On Feb. 15 1989, “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase set out to create the most expensive wrestling championship to date. The Million Dollar Title, so named for the seven figures worth of diamonds intricately woven into its façade, became an integral part of the millionaire’s persona. The championship has come and gone from WWE TV in the 24 years since it debuted with wavering interest from the WWE Universe, but urban legends surrounding the title remain. Was it made from real gold? Was it actually worth a million dollars?
To find out, WWEClassics.com went to one of the most despised Superstars in the history of sports-entertainment — “The Million Dollar Man.” Introduced to WWE fans through a series of vignettes, the snide aristocrat bought out a public swimming pool ( WATCH) and booted a honeymoon couple from their hotel suite, all by virtue of his tremendous cash flow. ( MORE “THE MILLION DOLLAR MAN”)
“The first time I walked out into an arena, the people were booing me out of the building,” DiBiase recalled.
From the beginning, it seemed inevitable that “The Million Dollar Man’s” talent and infinite resources would lead him to the WWE Championship. And that almost happened at The Main Event on Feb. 5, 1988. The show featured a massive WrestleMania III rematch that saw Andre the Giant shockingly defeat Hulk Hogan for the WWE Championship. ( WATCH)
“It was the first time wrestling aired live on national network television since the ’50s,” DiBiase explained. “It was a big deal. I had boasted I was going to prove to the world that there wasn’t anything I couldn’t buy, including the title, because I had hired Andre and he sold me the title.”
But WWE President Jack Tunney voided the transaction, declared the title to be vacant and arranged an unprecedented tournament at WrestleMania IV to crown a new champion. Once again, DiBiase’s presumed victory seemed like a foregone conclusion.
“The thought was I would somehow win that tournament and be the WWE Champion and then have a rivalry with Hogan,” DiBiase revealed.
But it didn’t go down that way. Instead, he succumbed to Randy Savage in the final, paving the way for the rise of the “Macho Man.” ( WATCH FULL MATCH) Although frustrated with the outcome, “The Million Dollar Man” spoke with WWE official Pat Patterson soon after the event, who suggested he set his sights on a different kind of championship. “You just come out and say, ‘Y’know what? I don’t need your stinkin’ title. I’m going to create my own. A title that’s beautiful, worth more money than the WWE Title and declare myself the champion.’ ” DiBiase said of Patterson’s instructions. “And as history has shown us, it did exactly what it was meant to do. It took me to the next level.”
A series of visits by DiBiase to Betteridge Jewelers in Greenwich, Conn., were presented on WWE television, showing “The Million Dollar Man” demanding a custom-made title, checking on its progress and showing off the final product.
(WATCH: PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3)
“Terry Betteridge is legitimately a world-renowned gemologist. That jewelry store is the place to go in Greenwich. You don’t go there if you’re looking to buy a Timex watch,” DiBiase said with one of his signature cackles.
The beautiful, golden title perfectly fit the first-class lifestyle of WWE’s wealthiest Superstar, but its actual value has long inspired debate among WWE fans. Was it actually worth $1 million? Or even a $100,000?
“The value of the title when it was created was $40,000,” DiBiase revealed. “That was in 1988. Today, it’s worth even more. It was gold plate, which is not much, but all of the stones are cubic zirconia, which means they’re almost diamonds. And there’s like 700 of them in the title.” Bling and all, the impressive adornment was premiered by DiBiase on a March 1989 edition of “Superstars.” ( WATCH) From then on, the title became an appendage for “The Million Dollar Man” and the centerpiece of a rivalry between DiBiase and the dangerous and unpredictable Jake “The Snake” Roberts.
“He took the title and put it in the bag with his snake,” DiBiase recalled. “There was no way I was going to go after it there.” ( WATCH)
Eventually, the two faced off for the title at WrestleMania VI in front of nearly 70,000 fans inside Toronto’s SkyDome. The innovator of the DDT was not able to secure the championship from DiBiase that night, but it didn’t matter. The Million Dollar Championship had entered into the elite status of titles that had been defended on The Grandest Stage of Them All. ( WATCH)
“That was a great run,” DiBiase fondly remembered. “People always ask me to name my favorite match and I can never name just one, but one was the WrestleMania match I had with Jake in Canada.”
Regardless, it isn’t Roberts who is remembered as the quintessential Million Dollar Championship challenger. That honor goes to the DiBiase’s ubiquitous attaché, Virgil. “The Million Dollar Man” recalled one frantic evening with Virgil and the title.
