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Wrestling With the Calling

Wrestling With the Calling

Pro wrestler Teddy DiBiase on life inside and outside the ring

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Ted "Teddy" DiBiase, Jr. seemed destined for a career as a professional wrestler.

Teddy's grandfather and his grandmother were both pro wrestlers. His father, Ted DiBiase, Sr., followed in their footsteps, achieved worldwide fame as the notorious "Million Dollar Man," a bleached blond, bearded wrestling villain known for his evil laugh and his habit of literally throwing money around. World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), the world's largest professional wrestling organization, called Ted DiBiase its "most despised villain of the 1980s." But despite his worldwide infamy, to Teddy and his two half-brothers, the Million Dollar Man was simply "Dad."

"He did a good job keeping his wrestling life and his home life separate," says Teddy. "My mother kept my brothers and me active in other things and made sure our lives weren't all about wrestling, and when my father came home to Clinton from a tour, he was just Dad. Of course, I did always win the playground argument. You know - my dad can beat up your dad."

But while wrestling brought Ted DiBiase, Sr. fame, fortune, and a reputation on the playground, wrestling's sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll on-the-road lifestyle almost cost him his wife and his family. When his wife, Melanie, threatened to end their marriage, Ted made a fresh commitment to Christ that saved their family and eventually led him to become and ordained minister. He went on to found Hearts of David Ministry, an evangelical organization that encourages men and women to become commited followers of Christ. As a result of his wrestling experiences in the ring and on the road, Ted was adamant that his three sons choose a career path that did not lead them into the ring.

But his pride in his father and those childhood trips to the locker room to meet Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan had already sparked an interest in young Teddy.

"Wrestling was always in the back of my mind, even though I didn't express that to my father," Teddy says. "I knew how much he didn't want me to do it. He was my hero and I didn't want to disappoint him."

Teddy ignored wrestlings siren song for a time, enrolling in Mississippi College, where he played football and soccer and earned a business degree, but he long for adventure and excitement, a career outside the ordinary. “I didn’t see myself in a cubicle, and I wanted God to use me somehow. I thought I might become a missionary, and I began praying that God would send me to the darkest place in the world,” Teddy recalls. “It’s funny, but in answer to that prayer, He sent me to the entertainment industry. God sent me to World Wrestling Entertainment.”

“Teddy came to me and said, ‘Dad, I’ve honored your wishes. Now I want to chase my dream,’” Ted DiBiase, Sr. recalls. “When he told me that his dream was wrestling, my first reaction was shock. Then Teddy said, 'You are my hero and I’ve always wanted to be like you.’ I realized that sometimes, God lets us go, and I needed to let Teddy go. I knew that if I kept Teddy from having that opportunity, he would have held it against me.” By that time, the WWE had shut down much of the party culture surrounding wrestling and made the event more of a family sport. Wrestlers had to pass drug tests in order to perform, and were held to a higher standard of behavior outside the ring.

With his father’s blessing, Teddy relocated to Missouri to enroll in Harley Race’s Wrestling Academy. Wrestling academy involved a strenuous workout program that included endless sit-ups, push-ups, and leg lifts. Harley’s taught Teddy how to work a crowd, perform trick moves, and “take a bump,” the wrestling term for falling flat on one’s back without using the hands to break the fall.

Perhaps the most important lesson Teddy learned at Harley’s was how to tolerate pain.

“The wrestling academy weeded out the wannabes,” Teddy says. “You had to be a disciplined athlete, and while wrestling is acting, the pain is very real. Hitting those ropes left me black and blue.”

Teddy worked multiple odd jobs to support himself while he learned, including stocking produce, mowing a golf course, and sweeping a gym floor in exchange for workouts privileges. He also landed a job as a bouncer at a club, but the wrestling-villain-in-training was fired after three days “because I was too nice.”

“All of my friends were getting jobs and settling down, but I was chasing a dream and was all in,” Teddy says. “God gave me the strength to get through Harley’s. I had some fears and some ‘what ifs,’ but where we are weak, God’s power is made perfect.”

After “graduating” from Harley’s, Teddy wrestled briefly with Japan’s Pro Wrestling NOAH, then landed a contract with wrestling Goliath WWE. In a nod to his father’s persona as the Million Dollar Man, Teddy DiBiase, Jr. stepped into the ring in trunks emblazoned with the word, “Priceless.”

“I started as a villain, the cocky son of the Million Dollar Man,” Teddy says. “It was actually a hard persona for me to portray. I was always trying to pitch ideas that had me turn into a nice guy.”

