“The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase Talks About Not Winning The WWE Championship
WWE Hall of Famer “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase recently appeared on WNS Podcast (show available every Wednesday at WrestlingNewsSource.com and Facebook.com/WNSPodcast). Highlights from the interview are as follows:
His upcoming tour of the UK and what UK fans are like in comparison to US and Japan: “Well, wrestling fans are wrestling fans by and large. The only place I would say that it’s different is Japan. For years Japanese people don’t seem to show a lot of emotion. In the US and UK you got me people whistling, screaming and hollering and doing what they do cheering for the good guys and cussing out the bad guys. I guess it’s a cultural thing in Japan but over the years that’s even seemed to change a little bit in Japan where they’ve kind of come out of their shell so to speak. But by and large, fans are fans wherever you go. They are stimulated by all the same things.”
hat it was like training under The Funks and working in the Amarillo area: “I’ve known The Funks most of my life. The Funks are two of the people who trained me. I’ve had many mentors I’m telling you. Because I grew up in wrestling. My father was a mentor, he died when I was 15 in the ring. He and Dory Funk Sr. were very good friends. When my dad died, we were In Texas. He had a attack in the ring in Lubbock on July 2, 1969 and three years later after I had signed a scholarship to play football in Arizona I was watching TV and wrestling comes on. It’s wrestling out of Texas. It’s The Funks and they’re coming to Tucson. I go, I visit them, Terry talks me into taking a recruiting trip to West Texas State. And all of a sudden I’m not going to the University Of Arizona anymore, I’m going to West Texas State and everybody kind of looked at me and went “Why would you choose a smaller school over the University Of Arizona?” And the answer is simple: Wrestling. Because in the back of my mind I knew one of my other loves was pro wrestling. And if I went to Texas and played football there then I could do both. I could pursue my other passion in the off-season. There were a lot of wrestlers that came out of West Texas State University which is now called West Texas A & M. The Funks, Bruiser Brody, Stan Hansen. Tully Blanchard, Tito Santana & myself were all on the same team. Let’s see who else. Bobby Duncum, Dick Murdoch, I don’t know who I’m missing but anyway a lot of guys. Dusty Rhodes. He’s another one. There’s a lot of guys that came out of the wrestling in Texas. I started under The Funks there. I refereed during the summers before I ever wrestled. Then I started my career in the summer of 1975 in Mid-South under Bill Watts. And in reality, I spent the better part of the first 12 years of my career in Mid-South. I went to New York in 1979 for a while. I went back to Amarillo and wrestled in the Amarillo area. Even went to Kansas City for a while and I went to Atlanta as well. But in the first 12 years from ’75-’87 when I went to the WWF, most of my time was spent in Mid-South and that was because it was a great territory. Bill Watts was a master of the art of wrestling and the psychology of wrestling. The WWE, just recently, got all of the library of Mid-South so I guess they can finish my DVD now.”
His thoughts about the younger talent of today missing out on the territory system no longer being around: “Absolutely. Wrestling is an art form. Wrestling is sports entertainment for sure. But to be really good at what we do you have to be both an athlete and an entertainer. And actually, if you’re going to be lacking in one, then be more of an entertainer and less of an athlete. There’s a lot of guys that made big money in wrestling because they just projected such a realistic character. And they weren’t necessarily great athletes. Junkyard Dog played football, Junkyard Dog the wrestler, mechanically in the ring he was just not that good. His gift was, unbelievable work on the mic. He had charisma coming out of his ears. Dusty Rhodes was a great athlete. Actually, he was a baseball player as well. He played football but he played baseball. That was his number one sport. He wasn’t always heavyset like he is. But Dusty Rhodes, The American Dream he just gets charisma. But wrestling is an acquired skill. We’ve learned to wrestle by getting in the ring every night in front of a live crowd and just doing it. You learn the fundamentals, you learn the basics. You learn how to fall you learn how to take certain bumps. Basic bumps, a bodyslam an armdrag, hiptoss, headlock takeover. You learn those things and then you progress. But you learn from watching other guys, you learn from doing it. The difference is, when I broke into the business in 1975 I might have been the opening match every night but the guy across the ring might have been a 10-12 year veteran. What happened was, when Vince got so big and wrestling exploded and all the territories died, along with it, died the breeding ground. And now, over a period of time, very slowly one generation goes away and the next generation goes away. Realistically, my generation is the last really solid generation of wrestlers that wrestled as the art form that it should be. It’s not the talent’s fault. You can’t blame them