The below interview with Ted DiBiase took place while I was researching the WWE title book. For even more from the “Million Dollar Man,” be sure to pick up a copy of the WWE Championship book.
What does it mean to you to be such an integral part of one of the most controversial periods of the WWE Championship?
To be a part of the history of the WWE Championship in any way at all is obviously a good thing. If you have anything to do with any of the titles, particularly the most prestigious title, it means you were somebody significant in the industry. So it’s gratifying to know that I was a part of that. In terms of what went on at that time, it was probably one of the most unique situations because I don’t think it ever happened before and I don’t think it has happened since. That whole story, to me, was one of the best ever in the industry. It was incredible. It was really the launching point for the character the Million Dollar Man. I came into WWE, there was a series of vignettes that were done to introduce the public to the Million Dollar Man — this over-the-top, arrogant, rich guy who could buy literally anything and basically his god was money. And my catchphrase was “everybody’s got a price, and everything’s got a price.” So the ultimate in arrogance for me would be for me to say “you know what, I’m going to go out and I’m going to buy the title. I’m not going to win it. I’m going to go out and purchase it.”
The whole way the story was told… Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant had the match at WrestleMania III. My gosh. They set an indoor, still-standing attendance record and that was the day the torch was passed to Hogan from the Giant. So moving forward, my involvement in this thing was like the next chapter to that story because Hogan and Andre did not have any contact until they came back to this rematch that really set up WrestleMania IV. I think when they met at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis … the first rematch since WrestleMania III. This is where I said I hired Andre, he is going to beat Hogan, become champ, and then sell the title to me. Of course, the fans were saying “oh, the audacity of this guy. You can’t buy the belt, it’s impossible.” That night at Market Square was huge in many ways because it was the first time they met since setting the attendance record. It was huge because it was the first time that wrestling was on national network television since the 1950s and there in the middle of it was the character the Million Dollar Man, who declared he was going to buy the title by proxy.
The vehicle by which we did it was something that was never done before or since. Then Dave Hebner comes down and counts Hogan’s shoulders, even though his shoulders were clearly up. It was just tremendous. I have people approach me, I have fans come up to me from that era and say that it was great. It was something I believe that caught everybody off guard and that was totally unexpected. But it was the vehicle… people ask me all the time what my favorite match was… what was the most special moment of your career? It’s very difficult to pick any one moment, but that moment was huge for me because that whole story is really what launched the character for so many years.
After the match, you have the title wrapped around your waist. But you were never recognized as champion. You came so close, but it never happened for you. You look at the list of champions and your name is not on there. How does that make you feel?
That’s the story of my life. I would’ve love to been champion, obviously. It’s something that everybody that has ever been in this industry wants. So it’s kind of bittersweet. But on the same token, it’s business and I’ve been told that I was one of those guys that never needed a belt because my work carried me. But even though I didn’t get the WWE Title, what they did to me in creating my own belt… in terms of business and the character, it was a perfect fit. So I really don’t have a whole lot to complain about.
What were you thinking when you got back to the hotel room and you were finally alone with your thoughts and the WWE Championship?
It’s larger than life. It’s one of those things where there are just not that many guys in the industry that get to that place. And considering the history of my family in the industry, those were moments when I thought of my dad quiet a bit. He was WWA champion on the west coast for a bit. I remember specifically sitting back in the hotel room holding the belt and thinking very much of my dad and missing him, wishing he could be there at that time to see what was going on with me.
How long did you walk around with the title?
I think for the next week or so, or maybe between the night of the Main Event and the next TV that we shot. I remember being in San Diego, I wore the belt out to the ring as if I was the champion before Jack Tunney stripped me of the title.
Will there be a WWE Championship reign in the DiBiase family future?
As a very proud dad, I would say yes, absolutely. I’m very proud of Ted, he’s following in the footsteps. He’s done tremendously … And his younger brother Brett, from what everybody is saying, they say I have another one right behind Ted. Any good father wants to see his sons supercede him and I look forward to that. And I will be champion I guess vicariously through my kids at least, I hope.
How did you celebrate the win?
