BANK STATEMENT #12 - That Damn Ted DiBiase
Welcome to another edition of the Bank Statement on Hardway HQ! It’s wild. The more I think about pro wrestling, I always, for reasons completely unsure, always seem like I revert back to the past. I keep trying to watch the current day product, and in certain moments, I can enjoy it and watch it for what it is: entertainment.
For me, I truly felt it was cool for CM Punk to return to pro wrestling. The crowd adored him, he looked inspired, and a jolt in the arm for mainstream relevance. Let’s truly hope that Punk helps the AEW platform consistently draw over 1 million viewers a week. Wrestling always needs competition to stay fresh and to bring the best possible product out there.
However, throughout the year 2021, there was one return to wrestling that I never knew I needed. One return no one truly believed would ever happen. One return that helped enhance a story.
“The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase.
What NXT was able to pull off with the legendary Ted DiBiase was nothing short of spectacular.
For starters, out of all the legends who could have made a return to WWE to help develop the future in 2021, the Million Dollar Man was the last one on anyone’s radar.
The legacy of Ted DiBiase in the WWE is second to none. Making his debut in 1987, the Million Dollar Man became one of the greatest villains in wrestling history. Using his wealth to his full extent, DiBiase tried buying the WWF championship after The Main Event on February 5, 1988. He, alongside his bodyguard Virgil, formed the Mega Bucks with Andre The Giant to try and stop the Mega Powers. He purchased the contract of Hercules from Bobby “the Brain” Heenan to make him his slave. DiBiase used his funds repeatedly to finagle his way onto WWF programming, including buying time on Superstars for the Brother Love Show, wealth and prosperity to steal Sweet Sapphire from Dusty Rhodes, plastic surgery for a Dave Hebner lookalike, and so on and so on.
When he had enough of making people’s lives miserable in singles competition, he formed Money Incorporated with Irwin R. Schyster and won three WWF Tag Team championships. His pure wrestling ability infuriated fans, especially when they were able to put on classics with the Steiner Brothers, Legion of Doom, the Mega Maniacs, and the Natural Disasters. Hell, even after he retired from the ring, DiBiase formed a Million Dollar Corporation and nearly brought the WWF to its knees by WrestleMania XI. And don’t forget: if it wasn’t for him, there would never have been Stone Cold Steve Austin in 1996.
The Million Dollar Man’s fingerprints are all over the WWE’s current product today.
And then, he made his way to NXT to mentor, humble, and manage Cameron Grimes to the next level.
The rise of Cameron Grimes was seemingly unexpected. But for everyone who says that the WWE doesn’t pay attention to pop culture and the current environment in the US, NXT struck gold.
Grimes made a boatload of cash thanks to the infamous GameStop stock market fluctuation in early 2021 and made everyone know on television. $50 million richer, Grimes began showcasing his wealth every week, becoming the modern day Jed Clampett. With his Southern accent and his unique look, Grimes was literally rising “to the moon”.
But for every great gimmick, you always need one person to help change your trajectory to the next level.
The Spring of 2021 had Grimes learn initial lessons on how to handle being freshly loaded with cash. Every time he tried to spend big money, the Million Dollar Man, coming from old money and a sense of distinction, trumped him easily. Whether it be with jewelry, nightclubs, or houses on the auction, DiBiase outspent and outmaneuvered Grimes. Although the eccentric “Technical Savage” had moxy, the Million Dollar Man consistently mastered the psychological game by making Grimes look goofy and inexperienced on how to handle his wealth.
Outside the ring, that’s one thing; inside the ropes, it gets personal.
During a one-on-one encounter with Jake Atlas, Grimes was still acting like his bombastic goofy self. Just as he was looking to finish Atlas his running double stomp and unleash his patented catchphrase, a very familiar laugh hit the sound system and out walked the Million Dollar Man in the Capitol Wrestling Center to a huge ovation. Grimes took his eyes off the prize and Atlas pinned him after an awesome looking springboard sunset flip into a jackknife cover.
