WWE has a problem. It’s an old problem and a new problem. The problem is not that WrestleMania has too many matches with stars from its past; it’s that it is missing one more. WWE needs to bring back the Million Dollar Championship, and it needs to be a WrestleMania-exclusive match. In other words, the title match for the Million Dollar Championship will only be held once a year, and only on the Grandest Stage of Them All.
Over the years, WWE has depended more and more on using the stars from their past to drive interest in their biggest show. Sometimes this comes at the expense of the development of future stars. Instead of bemoaning this fact, I’ve come up with a way to use WWE’s penchant for nostalgia as a way to secure the company’s future fortune.
A Brief History of The Million Dollar Belt
The Million Dollar belt debuted on the WWF Superstars broadcast on March 4th, 1989 during a Brother Love Show segment. In a promo that built upon the genius program of “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase purchasing the WWF World Championship from Andre The Giant after Andre defeated Hulk Hogan under questionable circumstances, DiBiase laid out his reasoning for the Million Dollar belt’s creation.
“Buy the championship you can’t win” wasn’t a particularly new angle in pro wrestling (coughLarryZbyskocough) but it was certainly one of the most memorable, as it involved real-life twin referees. God, I love wrestling so much.
DiBiase does an incredible job here of burying the WWF World Championship belt during his promo, and it still gives me chills to hear the boos rain down from the rafters as DiBiase’s valet Virgil affixes a championship belt worth one million dollars of gold and “diamonds of the highest quality” around his boss’s waist while Bruce Prichard’s sweaty tomato face squeals the announcement of “The Million Dollar Champion.”
The belt has shown up on WWE television off and on since then, with its most recent appearance coming at the 2010 Hall of Fame induction for Ted DiBiase the night before WrestleMania before finally disappearing from television for good on the November 15th episode of Raw in an angle between Goldust and Ted DiBiase Jr.
Pay attention to these names, because some of them will show up again.
Who Belongs In The Inaugural Match
So, we all know what happened to Tye Dillinger at the Royal Rumble this year. Beaten up backstage by Fight Forever Friends Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, Tye had his Number 10 slot in the Rumble stolen.
For the sake of argument, instead of having Dillinger be fed to the Lone Wolf the following Tuesday on Smackdown after the Royal Rumble, we open up the Blue Show with Tye in the ring. His head is down, lips drawn tight and his arm in a sling. He waits for the “10” chants to fade away, and then this plays on the Jumbotron.
He says he still means every word of it, but after he was denied his opportunity at the Royal Rumble, he doesn’t know what his future in the company is anymore. He doesn’t know how many more chances WWE is going to give him. That might have been his last and best window for him to live his dream and challenge for the WWE Championship at the Showcase of The Immortals.
The next week on Raw, everything appears to be business as usual. Then right as we come back from commercial heading into the second hour, we get this vignette.
When it ends, in the center of the ring we have Goldust in jeans, a 23 Karat hoodie and full make-up. He talks soberly about how fortunate he’s been to be in the business as long as he has. How hard it is to try and live up to the Dream that others have seen and how he feels like he has vindicated himself. But no one can do this forever. Bodies break down. Friendships get tested. Hell, he doesn’t even get to see his brother as much as he would like. (Which is a damn shame because it seems like that guy needs to have some sense slapped into him by his big brother.)
He thanks everyone in the WWE Universe for their support and while he is disappointed that he did not make a better showing of his No. 29 draw in the Royal Rumble, he hopes that he will still get one more chance, maybe the last chance, to have his WrestleMania moment.
The following night on Smackdown, Tye Dillinger loses to Baron Corbin in under three minutes.
How Do We Get There From Here?
The following week on Raw, you have the return of The Million Dollar Man at the top of the show. He’s carrying the Million Dollar Championship, but he’s dressed casually in slacks, polo shirt and sensible blazer. This is the real Ted DiBiase; the family man and youth minister. He thanks everyone for their warm reception and asks them to turn their attention to the big screen where they see a mash-up of Goldust and Tye Dillinger’s incredible recent promos, as well as the early, egotistical, maniacal laughter days of The Million Dollar Man cut together by the best post production team in television. And then we see this pure gold.
DiBiase has been moved by the heartfelt words of these two fierce competitors and realized that his time in WWE isn’t done yet. He still has one more thing left to give, and that is to give back to the business that has given so much to him and his family.
He’s here to announce the inaugural Million Dollar Tournament consisting of Raw and Smackdown Superstars, with the winners from the respective brands squaring off at WrestleMania in a ladder match for a chance at the Million Dollar Championship and a choice to make with the one million dollar prize: keep it for themselves or truly do some good in the world.
Over the next 10 weeks on Raw and Smackdown, you run the open tournament not only with the Tye Dillingers, Heath Slaters and the Curtis Axels of the world but also the Goldust, R-Truths and Rhynos as well. Have Ted DiBiase Jr. return to prove something to his father. Have a recent callup from NXT the Raw after the Royal Rumble enter the tournament because he wants to reach for “the brass ring.” Have a whole slew of WWE old favorites come out of the woodwork for a chance at a one million dollar payday.
