DiBiase: Everybody Has A Price
Who is the man who can buy anything he wants? Who is the man who can buy anyone he wants? Who is the man synonymous with the dirty evil side of 1980s capitalism? If you so much as knew what the World Wrestling Federation was between the late 80s and early 90s, the answer is simple: The Million Dollar Man.
A second generation performer, Ted Dibiase’s mother and stepfather were both wrestlers during television’s Golden Era. When Iron Mike Dibiase died of a heart attack in the ring, it was Ted who would carry on the Dibiase name, and with the dawn of cable television, far surpass the popularity and success of either of his parents. Before joining Vince McMahon’s expanding WWF, Dibiase was already a regional star in Bill Watts’ MidSouth territory. Between stints working in Japan, Dibiase was able to play both the territory’s biggest hero or its most hated villain, working with other future household names such as Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Magnum TA, and Dr. Death Steve Williams. By 1987, with McMahon purchasing top regional acts for his now national WWF, Dibiase and Duggan would both seek greater opportunities in the World Wrestling Federation.
While Duggan’s initial run was railroaded by a drug arrest, Dibiase’s past in MidSouth was completely forgotten in favor of a new and unique character which fit the culture of the time perfectly. Gone was the second generation wrestler Ted Dibiase; born was the Million Dollar Man. Introduced to the WWF audience in a series of vignettes, Diabiase flaunted his seemingly infinite wealth, humiliating and demeaning all others. He would climb into the ring and offer a member of the crowd a sum of money in exchange for an embarrassing act, such as barking like a dog or kissing his boots. And all too often, after robbing this mark of their dignity, he would refuse to pay out. It was perfectly contrast to the milk and white bread heroes of the day. You couldn’t wait to see this jerk get his, and you were willing to pay to see it! The WWF audience loved to hate the Million Dollar Man so much, Vince McMahon decided to build what was at the time their biggest story ever around Ted Dibiase.
In early 1988, unable to win the WWF Championship held by 80s icon Hulk Hogan, Dibiase would attempt to buy the title instead. Hogan, the consummate hero, of course refused, leading to Dibiase hiring Hogan’s former best friend and current nemesis, Andre The Giant, to win it for him. In primetime, with the help of twin referees and an all out conspiracy against Hogan, Andre defeated Hogan and immediately surrendered the belt to the Million Dollar Man. But wait! WWF President Jack Tunney would have none of that, vacated the title, and announced a tournament to decide the undisputed WWF Champion at Wrestlemania IV at Trump Plaza. If wrestling lore is to be believed, Ted Dibiase was fittingly set to leave the house that Donald Trump built at the new champion. Though, fate intervened…or more specifically, The Honky Tonk Man. Honky had held the secondary Intercontinental Title for close to a year heading into the Spring of 1988, and was scheduled to lose his championship to Macho Man Randy Savage. When Honky refused to lose, it left the WWF in something of a bind. So, Honky Tonk Man remained IC champion, leaving Randy Savage to defeat Dibiase in the finals of the WWF Title tournament, and forcing the WWF to create Dibiase’s own personal Million Dollar Belt.