I celebrated that night, but not much. I went out with the guys closest to me. Obviously Andre was there, and if I went out with Andre I can guarantee you that there were a few drinks to be had. You couldn’t go out with Andre and not have a drink. But what I remember more is the private moment in my hotel room, opening that bag and pulling that belt out. And it took me back to the time when my dad came off the road, as a kid I would always open up his bag and air out his shoes and take his dirty stuff and throw it in the laundry. And whenever he had a championship, there were so many times when I would go to the bag and open it up and look at the belt and think “one day, one day it will be me… I hope.” And then it was.
When you went home with the WWE Championship, did your family open up your bag?
Ha, yeah. Oh yeah. My boys wanted to see the belt. Talking about full circle, not too long ago, when I was guest GM on the show, that was another moment for me because it was the first time that I actually interacted and worked with him out in the arena in the crowd. How many wrestlers can say that?
What do you think Andre thought of the entire situation?
That I don’t know. I think for Andre and even for me, you’re happy when you know you’re doing what’s best for business. Andre didn’t walk around bragging about being an ex-WWE Champion. He was bigger than life. It didn’t have the same significance with Andre.
Fast forward a few years, what was the feeling among longtime WWE Superstars when Ric Flair came in as a main eventer and an immediate threat to the WWE Champion? Was there any jealousy?
The guys that understand our business understood … back then so many of the guys in the locker room came from other territories. Ric Flair had already been NWA World Heavyweight Champ on many occasions, so the respect that Ric had in our industry was already there. In terms of jealousy, though, I don’t care what industry you’re in… if you’re competitive and that competitive nature is in you, of course there is going to be jealousy. But business is business. And there wasn’t anybody in the locker room that didn’t believe Ric Flair was worthy of coming in and getting that type of a push. That’s my opinion. He was new to WWE, but he definitely was not a new guy. He was a very well established veteran and everybody admired his work and new what he could do.
Who is the greatest WWE Champion of all time?
There are so many different ways for a wrestler to look at that. Super box office, the first in the modern era of the WWE (post WrestleMania), obviously Hogan was that Superstar. The thing about Hogan was that he was a great character, but a lot of guys in the business look at the champ as somebody that could really wrestle … what the champ does in the ring should be more wrestling than showmanship. If you look at it that way, Hogan wouldn’t be that guy. In terms of box office, he is that guy.
After that, I’m sure Stone Cold Steve Austin is up there. Bret would definitely be one guy that I would consider, but Bret was never as big box office as Hogan and Stone Cold. Pre-WrestleMania, the guy would be Bruno.
Wrestling is kind of like a family; we’re all in the business to take care of each other and make a living. Bill Watts referred to me as the catalyst, meaning he knew he could put me in the ring with anybody and make them look good. There were a lot of guys like that. JYD was a great entertainer, but he was not a great wrestler. Same as Warrior. The greatest thing Warrior had going for him was his body, and it almost ends there.
Who was the greatest Superstar to never hold the title?
Obviously, the Million Dollar Man… Ha, ha, ha, ha. And Mr. Perfect
The thing about me and titles, it’s like I just barely missed it all the time. When I first came to WWE, I worked for Vince Sr. He brought me in as the North American Heavyweight Champion. It was the first time they had a champ other than World, Tag and Ladies. So Vince bring me in as North American Champ. Once I got there, I let him know that Bill Watts’ champion was also being called the North American Champion. So Pat (Patterson) came in and beat me for the North American Title on TV to set up his run with Bob Backlund. So there was a story to change the name of the title that Pat put up the North American title and all these other titles were thrown in a hat and whoever won the title would become the first Intercontinental Champion. And the reality is the first person to ever come into WWE with a new title other than the WWE title was me.
The real first title holder to hold the title other than the two titles was me … Just another funny story. As far as NWA goes, there was a lot of speculation that I was in hat with a lot of other guys … Dusty, Flair and me … And of the three, I’m the only to never hold the title.
No regrets. Only because I take pride in the business, but I am not mean-spirited that I was never champion. I had a tremendous career and since I never had that belt, through Vince, I became my own champion.