The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase used to say everybody's got a price. His? Nearly losing his marriage.
That's when DiBiase, a professional wrestler, decided to rededicate his life to God.
Long since retired from the ring, DiBiase is an ordained minister. He started Heart of David ministries and now does speaking engagements around the country at youth conferences, schools and various men's and church groups.
DiBiase is speaking at the ALIVE 2012: HEROES middle school youth conference in Ocean City that begins tonight and runs throughout the week.
DiBiase spoke to the
about his work and wrestling career after a recent speaking engagement at Washington High School in Princess Anne, also on the Eastern Shore.
Q: First of all, can you tell me a little bit about the ALIVE conference in Ocean City Maryland you'll be next weekend and what you'll be doing there?
The Alive conference is a Christian youth conference trying to impact young people and challenge them, as far as their faith in Jesus Christ and everything that goes along with that. And trying to meet kids, in some cases, where they are and impart to them wisdom and help them live a Christian life. That's what it's all about. Most of the kids who come to these conferences are Christian; sometimes they are not. Youth groups will encourage kids who are part of their churches to bring their friends to expose them to the gospel.
As far as my part in this, I know some of the details, as to the beginning of the conference and some of the first main sessions is where they are going to put me, but the message I bring to kids whether at a Christian youth conference or a public school assembly - I did a public school assembly in Maryland here today - I bring a message about choices. I try to impact people with the fact that the choices they are making right now in their life can and will impact the rest of their lives. And oftentimes some of those decisions can be the difference whether they make it or they don't. I'm talking about drug and alcohol abuse and the importance of getting an education, by and large. At a Christian conference, where I have the liberty, I can talk to them about the importance of having Christ in their life and my own personal journey.
Early in my life, I had a very strong relationship with God and then it's kind of like, when I got the things I kept asking for basically ... My father died when I was 15, and my dad was a professional wrestler but as well as a national amateur champion at the University of Nebraska. So I wanted to be a wrestler, a football player, and I ended up a little school in Southern Arizona when I was 15 after my dad died unexpectedly of a heart attack and I was the first kid to ever graduate from that little school with a full scholarship to play Division I college football.
But when I got to college - in high school, I didn't drink, I didn't smoke, I didn't do anything, I was very regimented and I was also very strong in my faith -- basically, I share with them that, at this point, the two things that took over in my life basically controlled me for the next 20 years were my pride and my ego. Basically, I tell them that's when I became cool. And you know, I say, here's how you spell cool: F-O-O-L. That's all it'll get you.
Of course, I was at the top of my game. Million Dollar Man. World Wrestling Federation. 1992. WrestleMania 8. Indianapolis, Indiana. The day after that show I called home and my wife confronted me with adultery. And that was the turning point for me. In a fraction of a second, I had to take a look in the mirror and realize that I had put at risk the love and devotion of a committed wife and the future, the stability, the peace of mind and the well-being of my children, for the sole purpose of stroking my ego. And it wasn't pretty.
The bottom line was that in facing my wife and coming totally clean, which is what a pastor friend of mine encouraged me to do - not what my buddies encouraged me to do, but what a pastor told me to do. He basically said, Ted, Jesus said the truth will set you free. But of course he also said, you reap what you so, there is always consequences to the choices we make. And he said you very well could lose your family. You know, biblically, your wife has a right to leave you. And, I understood that, I believed that, as a matter of fact, it's what I expected. But much to my surprise, my wife, whose faith in God was already extraordinary, what she said to me was -- and this was after hearing me open up, tell the truth, cry and then watched me in about 1,500 teenagers at a conference, much like the one I'll be speaking that was in Chicago back in 1992 - go forward and basically an answered invitation to receive Christ.
