The Million Dollar Man
The Million Dollar Man was the epitome of evil to my 10-year-old self. Had I known at the time what the term “Antichrist” meant, Ted Dibiase would have fit the bill. WWE produced a list of the 50 greatest villains in wrestling history and placed Dibiase at number 4, trailing only Mr. McMahon at 3, Ric Flair and the Four Horsemen at 2 and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper at the 1 spot. Ironically, Ted is about the furthest thing from the Anitchrist as he is an ordained minister who runs “Heart of David Ministry”, travelling all over the world to evangelize and teach. Dibiase’s autobiography “Ted Dibiase: The Million Dollar Man” is a stirring account of both his wrestling career and spiritual journey (highly recommended reading).
I approached DiBiase about an interview because he had wrestled Hellwig and participated in the documentary “The Self Destruction of The Ultimate Warrior”. Ted was quick to tell me he would be happy to do it but forewarned me that he and Jim Hellwig were not on the best of terms. On our scheduled day I called and was greeted with a deep voice, “Ted Dibiase.” We began our interview but Ted had been surprised by the people coming to install Direct TV that day. I found it humorous that I was talking to the Million Dollar Man about television packages and costs for TV and Internet bundles.
When I said I wanted to write a biography on Jim Hellwig because he was an interesting guy, Dibiase responded, “To say the least.” The two had met prior to their mutual time in WWF when Hellwig briefly wrestled in Bill Watt’s “Mid-South” wrestling with his then partner, Steve Borden. When asked about his impression of Hellwig at that time he said that his immediate impression was that Hellwig was not a particularly friendly guy, but also followed by saying that was “no big deal.” Ted told me that he never had a problem with Jim in the ring because Jim took his cues from Ted. According to Dibiase the heel (villain) always calls the match and leads the face (hero). Since Dibiase was a talented ring technician they did not have in-ring problems. The conflict between the two was a matter of issues outside of the ring.
It is well documented that Hellwig attended school to become a chiropractor, meaning he brought a useful skill set into a physical industry that could be of value to his colleagues. Dibiase shared that he convinced Hellwig to adjust him a couple of times but “it was like pulling teeth”. Ted shared that if he had brought that skill set in, he would have told the guys he’d be happy to offer adjustments when needed, but Hellwig’s attitude was, “let’s not make this a regular thing”. Ultimately these minor personality conflicts were not part of the real issue Dibiase had with Hellwig, it was what Dibiase perceived to be Hellwig’s lack of humility.
Ted came from the “old school” of wrestling, which meant that young talent coming in did not speak unless spoken to because they were part of an apprenticeship, earning their way in the industry and paying their dues. Dibiase said there was “No humility in Jim Hellwig.” Part of that learning process is developing in-ring skill and technique, and when I asked Ted how Hellwig’s technique advanced in his career, “It didn’t”. Between each quote he would briefly exposit on what he meant, “When I was in the ring with him I told him what to do”. Ted continued, “Just go watch his matches…they all look the same…his matches were punch, kick, slam…I would venture to say Jim Hellwig never led a match in his career”, adding perhaps with the exception of a jobber.
The interview shifted and we began talking about Hellwig’s rise in the WWF. “I’m telling you he was given that spot based on his look, his body and Vince McMahon’s ability to create a character.” Dibiase said the greatest negative response he can remember in the locker room was when the talent found out that Hellwig would be receiving the championship. The Ultimate Warrior beat Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania 6 on April 1, 1990. He had made his primetime debut on October 24, 1987, meaning less than three years after his television debut in WWF he beat the iconic Hulk Hogan to become the new face of the company.
According to Dibiase the guys who had been around took this negatively for the most part. When I asked why he responded, “Because everyone by that time had seen, you know, what kind of personality the guy had…and that he really wasn’t that talented…and I don’t think anyone really saw him as deserving of it.” Ted did note that he understood the move from a “business standpoint” given Ultimate Warrior’s popularity. He also added that he thinks part of Warrior’s push was that Vince McMahon takes pride in making someone a star, which is what he did with Hellwig.
