Pro wrestling is filled with good guys and bad guys — faces and heels — and that’s by design. The stark contrast makes it very easy to root for or against someone. Some personas work and some don’t. Some enrage and excite, and some elicit a collective yawn.
The Million Dollar Man worked, which is to say it went over… BIG. (Anyone familiar with the Million Dollar Man knows he didn’t actually have to work.)
The premise was simple: everyone hates the stuck-up rich guy. And if he flaunts that wealth and acts like he’s superior, well, people hate him even more. The gimmick made DiBiase, already a talented and established wrestler, into one of the most memorable heels. And it gave the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) — as WWE was then called — a goldmine of storylines to tease out year after year.
The real-life Ted DiBiase couldn’t be any more different from the hated Million Dollar Man. Here are 14 things you didn’t know about the legendary wrestler, and the legendary villain he played.
1. Theodore DiBiase, born in January of 1954, was raised by his mother, Helen Nevins, and stepfather, Iron Mike DiBiase. Both of his parents were professional wrestlers. His father died in the ring of a heart attack in 1969, when Ted was a teenager.
2. DiBiase went to West Texas State University, now called West Texas A&M University, where he played offensive tackle on the football team. Pro wrestlers Tully Blanchard and Tito Santana were teammates. An injury his senior year ended his playing days, and he dropped out without graduating to become a professional wrestler.
3. Trained by Terry Funk and Dory Funk, Jr. DiBiase debuted in the wrestling ring in 1974… as a referee. He would soon compete as part of Mid-South Wrestling, touring the region for the next four years.
4. DiBiase debuted with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) in 1979, years before becoming The Million Dollar Man. Billed as the face, he didn’t last the year. But DiBiase did get to wrestle Hulk Hogan in Hogan’s first match at Madison Square Garden. DiBiase lost to Hogan, who played the heel.
5. DiBiase won two titles in his time with All Japan Pro Wrestling. He captured the NWA United National Championship — a joint title with National Wrestling Alliance — in 1983, defeating Jerry Lawler. He and Stan Hanson, one of the most famous foreign wrestlers in Japan, won the Pacific Wrestling Federation World Tag Team Championship in 1985. The success of the pairing almost caused him to turn down the opportunity to join the WWF and become The Million Dollar Man.
6. DiBiase’s Million Dollar Man persona was the brainchild of WWF owner and chairman Vince McMahon. As it was described to DiBiase in an early meeting, “If Vince were going to be a wrestler, this is the guy he would be.”
7. DiBiase’s big laugh was a big part of his Million Dollar Man character. Turns out it is just an extreme version of how he actually laughs. But when combined with the outfit and attitude, the laugh conveys that fundamental condescension that’s so recognizable and so hated.
8. To make his Million Dollar Man character seem more authentic, DiBiase always flew first class and had a limousine at his disposal. He would make small purchases at stores using large bills. In restaurants he would often announce himself and have his bodyguard pick up the check for everyone’s meal.
9. A common Million Dollar Man stunt was to make fans perform random, sometimes demeaning tasks for money — pushups, bouncing a ball, etc. On one occasion, a young Rob Van Dam earned $100 for kissing DiBiase’s bare foot. Van Dam, of course, went on to become an accomplished pro wrestler in his own right.
10. During his approximately 20-year wrestling career, DiBiase won 30 single and tag team championships across multiple promotions. In addition to his All Japan Pro Wrestling titles, highlights include WWF heavyweight and tag team titles and Georgia Championship Wrestling heavyweight and tag team titles. DiBiase was inducted into the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2010.
11. DiBiase continued the Million Dollar Man persona as a manager, bringing talent like Nikolai Volkoff, Bam Bam Bigelow and King Kong Bundy into his Million Dollar Corporation stable. He also helped groom the pre-Stone Cold Steve, As DiBiase explains, “I told Steve at the time to keep doing what he was doing because … it is believable. You may not get over as fast, but you will last longer…”
12. DiBiase wrote two autobiographies, describing his career as a pro wrestler. The first book, Every Man Has His Price, was released in 1997, and chronicles his childhood in a broken home and rise through the pro wrestling ranks. The second, The Million Dollar Man, released in 2008, covers a lot of the same ground, but also delves into his life after wrestling.
14. DiBiase is an officially ordained minister, as well as a motivational speaker and evangelist. He travels the country addressing youth groups and church congregations.
Norm Elrod likes sports and other sanctioned forms of craziness.