Ted Dibiase Sr. Talks Signing With WWF, Why His WWF Title Reign Was Nixed, Savage, Mid South

I recently spoke with WWE Hall of Famer "The Million Dollar Man" Ted Dibiase. In the first part of the interview below, Dibiase discussed his early career, signing with the WWF, his nixed World title reign, working with Randy Savage and much more.

Make sure to check back tomorrow for the second part of our interview, where Dibiase discussed working with Andre The Giant, why he left WWF, returning as a manager, why he signed with WCW and much more.

You can follow him on Twitter @MDMTedDiBiase, visit the website for his Ministry at HeartOfDavidMinistry.com, as well as his official site at MillionDollarMan.com.

WrestlingINC: I wanted to talk a little bit about your start in the business and your time in Mid South. What memories stick out from that area, being in the NWA Mid South in the late 70s ad early 80s?

Ted Dibiase: Mid South was just a huge part of my career. I started there in 1975 when I got out of college. I had a very good relationship with a guy named Dick Murdoch. Dick Murdoch had come out of West Texas, his father Frankie Hill Murdoch was a wrestler. I had known the Funks all my life, that's how far back it goes. When I got out of college, it was my junior year, I actually had a year left, and Murdoch suggested to me that I go to Mid South. He was going down there and he said I'll talk to Bill Watts, maybe come down here and get your feet wet and find out if you really want to do this. I thought that was a great idea, so I went to Mid South in June of 1975 and at the end of that summer, realistically I should have gone back to school. Everybody tried to tell me to go back. 'You only got a year left, finish school, finish school.' But I had done so well and I had saw the handwriting on the wall as far as I was concerned.

Now today, I kick myself in the rear end for not completing college. But as I look back from where I am today, I realize that I, without even knowing it, had been positioned in one of the greatest territories in wrestling. And one of the greatest minds in wrestling, Bill Watts. So I didn't go back to college and I ended up a full year there. I left near the end of 1976, made my first trip to Japan. I wrestled in and around Amarillo for a while. I actually went up to Kansas City and then back down to Amarillo. And then I went to New York for the first time in 1979. And when I left New York, I went back to Mid South. I really spent the better part of the first 12 years of my career wrestling for Mid South. Fond memories, but a grueling territory.

Mid South covered four states: Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and then even reached over into Houston Texas. So, we put on a lot of miles down there.

WrestlingINC: You wrestled Danny Hodge in your very first match, right?

Dibiase: Yeah, the first television match that I'm going to have, I got put out there with Danny Hodge and I was scared to death. Here I am, a young guy, wet behind the ears. Of course Danny had a reputation. Everybody knew that he was an unbelievable amateur wrestler. He was famous for being able to put the squeeze on you like a pair of pliers and that was legitimate. That wasn't worked at all. He was just easy as can be. He took real good care of me.

WrestlingINC: What were your thoughts when Mid South finally folded?

Dibiase: When Mid South came to an end I had enough respect for Bill Watts, I was actually in Japan. I had made an annual trip to Japan ever since that first trip in 1976, I'd go once a year. Shortly before Mid South sold, Stan Hansen and Bruiser Brody were tag team partners, two of the biggest names in wrestling in Japan, foreign wrestlers anyway. Brody had left All Japan and leapt over to the new company, New Japan. So Stan Hansen, and again, Stan Hansen and I had a relationship going all the way back to West Texas State. As I was coming in, he was leaving there. I still remember the first match he had in the Admiral Sports Arena. So there was a lot of wrestlers that came out of West Texas State. But Stan came to me, anyway, and he said, 'Ted, Brody's jumped over to New Japan and he said I need a new partner. Would you like to fill that spot?' And I said, 'absolutely.' I jumped on that because I realized how over Stan was and this was really elevating me.

