Teddy DiBiase, Jr. – WrestleMania Hero with a Heart for God

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by MARILYN TINNIN

Steven Smith, College Pastor at First Baptist Church in Jackson, has discipled and mentored Teddy DiBiase since he was a freshman at Mississippi College in 2001. He calls him “a true man after God’s own heart,” and adds, “Now with over 200,000 twitter followers, he has a continued role in the largest entertainment industry in the world. He is doing some amazing things as a Christian in a very secular entertainment industry.”

Ted in the ring where it is part performance, part entertainment, and lots of skill and grit.

Ted (“Teddy”) DiBiase, Jr., grew up in his father’s shadow, proud of who he was and eager to follow in his footsteps. Ted DiBiase, Sr., the “Million Dollar Man,” was one of the biggest names in the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) organization while his three sons were growing up. Living in Clinton, Mississippi, the family enjoyed a very normal small town life despite the fame of the father. However, Ted, Sr.’s career in WWE almost cost him his marriage and his family, and he was adamant that his sons not spend a single day pursuing the career that was rife with temptations and a lack of accountability.

Forty years ago, wrestlers enjoyed something of a rock star lifestyle. Drugs, infidelity, a hard fast life on the road––it was all part of wrestling. Teddy’s mom, Melanie, was not blind or deaf to any of it even though her sons had no idea. Ted, Sr., called one day from the road to tell Melanie that he was on his way home, and she surprised him by telling him, “No. You don’t live here anymore.”

What a sobering wakeup call that was! With counseling and a completely fresh and real commitment to Christ, the DiBiases did put their marriage back together. Teddy describes a radical change in his father as he began to seek Christ with a hunger he had never had before.

“I wish other people could know my dad the way I do and to see the complete transformation from the big star to the guy he became after that. It was just amazing the way he began to talk about character and integrity and the certain qualities he started to instill in his children––those things are the things that really molded me, and the things I can fall back on, and the things I will never forget.”

Ted, Sr. began to speak publicly about his journey from the bleached-blonde, barrel-chested, wrestler role he had once played to the redeemed and restored husband and father he is today. God used his willingness to speak in powerful ways. He eventually became an ordained minister and today heads Heart of David Ministry––an evangelistic organization that encourages and challenges men and women to become dedicated followers of Christ. Living about twenty minutes away from his son, he is a font of wisdom and encouragement for Teddy. He is also a doting grandfather to six-month-old Tate McKinley DiBiase.

THE EXTREMIST

Teddy calls himself an “extremist,” smiling as he explains that he just never does anything halfway. Following the themes of good versus evil that framed the backdrop for the wrestling exhibitions, he developed a strong desire to live and breathe adventure. Even as a child, his ambitions were anything but dull. If wrestling was out of the question, maybe he would become a Navy Seal. After his father’s conversion and subsequently his own, he even thought about becoming a missionary. Teddy’s prayer was a little unusual, however, as he prayed that God would send him to the darkest place in the world––a mission field where nobody else wanted to go. He was a great fan of the apostle Paul. In his young mind, he focused on Paul’s daring escapes and great tests of faith and strength. “I was drawn to the thought that it would be exciting as a human being to endure so much and to experience God’s ability to supply the endurance and the strength.”

At that time, Teddy’s idea of the darkest place on earth was a jungle in an untamed wilderness. Instead, God’s plans involved another dark place––the entertainment industry through World Wrestling Entertainment, the largest professional wrestling promotion in the world. He had almost relinquished his childhood fantasy of wrestling out of respect for his dad’s strong desire that none of his son’s choose that road.

While Teddy was completing his college education at Mississippi College and trying to decide what he was going to do with his Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Business Administration degrees, the WWE asked his father to come back in a behind-the-scenes role to help with production, and to help mentor the younger talent coming up. A lot of good changes had transpired during the decade or so that he had been out of the business. Teddy explains that the WWE became a publicly traded company and cleaned up its image a great deal. They began to gear their product toward children and families. Gone were the half-naked women and the beer drinking and foul language that had characterized the previous years. Another change involved drug testing and other procedures that provided for more accountability. The entire environment had been cleaned up. Ted DiBiase, now an evangelist, was now less adamant that his son not follow in his footsteps.

