June 5, 2009
The struggle of the oldest DiBiase son -- Mike
By BLAINE VAN DER GRIEND - SLAM! Wrestling
If a picture is worth a thousand words, a DiBiase must be worth a million. But Mike DiBiase hopes to one day be able to look himself in the mirror and see his own reflection instead of his father's.
At 31, Mike is the oldest son of Ted DiBiase Sr. which he considers a privilege, but also knows that a name like DiBiase comes with great expectations. With his half-brother Ted DiBiase Jr. tearing up WWE rings as a part of Legacy, the name means as much today as in the '80s.
Mike is no stranger to adversity; he's struggled with it his entire life. But it seems like every time he's faced with a challenge, he is always able to overcome it.
"I'm from my dad's first marriage. Teddy and Brett have a different mom," Mike said. "I lived with my mom from when I was 3 to 13, so I had a different upbringing, but I always knew who my dad was and what he did for a living. I only got to see him in the summer, so it was very hard."
Being the oldest son of the Million Dollar Man, Mike also had the unwritten responsibility to look out for his brothers and set a good example. But the one thing he wanted more than anything was the approval of his father. Mike thought it would make Ted Sr. proud for him to follow in his footsteps and go into the family business, but nothing could have prepared him for his dad's response.
"When Teddy and I went up to dad and told him we wanted to be wrestlers, he just flat out told us no," Mike said. "I was heartbroken, but at the same time, I didn't want to go against my father's will. I knew he had his reasons. So I went to college and ended up becoming an account executive for MCI WorldCom, which is what I thought my dad wanted."
It wasn't until after Ted Sr. was called back to the WWE as a road agent that he started to come around and allow his sons to start training.
"My initial reasoning for not allowing my sons to become wrestlers was the culture of the business as I remembered it at the time that I wrestled," Ted Sr. said. "There was a very high divorce rate in wrestling. It was similar to rock and roll. We went from the next town to the next party to the next girl. I didn't want my kids to have to go through that. I wanted to see them get an education and have an easier life than I did. When I went back to the WWE in 2005, I had seen that the industry had changed. Vince cleaned it up. They (WWE) are marketing to kids now and not only were the audience younger, but the talent was younger. These guys wrestle now for four days a week and get three days off, unless they have to wrestle on foreign tours. The money is also much greater than it was. So that's why I eventually changed my mind."
Ted might have come around on his decision to let his sons wrestle, but he didn't want them to have it easy, just because they were his kids. He said if they were going to train, they needed to do it the right way.
"I didn't want to send my sons to developmental right away, because some of the trainers there were never top main event stars and they wouldn't be able to learn anything," Ted Sr. said. "It's the same thing with wrestling for independent promotions. Most of the guys there are around the same age and the same skill level, so they can't learn anything. I wanted them to have the best training possible."
"We didn't have it any easier just because we're DiBiases," Mike said. "If anything, we had to work 100 times harder than anybody else, because more is expected of us. It's almost like a double-edged sword; there is some good and some bad. It's both a blessing and a curse. Me and Teddy got our start with the Youngbloods and since then, we haven't had anything handed to us."
A few months later, the DiBiase brothers ended up training with Harley Race, who Mike called one of his greatest teachers.
"Now that we had our feet wet, we really got to learn the business with Harley," he said. "We learned a lot of respect. In fact, Trevor Murdoch, who was training there at the time, would come in and really annihilate us. He would really give it to us sometimes, but it taught us respect for the business and we got to pay our dues."
Mike has been pressured for the majority of his life, so these days it doesn't bother him. But he recalls the pressure he felt the night of his very first match.
"I had my first match at Harley's school and I was really nervous, not only because it was my first match, but also because I knew both dad and Harley would be in the audience, so that was definitely the most pressure I've ever had to overcome," Mike said.
Being a second generation wrestler himself -- his father was "Iron" Mike DiBiase and his mother was woman wrestler Helen Hild -- Ted Sr. can certainly relate to the pressure of living up to the standard set by his father.
"When I was training to be a wrestler, there was a guy at my school who made a comment that if I wasn't a wrestler's son, that I wouldn't have been given the opportunity sooner and gotten my break," Ted Sr. said. "I told him that my job was to put asses in the seats and anybody who can't do that won't be there that long, but I did. Sure they'll give you the ball, but if you can't produce, you won't be there that long."
After Mike and Ted Jr. left Harley's school, they were both given the opportunity of a lifetime. They had a chance to go on tour with Pro Wrestling NOAH in Japan. It seemed almost too good to be true, and unfortunately for Mike, it was. He hurt his knee really bad before the tour, so he had to sit on the sidelines, while his younger brother Ted got to go and was eventually offered a WWE developmental contract upon his return. Since recovering from injury, Mike has been exploring other opportunities in pro wrestling, including the National Wrestling Alliance, where he currently wrestles for their midwest territory.
NWA Producer David Marquez was more than happy to welcome Mike to the family.
"Mike marches to his own drum. He's his own man," Marquez said. "He's definitely a character on television. I wasn't interested in Mike because of his last name; I was interested in him, because of his ability."
Marquez says Mike stands out even more outside of the ring than inside.
"I think Mike's personality is the one thing that sets him apart from being a DiBiase," Marquez said. "I was very impressed by the way he handled business. He's very unpredictable."
Ted Sr. may have a difference of opinion with both Mike and Marquez on that subject. He thinks the smartest thing for Mike to do at this point is to go back to Harley's school and keep working for that developmental deal with the WWE.
"Michael has certainly had his problems. He hurt his knee, which was a setback for him. He also doesn't have the size that his brothers have and in the WWE today, it's important to have not only a great body, but a drug-free body," Ted Sr. said. "The only place to end up in this business where you can make serious money is the WWE. Michael needs to get to Florida and make that happen. And when he does get there, he needs to make an impact. I advised all my boys to always be the first guy in the ring and the last to leave. You only get one chance to make a good first impression."
"You never stop learning in this business," Mike said. "There are people who think that I may have had it easy because I was born into the business, but the downside is that I didn't get to know my dad as well as they did. I've had to work hard to get to where I am and nothing was ever handed to me. The NWA has been a good experience thus far. There is an excellent group of guys and it's a solid product. I'm very happy where I'm at and I'm really not in it for the money."
Mike lost the NWA North American Championship to Apollo on May 1, but continues to impress his minions of fans.
Blaine van der Griend wishes he had a million dollars.