Ted Dibiase Interview
The ‘Million Dollar Man’ Ted DiBiase is not only one of the most gifted wrestlers of his generation but also went on to become one of the best managers of all time.
The 59-year-old from Miami, Florida was the first WWF North American Heavyweight Champion (later Intercontinental Title), a three-time WWF Tag Team Champion and the 1988 King of the Ring. DiBiase also created his own belt, the Million Dollar Championship and even bought the WWF Championship from Andre The Giant.
We caught up with the ‘Million Dollar Man’ to talk about working with the likes of The Undertaker and Stone Cold Steve Austin, what he makes of the current crop of wrestling managers, his sons WWE departure and much more.
How did you first get involved in the sport of professional wrestling?
I grew up in professional wrestling, my father was a professional wrestler as well a national amateur wrestling champion out of the University of Nebraska. Wrestling has been a part of my entire life.
When growing up who were some of the wrestlers you enjoyed watching?
Obviously my father was one of the best in his era and he was the guy that I wanted to model myself on. It’s funny wrestling was very regional back then and even though my dad had never gone to New York he was very well known and respected amongst the inner circle of wrestling, not only as a great worker but everybody understood he could really go. He was on the top of my list.
Other guys that I watched as a kid, some of them helped me when I first broke into the business, I’m very close with the Funk family. Dory Funk, Sr. and my dad were very good friends and Dory Funk, Jr. and Terry are very good friends of mine. Dick Murdoch is another guy that was extremely good and Harley Race, my gosh he is very high on my list, it’s a very special relationship that I have with him because my father actually had a heart attack and died as a result of a match, it was a match with Harley Race who tried everything to save my dad’s life.
That happened in 1969, and then when I first got into the wrestling business the first big main event of my life was against Harley Race, that put me on the map.
Harley Race with Dibiase
What was it like working with and getting trained by Dory Funk, Jr. and Terry Funk?
They were like family to me, I’ve known the Funks’ since I was old enough to remember. My dad actually wrestled in the territories that Dory Funk, Sr. owned, when I was moving back to Arizona with my mum and brother Dory Funk Sr. told me if there was ever anything I needed he would be there for me.
I went to university at West Texas State and that’s where Dory Jr. and Terry both went to school and I played American Football there. There were a lot of guys that came out of that school that ended up being wrestlers.
It was so great back then, these days you have all of these different wrestling organisations and wrestling schools, back then there was no such thing as a wrestling school in the sixties, seventies and early eighties. You came into the business because someone brought you in, and you showed the wherewithal and someone took you under their wing.
What do you make of the old territories compared to today?
You wouldn’t go to some big facility like the WWE has today, you would go on the road and somebody would take you in a gym where they had a ring and teach you the basic holds like headlocks, hammerlocks, how to lock up, how to take a bodyslam and how to take an arm drag.
Then you would go to some little town and be in the opening match but the guy in the ring with you would be a ten year veteran. The real art of professional wrestling is improv, but I see a lot of these kids today and they sit down and they diagram their entire match from bell to bell, that’s ridiculous, that’s not wrestling.
The sad thing is when the WWE became so big that all the smaller territories couldn’t compete anymore and they went away. The way you should learn this business doesn’t even exist anymore.
You had your first taste of the WWWF under Vince McMahon Sr. in 1979, what was that spell like?
I wasn’t even there for a year, but I went there and I was brought in the North American Heavyweight Champion. They had their World Champion, their World Tag Team Champions and their Womens World Champion, that was it, there weren’t any other belts. I let Vince McMahon Sr. know that one of the belts that Bill Watts had in Mid-South was the North American Championship, then when I lost the belt to Pat Patterson, Vince then made up a story about the Intercontinental title. There is a little bit of history there, people say Pat Patterson was the first Intercontinental champion, truth is I was.
During that run you also wrestled Hulk Hogan and you were his first opponent at Madison Square Garden, what was that like?
At that time Hulk was just coming into the business and I had been in the business longer than him. At that particular time Hulk Hogan wasn’t the babyface he was the heel managed by Fred Blassie and I was the babyface.
I was having my last match in the WWF at the time and they wanted me as his first opponent. I was very grateful to Vince for his faith in me, when I went to him and asked him what he wanted to do he told me to do anything because he knew I would do it right. I put Hogan over as a heel in his first match at the Garden and he never forgot that.
Before returning to the WWF you had spells with the NWA and went over to Japan, what were those experiences like?