for something they never had the opportunity to do. When I go talk to these guys in the indys I ask how long they’ve been wrestling and how many matches they’ve had and a lot of them tell me they wrestle as a hobby. They have a regular job and maybe one match on the weekend. I said there’s four weekends in a month. At the most they’re telling me they’ve wrestled 8 times a month. I told them I’ve wrestled 8 times a week. Every week. And there’s 365 days in the year. And I can guarantee you 325 of them I was wrestling. We didn’t have days off. Days off were when we wrestled in the town we actually live because we wrestled the circuit and we’d go back to the towns on a weekly basis. And at night after the show was over, we weren’t out having a grand ol’ time. We were in a car driving and talking about what we can do better and how did it work and what can we do next week to get those people to buy another ticket. That’s what wrestling is. It’s a soap opera. And you want to entice the people to come back each and every week. When you run a show once a month, or once a year it’s not too hard to entertain the people. But when you’re trying to entertain people like a tv show, when you’re trying to get those people to come back and watch you each and every week then that takes some skill and some effort. And it makes you think well that’s what’s missing from wrestling today. And when I grew up in this business, when I started out, I never had a guaranteed money contract until I went to WCW. The contracts we initially signed in WWE weren’t like that. It was like okay you’re going to work for us for a period of 3-4 years. The initial contracts probably protected the company more than they protected us. But your only guarantee was that you were going to have the opportunity. It wasn’t until the big war happened between Turner and Vince that guys started getting guaranteed money contracts. Now guys got perks. It’s like when I became the Million Dollar Man, part of that was I flew around first class every night, I had limousine service every day. But the not so glamorous side of wrestling, I paid for my own hotels, I paid for rent a cars if it was a rent a car, paid for my own food. That all came off the top. That wasn’t paid by the WWF. It was a different ball game back then. Some of those things are still the same today. But now you’re making enough money to compensate. Back to the question of comparing then to now, the guys today are at a disadvantage because they simply don’t have the opportunity to learn this art. It’s an acquired skill. The only thing I knew for sure when I got in the ring was exactly how that match was going to be. How we were going to end the match, that was important because that’s what we were counting on. The finish to draw them back. Satisfy them a little bit, but keep them interested. It’s like the babyface just beats the dog out of the heel and beats him from pillar to post and right at the last minute the heel does something underhanded. Cheats to win, gets the win and even though he got his butt kicked for 30 minutes he wins. So the people leave mad because even tho the hero kicked the guy’s butt he didn’t win so in their heads are like well we’re going to come back next week. Next week he’ll get it. That’s it. That’s the simple psychology of wrestling and it’s keeping that interest in people. I call a match on the fly. I never knew what I was going to do. I never sat down and mapped out a match. Rehearsing matches is below me. If I told a young guy today I want them to go out there and go 30 minutes, they’d have a panic attack. What most guys do today in indy wrestling is they plan out the whole match from bell to bell. And that’s a lot of stuff to remember. Can you remember 30 minutes worth of stuff. I’ve had one hour matches and like I said it’s an acquired skill you learn. And it’s very hard to explain but yea that’s what’s missing today. Fans always come to me and say Gosh, I love wrestling but there’s just too much drama on TV. It’s all backstage and not enough in the ring.”
Being Bruiser Brody’s replacement in Japan as Stan Hansen’s partner: “Stan Hansen and Bruiser Brody both went to West Texas State and played football there. I knew Stan Hansen, Stan Hansen was a student assistant coach at West Texas State the year I was recruited. By the time I came to go to school over there, he had already gone out. I remember the first match he had, his debut match, his first match in Amarillo, Texas I was there and I saw his match. But I’ve known Stan for years and when Brody went from All Japan to New Japan, Stan came to me and he says “Look, you know Brody’s gone over to the other side and I need a new partner. Would you be interested?” I just laughed and said “Are you kidding? Is a pig’s butt pork? Is the Pope catholic? What do you mean do I want to be your partner?” Stan Hansen, even more than Bruiser Brody. Stan Hansen was the most popular and most famous foreign wrestler ever in Japan. Most well-known. Stan Hansen. “The Lariat”. Terry Funk, I believe, is right up there strong too as well. So when I had the opportunity to be Stan Hansen’s partner, you know, I jumped on it. The sad thing was that it was short lived because it wasn’t long after I took that job that I got the break to go to the WWF and be The Million Dollar Man.”
