For WWE Hall of Famer Ted DiBiase, WrestleMania XXX in New Orleans means essentially returning to where his career began.
Before he became sports entertainment’s “Million Dollar Man,” the legendary performer was honing his skills in Mid-South Wrestling.
From there he went to the “Big Apple” and the bright lights of WWE. However, DiBiase will never forget where he and WrestleMania came from, growing in tandem with each passing year.
“It’s very special,” DiBiase said. “It really dates me a bit when I think, ‘This is WrestleMania 30, and my first WrestleMania was 4.’ It’s almost like, ‘Am I really that old?’ It’s a milestone year. What’s amazing is WrestleMania I, 10 and 20 were all in Madison Square Garden. WrestleMania 30, instead of being in New York, is going to be at the [Superdome] in New Orleans.
“That’s very special to me because I actually started my wrestling career in this area. Not the entire time, but the better part of the first 12 years of my wrestling career was spent in what was called Mid-South Wrestling. New Orleans was a very big part of that.”
DiBiase recalls his first trip to “The Big Easy” like it was yesterday. Considering what took place, it’s hard not to.
“Here I am, right out of college and into wrestling,” DiBiase said. “I made the comment that I had never been there before. So an old wrestler named Dick Murdoch, who was quite a character, said, ‘Is that right kid? Well, you’re going to Bourbon Street with me.’ I went to Bourbon Street, and he proceeded to get me absolutely drunk out of my mind. He had me eating oysters and chilidogs and all this stuff. That night by 3 o’clock in the morning I was on the side of the road throwing up. Things like that are in fun, but nothing that would be abusive in any way.”
The veteran will always remember his WrestleMania debut in 1988. After all, he headlined it. He may have been defeated by “Macho Man” Randy Savage in the finals of the WWE championship tournament during the fourth installment of the grand event, but he still left Trump Plaza a winner.
“It was extremely special,” DiBiase said. “It was the first WrestleMania I was in. What was funny was a year earlier I was in Mid-South and actually in a hotel in Baton Rouge. I walked out and picked up a copy of USA Today. I think it was USA Today, and there was a cover story that says, ‘WrestleMania III sets indoor attendance world record,’ 93,000 people, and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh.’
“Right then is when I realized this is the future of wrestling, and if I were to be a part of it, I needed to be there. I had no idea that a year later I would end up headlining that next WrestleMania. It’s very special, even though for WrestleMania IV, it was not a huge venue. WrestleMania IV and V both took place in Atlantic City at the arena where they hold the Miss America pageant. It’s not a huge arena. Of course the big thing is pay-per-view.
“Since that time, WrestleMania VI was the first huge WrestleMania for me, which was the [Sky Dome] in Toronto…The last few years, every year, there are no small venues for WrestleMania. It’s all football stadiums. We are selling them all out. It’s amazing. It’s unbelievable how big this thing has gotten and globally.”
DiBiase was a part of many big matches at WrestleMania, wrestling the likes of Jake “The Snake” Roberts and Hulk Hogan. His involvement in the event and the business in general continues to be remembered by fans, young and old.
“Last summer I flew to Scotland to make a couple of appearances,” DiBiase said. “I was walking into their equivalent to a Walmart to pick up a few things. There was a little boy and his grandmother walking out as I was walking in. This little boy goes to his grandmother saying, ‘Grandma, that’s the Million Dollar Man!’ I turned around and looked at him saying, ‘You know who I am?’
“Back then my hair was highlighted blond, and I was younger. I wasn’t wearing glasses. This was 25 years ago. I asked, ‘How do you know who I am?’ He said, ‘Videogames.’ With all of the access fans have to all of the older stuff, it just amazes me. Fans literally come from all over the world for WrestleMania just like they would the Super Bowl. It is our Super Bowl.”
Another highlight for DiBiase was watching his son Ted DiBiase Jr. get the opportunity to perform on the largest stage. His other sons, Brett and Mike DiBiase II, also tried their hand in the family business.
“Just as a father I really didn’t want my boys to follow me into wrestling,” DiBiase said. “It’s not because of the wrestling itself, but because it’s a hard life. It’s really demanding, especially on family time. There are so many things out there. To the WWE’s credit, the atmosphere is much better and the accountability that they’ve built into it with their drug testing policy makes it a lot better.
“It is better, but it’s a hard thing on family. I was excited for my son. I never thought I was going to walk into a Toys “R” Us, and there is a twin pack of the ‘Million Dollar Man’ Ted DiBiase Sr. and Ted DiBiase Jr. I never thought I would see that. It was pretty wild. I was proud of him.”