If you look at my career from the summer of 1975 until I went to work for the WWF as the ‘Million Dollar Man’ in 1987, the better part of those twelve years I spent in Mid-South with Bill Watts. I went back to Texas for a while, I went to Kanas City for a very short time, and I went to Georgia Championship Wrestling a couple of times.
All of those experiences were good and I have tremendous amount of respect for Bill Watts, and in my opinion at the time he was the best wrestling promoter in the country, Mid-South was the best territory to work in, it was brutal because of the size of the trips but you were going to make good money if you were working for Bill Watts.
The first time I went to Japan it was as a result of the Funk brothers because the funks’ were booking All Japan Pro Wrestling for Giant Bob at the time. I had only been in the business for a year but fast forward and I probably went to Japan once a year. Then in 1986 Stan Hansen and Bruiser Brody were two of the biggest names in Japan, individually and as a tag team. Brody then jumped from All Japan over to New Japan and Stan came to me and asked if I would be his new partner and I jumped at that opportunity.
You then returned to the WWF in 1987 as the ‘Million Dollar Man’, whose idea was that character?
The Million Dollar Man is Vince McMahons personal idea, the first time I met with Vince he was telling me about this idea that was fresh and new and he thought I was the guy for the job. He wasn’t going to share it with me until I agreed to come on board because he didn’t want to give away a good idea.
Vince then had to take a phone call and I was left with just Pat Patterson and Pat told me that this was Vince’s personal idea, that if he [Vince] was going to be a wrestler he would be this character and that is all I needed to hear and the rest is history.
It was Vince’s idea, but they hadn’t come up with a name for the character, Vince was saying that everyone hates someone who is filthy rich, won’t buy anyone anything, they are snobs that look down on people, and that’s when I said he sounds like the Million Dollar Man to me and Vince agreed.
What were some of your personal highlights during your time in the WWF?
Obviously WrestleMania 4 was the first WrestleMania that I was involved in, it’s funny if you look at the WWE books on WrestleMania and you look at WrestleMania 4 I don’t even think my picture is there. There is a picture of Hogan, there is a picture of Andre (The Giant), and there is a picture of Randy Savage, but that WrestleMania was all about my character.
Basically I said I was going to win this tournament and become the WWF Champion. I wrestled three times in the tournament that night, I wrestled ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan, Don Muraco and then I wrestled Savage in the last match.
Some other big events that I was involved in include when the WWE held their first PPV outside of America at Wembley Stadium in front of 80,000 people for SummerSlam in 1992, we sold Wembley stadium out faster than The Beatles, that was a huge event for me.
Sky Dome in Toronto for WrestleMania VI was probably one of the matches that I enjoyed the most with Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts.
What was it like being the person to introduce The Undertaker at Survivor Series 1990?
Again when I introduced The Undertaker nobody knew him, at the time if you know how this works they were using my celebrity and me introducing The Undertaker was helping him get over. He wasn’t ‘The Phenom’ then he was just a new kid on the card, this new character The Undertaker and of course he grew in to be one of the greatest attractions the WWE has ever had. At the time it wasn’t a big deal to me, I was just doing my job.
You also got to work closely with Stone Cold Steve Austin, what was that like?
Vince put Steve Austin with me because at the time I’m a little older than Steve and he was just getting his break, he came in as ‘Stunning’ Steve Austin. Anytime you put someone with me they were going to be hated because everybody hated the Million Dollar Man. Vince wanted me to sneak into Steve’s’ life in terms of giving him advice about developing his character. I had a good time with Steve but he didn’t become Stone Cold until after I left.
You then moved to WCW and joined the NWO, what were your experiences of WCW like?
Well I’ll be honest with you, it was the three worst years of my career in terms of liking it. It was the worst organised company I had ever worked for, what you need to understand and what everybody needs to understand is that Ted Turner stuck with wrestling because wrestling helped his company survive in the early days of cable television.
His network TBS was the first nationwide cable network, he was fond of wrestling but he knew nothing about wrestling. Originally he and Vince had a deal where Vince was going to put his programming on their network but that wasn’t good enough for Ted, he wanted his own show and of course Vince wasn’t going to do that, so that is what created the initial friction between Ted Turner and Vince McMahon.
