Ted DiBiase – The Case of an Unrecognized WWF Champion

They say money can’t buy you happiness. In 1988, “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase found that out the hard way! Here is the story of how he dethroned Hulk Hogan to (sort of) become WWF Champion!

"The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase – WWE's unrecognized champion.
“The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase – WWE’s unrecognized champion.

“The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase – WWE’s Unrecognized Champion

In the Golden Era of 1980s WWF, mega heel “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase flaunted his money, proving to the world that everyone had a price.

With his millions, he would pay anyone to do anything for him. He came straight from the mind of Chairmen of the Board Vince McMahon, who once admitted that DiBiase’s persona was the wrestler embodiment of him!

Following 1987’s immortal clash between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant at WrestleMania III, where Hogan pinned Andre’s shoulders to the mat for a memorable 1-2-3, Andre and his manager Bobby “The Brain” Heenan were out for payback.

This retribution, of course, would involve Ted DiBiase. Soon, he would become the most despised man in the company!

The Million Dollar Man had accomplished everything but one thing: becoming the WWF World Heavyweight Champion. His time had come.

On an episode of Superstars of Wrestling in late 1987, DiBiase announced his intentions to buy the WWF World Heavyweight Championship from the current titleholder, Hulk Hogan.

Of course, Hogan refused, contending that if DiBiase wanted to become champion, he would have to beat him fair and square.

Like the respectable man DiBiase was, he asked another superstar if they would like to fight for him!

With money not an issue, The Million Dollar Man bought the biggest superstar of them all, the “8th Wonder of the World,” Andre the Giant, who he purchased from Bobby Heenan in January 1988.

The odds were beginning to be stacked against Hogan.

Ted DiBiase “Becomes” WWF Champion

On February 5th, 1988, on WWF The Main Event in Indianapolis, Indiana, Hulk Hogan defended the WWF Championship against Andre the Giant.

With 33 million viewers and a 15.2 rating, the WMIII rematch, airing on NBC, became the most-watched wrestling show in the history of American television.

Andre stood stoically as "Real American" played throughout the arena. He knew that Hulkamania was about to fall in Indianapolis with the deceptive DiBiase in his corner.

As the two behemoths stood glaring into each other’s eyes, the electricity in the arena was palpable.

At the end of their encounter, Andre hit Hogan with two headbutts before delivering a suplex.

Andre went for the pin while referee Dave Hebner, or so we thought, counted to three despite Hogan’s shoulder going up at two.

Andre The Giant was the new WWF Champion!

The arena fell silent and confused, as did Hogan.

Andre the Giant wins the WWF Championship on a special edition of Friday Night's Main Event, on February 5th, 1988.
Andre the Giant wins the WWF Championship on a special edition of Friday Night’s Main Event on February 5th, 1988. [Photo: WWE]

How Did It Happen?

After the match, another referee came storming down to the ring from the back. It was Dave Hebner, twin brother of Earl, who had just officiated the match.

To the surprise of everyone, both Hebners appeared side by side, arguing over what had just transpired.

It soon became clear: DiBiase abducted Dave Hebner and paid off his brother Earl to do the job for him.

Andre soon was seen gifting the WWE Championship to DiBiase, announcing him as "the new WWF World Tag Team Champions."

He meant World Champion, but it’s Andre, so we’ll let him off.

“The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase was now, “supposedly,” the WWF World Heavyweight Champion!

YouTube video

The Case for Making Ted DiBiase’s WWF Championship Reign Official

Ted DiBiase worked three house shows as the WWF Champion in the winter of 1988 before his championship reign was stripped from the record books. One of his matches as champ was in a tag match with Andre the Giant against Hulk Hogan and Bam Bam Bigelow.

However, DiBiase would be stripped of the title by then WWF President Jack Tunney at the Boston Garden on February 6th, 1988.

DiBiase learned the hard way that money couldn’t always buy him happiness!

With the WWF World Heavyweight Championship being vacated, it led to the tournament to crown a new champion at WrestleMania IV, resulting in “Macho Man” Randy Savage winning the WWF Championship for the very first time.

“It was discussed that I would somehow underhandedly end up in the last match [at WrestleMania IV] with Hogan and screw him to win the title,” DiBiase explained in an interview with Bill Apter.

“I think people expected that. After beating Andre, Hogan was the man and the champ WWE primarily wanted because they were catering to the kids at this point. After all, it’s family entertainment. You want your champion to be the good guy as much as possible.

“But there was the thought of having me screw Hogan and then have a run with him.”

He continued, “Usually, a heel champion in the WWE, back then anyway, was somebody who was transitional. He either gets the belt, drops it to the new babyface champion, or drops it back to the guy he beat.

“It was Pat Patterson who approached me, and he said, ‘Ted, here’s what we’ve been thinking.’

“He ran all those things by me which I knew, which was the standard deal.”

But, as things often do in the world of sports entertainment, plans changed, and this remains one of wrestling’s greatest “what ifs.”

To this day, the WWE doesn’t recognize DiBiase’s reign as champion, despite Andre the Giant still being recognized as having “the shortest reign in WWE history.”

However, that hasn’t stopped The Million Dollar Man from trying to change this.

In 2021, Ted DiBiase started a petition on his website to make his WWF Championship title reign officially recognized by the company.

The petition states:

In February of 1988, Ted enlisted the services of the legendary Andre The Giant to assist with capturing the WWF Championship.

Andre was successful in pinning Hulk Hogan at the Market Square Arena in Indianapolis, IN.

WWE has decided not to recognize this title reign in the history books even though Ted defended the championship at a live show against Bam Bam Bigelow.

Support Ted by signing this petition asking WWE to #MAKEITOFFICIAL.

WWE has a habit of changing its history (I.E., removing wrestlers from its network or even their Hall of Fame). With that in mind, anything is possible!

Do you feel “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase deserves to be recognized as a former WWE Champion? Sound off on our FacebookTwitter, or Instagram accounts to let us know your thoughts!

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Conor McCorkindale is a contributor to Pro Wrestling Stories. He is a wrestler based out of the UK under the name Axel Strife, and a YouTuber on his channel linked above.