I meet every kid at the building in the front ... and I went forward and went to my knees and put my face in the carpet and just wept. It was kind of like I didn't care anymore. I didn't care what anybody thought. I'd let my ego and pride control my ego for 20 years and it was like reckless abandon. It was like, you know what God, I keep trying to do this my way and my way doesn't work. And it was a turning point because my wife witnessed all of this, and what she said to me was, 'I'm not going to make you a promise I can't keep, I don't know if I'm strong enough to do this. I'm hurt, I'm humiliated. ... But I serve a God of restoration, not divorce. From what I've seen and what I've heard, I think you want to be a man of God. But I pray God, is he sorry or is he sorry he got caught? But I serve a God that says, it doesn't matter, forgive him. Everything in my flesh says run. But everything in my spirit says give you another chance.
She goes, I'm not going to promise you anything. I might leave tomorrow, I might leave next week, I might leave two months from now. I'm not doing this for you, I'm doing this because I believe it is what I should do to please my Lord. And again, I'm not sure I have the strength. All she said is she would promise me she'd try.
And I took the ball and ran with it. I told Melanie that day, if you give me this chance I'll become the man you thought you married. A man of integrity, a man of character, a man of my word, a spiritual leader in my home that, God willing, will gain your trust and respect. March 1992.
This last New Year's Eve we celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary.
The relationship my wife and I have today is beyond good. She's my best friend, she's my soul mate. As a matter of fact, we go out as a couple and occasionally speak to other couples and groups of church couples, people who are going through the same thing. But for the kids, they won't get all of that story, but I'm just letting you know the back story, for the kids here is what you need to know: What I'm saying to you today is the same thing I tell the three boys who I love more than I love life and that's I'm trying to impart truth to you that will help you be a success in life.
I taught my boys it is easy to follow a crowd. Anybody can do that. It takes a man to stand up for your principles. You cut your own path in life. Chase after whatever your heart's desire is, and instead of following the crowd, let somebody else follow you. That takes a little guts.
And I know that somewhere in the conference I'll have the chance to impart that to them. And of course the foundation of all of that ... is my relationship with Jesus Christ.
The other thing is there is a thing on Sunday where I'm going to do three 20, 25 minute sessions where it's the same message like three times, it'll be one group after another, and I basically called it Bullies are Cowards, and I'll be talking about bullying.
Q: Now, do you speak primarily to a younger audience or anyone and everyone?
It depends on what comes my way. When I first started speaking, and this started kind of like a small snowball that started rolling downhill. First time I went out and spoke was probably in late '94 or '95. I'd speak at a little church and someone would hear me and I'd get another invitation. And the first couple of years it was primarily youth groups I'd get invited to because at the time the demographic of the wrestling fan, the kids were the ones that recognized me and knew who the Million Dollar Man was.
Over a period of time, what I actually do most of the time today is I spend a lot of time speaking to men. I speak to a lot of men-specific groups as well as just full church congregations. There is a ministry called Promise Keepers that started in the U.S. several years ago that was headed up by Bill McCarty, who was the (head football) coach at Colorado. ... But there is also a Promise Keepers Canada, ... they are not affiliated with Promise Keepers USA, but it's the same mission statement. ... It's a ministry that's intended to challenge men to be what the Bible calls men to be. I got hooked up with them in '05, early '06, and I've been on their platform several times a year for the past several years.
Q: You mentioned speaking at a public school versus in a religious setting. How do you change your message and tailor it to your audience?
In a public school, I stick to, look, you're making choices now about your education and about drugs and alcohol and those choices are going to determine whether you make it or you don't. What's your attitude? I'm gonna really hit the books and I'm going to try to do the best student I can be, or I'm just going to do enough to get by. You know, as long as I don't fail I'm OK. If that's your attitude, you've established a pattern in your life that will carry over into everything that you do, and you'll just do enough to get by.
I share some of the statistics about drug and alcohol abuse and I ask them the question, do you think anyone every took their first drink, smoked their first joint or snorted their first line of cocaine and said, man, this is great, I'm fixing to become a junkie. No, of course they didn't. They all say the same thing, it won't happen to me because they all think they're too cool and they're smarter than everyone else, but I'm here to tell you the numbers say just the opposite.
