‘Million Dollar Man’ TED DIBIASE: The Art of Being a Heel

When you think of the make-up of a perfect heel, it’s hard not to think of one man who was a mainstay on World Wrestling Federation television throughout the late 80s to mid-90s. Theodore Marvin DiBiase Sr., better known to fans as the “Million Dollar Man,” wore a gold-studded, dollar-sign-covered suit and, in time, a custom-made, diamond-encrusted and self-awarded “Million Dollar Championship” belt.

Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase showing off his Million Dollar Championship belt [Photo courtesy of WWE.com]
Ted DiBiase showing off his Million Dollar Championship belt [Photo courtesy of WWE.com]
He would often throw money around in and out of the ring – buying drinks for entire bars, overtipping, and purchasing small items with $100 bills – in a bid to make the character seem more real. DiBiase would also invite fans (including a young Rob Van Dam and a then-unknown Linda McMahon) into the ring to perform humiliating acts, such as kissing his feet, to win some money. In one memorable skit, he invited a young boy onto a stage and told him if he bounced a ball 15 times in succession, he would pay him $500. After the 14th bounce, DiBiase kicked the ball away, sending the boy home without pay. Though in “good guy” fashion, according to DiBiase’s autobiography, everybody who wasn’t paid on-camera was paid off-camera. He was the epitome of what Vince McMahon wanted to be had he been a wrestler.

So were the wads of cash his character flashed around his own money? In an interview conducted by John Powel of SLAM! Sports, the Million Dollar Man explained:

“That was [the WWF’s] money! I told Vince that I couldn’t possibly keep track of all this money. And he would always tell me: ‘Where the opportunity presents itself to get the gimmick, overdo it.’ In other words, if I walk into a bar and the situation’s right, I buy a round for the house.

I’ve literally gone in and just picked up a pack of gum and thrown a C-Note down or gone to a quarter toll booth and given them a hundred dollar bill. The guy goes, ‘Is that all you got, pal?’

I go, ‘Yeah. That’s all I carry – I’m the Million Dollar Man!’ (laughs ) They’d mumble under their breath and then make the change.

I’d pick up people’s hotel bills and expenses just off the cuff—many, many things just like that.

At the same time, I’ll say this; I appreciated the fact that Vince would have faith in me to do that and realized that I would not abuse the privilege. And I never did.”

Arrogant, Cowardly, and Playing the Role of Heel to a T

It took dedication on the part of Ted DiBiase to master the art of being a bad guy. In an interview with WNS Podcast, DiBiase described:

Ted DiBiase and Sherri Martel in Dublin, Ireland
Ted and Sherri Martel in Dublin, Ireland

“There’s two different types of heels.

There’s the ‘tough-guy’ bad guy…and the tough-guy heel will always eventually become a good guy because people love tough guys.

But if you’re [like me] a…what I call a…(laughs) well, there’s no other word for it, a ‘chickenshit’ heel…

In other words, when I go out there I show the people that I can wrestle, I show them that I can go, I show them I’ve got the skill, and yet, I take the shortcuts.

And not only do I take the shortcuts – I’m a coward.

I talk real big, and then when somebody gets in my face, I kind of back off and send [bodyguard] Virgil in to do the work for me.

That’s the best kind of heel. Because people never, ever get tired of seeing somebody kick that guys butt.

A tough guy heel, eventually the fans get behind him.

The fans never got behind me – they always hated me. And I was very proud of that.”

DiBiase continued, “It’s all about entertaining the people. It’s good to know when you make that connection.

Being a heel is more fun because you’re not really being yourself – well, most guys aren’t anyway (laughs) – you’re going out of your way to make the people hate your guts.

It’s funny though, at the arena they yell and scream at you, even throw things at you, and then, 15 minutes later when the show’s over, you get back to the hotel lobby or like back in the old days we’d stop down the road to, you know, get a sandwich or something, and the same kid that was screaming profanities at you walks up to you with a pen and a piece of paper and says, ‘Can I have your autograph?’” (laughs)

Why The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase Was Never a Champion in the WWF

Despite having an in-ring career spanning almost fifteen years, with various championships outside of the WWF and many notable feuds with main-eventers such as Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, and Jake’ The Snake’ Roberts, the Million Dollar Man never held a world title in the company.

While there was discussion about him winning the title at WrestleMania IV, those plans were ultimately scrapped. Was the Honky Tonk Man to blame? Here, Dibiase and Honky Tonk Man give their versions of the story:

Million Dollar Man in his gold and black tux holding cash and The Honky Tonk Man in his blue and gold Elvis inspired costume holding a guitar
[Photo courtesy of WWE.com]

“There was a lot of talk that at WrestleMania IV, the tournament – that I would win it. That was the initial plan. I would win it and have my run with Hogan…”


“[Ricky] Steamboat was leaving.