His son has since departed from WWE to pursue other endeavors and enjoy his family.
“He did a tremendous job while he was there,” DiBiase said. “He stared in a movie [The Marine 2], and I’m proud how he left there. There are a lot of guys who leave with a chip on their shoulder or feel they weren’t treated right or this or that. Basically what my son did was said, ‘Thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity.’ He did it in a very professional way. I told him, ‘Don’t ever burn a bridge because you never know when you may cross it again.’ I was very proud of him on all levels.
“I think he is happy now. He has become quite the entrepreneur. He has a lot of things going. Before he went into wrestling, he got a college degree in business administration. He has a lot of things going for him. He loves being home with his family, but again, never say never. If the bug hits him again, then maybe he [would return]. For now he is quite happy where he’s at.”
Looking at the current crop of WWE talent, if he were to pick a million dollar champion it would be a certain Mexican aristocrat and South Florida resident.
“Alberto Del Rio is doing a pretty good job,” DiBiase said. “His character is in line with that character. He is the rich guy flaunting his wealth. JBL [John Bradshaw Layfield], in my opinion, was the cowboy version of my character. I think he did it extremely well. You are this extremely wealthy guy, and by virtue of your wealth, you are looking down your nose at everybody. Much like a bully, when you’re confronted, you start backing off. Everybody hates guys like that. No matter how many times you get beat, you don’t mind seeing them get beat again. That’s what a good heel is in our business. I think JBL did it just as good as anybody.”
Even though WrestleMania XXX is still month’s away, he thinks the WWE Universe will get one more shot at seeing The Undertaker. DiBiase, a longtime heel, is the one who introduced fans to the “Deadman” at the 1990 Survivor Series. The Undertaker served as the dominant force on the Million Dollar Team.
“I can’t think that with the streak that he has going and with this being the WrestleMania that it is, number 30, I can’t see him not being there,” DiBiase said. “I can picture him saying, ‘You know what? If they have to get me to the ring on crutches, I’m going to go.’ I would think he would be a part of this, and I hope that he is. In terms of opponent, I don’t know. I know right now, storyline-wise, you have Triple H and family involved in what’s going on. So somewhere in there, I think there will be a Triple H encounter [at WrestleMania]. So that’s as far as I’ll go with that.”
These days DiBiase has traded in his wrestling boots to serve God as an ordained minister. He says that is his primary vocation in life.
“I travel and speak in churches, prisons and other places,” DiBiase said. “We have a ministry specific to men in dealing with issues that men deal with, and as well, my wife has started traveling with me some. A large part of my story is the reconciliation of my marriage and how my wife and I got through it. We use that as a background in an effort to help other couples that are struggling in their own marriages. That is my primary goal in life. I still do school assemblies.”
DiBiase finds when visits schools the teachers recognize him, but he has to show a video to the kids. That is unless they have played WWE 2K14, which is a playable character.
“I am getting to be the old guy. I bring the message to schools that they are making choices now that are going to impact the rest of their life,” he said. “There are choices about their education, drugs, alcohol, sex and all of those things. We are a sum total of the choices we make. Regardless of where you come from, we can’t choose the circumstances of our life, so to speak.
“We can’t choose what color we are, whether we are born rich or poor or somewhere in the middle. We all choose how we are going to deal with whatever that circumstance is. That’s what I try to encourage kids to do. I use examples from my own life to demonstrate that. Basically my stepfather [Iron Mike DiBiase], a professional wrestler who dies when I am 15-years-old. I end up in a small school in southern Arizona.
“My mother [pro wrestler Helen Hild] sinks into alcoholism. I have a choice to make. ‘Am I going to wallow in self pity and get drunk with everybody or am I going to pursue this goal?’ I chose to pursue the goal. I chose not to be like everybody else and not go with the crowd. I worked very hard and earned a scholarship to play college football [West Texas State University]. I played college football and then went into wrestling. I come at the kids from a hard level. I say, ‘Look, I’m telling you things I told my own kids.’ I’m not just speaking from something I wrote in a book. I’m speaking from personal experience, and all kids can identify with that.”
• WrestleMania XXX tickets are on sale. Pricing ranges from $25-$2,000. The big event occurs Sunday, April 6 from the Mercedes-Benz Super Dome in New Orleans.
Visit www.wrestlemania.com for full details and updates.
• Follow Ted DiBiase on Twitter @MDMTedDiBiase.