With his father’s blessing, Ted, Jr., took his final exam of his senior year and did not wait to march in the graduation procession. Instead, he left the very next day for Harley Race’s Wrestling Academy in Eldon, Missouri. Race, a retired professional wrestler and former World Heavyweight Champion, had trained both Ted, Sr., and Teddy’s grandfather, “Iron” Mike DiBiase.

Although Teddy had never had the opportunity to do any wrestling––he had been the quarterback on Clinton High School’s football team and he had played years of soccer—as a natural athlete, he picked up the moves fairly quickly. The most difficult thing about the sport is learning to tolerate the pain, Ted says. Although there is a great deal of acting involved in the story line and the wrestlers do try to protect each other to some extent, the falls are real and the injuries are inevitable.

He says, “I was very motivated to complete the program which usually takes anywhere from 18 months to two years to complete.” It was a combination of being away from home and the fact that the weather was cold that gave him the incentive to learn what he needed to learn as quickly as possible. He worked odd jobs stocking groceries, cutting fabric in a Polo outlet, and cleaning a gym while he completed the course in an unheard of 10-months time.

THE CAREER

After a brief stint with Pro Wrestling Noah, Ted got a call from the WWE offering him a contract. He headed to Tampa and their developmental facility, Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW). Something akin to a baseball minor league farm club, this opportunity was the springboard to the career he had dreamed of his entire life. It was also the place he was going to find out what real testing looked like, and he was going to find out that he was not the invincible man of God that he had so naively thought he would be.

Teddy and fellow wrestler, brother Brett, inducted their dad, Ted Dibiase, Sr., “The Million Dollar Man,” into the WWE Hall of Fame on March 27, 2010.

Six months after his television debut, his managers at WWE told him they wanted him to read for a part in a made-for-DVD movie, Marine II. Thinking he was probably going to be some kind of extra, he looked at the script once or twice before the audition, but he told himself he was really going to go for it. He gave it all he had performing in three different scenes. A week later he got a call that he had the part.

“Cool,” he said, “Which one?” He nearly dropped the phone when the reply came back, “The lead character.” Ted DiBiase, Jr., could now add “actor” to his resume.

His star status soared. He was traveling the world, wrestling before hundreds of millions of people, being asked for his autograph everywhere he went, seeing his character in action figures and video games––it was all quite heady for a 25-year-old from Clinton, Mississippi. He had prayed for testing, and it was all around him, but he failed to recognize it until he almost self-destructed.

THE CRISIS

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him.” I John 2:15.

In February 15, 2008, Teddy was arrested for DUI in Hillsborough County, Florida. Fortunately, when he crashed his SUV into another vehicle, no one was seriously injured. He was released on bond, the press carried the story everywhere, and what he calls “the worst day of my entire life” became a turning point of monumental proportions, as well as an experience he shares in frequent speaking engagements before youth groups.

The milestones in Teddy and Kristen’s relationship go back to Senior Prom days!

Teddy reflects on that season of life with a generous amount of transparency and spiritual maturity. “It was soon after the action movie that I began to lose my focus and I started to believe my own press. I enjoyed all that stuff way too much. I had started to climb that ladder of success, and I was never satisfied. My priorities had shifted. Kristen and I were not married then, and I was away from home, away from the friends who held me accountable.”

Teddy’s conversation is filled with the word, “accountability.” He is quick to point out that it matters who your friends are because you become like the people you spend your time with whether you intend to or not. If he had just disciplined himself to stay in touch with those relationships from his past, the friends who did not mind asking him the tough questions and holding him accountable, he thinks he would not have made the series of poor decisions that resulted in his arrest.

