‘The Million Dollar Man’ Ted DiBiase has given an insight into the pure art behind in-ring improvisation which he states is severely lacking in the modern day product.
Improvisation inside the ring was rife up to the early nineties when matches began to be laid out move-for-move to ensure that they were entertaining enough for a worldwide television audience. Spots would be called in the moment in front of a live crowd with only the finish agreed upon beforehand which the referee would relate to the grapplers the correct time to execute.
Learning the art of professional wrestling and the improvisation that went along with it from his adopted father, ‘Iron’ Mike DiBiase, the man who would eventually become The Million Dollar Man further learnt his craft from the great Bill Watts who taught him to understand the inner working of wrestling psychology.
Talking to WrestleZone, the former WWF Tag Team Champion detailed how important the art of improvisation was in the industry during his heyday and how learning to react from reading the crowd helped him to put on some of the most memorable bouts of his era:
“Where I really learned my trade was doing it in front of a live crowd because you learn to react to the people and ‘read’ a crowd, if you will. I remember even Vince McMahon, one day Vince looked at me and said, ‘Ted, you remind me of Ray Stevens.’ I said ‘How is that?’ and he said, ‘Like Ray Stevens, you’re one of the best workers we’ve ever had, but if you ever asked Ray why he ever did anything at any particular point in a match, he couldn’t really explain it.’ I said that I totally agree because the art of what we do, of course with the old school way, is improv. I never sat down and mapped out a match from bell to bell with anybody. Except maybe Randy Savage. And even with Randy, because of our relationship, I said ‘just give me the freedom if I feel something in there, I’ll call it, and then we’ll always get back to the game plan. Randy might have wanted to map everything out as a way of protecting himself, I don’t know, but that’s old school.”
Part of professional wrestling’s golden era, DiBiase was not just an exceptional performer but also an exceptional manager who, like Bobby Heenan, knew how to work a crowd into a frenzy. Following in-ring retirement in 1993, The Million Dollar Man returned to the World Wrestling Federation where he put together his Million Dollar Corporation.
Though the group were short on gold, DiBiase and his wards were front and centre of the shocking Tatanka heel turn at SummerSlam 1994 as well as permanent thorn in the side of The Undertaker the following year.
Credit for the interview and transcription: WrestleZone