Former wrestling champ gives youth lesson in life

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 15, 2001

There are more important things in life than money. The youth of Calvary Baptist Church in Natchez were given that advice Sunday by a man who knows better than any other – professional wrestling’s &uot;Million Dollar Man,&uot; Ted DiBiase.

The former World Wrestling Federation champion began a career ministering in 1992, using his story of fame and the emptiness it held without a relationship with Christ. The Clinton resident spoke at Calvary Sunday with the hope that the youth could relate to his experiences.

&uot;I was living the good life,&uot; DiBiase said. &uot;I had everything the world can give, only to find out at the pinnacle of my success that I came to a point where I was so empty inside that none of it meant anything anymore.&uot;

Email newsletter signup

But the road to success and the top of the wrestling world was a long one, as was his personal journey with Christ. As a child, he hoped to follow in the footsteps of his father, also a professional wrestler. But when a heart attack killed his father in the ring, DiBiase’s life changed forever.

His mother moved to the small town of Wilcox, Ariz. There, his dreams of playing Division I football on scholarship were dimmed by the anonymity of tiny Wilcox High School and his mother’s alcoholism – her method of coping with the death of his father.

Despite the temptation to give in to his sorrow, DiBiase relied on what he now considers a &uot;child-like faith in God.&uot;

&uot;I realized I’d be just as miserable and weak as my mom if I started drinking with the other kids,&uot; he said. &uot;I asked God to please give me the ability to be the athlete I want to be, to show that a good kid can make it. I said, ‘Give me the desire of my heart, and I’ll glorify You.’&uot;

DiBiase became the first player in Wilcox High School to be offered a Division I football scholarship. But in college, the ego and vanity that became the trademark of his wrestling career caused him to move from his faith. &uot;I put God on a shelf,&uot; he said. &uot;I began to live my life to glorify me.&uot;

Even so, &uot;God began to bless me in spite of myself,&uot; DiBiase said. He began a career in professional wrestling and soon made a name for himself. He met his wife, Melanie in 1980, and married her a year later.

His marriage renewed his faith in God. While wrestling out of Baton Rouge, La., DiBiase and his wife attended services at an LSU chapel, and he made a public pronouncement of his faith.

&uot;I had an emotional experience, but I didn’t surrender my life,&uot; he said. &uot;I basically said I’d have a relationship with God if he blessed what I wanted to do&uot; – achieve fame and wealth.

Like a father speaking to a hard-headed son, DiBiase said, &uot;God said, ‘If that’s what you think you want, I’ll let you have it. I’ll let you see what it’s like without Me.&uot;

In 1987, DiBiase graduated to the WWF, where owner Vince McMahon gave him the evil &uot;Million Dollar Man&uot; persona – a greedy, selfish millionaire whose motto was &uot;every man has a price.&uot;

&uot;McMahon said he was going to make me the greatest wrestling villain ever,&uot; DiBiase said. &uot;He said ‘We’re going to make everyone believe that you are that man.’&uot;

To play up the part, he spent money with abandon, while the WWF picked up the tab.

&uot;All of wrestling is a show,&uot; he said. &uot;But I became The Million Dollar Man.&uot;

DiBiase’s lifestyle may have continued unchecked, but in March of 1992, the day after WWF’s tag-team championship in WrestleMania VIII, his wife discovered that many of his actions in his career had not been in character or in front of cameras.

&uot;I betrayed her trust terribly,&uot; he said. &uot;I hurt my wife more than anyone else ever could.&uot;

For the third time in his life, DiBiase turned to God. &uot;I cried out one more time,&uot; he said. &uot;But the difference was this time there were no conditions. I didn’t know if I would leave wrestling or lose my marriage. I trusted God.&uot;

DiBiase did leave wrestling, but not his wife. He is currently a spokesperson for the Sunshine Foundation, an organization that grants wishes for terminally ill children. A return to the ring is unlikely.

&uot;I won’t even let my kids watch the disgusting stuff they call wrestling anymore,&uot; he said. &uot;It’s shock TV.

&uot;The real Million Dollar Man is in the Bible,&uot; he said. &uot;His name was Solomon. He discovered that above all, you have to guard your heart, and your relationship with God. He found out, like me, that unless you do that, nothing will matter.&uot;