by Dick Bourne
In the 1980s, the WWF took some of my favorite wrestlers and made cartoon characters out of them. That isn't meant as commentary; it's just a statement of fact. Fair to say it was pretty successful for the WWF and many of the wrestlers still make good money doing appearances largely off the fame of those cartoon days.
|Classic PWI Magazine Cover|
It cannot be stated strongly enough how much I hated this at the time. I hated the outfit, I hated the belt, I hated the maniacal laugh, I hated Virgil, I hated it all. Sure, the character was pretty creative and some of the vignettes were pretty funny. It obviously connected with people as it is still one of the most remembered characters of the WWF's cartoon era. Most of that is owed to the incredible portrayal by DiBiase himself who brought that character to life.
No, I hated it because it buried forever the great wrestling character of Ted DiBiase.
Ted would have to be considered as one of my favorite wrestlers of all time. I first saw him in Georgia Championship Wrestling out of Atlanta on Superstation WTBS around the 1979-1980 time frame. I didn't know it then, but later we've learned he was being groomed as a possible future NWA champion. While that never came to pass for various reasons (or no particular reason at all), Ted was universally respected by promoters and his peers as one of the best in the business. He ranks up there at the top of my "should have been champion" list.
He simply was as good as it got in the ring, and could work with anyone and make anyone he worked against look great. That was an important required characteristic of the NWA champion at that time. Ringmasters like Harley Race and Ric Flair could make the most average wrestler in the ring look like a top contender for the title. DiBiase was in that same mold. He could work equally well in the role of a good-guy or bad-guy.
My particular favorite Ted DiBiase period, though, was the late 1983-1984 heel in Georgia and his feuds with Brad Armstrong and Tommy Rich. DiBiase had started wearing the black glove and one of his big gimmicks was to load the glove out of view of a distracted referee and blast his opponent with it for the dubious win. I loved him in that role, loved his promos, loved the way he sold for the babyface comebacks - - just everything about him worked for me.
And while he was great in the role as the veteran babyface in 1985 and early 1986 for Bill Watts in the Mid-South area, it was in the heel role where I thought he always did his best work.
All of that changed, though, when DiBiase made the jump to the WWF and became the "Million Dollar Man." Rather than the cool, calculated, killer heel that DiBiase had perfected in the territory days, he became this outlandish cartoon character that was the staple of the WWF at that time. Again, I don't argue against the success of the gimmick, and it certainly was a positive creative and financial development in his career. I was just terribly sad to see one of my favorite wrestlers disappear. And there is no disputing that when the Million Dollar Man was born, the wrestler Ted DiBiase died forever. At least that character did, anyway.
Not only have I always been sad Ted never got to hold the "ten pounds of gold", I was equally disappointed that he never worked in the Mid-Atlantic territory for the Crocketts. He would have fit in really well here. Imagine, if you will, a DiBiase feud with Ricky Steamboat in the late 1970s, or as one of the Four Horsemen in the mid-1980s.
DiBiase continues to make appearances at conventions and fan events across the country and it is always as the Million Dollar Man. I've had the time opportunity a time or two to tell him that it was the Ted DiBiase of those 1980s Georgia days that I was there to see. He always smiles. And he even once responded that it's good to know fans remember that part of his career, too.
Surely I'm not alone in that regard. But sometimes it seems awfully lonely.