On any young talent today who he sees being in the same place today as he was: “There’ve been a lot of heels. Stone Cold, who I managed, he was a heel who became a babyface. The Rock. Here’s another guy who was a heel that became a babyface. There’s two different type of heels. There’s the tough guy bad guy. And the tough guy bad guy will always eventually become a good guy. Because people love tough guys. But if you’re, what I call a chickensh- heel. In other words, I go out there and show the people that I can go, that I’ve got the skills and I can wrestle. But I take the shortcuts. And not only do I take the shortcuts, but I’m a coward. I talk real big and then when somebody gets in my face I kind of back off and send Virgil in to do the work for me. That’s the best kind of heel. Because people never get tired of seeing somebody kick that guy’s butt. Now a heel like that today, was Bradshaw. JBL. JBL was that type of heel. Big guy, tough guy, knock your head off with that lariat. But when he would run his mouth at somebody and they would confront him you’d see that worried look on his face and he’d get scared. Everyone hates a blowhard. Someone who talks real big and then kind of cowers away. But again, that’s what kind of heel I was. And everybody hated me and they never got tired. No matter who it was. They never got tired of seeing somebody kick my butt. And eventually, sometimes the tough guy heel, eventually the fans get behind him. The fans never got behind me. They always hated me and I was very proud of that.”
On going to conventions and independent wrestling events and seeing today’s fans’ reactions to him: “It’s amazing and it’s extremely flattering. And I said this everywhere I go. Wrestling fans are the greatest fans in the world. Because they are so loyal. I mean once they’re with you, they’re with you and they never forget. I mean it’s amazing. I’ve had people come up and talk to me about old matches they saw me in. And they’re talking about stuff that I’d forgotten. I mean I was there. I did it. And they know more about it than I do. Of course that happens when you wrestle almost every night. It’s hard when people ask “Well, what was your favourite match?” That’s impossible. I can’t pick a specific match that was IT because there were so many. But fans? I love interacting with the fans. I go to these ComiCons and I was at the one in the UK a couple of years ago. I think it was the year before a bunch of guys got in trouble coming in because somebody didn’t have their visa or some deal but I wasn’t there for that. This is my fourth year. This will be my fourth year in a row to come to Scotland. This started four years ago when I got a call from David Lowe who’s the head guy for SW Wrestling in Scotland and asked if I’d come and lend my celebrity to help them draw a crowd and we became friends and now this will be my fourth year. This is the biggest indy card I’ve ever seen. I personally ever seen in the UK. I mean me and Piper and Chavo Jr. and Tatanka. And of course we did the same thing. I come over, I’m the big shot and basically I buy SWE and now SWE is Me and I own it and I’m running it and I’m going to come back this year and run roughshod over it and prove once again to everybody that there’s nobody and nothing that can’t be bought.”
His feelings on his sons entering the business: It was a mixture. Wrestling wasn’t what I wanted either of them to do. Not because of the wrestling itself but my fears as a father was the lifestyle that often comes along with it. The temptations. And some of those temptations that I DID succumb to. Fortunately for me, I was never an addict. I was never addicted to drugs. I was never addicted to alcohol. I did my share of both. I guess if there was something I was addicted to it was women. And of course I very nearly lost my family. I wrote a book about it. And I had a life changing experience and so I wanted my boys to avoid that. And they’ve done well. As a dad, it’s pretty easy to be biased I guess. I don’t think I’m alone in saying this but Ted Jr. got off to a bang up start. And then it seemed to die. And I still haven’t been able to figure it out. Because when you talk to the guys, my friends that are still there helping with the shows, they will tell you he’s one of the best wrestlers they’ve got. I think mostly it’s timing. It’s being the right guy with the right gimmick at the right time at the right place. I used to have that conversation with Shawn Michaels years ago. He’d get frustrated and say when’s this gonna happen. He’d watch matches and say I’m better than him, I’m better than him and I’m better than HIM. And I’d say yeah you are Shawn. You absolutely are. I said “Man, timing is everything.” I said just be patient. You’ll be one of the biggest stars this company’s ever had. And, I was right. Another guy I told that was Steve Austin. I was right both times. Hopefully the ship will come in for my son and it’ll happen for him because there’s a lot of people there that think it should.”
His thoughts on never winning the WWF Championship: “Again, wrestling is a business and of course I guess if you’re given the title you’re getting marked as the best and that’s not necessarily always true. A belt, is a gimmick in our business. It’s a status symbol. I get asked that question a lot because there was a lot of talk and the initial thought was that at Wrestlemania IV, the tournament, that I would win it. That was the intial plan. I would win it and have my run with Hogan. You gotta satisfy a lot of people and someone said Honky Tonk Man didn’t want to drop the intercontinental belt to Randy Savage and they wanted to make Randy happy too so somebody came up with that idea to turn Randy babyface. So the question was posed to me. What would get you more heat Ted? If you didn’t win the belt? Or if in your arrogance you thumbed your nose at it and created your own belt. And I said that’s the ticket. And it was. Today this day, you talk about a conversation piece. Everybody wants to come take a picture with me and the Million Dollar Belt. The Million Dollar Belt made me more money than the WWF Title ever would have.”