I illustrate it to them through my choices. Look, here's what I did when I was in high school. I was smarter when I was 15, 16 than when I was 18 to 26, because instead of caving in to being cool, I stuck close to my convictions and I was rewarded. But when I became cool and started going to the parties and everything, I lost my focus in many ways.
Q: When you're speaking to youth, when you started, a lot of them fit into the pro wrestling demographic. Do a lot of kids you speak to know recognize you as the Million Dollar Man?
It's amazing they do. A lot of them do, a lot of them are really diehard fans. The marketing job Vince McMahon has done is incredible. But it doesn't really matter. It's kind of comical, when I first started doing this most all the kids knew me, now it's the teachers who recognize me. (Laughs.)
But again, when you're talking to a kid and, you know, I let them know I'm telling them things I'd tell my own kid, this is nothing specific or special I'm telling you, it's that they know, or most of them, if they don't they can be filled in on that, ... that this guy was a big star, so the credibility is there so it is, OK, how did I get there? How did I become this big star in wrestling and I tell them it all started when I was your age.
One of the things I try to impart is we can't chose circumstances in life. You didn't choose to be born black or white, you didn't choose to be born rich or poor, and you certainly didn't choose to have parents who were divorced or become addicts of some kind or abuse you in some way. But with that stated, but we all choose what we do with it. How are you going to play the hand you've been dealt? Are you going to wallow in self-pity and use that poor circumstance as a crutch for the rest of your life or are you going to do something about it?
Q: I have to imagine, during your career, you saw some things. I mean, you look at some of the guys during your generation who have either died or are in rehab that sort of thing, how hard is it to stay away from those temptations when you are on the road as often as you guys are?
It is hard. I would say today it's a lot better. The WWE has evolved much like all the other sports. If you went back to the beginning of the NFL days, those organizations went through that same deal. WWE today has one of the most stringent, state-of-the-art drug testing policies of anybody. I know the deal. They hire a company, they go here is the roster, you check them whenever and wherever you want to and just send us the results and they test them for everything. They are tested for steroids, recreational drugs, I mean, to the point where if they go to the doctor and get a prescription for a cold, they got to call the WWE doctor and say here is what I'm taking and here is why I'm taking it. Because if it shows up in a drug test and you haven't told them, then you're suspended. They have a 30-day suspension first time, 60-day suspension the second time, and the third time, you're fired.
When I was on the road, our schedule was just outrageous. We were on the road for weeks on end. It was actually worse, from what some of the guys told me, before I got there, sometimes they'd go out for like a month and never see home. We were pretty close, when I first started, we'd go three weeks solid. Twenty-one days, 21 cities, and then we'd go home for a week, then we'd do it again.
Sometimes, you'd wake up and look at the dial on the phone or look out the window to remember what city you were in, because it's just the pace. Airplane, hotel, coliseum. ...
It's just like, the movie "The Wrestler" came out and people asked me if that was indicative of the business. I said it's not overall, but it's certainly a very good portrayal of what happens to a lot of guys based on how they handle it. That character Mickey Rourke played, his God was fame, the roar of the crowd and he sold out to it totally. It cost him his wife, cost him everything, and by the way it ended, when he takes the big dive off the top rope, probably killed him. We've had a lot of guys who go down that road.
In my era, it was drugs and alcohol, and of course add steroids to it. And in my father's era, it was just alcohol. It was no different. Pro wrestling ... there was a high divorce rate and high rate of alcohol abuse as well, and of course, it didn't matter. Wrestling, football, basketball, rock 'n' roll - it's a different venue but all the same temptations.
Q: With that in mind, you have three sons who were all in the wrestling business at various levels -- what was the message you gave to them when they were breaking in. Did you kind of want them to stay away from it?
Well, no. I never encouraged any of my boys to be in the business, and the reality is now there is only one still in it and that's Ted. My older son, Michael, has had his own issues. He's a son from my first marriage who I didn't get back until I was 11. He's been my prodigal child. He just turned 35 and he's doing a lot better now. But he doesn't have anything to do with wrestling and he's got a job living in Amarillo, Tex.