“Still to this day,” Teddy says, “it is terrifying to me when I think back on that incident and that God had blessed me with so much. I let my family down. I let my friends down. I let everyone down around me when I wasn’t living what I professed. Now, however, that experience has become a tool because I can talk to kids and can relate to them. I understand the struggle and the deceptions they grapple with, and I understand what peer pressure is, too.”

TURNING A FAILURE INTO A VICTORY

Just like the prodigal son in Luke 15, Teddy quickly “came to himself.” It took little more than a look at himself in the mirror to remember who he was, what his real values were, and how hungry he was to be back in fellowship with the Lord he had long professed, and the close friends who had been part of his spiritual support system. He made a 180-degree turn.

Kristen and Teddy married at Lake Caroline on October 30, 2008.

Success has continued to mark his career path, but his perspective changed as he began to view his career as a platform for giving credit to God––and as an open door to speak out as a Believer to a wide and diverse audience. Whether he is speaking to a church youth group, a cancer ward at Blair Batson Children’s hospital, or a school assembly, Teddy possesses a great gift of communicating the gospel message and reaching out to each person he meets.

“I’ve been down the dark road,” he says. “I’ve also done most everything the world says is cool. I’ve lived both places without seeking God, and either way I was totally miserable. There is nothing in this world, nothing at all, that matters as much as your relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Just this year, Teddy, along with a few of his best friends, organized The Ted DiBiase Foundation. A 501(c)(3), the purpose is to provide what Teddy calls “Be Happy” experiences for special needs children, disabled or wounded soldiers, or others who would like to come to a wrestling event. The group arranges transportation, pictures with the wrestlers both backstage and in the ring, and a gift package to make the day memorable. A second focus for the new foundation will be a leadership program that brings together metro-area, high school youth for projects and special events––inspiring and encouraging them to be those leaders who stand for character and integrity. He dreams of creating a leadership team, of providing real-life experiences that help ground them before they go to college and have no one to hold them accountable.

Jordan Ash, a Jackson attorney, who has been Ted’s lifelong friend, is one of the foundation’s board members. Their friendship goes back to four-year-old kindergarten. Ted’s desire to start a foundation that helps other people came as no surprise to Jordan. He says, “The one thing that always sticks in my mind about Teddy is how he treats people. He is one of the most humble guys I know, and he doesn’t let the success he has achieved affect the way he lives his life. I am most proud that he has decided to use his success to make a difference in people’s lives for Christ. He wanted to show God’s love to people, kids especially, by taking advantage of the public platform he has been given by God.”

TED’S FUTURE

Ted is 30 years old, but when he lists the injuries he has suffered in his brief career as a wrestler, it is clear that the physical wear and tear on the body has been enormous. Dislocated shoulders, torn labrum, bone spurs, broken wrist, broken ankle, torn ACL, fractured knee—sounds more like he has been to war than to WWE! Even so, he enjoys what he does and considers himself so blessed to have had the chance to live his dream. His career has provided well for his family.

However, he and Kristen welcomed Tate McKinley DiBiase into their family this past May, and life on the road is less attractive than it was previously. Wrestling is a 52-weeks-ofthe- year sport, and he does not like being away. The WWE sets his itinerary, and he is gone for weeks at a time, spending each night on the road in a different city and often a different country as well!

A new season for the DiBiases may be just around the corner. He cites his favorite scripture, Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” He and Kristen have been praying to find a way for him to be home more. “I want more than anything to be a father and to be here for Tate and for her. God let me do this job. He says he will give you the desires of your heart, and I prayed that God would send me to the darkest place there was, and He did both.” But he adds that he has a new dream today, and that would be to be the very best husband and father, by God’s grace, he can be.

“One of the things I love doing is sharing my testimony—and not for any recognition but because it gives God the glory, and I can say publicly that I would never have been able to do any of these things I have been blessed to do except that He allowed me to.”

It looks like Teddy’s heart is firmly planted in missions, but he might be giving up the “darkest place in the world,” for one that is equally challenging right here at home. There are a lot of kids, including his own, who are going to be incredibly blessed by that fact!