The following week, Grimes requested a Million Dollar Faceoff with DiBiase in the ring. Just as the two were getting down to business, out walked the brash but cocky LA Knight. Knight proclaimed himself to have a similar Million Dollar legacy to DiBiase and talked down to Grimes. Both men went face-to-face, and just as Knight seemed as if he was going to back down, LA attacked Grimes from behind and slammed him down to the mat with a wicked Snapmare Driver. DiBiase picked up the microphone that hit the canvas the same time Grimes did and simply said, “Kid, you’re just never gonna get it. Are you? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”
It was plain to see. DiBiase noticed that although Grimes was great in between the ropes, once he became rich, he lost his focus on being a warrior in the ring. The Million Dollar Man’s sole goal was to help Grimes rediscover his grit as a wrestler. He thought he was going to do that when he made a match at NXT Takeover: In Your House 2021 between Grimes and Knight in a ladder match. To sweeten the pot, he put up his prize in the sky: the Million Dollar Championship.
On March 4, 1989, during an edition of the Brother Love Show, DiBiase unveiled his Million Dollar Championship to the world. Frustrated that he couldn’t buy the WWF title in 1988, the Million Dollar Man went to Betteridge Jewelers in Connecticut and got a sold gold championship made for $1 Million, with three jewel encrusted dollar logos as the center plate. Although it was not sanctioned by the WWF, DiBiase was officially a “champion”. Jake “the Snake” Roberts actually stole the belt at one point and at WrestleMania VI in the Skydome in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on April 1, 1990, DiBiase “regained” the belt in a countout win thanks to Virgil.
After the acrimonious split between DiBiase and Virgil at the Royal Rumble 1991, the pair feuded throughout the year, culminating in a Million Dollar Championship match in Madison Square Garden at SummerSlam, in which Virgil, overcoming all the odds, became champion. DiBiase, incensed, did all he could to try and get his championship back. Thankfully, for DiBiase at least, the Million Dollar Man won his championship back at the Survivor Series Showdown in November, thanks to help from the king of getting property repossessed, Repo Man.
However, by the time February 1992 rolled around, the Million Dollar Man OFFICIALLY won his first championship in the WWF, the WWF Tag Team Championships, and the title quietly went away.
In January 1996, the Million Dollar Man, on an updated version of the Brother Love Show, debuted “the Ringmaster” Steve Austin on WWF television, subsequently awarding him with the Million Dollar Championship and dubbing him worthy of holding such a prestigious honor. However, within months, DiBiase was the subject of a loser-leaves-town match stipulation when Austin, now dubbed “Stone Cold”, lost to Savio Vega in a Caribbean strap match, and the Million Dollar Man was unceremoniously fired from the WWF. With his departure, that meant the Million Dollar Championship was unceremoniously gone as well.
The belt remained in the vaults of the Million Dollar Mansion until 2010, when after WrestleMania XXVI, the Million Dollar Man, now a WWE Hall of Famer, returned to Monday Night Raw and awarded the title to his son Ted DiBiase, Jr. in front of the world. DiBiase, Jr. maintained the championship in his possession until a schmozz between Goldust, his “wife” Aksana, and he left the championship into a pass-along state. The belt, disrespected in the eyes of many, made its way back into the hands of the Million Dollar Man, and thanks to his tag team partner IRS, was placed into a very wealthy tax shelter. At this point, we never expected to see the championship again...until NXT Takeover on June 13, 2021.
With the Million Dollar Championship set to help refocus Grimes, the ladder match between the duo stole the show at Takeover: In Your House 2021. In an out-and-out brawl, Knight and Grimes destroyed one another, utilizing multiple ladders to their advantage. At one point, “the Technical Savage” went up the entrance way and grabbed the actual golden Million Dollar ladder that was used to hype this match. Sadly, for Grimes’ sake, Knight knocked him off the ladder, coincidentally through another ladder set up between the ring and barricade, and pulled down the Million Dollar Championship for himself.
In one moment, LA Knight not only became the Million Dollar Champion, but the “Million Dollar Megastar” as a moniker became legitimate.
The following NXT on USA episode, Knight celebrated becoming champion with DiBiase in the ring. After bestowing the Million Dollar Man with compliments and respect, Knight laid him OUT! A strong right haymaker floored DiBiase and Knight “dropped” what he didn’t need. After several boots to the WWE Hall of Famer’s body, Grimes stormed out to the ring and forcefully removed Knight to the arena floor. Grimes then went to check on the injured DiBiase in the ring, showing remorse for the attack.
What happened for Grimes right here was the beginning of the next step of his career. What began to show was that Grimes never disliked the Million Dollar Man; he idolized him. He wanted the respect. For Knight, Knight just wanted recognition and credibility. Once he got it, he removed the perceived obstacle in his path. At this point, fans, especially I, got emotionally invested. I wanted Knight to get his comeuppance, Grimes to defend the Million Dollar Man’s legacy, and the Million Dollar Championship to its rightful successor.
