To most, Mickey Rourke’s portrayal of a washed-up, steroid-using former superstar in the 2008 film “The Wrestler” is far from everyday life. However, for wrestling legends like Ted Dibiase, a.k.a. “The Million Dollar Man,” similar tragic stories seemed to come with the territory for a laundry list of his fellow World Wrestling Entertainment stars in the 1980s and 1990s.
“When I watched that movie, I found it was a really well-told story of what can — and has — happened to a number of guys in our industry,” Dibiase said. “Guys who sell out to the roar of the crowd; that’s what they live for. They are going to take steroids, take pills — whatever they have to do to keep walking through that curtain. The crowd, that’s the drug. It gets that way for some guys.”
DiBiase, 56, shot to stardom in 1987 with his Million Dollar Man character. His feud involving Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan was a pivotal story that helped boost the business into mainstream culture during the ‘80s wrestling boom.
With success, DiBiase said, came a self-destructive lifestyle.
“Back then it was a rock-n-roll atmosphere,” he recalled of his start in the WWE. “We were on the road for weeks at a time: the next town, the next show, the next party. After a big show, the hotel lobby would be filled with fans and the bar would be full of girls.” This chaotic cycle nudged DiBiase to retire from the ring back in 1993, after it began to affect his marriage. He has since become a full-time minister.
DiBiase said the WWE environment has improved drastically over the years. “Today, the business has changed, it’s much more corporate,” he said. “When you go back to the hotel, there is nobody. I don’t know if it’s a well-kept secret, or what. The WWE has changed so much now. They work four days a week, then they go home to their families.” Today, his son Ted Dibiase Jr., 27, who is a part of a WWE tag team known as The Legacy, is following in his father’s footsteps. DiBiase Jr. debuted in the WWE in May 2008 and has since become a main player on “Raw,” a weekly WWE program. DiBiase Jr. also landed the lead role in the WWE film “The Marine 2,” which was released to DVD in December. His sons, Mike DiBiase and Brett DiBiase, are also up-and-coming wrestlers.
Ted DiBiase Jr., along with a long roster of other WWE superstars, is set to perform on Friday, Feb. 12, at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center in East Lansing. The event, “The Road to Wrestlemania Raw Tour,” will also include a championship match, featuring John Cena vs. Sheamus. “Originally, I didn’t want my sons in the business,” the senior Dibiase said. “Not because of the nature of wrestling itself, but in terms of how wrestling used to be in terms of culture. There used to be a high divorce rate and an unbelievable road schedule.
years I was in the WWE there were a number of guys who died from drug
and alcohol abuse. So for years I preached to my boys that I’d support
them in anything they’d want to do — but don’t even consider wrestling.”
So what has changed? Vince McMahon, owner of the WWE, has implemented strict random drug tests for all wrestlers.
that has built into the WWE is accountability. They have a three-strike
rule,” DiBiase said. “The first time you test positive for anything
it’s a 30-day suspension without pay. The second time it’s a 60-day
suspension, (and) the third time you’re fired. Nobody is above the law, nobody.”
Ted DiBiase Jr. said his father eventually came around.
father was pretty adamant about us not wrestling, me and my two
brothers. But when my father got hired back by the company for a role
backstage, he realized things had changed. The guys were making more
money. There was more opportunity to be successful, and the lifestyles
were just healthier.”
Ted DiBiase Jr. realizes the dangers of being body-slammed for a living.
takes a toll on you. It hurts,” DiBiase Jr. said. “People don’t realize
that, it certainly hurts. Our bodies were not designed to do that — to
fall on your back, or face — or run into steel steps and chairs. It’s
different when you’re out there in front of the crowd because you don’t
really feel it. Then you wake up the next morning and you’re like, ‘Oh,
my gosh! I didn’t even know I had a muscle in that place.’” DiBiase Jr.
said he is careful not to get too comfortable with pain.
you do that day after day, you kind of grow numb to it. That’s the
scary part, when you ignore little pains that grow into big problems,
like back injuries. Then you need surgeries. It’s not a matter of ‘if’
it happens, it’s ‘when’ it happens. That’s when you get your vacation.”
"Road to Wrestlemania Raw Tour"
p.m. Friday, Feb. 12 Breslin Center, Michigan State University Doors at
6:30 p.m. $15-$50 Tickets available at Breslin Center Ticket Office, or
by phone at (517) 432-5000 and online at www.breslincenter.com