On the Million Dollar Belt: “The belt the WWF had made is a very expensive belt. The stones and the belt are a cubic zirconium. They’re almost diamonds and there’s 700 of them back in 1988 when the belt was created and I think they were $40 or $50 apiece. It’s estimated value in 1988 was $40,000.00 I have no idea how much it would be worth today but no I don’t have the belt. I have A belt but it’s a replica just like anyone else can buy. But the replicas are exact. If there’s any difference, its that the stones on the real belt are smaller.”
On any one on the roster he’d like to work with and why: “John Cena. Just because I was always kind of a ring general and just to see what kind of match I could put together with him off the cuff and wrestle him for the same reason I always wanted to wrestle Hogan because you always make more money when you wrestle the top guy. I’ll be honest with you. John’s a good guy, he’s had a great run and when I went to WWF in 1987 his reign as champion started a year before. What I’m trying to get at is Cena started getting his big push in ’05 and ’05-’12 that’s a long time to be the guy on top. But it’s finding the right guy to replace him.”
On creating the new face: “I acquired a personality over a period of time. I acquired a style over a period of time. Guys today don’t have a lot of time. They don’t have a lot of time to develop. They’re thrust out there in front of the people. Even John Cena. John Cena is much better today than when they started pushing him to be champion. Part of John Cena’s character is his unorthodox style and that’s what makes him different. Different is good. I told my son, if you want to be different, what I saw when I first came back here in ’05 as an advisor is that everybody was trying to look like Stone Cold. All jacked up, muscle tattooed, bald headed. Don’t try to be Stone Cold. Be yourself. That’s why when they tried to put the belt on my son and I gave him the belt, I really didn’t like that storyline. Because I felt from the beginning, let him be himself. He doesn’t need to be an extension of me. He needs to be himself. I think that’s what they’re trying to do now.”
On his induction into the 2010 Hall Of Fame: “It was very exciting and humbling as well. Being inducted into the hall of fame it’s your peers setting you apart and honouring you. It’s an honour. Think of some of the guys in that group with me. It’s very humbling too. Guys that I admired as a kid when I was growing up. I’m considered one of them. It’s a real honour I was very pleased and it was a great time.”
Favourite moment in the business: “The first major main event of my life. The one that really put me on the map. The one that let the world know Iron Mike’s kid was really going to be somebody. And that was when I wrestled Harley Race for the NWA World Championship in St. Louis, Missouri. The first sellout crowd I wrestled in front of at the Kiel Auditorium. And I wrestled Harley for almost an hour. And then he won the match. It was a best 2 out of 3 falls match back then but that was kind of like a milestone. And back then, before wrestling was national, St. Louis was one of those places where if you went to St. Louis and you got over and the word got out. Then that’s what happened. Word spread and next thing you know I’m going to New York for the first time in 1979 and then back to work for Watts. When I really blossomed is when I turned heel. And so another defining moment is me becoming a heel turning against JYD and that was another defining moment because then I began to excel as a heel. And I think I was a much better heel than I ever was a babyface. So, my first Wrestlemania, Wrestlemania IV, I mean think about it. In 1980, Wrestlemania 3 was in March of 1987. As a matter of fact, Wrestlemania 3 was the same month that my son Brett was born. My youngest son, Brett, is 24 years old now. And he was born the same month of Wrestlemania IV. My first Wrestlemania. So, a year earlier I was wrestling in Mid-South. I can remember picking up a newspaper and on the front page it said WWF sets indoor world attendance record. 93,000 people at the Pontiac Silverdome. And I remember reading that article and thinking to myself “You know what? This is where I need to be.” I never dreamed, now think about that. I’m in a motel in Baton Rouge when I read that in 1987. I never dreamed that one year later I would be in the main event at Wrestlemania IV. That’s how fast it happened. I had a meeting with Vince. I think in May or June is when I signed on and I started in the summer and then it just built. One of those mile mark events was the thing at Market Square Arena. The first time that wrestling was on national network television in the United States since the 50’s and I was part of the feature. It was Andre and Hulk and I had hired Andre and Andre was going to be Hogan and sell me the belt. That was the lead in to Wrestlemania IV. I’m a guy who grew up in wrestling. I’m a guy who’s dad was a wrestler. And the first time wrestling is back on national television, I’m part of the main event. That was pretty cool.”
The audio interview is available at http://podcast.wrestlingnewssource.com/WNSPodcastEP82.mp3.
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