Ted DiBiase was in WWE talent development, and didn’t even know it.
Back in the ’80s, when his “Million Dollar Man” character lived to demean crowds on a nightly basis, a young fan gave a post-match smooch to DiBiase’s “stinky, sweaty” feet for cash in Grand Rapids, Mich., to confirm that “everyone has a price.”
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“And this little kid, probably 12 years old at the time, climbed in the ring, kissed my feet, took the 300 dollars and grew up to be Rob Van Dam,” WWE Hall of Famer DiBiase said with a laugh.
DiBiase and contemporaries like his old Money, Inc. tag-team partner Irwin R. Schyster (IRS), Bob Backlund, Ric Flair, Roddy Piper and many others will assemble for an “Old School” edition of Monday Night Raw tonight at 8 p.m. on USA Network. Chances are they’ll share similar tales backstage, which is a much different atmosphere than what they experienced back in the day.
Today’s Superstars memorize lines penned by veteran scribes of soap operas and TV sit-coms, a far cry from the day when wrestlers were given just a bit of direction, then succeeded or failed in developing a character on their own.
DiBiase politely listens to the suggestion that today’s process be simplified to allow current stars to find their own voice, then counters that it’s just not feasible.
“By the time Vince McMahon called upon me to become this character, the Million Dollar Man, I had already been wrestling for 12 years,” DiBiase explained of the pro wrestling model of different regional territories throughout the country. “I had been to New York once in ’79 for about nine months. But the way I carried myself as a heel, as a bad guy in our industry, is why Vince chose me, because he already knew as a heel character, I came across as very aloof. I always talked down to the fans and down to the people, and so this Million Dollar Man character… I was already by the very nature of the way I carried myself as a heel already, he just created in me a character.”
DiBiase complimented WWE’s new Performance Center in Orlando, Fla, as a way to develop talent, but adds, “The availability to learn the trade the way that we learned, it doesn’t exist anymore… They’ve got to do the best they can.”
One Superstar to come through WWE’s system in recent years is DiBiase’s son, Ted DiBiase Jr. The elder DiBiase has admitted in the past that the travel and temptations of wrestling stardom caused him to make mistakes as a family man. His son chose not to re-sign with WWE last August.
“Almost the whole last year he was with WWE, he was there, he was working live events, but they didn’t put him back on television because they didn’t just want to throw him out there and abuse him,” DiBiase said. “They really wanted to do something significant with him, they just couldn’t find what it was.
“And in the meantime, my son and his wife have a child, and make the Million Dollar Man a grandfather. And he just called me one day and says, ‘Dad, you know, you were right.’ And I said, ‘About what?’ He said, ‘Regardless of how much money I make in the wrestling business, the time it’ll going to demand to be away from my wife and my son, I just don’t think it’s worth it.’ And I said, ‘I tried to tell you that.’ But some things, you just have to learn the hard way. So when his contract came up and they wanted him to re-sign, he just said, ‘Thank you for all you’ve done for me, but I just don’t think it’s what I want for me anymore.’”
DiBiase said the way Ted Jr. departed “left the door open” for a return, but right now his son is happy and has so many projects going on he wouldn’t have time to list all of them. There is a website project he can’t reveal for risk of giving someone else the idea.
Ted Jr. is also part of a group that formed the business Guardian Elite.
“You look at all the athletes who come out of high school and college into professional sports,” Ted Sr. said. “And they hit it big, they make money, and instead of saving their money, instead of doing the right thing, they go out and buy the biggest house, and the finest car, and then they get hurt, and it’s gone. How many horror stories have we heard? Just watch ESPN. So basically what Guardian Elite is is a company that my son’s a part of where they come alongside these athletes that come out of college into the pros, and say, ‘Hey look, we’re here to help you be smart with your money.’”
There’s an irony in Ted Jr.’s career move, considering the significant history of pro wrestlers who made millions yet ended up in financial peril, or those who pursued the business with no backup plan. Ted Sr. followed his dad, “Iron” Mike DiBiase, into the business, and Ted Sr.’s sons Brett and Mike also took a shot at pro wrestling stardom along with Ted Jr.
Ted Sr. compares wrestling to movie or rock stardom in that you have to in the in the right place at the right time, and there are a lot more people qualified to succeed than those who actually make it. Those who make it and then handle it properly is an even smaller list.
I was fortunate,” said DiBiase Sr. “I probably could have saved more money, too. But, it’s like, even though I’m not really the Million Dollar Man, I have a retirement account, I saved some money, and I did some right things. Could I quit [working] tomorrow? No, but am I better off than a lot of my colleagues? Yes I am, and that’s because I started making smarter choices, and I passed that along to my kids.”