“We flew into Atlanta and we went to baggage claim and I set down the briefcase [containing the title]. Virgil’s job was to take the bags off the carousel and load them onto the cart,” “The Million Dollar Man” explained. “We checked into the hotel, were splitting bags and I asked him, ‘Virgil, you’ve got that briefcase, right?’ He looked at me like a deer in headlights and said, ‘No, you got it.’ And I realize we left it sitting by the baggage claim carousel at the Atlanta airport.
“We raced back to the airport. I told the driver, ‘You get to that airport as fast as you can. If you get a ticket, I’ll pay for it. I’m The Million Dollar Man.’ [laughs] It’s not at the carousel so we go to the baggage claim and I asked if they’d found an old briefcase. The guy reaches down behind the counter, pulls it up and says, ‘Pal, you don’t realize how lucky you are.’
“I opened it, spun it around and showed him and said, ‘No, buddy. YOU don’t realize how lucky I am.’ ”
After years of mistreatment and an unsuccessful challenge for his former boss’ precious prize at WrestleMania VII, Virgil finally defeated DiBiase for the title at SummerSlam 1991. At none other than Madison Square Garden, the Million Dollar Title finally had its second-ever champion. ( WATCH)
“The reaction to that match was great,” DiBiase recalled. “After all the years of mistreatment, he finally fought back and did it. He wound up with my prized treasure. People went crazy. They absolutely loved it.”
Despite the feel-good moment of Virgil’s victory, “The Million Dollar Man” reclaimed the title soon after. But when DiBiase scored the World Tag Team Championships alongside Irwin R. Schyster three months later, the Million Dollar Title faded away. It was then that the championship’s whereabouts became somewhat mysterious.
“I gave the Million Dollar Title to [a WWE executive] and said, ‘Take this back to the office, because I’m not going to carry both of these titles on the road. It’s ridiculous,’ ” the WWE Hall of Famer recalled. “I later left the company and got a phone call one day from someone in accounting asking me to send the title back. I said I didn’t have the title and told him that I gave it back because I didn’t want to be responsible for it.”
Then things got serious.
“Two weeks goes by and Linda McMahon personally calls me and says, ‘Ted, look, we really need the title.’ I said, ‘Linda, do you think I would cut my nose off to spite my face? There’s no way I would try to pull one over on you, keep that title and alienate myself from the company. I swear to you, I don’t have it.’ Another week or two goes by and I got another call saying, ‘Ted, I just want you to know we found the title.’ I said, ‘Great where was it?’ And the person said, ‘It was in the safe.’ ” [laughs]
After a nearly four-year absence from television, the title returned around the most unlikely of waists. Not yet the “Stone Cold” beer-guzzler, Steve Austin arrived in WWE under DiBiase’s tutelage in late 1995 as The Ringmaster. ( WATCH) Austin was handed the Million Dollar Championship, but the glitzy title didn’t fit The Texas Rattesnake’s emerging persona. Soon, “The Million Dollar Man” departed for WCW, Austin quoted a bible verse and the rest was history.
Once DiBiase was gone from WWE, so was the Million Dollar Championship. It wasn’t until his WWE Hall of Fame induction 15 years later that the title reappeared. Walking out onto the stage in Phoenix, DiBiase’s familiar decoration was draped over his shoulder. ( WATCH)
“It was natural for ‘The Million Dollar Man’ to have the title,” he said. “It was part of who I was.”
Soon after, the title reappeared on WWE television with “The Million Dollar Man’s” son, Ted DiBiase. ( WATCH) But the former Legacy member’s famous father admitted to WWEClassics.com that he wasn’t pleased with his son’s new accessory.
“My son is his own person,” the WWE Hall of Famer said. “[WWE] tried to make him an extension of me. I wanted him to be himself. His name is already Ted DiBiase, so he’s carrying my name. Teddy’s even said, ‘How can I top my dad?’ I didn’t think it was the best thing to do.”
To what must have been a relief for “The Million Dollar Man,” the title didn’t remain with his son for long. The expensive item fell into a bizarre triangle with Goldust and Aksana, but was finally returned to DiBiase himself. ( WATCH)
But where is the title now? DiBiase insists it’s in WWE’s Stamford, Conn., headquarters, but we searched and simply cannot find it. Even WWE’s archivist combed the massive warehouse only to uncover a lowly replica. The answer to the Million Dollar Championship’s location remains unknown.
For all of the mysteries and facts surrounding the Greenwich-made relic, we wanted to know one question: Was the Million Dollar Championship a consolation for DiBiase never winning the big one?
“I don’t really look at it that way,” he said. “It would have been nice if I had been World Champion. If you have the title, you also have the respect of being a top performer. But I made more money with the Million Dollar Title than I would have as WWE Champion. Hands down.”