“The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, his gold-lapel suit, Million Dollar Belt and distinctive evil-as-hell laugh is probably on the Mount Rushmore of pro wrestling characters. Despised throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, DiBiase’s portrayal of the Million Dollar Man is now as beloved to wrestling fans and as indispensable to wrestling history as just about anything else, and has truly stood the test of time as a brilliant, can’t-miss concept.
In a new, wonderful in-depth profile from ESPN, DiBiase recalls how the character and gimmick was originally pitched to him by Vince McMahon. In short: it wasn’t.
“He said ‘I got something for you,'” DiBiase says. “There have been so many things that have been done, but this has never been done, and just based on what I have seen from you, and your work, you can pull this off — you are articulate. And I go, ‘Awesome, what is it?'” DiBiase says. “And he goes, ‘Here is the deal — you have got to sign a contract with me before I tell you.’ And [McMahon] said, ‘Here is why.’ He says, ‘If I tell you, and you don’t sign, I have given away a great idea, and I can’t afford to do that.’ I’m like, ‘Wow,’ and I said ‘Okay, I got to have a little time to think about this.'”
DiBiase flew home and discussed the opportunity with his wife Melanie, whom he had married in 1981, and his longtime friend and mentor Terry Funk. “Funk said, ‘Teddy, if Vince McMahon has an idea, and he thinks you are tailor-made for it,’ he said, ‘pack your bag and don’t look back. Go,'” DiBiase says.
“[Vince] said the one thing everybody hates is someone who by virtue of their wealth thinks they are better than everybody. You know, that cocky, arrogant, nose in the air, ‘I am better than you,’ looks down at people [kind of guy]. People like that are stuffy and think they can buy anybody and anything. I start chuckling and say, ‘I hate people like that myself,'” DiBiase says. “He said, ‘Now, we have not given this guy a name yet,’ and just off the cuff I said, ‘It sounds like a million-dollar man to me,’ and Vince goes ‘The Million Dollar Man he is.'”
Vince refusing to tell him the idea behind the gimmick is probably one of the smartest ideas in wrestling history, and “I won’t tell you what your character is until you sign a contract” probably needs to be used more. I bet that’s how Duke Droese was convinced to sign, also.
There’s a whole lot more over at ESPN, including a great video and how Vince McMahon was convinced that DiBiase should live the gimmick 24/7, so he provided him with “flash cash.” Head on over to ESPN and check it out. It’s definitely worth your time.