Mike Rotundo (whose WWF character was the evil tax man Irwin R. Schuyster (IRS). Together, they were known as "Money, Incorporated". Rotundo, while not DiBiase’s equal as a worker, was a good wrestler and the team jelled well, winning the WWF Tag Team belts for the first time from the Legion of Doom, also known as The Road Warriors, in November of 1992. DiBiase and Rotundo held the belts on three different occasions.

As the Million Dollar Man, DiBiase even appeared on Robin Leach’s "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous", lending more legitimacy to the character.

DiBiase’s last title was won in Japan when he and Stan Hansen took the All Japan Unified Tag Team Title in November of 1993. Ted’s in-ring career ended in 1994 when he suffered a neck injury. He eventually left the WWF and the Million Dollar Man character before resurfacing as "Trillionaire Ted" in WCW, first managing heels for the rebel New World Order , then denouncing his old evil ways and turning to the WCW, managing Rick and Scott Steiner.

Now out of wrestling, at least for now, Ted has started a ministry called "Heart of David" and has written his autobiography, appropriately titled: "Every Man Has His Price". He does not rule out a return to the ring in some fashion, nor does he denounce the wrestling business in any way other than a criticism of the sex and violence that seems to prevail in the business today.

To summarize, Ted DiBiase would have to rank as one of the top stars and best workers of the modern era of professional wrestling.

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