Now, what I told my boys; most of their lives they heard I'll support you in anything you do, but I don't want you to be wrestlers for all of those reasons. It never had anything to do with wrestling itself. I loved what I did. Entertaining people is what we do. But it's everything that went along with it. My dad was no different. To be honest with you, if he'd have lived, I probably never would've been a wrestler because he was old school and he'd have beat the tar out of me. Or I would've been a wrestler against his wishes, because as a parent, you're trying to protect your children from the evil out there lurking and you know what it is.
Now when my son Ted came to me, Teddy said, Dad, I honored your wishes, I got a degree. He has a bachelor's degree in business administration. And he said, now that I've honored your wishes, I want to change my dream. And I said, great son, what do you want to do? And when he said he wanted to be a wrestler I almost fell off of my chair. And I said, you know, I don't have to tell because you know all the reasons I don't want you to, but I am comforted, because I know how much better that atmosphere is today.
The guys today, they work a four-day week. They have two brands, Raw and Smackdown. And the guys on the Raw crew, they leave home on Friday, they work Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, they do a live TV show on Monday and they go home Tuesday every week. Their Smackdown crew, they start on Saturday and go Saturday, Sunday, Monday, then they tape their show on Tuesday and it airs on Friday, and they go home for three days. And the only exceptions to that are a European tour or something promotional. So, you have that kind of a work schedule, plus you factor into that the accountability that's been enforced by the drug testing policy - I tell all men, we all have to be accountable to somebody, if not, it's not a question of if we'll mess up, it's a question of when - so that's why. And the other reason I told is, you know son, if I forbade you to do it, you'd always wonder if you could have and would've held that against me. Sometimes you just have to let them go because they've got to learn it their own way.
And my son, he's had a couple injuries, and he's back now on the roster. He keeps telling me they've got some idea for him, I don't know if they're waiting for the right time to present it, to re-introduce him, but while he was out with the injury he had his first child, my first grandson. And when it came time for him to go out on the road again, I got a phone call and he said, 'Dad, I understand now. It's killing me to leave this little boy.' And I said, well, you know now but you never understood back when we started talking about this. So there you have it.
Q: Let's talk about your wrestling career for a bit. How did the Million Dollar Man character come to be, because that seems completely opposite of who you really are. I've talked to other wrestlers who say their character is them with the volume turned way up. That doesn't seem the case with you.
No. No, it's almost humorous. I said God's really got a sense of humor. Of all the guys who could've been the Million Dollar Man, who is basically the epitome of evil, whose God is money, whose motto is everybody's gotta price, and he's as worldy as possible. And then I become a Christian, and not only a Christian but an ordained minister, and again it's funny, I sign my pictures Ted DiBiase, and I don't write out Million Dollar Man, I just put a big dollar sign, and under that dollar sign I write the scripture Matthew 16:26. And that scripture is this, Jesus said for what does it profit a man if he gained the whole world and loses his soul? What will he give in exchange for his soul? So there it is. And it's just true.
Again, when I talk to guys I tell them, guys, if I can sum it up in one phrase it would be: Been there, done that, got the T-shirt, wore it out and found it to be empty. All you have to do is pick up a tabloid magazine and read about all the rich and famous people. Hollywood movie stars, rock stars, professional athletes; they got a lot of money, big houses, Rolex watches, pretty girls, but all the stories you read about are alcoholism, drug addiction, alcoholism and infidelity. Guess they aren't as happy as they are supposed to be right?
Q: I've read in other interviews that they wanted you to live the gimmick, so to speak, so you got to ride in limos, private jets, all that good stuff. Did that create any animosity with the other boys in the back?
I even said that, jokingly, when I was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Vince McMahon and the group that was laying this out for me, telling me what this character was going to be like, part of this marketing campaign Ted is that we're going to give you the appearance of wealth. Every time the public sees you, they are going to see you in the first class seat, walking out of the airport getting into the limo, walking out of the limo checking into the Hyatt hotel or the coliseum. Everywhere you are seen in public, except on your own time, you will have the appearance of wealth. And they said everybody will hate me, and I said, yeah, especially the other guys.