Reality is, I could have made Japan a career. I could have just gone to Japan and I'd have been great. Anyway, I left Mid South and I went on a tour. This is like right before Bill sold out to Crockett. Nobody knew anything. Bruce Prichard and I had been friends. Bruce told me, right as I was getting ready to go to Japan, that he was flying to New York to interview for a job. He was sitting down to talk to Vince [McMahon] and Pat [Patterson], I said, 'please give them my best and throw it out there. Ask them if they're interested in me coming in.' So I get a call from Bruce while I'm in Japan and it was a two fold call. He called me to let me know that Bill had sold Mid South to Jimmy Crockett and that Vince was definitely interested in talking to me and that no matter what I did, in no way, shape or form do I sign a contract with Jimmy Crockett before I have a chance to talk to Vince.

So when I knew that Bill was getting out, that said everything to me because I know how smart Bill Watts is. Bill's brilliant. The guy's a good, smart, crude businessman. In terms of psychology of our business, he's one of the best and he learned from one of the best down in Florida. I knew if Bill was getting out, the handwriting was on the wall. Bill went from Mid South. It was too little too late, but he tried to start the Universal Wrestling Federation, UWF, in an effort to try to compete with Vince, but Vince already has his network in place. And he had more money. So Bill sold out and got out when the getting was good. I understood that and had it not been for Japan, I might have been hitting the panic button just a little bit because to me, Mid South was one of the best territories in the country. Florida was good. Mid Atlantic was good. But I liked the way Bill did business.

Because I had Japan and was secure in that, I wasn't so worried. And I was also very curious as to what Vince had in mind. Of course the rest of that is history. I came back from Japan and I got the call from Vince. He said, 'I got an idea that I think is tailor made for you.' So I flew up to New York and met with Vince and basically that first meeting, he told me it was something that had never been done. That's saying a lot because a lot of things in wrestling had been done and redone and just repackaged. He wasn't going to tell me what it was until I agreed to come on board because he didn't want to give away the idea. After discussing it with my wife and Terry Funk, who's always been a mentor of mine... basically Terry says if Vince has something he says is tailor made for you and it's his personal idea, he said the same thing Pat Patterson told me, he said how hard do you think he's going to get it to work? Like, get it over. So, I called Vince back and said I'm your guy.

So, I flew up and he laid it out there and described the character, the Million Dollar Man, and what it would entail and one of the marketing schemes was to basically make the public believe I was rich by flying me everywhere first class and giving me the limousine service and the whole nine yards. You talk about your ship coming in, it was credible. So, fond memories.

WrestlingINC: Were you at all concerned when you signed? Just because at that time most of the guys getting pushed were these jacked up monsters. Were you worried that the push wouldn't come through or anything like that?

Dibiase: No, not really because wrestling is a business where you got to have variety. Yeah, I knew that New York was a big man's territory. They liked the big, chiseled guys. And quite frankly, that's why I didn't last long when I was there in '79. I looked like an athlete. The attitude back then was a little different. A lot of guys would tell me, you need to stay in shape enough that you look like an athlete. If you look at a lot of amateur wrestlers, they're not all chiseled, but they're athletes. I wasn't that concerned because I realized that it was Vince's idea and he wasn't just going to give it to anybody. They had enough confidence in me and my wrestling ability and my ability to be that character. And of course, he did say to me though, one of the things he told me was you know how I am. I want you to be more visible in the gym and beef it up a little bit. I said I can do that. And I did. I probably was, in those years as the Million Dollar Man, I probably got in the best shape of my life.

WrestlingINC: Did you know that they were going to pair you with Andre the Giant pretty early on?

Dibiase: No, not really. I knew that they were going to get me the valet, Virgil, this guy that was around that would appear to be my man servant, but he would eventually turn on me and get tired of my stuff. But I didn't really know until they did the Saturday Night Main Event, the first time that wrestling was on national, live network television since the '50s. It was Andre in his first rematch with [Hulk] Hogan since Wrestlemania 3 in a record setting crowd. The story, as much as it was Andre and Hogan, was me because I had hired Andre's services and storyline was going to beat Hogan and sell me the belt. People ask me about my mile markers, that was one of the mile markers of my career because that night really set in motion, more than anything I had done up to that time, I had done all the introductory vignettes and things like that, but that night with that match and the twin referees and that whole thing, the way it went down, was brilliant. That really put me on the map and that was the set up for Wrestlemania 4. I did know that going into Wrestlemania 4 and coming out of that that I'd be spending a lot of time with Andre. It was great.