At this point Dibiase began talking about the importance of charisma for wrestling, noting that “you have it or you don’t”. Ted says that charisma is “intangible” and “needed” for the industry, adding that the people who succeed are those with charisma. Then he said, “Jim Hellwig would be the exception because I don’t see him as being real charismatic either.” Dibiase made a point of saying that there is nothing wrong with guys who need help in the ring. The example he used was of his good friend, the late “Junkyard Dog” Sylvester Ritter. Ted pointed out that JYD was not very talented in ring and mostly stood in the middle while Ted bounced off of him in their matches. Dibiase had no problem with that, nor did he mind Hellwig’s shortage of in-ring talent. He did take offence to Hellwig’s selfishness, “Hellwig never appreciated anything.”
Dibiase was close with Andre the Giant (Andre Roussimoff by birth), who had a feud with Hellwig following the 1989 Summer Slam. I felt compelled to ask Dibiase about this feud given I knew of his friendship to Andre, and that he said that, personally, the feud “sickened him” on the “Self-Destruction” video. There is no star more iconic in professional wrestling than Andre the Giant. Andre suffered from the disease “Acromegaly”, known commonly as gigantism. Andre died in 1993 a few months shy of his 47th birthday, making his feud with Warrior one of the latest of his career. Rousimoff’s condition was taking a toll on his body by that point in his life. Dibiase told me about their tag team matches in 1988 when they would walk down the aisle together and Andre would have his hand on Dibiase’s shoulder. It looked to the general public like he was doing that because they were partners, but Dibiase told me Andre was actually using him as crutch to help stay upright. The impression I took from Dibiase was that he was sickened over knowing how much pain Andre was in at the point, combined with his belief that Hellwig did not appreciate that this wrestling legend was putting him over to the crowd.
In the “Self-Destruction” video Bobby Heenan said that Andre did not like Hellwig. Since Andre passed over twenty years ago, I asked Dibiase if Andre ever made any comments about Hellwig to him. He thought for a second, let a big laugh and said, “In Andre’s voice, ‘He’s an asshole’”. Dibiase contextualized the comment by saying Andre liked you or he didn’t and he made it clear which was the case. According to Dibiase Andre felt Hellwig was “a piece of crap” and made that known to him.
As we began wrapping up our interview I turned the subject to Hellwig’s relationship with Vince McMahon and the WWE. I asked Ted why he thought Vince kept bringing Hellwig back. Ted speaks highly of Vince and told me that Vince McMahon is a person who is big on second chances, but when it came to Jim he added, “With Hellwig, I’m mystified”. Ted had a hard time understanding why Vince would keep bringing Hellwig back, particularly after he held Vince up for money during the 1991 Summer Slam. However, he realizes Vince is a business man who will do something if it can make money, so he reckons this as being the most plausible explanation.
Lastly, we talked about Hellwig’s lawsuit against Vince and Titans Sports for the intellectual property right to Ultimate Warrior. “The bottom line with most of us, who do you think you are.” For Dibiase it was just the same arrogant attitude Hellwig had shown his entire career. He shared with me that when he began his ministry work and wanted to use the Million Dollar Man persona, which was created by Vince McMahon, he went and asked permission to use it. Such was not the case with Hellwig who engaged in a very long and expensive court case to sue Titan Sports for the rights to Ultimate Warrior. “The bottom line with Hellwig, with everybody I think, is who in the hell do you think you are?”
While it was clear that Dibiase did not care for the person Jim Hellwig, he did leave off on a positive note. “The one thing I credit Jim Hellwig with is being an incredibly disciplined athlete in keeping himself fit and his body the way it was.” Dibiase said that what Hellwig did with his physique took “tremendous discipline”, but he never tried to learn the art of wrestling and was never grateful.
As our interview came to a close I asked Ted a final personal question, “Do you have the Million Dollar belt?” He chuckled and told me he only had one of the replicas that can be purchased on the WWE Shop (www.wweshop.com). He noted that the actual Million Dollar belt cost somewhere around $40,000 and added, “So they didn’t let me keep it” with a laugh. The belt is currently in the possession of Titan Sports.
Update on 4/7/14: The Interview I conducted with Ted took place at the beginning of my research. I sent him an email letting him know I had posted the interview and he wrote this: “Thanks Chad. I read what you wrote and think it’s good. I guess the only thing I would change would be what I said about his charisma. As I’ve looked back at a lot of matches I don’t think it’s fair to say Warrior didn’t have charisma. He had a tremendous amount of energy that translated into charisma. “