But in reality, that wasn't as bad as I thought. Most of those guys looked at is as, if that had been me. He's was lucky he got the gimmick. And I never flaunted that in anybody's face. And there were two other guys who got that treatment, Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant.
Q: Obviously, you have incredible accolades in professional wrestling, you're a Hall of Famer and I've yet to meet someone who doesn't remember the Million Dollar Man, but you never won the WWF Championship. Does that bother you at all or is it more of an accomplishment to be as renowned as you are having not held that title?
It's kind of like this. There was another title that I missed that everyone said I was going to have, and that was the NWA World title. So there are two of them everybody though I'd have that I never had. So I've never actually, officially, a world heavyweight champion. Would it be nice to say at this point in time that I had been? Sure. But in reality, wrestling is sports entertainment, and so being the world champion, or having a championship belt, the belts are props really. And initially, at WrestleMania IV, which was my first WrestleMania, the original plan was to put the title on me and then I'd go around with Hogan. But there was some other things going on with some of the other guys and trying to make everybody happy, but anyway.
Here's what was presented to me. They asked me, Ted, what would get you more heat? In other words, you're a heel, a bad guy, and the object is to have as much heat as you possibly can. Are you going to have more heat if we screw whoever out of the belt and you become the champion, or would it put more heat on your if you don't win the belt in this tournament and you, because of your arrogance, say I don't need the WWF title, I'm going to create my own title, the Million Dollar Belt and I'm going to defend it every night, and I said, that's the ticket. And it was.
So now, I have this big belt made with big dollar signs on it that I carry everywhere and it was a ton of heat. And even today, when I do autograph signings, I've got to have - well, I don't have the belt. The actual belt, at the time it was made, they said was a $40,000 belt. All the stones were cubic zirconiums, and about 700 of them, so they said 40 grand. So they didn't let me keep the original belt. But they sell replicas of all the belts, so I've got a couple of those replicas and I carry them around with me because people love to take pictures with that belt.
Q: What happened to the original one?
They have it. As a matter of fact, I made an appearance for them in New York, a year or so ago now, and they said we just kind of refurbished the real belt. They redid the padding on the back of the belt and replaced a couple of stones and shined it up real good and it looked brand new. They've got it, probably in the safe there, and if they ever actually have a physical Hall of Fame, that's probably where you will see it.
Q: What are sort of the biggest differences you see between the business 20, 30 years ago versus where it is at today?
I still do signings from time to time, and run into fans everywhere I go, and what most of the fans say today, who were fans 20, 30 years ago, is that it's not enough wrestling and just too much drama. And I understand that and I have a tendency to agree with them, but I also understand the reasons for that. Back when I started wrestling in the mid-70s, and even before that, there were these regional territories all over the United States. ... You could wrestle [in what was then the WWWF territory] for two or three years, and you could get on a plane and fly to Florida and nobody ever heard of you, because it was all regional. So there was like 12, 13, 14 of these territories. ... So guys would go to these territories and guys would work the circuit. You'd work the same towns every week. It was like watching your favorite TV show. You know that whatever it was, Gunsmoke, came on Tuesday night at 7 o'clock. These towns, in Amarillo, Tex., wrestling was every Thursday night at 8:30.
So when you were going to these towns on a weekly basis, number 1, as a young guy breaking in, when I got in the ring every night in that first match or second match, that guy across from me was an eight- or 10-year veteran, and he could lead me. It's an acquired skill. You don't rehearse matches. You just don't. We call it doing the dance and you just learn how to do the dance and gauge the people. You listen to the crowd and you know when it's time to do something based on how the crowd is reacting. And if the crowd isn't reacting, you have to try something else. It's an acquired skill over a period of time. So when I went into the ring I never knew what I was going to do until I did it, except I knew exactly how it would to end, because that was the hook, that's how you get 'em back next week.
That's how everybody learned this business. So you'd have time, you'd have a couple of years - I'd been in the business a couple of years, I started in Louisiana, I left, I went to Amarillo, then I went to Kansas City, then I went back to Louisiana and I was much more polished, and I pretty much stayed in that area for the better part of first 12 years of my career. When I went to the WWF in 1987, I was polished.