WrestlingINC: You mentioned that episode of The Main Event where you basically walked out with the WWE Championship. You were actually recognized as WWF Champion at a couple of house shows, and even defended the title, right?

Dibiase: Right. I don't know whether it was a week or two where I would go to a few house shows and they introduced me as the World Wrestling Federation Heavyweight Champion. Of course, that was to continue to let people's anger stew, so to speak. How could this jerk do this? Then of course they come out with the statement from [storyline WWF President] Jack Tunney, the supposed boss, saying there was no way I could buy the title. They were stripping me of the title and since technically speaking, Andre had won, whether it was fair or not, that was the decision made that night. And since Andre was unwilling to take the belt back because I had paid him, what are they going to do? Well, the only thing they could do was hold a tournament to crown a new champion. So there was the setup.

WrestlingINC: And you were originally penciled in to win the WWF Championship at the tournament. Did they notify you about that or did you find out about it later?

Dibiase: We talked about it. Originally the thought was that I'd buy my way into it, somehow win the tournament and then if I'd done that, like any other heel I'd have had my run with Hogan and then that would have been it. And then I'd step down a couple notches on the food chain and wait 'til the next thing to come along. I believe it was a conversation I had with again, Pat Patterson, and he said to me, he said let me ask you a question. What would put greater heat on you? If we go and at Wrestlemania have the tournament and in any underhanded way you win the title. It's kind of like, that's been done. He said or, you don't win the title and as a result of not winning the title and getting your way, you create your own title. Basically you just turn your nose at the World Championship and say you know what, I don't need that belt. I'm creating my own championship belt. Here it is and parade around with this thing. It's like you have your own championship match every night. You're declaring yourself the Million Dollar Champion and I said that's the ticket. That will just make people boil. And so that's what we did.

I've been asked many times, do you regret never having been the world champion, you know? I kind of laugh. I say well, you know, this business is a work. It's like, none of those guys are ever really the world wrestling champion. The titles are props in this business. That's what it is and yeah, it would have been nice to have held the belt and obviously if you're somebody is good enough to be in that position then obviously it's recognized. Yeah, that would have been great, but in the long run, what did Ted DiBiase more good? It was the creation of the own belt, the Million Dollar belt. So yeah, I would have like to been champion, but do I lose sleep over it at night? No, not at all.

WrestlingINC: I spoke to Honky Tonk Man recently and he was saying that him not dropping the Intercontinental Title to Randy Savage also played a factor in that because…

Dibiase: That's true. He didn't want to drop the Intercontinental Title to Savage. It's kind of like, I guess they wanted everybody to be happy. If Honky Tonk Man wasn't going to drop the Intercontinental belt to Savage, what can we do? I really think that what they did was the best thing they could have possibly done for business because it was unique. It was different. It took Randy and overnight made him, he went from this heel who abused his wife to a baby face. Everybody was covered.

WrestlingINC: So, there wasn't any animosity there between you or Honky Tonk Man over it?

Dibiase: God, no. That's the thing is, people have said this about me, that I could have been even higher up the food chain if instead of always wanting to do what was best for me, I always wanted to do what was best for business, if that makes sense.

WrestlingINC: You guys definitely did. You and Randy had that feud that summer. I think that was the first big feud that was selling out house shows that didn't involve Hulk Hogan since Hogan won the WWF Championship.

Dibiase: That's correct.

WrestlingINC: What was it like working with Randy during that period?

Dibiase: It was great. Randy and I had, we had great matches and I think one of the best cage matches I ever had was the cage match with him at Madison Square Garden. It was the one. People got so excited that actually one of the times Virgil tried to climb up on the outside of the cage. A fan jumped the barricade and tried to climb up the cage too to try and get him down. It was pretty hot. And Randy was a pleasure to work with.

Make sure to check back tomorrow for the second part of our interview, where Dibiase discussed working with Andre The Giant, why he left WWF, returning as a manager, why he signed with WCW and much more.

You can follow him on Twitter @MDMTedDiBiase, visit the website for his Ministry at HeartOfDavidMinistry.com, as well as his official site at MillionDollarMan.com.


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