He was the one that got the [Intercontinental] belt from Savage and up and quit the company, saying, ‘I want to go home and spend time with my wife and children.’

Of course, if you have a championship belt, you don’t go home and spend time with your wife and children. You have to be on the road, and [Vince] said, ‘This guy wants to go and do this, and I got to have the belt in a town.’

I just happened to walk by [in the hallway], and Hogan said to Vince, ‘What about him?’

Vince pulled me aside and told me what he wanted to do.

I said, ‘Listen, if you give me that belt, I don’t want a day off.’

And I ran with that belt for 64 weeks…”


“You gotta satisfy a lot of people, and someone said Honky Tonk Man didn’t want to drop the Intercontinental belt to Randy Savage. And they wanted to make Randy happy too, so somebody came up with that idea to turn Randy babyface…”


“[Refusing to drop the title to Savage] wasn’t the fact of losing the belt [itself]…I had a deal with WWE and Vince – a handshake deal. There were no contracts back then. ‘I’ll do anything you want if you give me an opportunity. If I do good, pay me. If I don’t do good, I’ll pack my bags and move down the highway.’

All I said was, ‘Treat me good on TV. Take care of me on television.’

Back in the old days, us old guys always believed that if they destroy you on television, you’re pretty much destroyed.

It did Savage’s career better than mine because he became World Champion as opposed to being the Intercontinental champion again.

For that reason, Ted DiBiase – who still has a little animosity towards me – though not a lot – Ted never got to be world champion…”


“Wrestling is a business, and of course, I guess if you’re given the title, you’re getting marked as the best…but that’s not necessarily always true.

A belt is a gimmick in our business. It’s a status symbol.

So the question was posed to me: ‘What would get you more heat, Ted, If you didn’t win the belt? Or if in your arrogance you thumbed your nose at it and created your OWN belt…’

And I said, ‘That’s the ticket.’

And it was.

Today, you talk about a conversation piece. Everybody wants to take a picture with the Million Dollar Belt and me.

The Million Dollar Belt made me more money than the WWF Title ever would have…”


“I don’t see why he was mad…the Million Dollar Man got the same perks as the world champ anyway!”

After a few runs with the WWF Tag Team Championship with Irwin R. Schyster, DiBiase’s in-ring career ended in 1993. However, his’ Million Dollar’ persona lived on for some years as a manager and mouthpiece for the likes of Bam Bam Bigelow, Sycho Sid, and of course, ‘The Ringmaster’ Steve Austin. He would later jump ship to WCW and temporarily join the nWo as “Trillionaire Ted”, a play on “Billionaire Ted”, the WWF-given nickname of Ted Turner. After stepping away from the ring completely, DiBiase was on the WWE creative team for a year and a half, and in stark contrast to his on-screen (and sometimes off-screen) persona, he is now a Christian minister.

As for “Million Dollar Man” character, it is no secret where the inspiration behind the character came from. On the recommended Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard podcast, Prichard told the story of the time he was sitting in the first-class cabin with Vince McMahon on a flight, back when smoking was permitted on planes:

“We were flying along, and the guy sitting back in 2B takes a cigarette out [and] lights the cigarette. And then, he starts to smoke his cigarette. Vince turns around, and he goes, ‘Hey pal, I’ll give you $100 if you put that cigarette out.’

The guys said, ‘No, man, I’m good. I want to have my cigarette. I’m in the smoking section. I want to have my cigarette.’

‘I’ll give you $200, pal. Put the cigarette out.’

The guy keeps smoking. He goes, ‘Look, I want to have my cigarette, okay? I’m fine. I paid for this seat.’

[McMahon] goes, ‘I’ll give you $500, pal. Put the cigarette out, alright?’

The guy says, ‘Hey man, I paid for my seat. I just want to smoke my cigarette.’

[McMahon] goes, ‘I’ll pay for your seat, and I’ll still give you another $500. Just put the cigarette out.’

The guy finally puts his cigarette out, and Vince is peeling off hundreds to give this guy money to put his cigarette out. And I just looked down, I go, ‘Fuck, man, you are The Million Dollar Man!’ And that’s when it all clicked [for] me because it was, ‘Everybody’s got a price, pal. Goddamn, it doesn’t matter. Everything’s for sale. Everybody’s got a price for The Million Dollar Man. Do you understand now?’ And it clicked. But that was Vince in real life. That was real life shit that actually fucking happened.”

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JP Zarka
JP Zarka is a teacher, singer/songwriter, producer, executive producer of The Pro Wrestling Stories Podcast, former co-host of The Genius Cast with Lanny Poffo podcast, and editor-in-chief of ProWrestlingStories.com. Originally from Chicago, he has called London home since 2008. He can be reached on Twitter @pws_official.