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Above and below, Ted "Million Dollar Man" DiBiase speaks to a group of young wrestlers at the American Sports University in downtown San Bernardino last week. SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY SUN PHOTO by GABRIEL LUIS ACOSTA

by JOSH DULANEY
San Bernardino County Sun

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — Money, fame and women.

Ted “Million Dollar Man” DiBiase had it all during his iconic run as one of the top bad guys in the world of professional wrestling during the 1980s and ’90s.

SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY SUN PHOTO by GABRIEL LUIS ACOSTA

What was it like on the mountaintop – when he had achieved everything he set out to do in life?

“At the very pinnacle of that success, I came to a place of misery,” DiBiase said.

A born-again Christian, DiBiase has forsaken piledrivers for pulpits, sharing stories of how Jesus Christ transformed the life of a jet-setting professional wrestler on the brink of losing it all to a man of faith who can give you a personal tour of every pothole in the fast lane.

After teaching at a wrestling clinic Thursday night in San Bernardino, he preached Friday night at Echoes of Faith Christian Center in Ontario.

“I’m a guy who can say, `been there, done that and let me tell you what’s really important,”‘ DiBiase said.

DiBiase, who turned 58 on Wednesday, took his wrestling cue from his stepfather, “Iron Mike” DiBiase.

He was 15 years old when his father died of a heart attack in the ring. When his mother fueled her depression with alcohol, DiBiase would move from Nebraska to Arizona to live with his grandparents.

A football player at Southwest Texas State University, now Texas State, DiBiase left school early to pursue his budding career in professional wrestling.

He wrestled nearly every night in places like Amarillo, Texas; Baton Rouge, La.; and Albuquerque, earning little money but a lot of experience, living life on the road with all the booze and women he could get.

At 26 years old, he was divorced, and a self-described failure as a husband and father.

DiBiase would eventually move to Atlanta, where he furthered his career and met his second wife, Melanie. They were married in 1981.

After moving to Mississippi and working the wrestling circuit for Mid-South Wrestling, DiBiase got the call every professional dreams of – the World Wrestling Federation, now known as World Wrestling Entertainment, pitched him the idea of taking on a new character for the company, the boastful and arrogant “Million Dollar Man.”

He would perform all over the world, from Europe and Japan, to Madison Square Garden.

But his old demons continued to haunt him.

In 1992, after appearing in Wrestlemania 8 in Indianapolis, DiBiase flew to Detroit after an all-night party and called his wife to check in.

She informed him that she knew of the sexual trysts he was having while on the road.

“I never really had an addiction to the drugs or booze, but the women ” DiBiase said. “Me and Tiger Woods could carry on a conversation.”

DiBiase had left his childhood faith and surrendered himself to anything his pride and ego wanted. But everything he had seemingly was never enough.

“I call it the God-sized hole, the void,” he said. “People will go back and repeat the same mistakes in their lives, and they do it until it kills you, until you realize the only thing that’s going to fill it is Jesus Christ.”

He credits his wife’s faith for sticking with him. DiBiase recommitted himself to Christ soon after.

He continued to wrestle for several years, and eventually worked as a manager and a commentator during matches.

A neck injury later forced him out of the ring for good. He has had both knees replaced and two disks taken out of his neck.

Ordained by the Southern Baptist denomination, DiBiase speaks across the globe in churches of all stripes.

He warns against the trappings of drugs and alcohol, as well as the rank materialism that sets so many on a course of personal destruction.

“I’m not talking out of a book,” he said. “I’m talking about life experience.”

JOSH DULANEY reports for the San Bernadino County Sun where this story was originally published. It is reprinted in the San Marcos Mercury by permission.

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