Grimes wanted revenge on Knight in the worst way. So leading up to the Great American Bash 2021, Grimes went all in: if he beat LA Knight, he’d become the Million Dollar Champion. If he lost, he’d become LA Knight’s butler. On July 6, Grimes consistently had Knight’s number. As both men were on the arena floor, Knight, behind the referee’s back, clobbered Grimes with the Million Dollar Championship. One Snapmare Driver later, and Grimes fell victim yet again. The focus was clearer, but not the way Grimes expected his focus to be.
Over the next month, Grimes followed the lead of whatever the Million Dollar Champion wanted. Whether it was mowing his lawn, being his caddy, or doing subservient tasks around Knight’s estate, Grimes was a man of his word, yet utterly disrespecting the role he was forced to uphold. However, after a tag team match between Grimes and Knight and the Grizzled Young Veterans, Knight abandoned Grimes to a 2-on-1 assault, causing a loss. Grimes finally had enough.
As he sat on the frame of the ring, Grimes saw the Million Dollar Man walk down to the ring and, without a microphone, DiBiase gave him some positive motivation. “I know you’re a man of your word, but you have to figure a way out of this.” He then helped an injured Grimes up the ramp.
The following week, it was announced that Grimes would go one-on-one with LA Knight at Takeover 36. If Grimes won, he’d become the Million Dollar Champion. If he lost, TED DIBIASE would become Knight's new butler! Grimes, with his back against the wall, went berserk in the trainer’s room, finally crediting the Million Dollar Man for helping find his focus and allowing him to become his own man. Ultimately, Grimes guaranteed to send Knight “TO THE MOON” and walked off, giving the Million Dollar Man a big smile and a hearty Million Dollar laugh of the ages.
Five days later at Takeover 36, Grimes and Knight opened the event in the stipulation heavy match. Both men went back-and-forth, encapturing the NXT Universe with their battle. In the end of the match, Grimes, in his Million Dollar Man inspired trunks, went for it all with the Million Dollar Dream sleeperhold, but Knight forcefully broke the hold. Then, Knight rolled out to the floor, looking to smash Grimes with the Million Dollar Championship. Once nullified by Grimes, Knight rolled out to the floor. With the referee looking to remove the championship from the ring, the Million Dollar Man finally got a small measure of revenge, leveling Knight with a Million Dollar fist to the melon. When the referee accidentally handed off the belt to DiBiase, he threw it over to Grimes. The referee went to retrieve it, and DiBiase retrieved a moment from his past. The Million Dollar Man locked on the Million Dollar Dream to a massive reaction. DiBiase rolled Knight into the ring, and Grimes figuratively and almost literally Caved In the chest of Knight. Three slaps of the mat later, and Grimes finally got his redemption.
Cameron Grimes became the Million Dollar Champion!
The following NXT on USA, Grimes and DiBiase had a Million Dollar Celebration, showing off their achievement, down to showering the Capitol Wrestling Center with Cameron Grimes Hundred Dollar Bills! Sadly, DiBiase’s time had come to an end, and Grimes walked the Million Dollar Man out to his limousine. Grimes, showing the respect, handed off the Million Dollar Championship off to the man “who it rightfully belonged to”. DiBiase almost had a change of heart, and handed off the championship again to Grimes. However, it was a ruse, as the Million Dollar Man pawned off a WWE Shop replica belt. DiBiase drove off, and Grimes, with a smile on his face, simply said, “That damn Ted DiBiase.”
The usage of Ted DiBiase in NXT was nothing short of brilliant. The credibility and legacy of the Million Dollar Man was used to establish Cameron Grimes. As a fan of this story, Grimes was able to do something not many performers in wrestling can nowadays: have fans emotionally invest in his story. Money might be a lot of things, but it can’t dictate the passion of a man, by any means necessary. LA Knight thought that money was the only thing, but in spite of the Million Dollar Man’s mantra over the years, you need focus and heart to get what you want. Of course, money doesn’t hurt. The price for Grimes was not only the Million Dollar Championship, but DiBiase’s respect and, in my personal opinion, the torch. That alone has set Grimes on a path in wrestling, quite possibly, TO THE MOON.
Everyone might have a price for the Million Dollar Man, but for me, it was priceless. The Million Dollar Man might have been my favorite return to pro wrestling in a long, long time.
BANK ON IT.