Throw in prizefighter Kevin Owens or a returning Samoa Joe to give it some legitimacy and have one of the young faces get a flash pin on them with a roll-up just to watch them celebrate like they won the Super Bowl. Bring in Drew McIntyre when he returns from injury and just have him skip NXT. Hell, if you want me to give a sh*t about Jason Jordan AT ALL, do it this way.
10 weeks of five-minute matches, backstage interviews and video packages for the lower mid-card using your established beloved veterans to put over your shiny new guys without having to dilute your upper mid-card, tag division or main events.
The Showcase of The Immortals
You’ve spent the last 10 weeks watching Goldust and Tye Dillinger work their way through multiple competitors and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat just to make it to the grandest stage of them all. If the blow off match is 1/10th as good as that story above, WWE will have one more of the “WrestleMania Moments (™)” that they desperately crave AND a potential new star to secure the future of the business.
On the one hand, you’ve got a proven veteran hand who is about to retire and become a trainer at the Performance Center. On the other hand, you’ve got a young guy you need to see if he’s ever going to draw you money for the next 5-10 years in the main event.
If WWE isn’t going to let someone like CM Punk get the rub by ending The Undertaker’s streak, then do it here where the backstage stakes are lower but the kayfabe stakes have never been higher. Give your audience a reason to tune into your live television show every week AND a reason to buy your OTT Network so they can binge-watch the story right before WrestleMania.
It’s what best for business.
This is where the real work begins. The next night on Raw you begin a year long program that the “great humanitarian” Ted DiBiase would be sure to get behind.
The video package of Tye Dillinger defeating Goldust and climbing the ladder to retrieve the Million Dollar belt leads off the show. The last images we see are the two of them embracing in the ring, Goldust raising Tye Dillinger’s hand and then Dustin Rhodes getting a victory lap at WrestleMania for what is now his official retirement match. No dry eyes in the house for the second time in 24 hours.
Now, it’s temptation or redemption for your new, hot young star.
You can make him a massive babyface and send him on a ton of Make a Wish/Be A Star appearances and make a half dozen WWE 365 episodes. Do a WWE Network documentary about the 100 charities that got a $10,000 check from your new white hot, white meat superstar. Make this guy Oprah in spandex and give him his own Network show where he interviews wrestling legends because he has such a great respect and understanding for what they do.
Make him a cautionary tale by showing how quickly he could lose that money. Have him invited to celebrate his win with Vince McMahon or Ric Flair in Vegas and try to keep up the way Millionaire Antoine Walker tried to play blackjack with Billionaire Michael Jordan. Have him buy his mother a house only to go underwater on the mortgage when the town she lives in loses their auto factory. Have him be penniless after paying for his best friend’s hospital bills for six months.
You can slowly turn him heel from what happens when you give a young guy too much money too fast too soon. Have him slowly become resentful of all these new demands on his time from these charities and WWE. Have him become resentful of his friends who he thinks are just looking for handouts now. Have him start listening to all the wrong folks on the roster. His temper runs shorter. His list of allies becomes shorter still. His memory becomes the shortest of all as he forgets what got him here.
Turn him into the next Conor McGregor. Make him become too addicted to the nice clothes, fast cars and beautiful women. And the next year when you run the 2nd Annual Million Dollar Tournament that they have to re-enter, turn him into the wrestling version of Gollum who doesn’t see any need to ever give back his Precious.
Then tell the next story for the current veteran hands/part-timers you want to bring in and the new guys you want to give a shot. Have Johnny Gargano and Daniel Bryan on a collision course for destiny at the Show of Shows. Or have Alberto Del Rio return so he and Cien Almas can lie, cheat and steal to their aristocratic hearts content all the way to April. Worst Case Scenario, you let Aleister Black and WWE Creative Favorite Kane have something to do that isn’t thrown together in two weeks for Wrestle Goddamn Mania.
The reverse twist of having Kane want the million dollars for his mayoral re-election campaign while Black wants to make a point and put up a statue of Satan next to the proposed Ten Commandments in the Knox County Public Library would at least send us toward Dilapidated Boat Territory.
If you wanted to kill two birds with one stone here, I laid out a pretty easy history of the belt’s ties to a certain Bullet Club leader that you could bring back for this but it would probably cost over a million dollars in real-life money to do it.
The difference here is that it is one thing to bring back Goldberg for one last run, because, sure, put him with Lesnar versus Rusev but it is quite another thing to have The Rock return just to bury The Wyatts. Or have DX pity-smirk the finally reunited Balor Club and humiliate The Revival who literally just got healthy enough to wrestle again after a year.
But if WWE continues to insist on bringing back part-timers, Attitude/Ruthless Aggression Era favorites and Hall of Famers for The Super Bowl of Sports Entertainment, then put them to work the way the wrestling gods intended and get the young guys over. Because honestly, I would rather watch Shane Helms wrestle Neville or Hot Young Briley match Jericho move for move for a chance at a million dollars than watch the Undertaker wrestle John Cena for nothing at all.
When you bring back a guy from 20 years ago, have him bring back the Million Dollar belt with him. Then maybe don’t wait 30 years to do the Women’s version.