Well, that's not available anymore. When the WWF got so big and Vince went nationwide and worldwide, none of those territories could compete with him. So they very slowly died and with that, the breeding ground died. So where do we get new talent now? So [WWE has] a wrestling school down in Tampa, and there are a lot of what they call independent promotions around the country and some of them are good and some of them are absolutely atrocious. And it's like, where before all of them were pretty good and they all had regional television deals and you have a place to fine tune your skills, it's not there anymore.
It's not the talent's fault. It's just it's not available. Now we have to try putting these guys in a school down in Tampa and you can teach guys how to take bumps and what we call chain wrestle - this move and that move and everything - but you can't teach somebody how to tell that story. They have to learn that in front of a live crowd. I can still remember asking guys questions when I was young, 'why did you do that at that point?' And they all said the same thing, 'Ted, I can't explain that to you. You will develop an ear for it.' And of course that sounded like Greek when they said it the first time. Now I totally understand it.
So that's gone, and with that gone, now you have a lot more drama. In other words, the matches aren't as good as they used to be because it's not about the match anymore, it's the story behind the match. And that's happened because of the lack of good talent.
This is just my opinion, but it's like, we've got to keep their interest, and if we don't have enough guys who can go out in that ring and put on that kind of performance, then we have to give it to them some other way. That's why I think there is so much drama and behind-the-scenes things, it's becoming more like a soap opera with a little wrestling in the middle.
Q: Who are some of the guys you see now in WWE, who are able to react to the crowd?
Some of the guys more recently that are top stars, you know, CM Punk, he's not a great wrestler, but he's a great character. It's like some guys aren't great wrestlers, but they have such great charisma it makes up for the lack of wrestling. Junkyard Dog was like that. JYD, I wrestled him a lot, and it was his personality. John Cena, he's another guy. When they first started giving John Cena the big push, I was kind of going, what? I don't see it. But John, over a period of time, has developed. He's got tremendous charisma. He's kind of an unorthodox wrestler, but he's got the charisma.
The guys nearing the end of their run, Shawn Michaels, he's recently retired, the Undertaker, he's going to be back for cameo appearances, but he's not going to be full-time anymore; Triple H, another one.
A lot of folks have said my son, Ted Jr., has that ability. He hasn't really been given that opportunity yet though. I don't know. Of course, I don't turn on the show every week like I used to. So I can't say too much for anybody else.
Q: Do you have one particular moment that kind of stands out as a favorite during your wrestling career?
It's really hard to pick one moment, because we wrestled so much. I'd guess the three that really were defining moments, the first major main event of my life, I wrestled Harley Race at the Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis to a capacity crowd, and he was the NWA World Champion. We wrestled almost an hour, right down to the wire, and he won the match. But that match was one of those matches that put me out there for everybody to say keep your eye on this kid, he's going places.
Then, when I became the Million Dollar Man, they had a show, it was the first time wrestling had been on network television since the 50s, and it was Saturday Night Main Event, and the match was actually Andre the Giant vs. Hulk Hogan, which was the first time they had been back in the ring together since WrestleMania III.
The storyline was I had boasted I'm so rich, I can buy everything, including the world title. So I've hired Andre the Giant, he's going to whip Hogan and he's going to sell me the belt. So in the middle of this match, the referee gets knocked down and his identical twin runs down and gets in the ring and the identical twin counts Hogan down and his shoulders are way up and it was just classic. And even though I wasn't in the match, the match was about my story. So that was the launch pad; that was the setup for WrestleMania IV.
So I cut this interview and I carried the belt around with me for like a week, and they finally make an announcement that the president of the WWF declared I can't have the belt, you can't buy it ... so we've got to do something, and we're going to hold a tournament at WrestleMania IV and declare a new champion.
Then WrestleMania IV was significant, it was my first WrestleMania, and I wrestled three matches, and the last one was with Randy Savage. So those would probably be the three earmarks for me.