Then WCW started basically buying talent created by Vince McMahon because that’s what they did with Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall and myself and gave us contracts. My contract wasn’t as good as theirs because when I went there I wasn’t a wrestler anymore, if I had been wrestling I might have had a million dollar contract, but I was a manager by then.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that Eric Bischoff doesn’t know that much about wrestling. This guy was selling meat out the back of a truck and became a ring announcer for Verne Gagne and I’ve always wondered how he ever got a job. I guess he’s got a pretty good line of bullshit, he used to boast that he was going to run Vince out of business and then Vince not only ran him out of business but he ended up working for Vince.
Eric took credit for the NWO but that wasn’t his idea, the NWO had already been done in Japan, so they had copied something that had already been done. It was a good idea, but originally I was supposed to be the mouth piece of the NWO and reality is I think Eric saw how it was getting over and he saw how he could put himself in the role that he had hired me for. As each week went by pretty soon Eric isn’t the announcer anymore, he becomes part of the NWO and I just went to him one day and told him I’m not just going to walk out there and be Hulk Hogans’ Virgil, you hired me to be the spokesperson for this, so if that’s not what I’m going to do you can send me home. The reason I said that was because they had to pay me one way or the other, because I had a contract where they had to pay me for three years.
The biggest angle in wrestling wasn’t so much the NWO takeover of WCW, it was the battle between the WWF and WCW. Both companies got the largest ratings they had ever had, we were doing better rating than Monday Night Football at the time, but it just was not well run. We could be going on the air for a live TV show and they still hadn’t decided what they were going to do for the last segment of the show.
In 2010 you were inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, what was that moment like?
It’s great because being inducted into a Hall of Fame is being recognised by your peers. When you look at the list of people that have gone into the Hall of Fame ahead of you and many of those people are people that I looked up to and admired. It’s a very special moment and a humbling moment as well to know that you’re thought of in such high regard, so it was a very special moment for me.
The Viper meets The Million Dollar Man
Your son Ted DiBiase Jr. recently left the WWE, what did you make of his time with the company?
Ted got off to a big start, he was doing really well, they sent him to do a movie and it was brought to my attention The Marine 2 is the second highest grossing movie the WWE has ever produced. When he did the movie he got a lot of praise from a lot of people in the movie industry because he had never done a movie in his life.
I think the whole thing with Randy Orton, Cody Rhodes and Ted [Legacy] was very good, I actually think they should have let that go on a little longer and they should have got Ted and Cody back together again.
He has had a couple of little injuries and he did go back on the road and wrestled at some live events but they didn’t put him back on television. In the meantime he’s married, he has become a father, which made me a grandfather a little over a year ago. I think that’s why I never really wanted him to be a wrestler in the first place, it had nothing to do with wrestling, it had everything to do with being away from your family.
It’s not about loving wrestling or not loving wrestling, it’s kind of like as a father I want the best for my son and it’s the lifestyle that sometimes comes along with wrestling. It’s a lifestyle that I know firsthand, my wife confronted me with adultery and I was out drinking and snorting cocaine doing all this crazy stuff. I realised I was being very selfish, but I had a major change in my life and I never thought I would be a Christian Minister but I am.
Dusty and Cody Rhodes with Ted
What have you made of the current state of managers in the WWE, Zeb Coulter and Paul Heyman?
Paul is excellent, he is of course the guy that started ECW, I’m not crazy about ECW I understand it had a cult following but I guess my problem with ECW was that it was like mass brutality, from the first match to the last match you were seeing guys using everything available.
When you understand the psychology of wrestling you can just entertain the people by having a great wrestling match, when I first started out if we were first or second on the card we were told not even to go out to the floor, so I wasn’t ECW’s biggest fan but as a manager Paul Heyman is great.
What was Vince McMahon like as a boss?
I got along fine with Vince (laughs), it was kind of like a love hate relationship at times, and Vince said this to me a long time ago and I think he says it to everybody, ‘we can agree to disagree’, he doesn’t expect people to be yes men, if you don’t agree with him it’s not going to piss him off and he’s not going to fire you, but he added, ‘because we’re spending my money whether you like it or not we’re going to do what I want to do.’
I haven’t always agreed with what Vince did, I was not a big fan of the Attitude Era, but for the most part we wouldn’t be having this conversation if it wasn’t for what Vince McMahon did for me and did for wrestling. You talk about a work ethic, the guy is unbelievable he only gets four hours of sleep, he stays physically fit, Vince is 68-years-old and he looks great.
As a boss I can’t complain, I know Vince has given a lot of guys that had differences with him second chances. I know when I left to go to WCW he wasn’t particularly happy with me but he brought me back, we buried that hatchet and everything is fine.