But Teddy’s portrayal of the cocky villain quickly made him famous. His paycheck climbed into the hundreds of thousands. He wrestled on six continents, performing in front of millions of screaming fans. His live appearance at Wrestlemania, the WWE’s annual flagship event, helped attract 74,000 wrestling-enthusiasts. Teddy traveled by private jet and limousine. Action figures and video game characters were created in his image and marketed worldwide. Teddy was even chosen to play the lead role in the made-for-DVD action movie, “Marine 2.”

“I had what the world thinks is everything, and for awhile, I believed all my own press,” Teddy says. “But gradually, I woke up and realized I wasn’t happy. I was living in Florida, away from my family and the friends who had held me accountable. All of my focus was on the WWE and climbing that ladder. Things that had once affected me and bothered me no longer convicted me. I wasn’t putting on the full armor of God. Instead, I was partying and drinking a lot to block it all out. I was at the peak of my success and all I felt was emptiness.”

In early 2008, Teddy made the decision to drive under the influence of alcohol. He fell asleep behind the wheel on a Florida road, waking up when his air bags deployed to find he had caused a head-on collision with another driver.

“The first thing I saw was the other driver, a man with his head smashed against the windshield,” Teddy says, his voice shaking at the vivid memory. “That was the worst feeling, ever. Thankfully, he was okay. He sued me, but I didn’t care, because he was okay.”

Teddy was charged with DUI, but he saw the entire event not as a punishment, but as a divine wake-up call. 

“I had been spitting in God’s face,” Teddy says. “I had achieved my dream with God’s help, but I wasn’t living what I had always professed. Then I struggled with the feeling that I had lost my ‘saltiness.’ God wasn’t going to use me the way I had wanted Him to because of the bad choices I’d made and the way I’d been living. But we serve a God of redemption. And the God of second chances – and third chances, and fourth chances – gave me grace.”

Teddy and Kristin DiBiase

Once again, Teddy donned the fulled armor of God.

He lost that feeling of emptiness, and soon his personal life took a dramatic turn. In October of 2008, he married his high school sweetheart, Kristin Tynes. The two had separated when they left high school for college, but had remained in touch over the years. When Teddy was ready to turn his life around, Kristin was there to help.

“I knew Kristin was the one,” Teddy says. “She encouraged me to be the man she fell in love with. She kept me in church. I credit a lot of my life to her. Kristin saved me. She really did.”

Life as the wife of a pro wrestler was not something to which many of her friends could relate, but Kristin took it in stride. 

“When Teddy went on tour in Europe, all my friends asked, ‘Aren’t you going with him?’” Kristin says. “Travel through Europe with 20 wrestlers? No, thank you. And try to imagine your husband going to work every day in a Speedo. I just didn’t let my mind go there.”

Teddy used his second chance to turn his wrestling career into a platform for Christ. With the help of friend and MC alumnus Jordan Ash ’05, ’08, he launched the Ted DiBiase Foundation, a charitable organization that provided VIP wrestling experiences for sick and disabled children, special needs adults, and veterans.

One of Teddy’s greatest memories is of the evening he spent with Lori, a young woman in her 20s with Down syndrome and a passion for wrestling. Teddy arranged for Lori and her family to be driven by limousine to a WWE event in her hometown of Macon, Georgia. When she arrived at the arena, Teddy and members of his wrestling crew, “the DiBiase Posse,” were waiting to greet her, along with dozens of WWE fans chanting, “Lori! Lori! Lori!” Teddy escorted Lori backstage, where she met and was photographed with other professional wrestlers. When Lori asked, “Can I see the ring?” Teddy took it one step further, having the lighting and sound techs light up the ring and play his signature entrance music while he and Lori raised their linked hands high into the air and “bolted out of the curtain onto the stage, bouncing like it was Wrestlemania.”

“Honestly, with an empty arena, only security guards and a few close friends there to see, that was the best I’d ever felt coming out of that curtain,” Teddy says. “I’d walked through that curtain before into an arena filled with fans from all over the world for Wrestlemania, and it didn’t compare to my entrance that day with Lori.”

On May 15, 2012, Teddy and Kristin welcomed a son, Tate. Life seemed to be back on track and better than ever for Teddy DiBiase. But in 2013, Teddy felt God tugging at him once again. This time, the calling was harder to understand; Teddy felt God was telling him it was time to pursue a different dream, and retire from pro wrestling. While Teddy was weary from the travel and the constant abuse to his body and longed to spend more time with his wife and son, the thought of leaving the only career he’d ever known was a daunting one.

But in August 2013, Teddy DiBiase took a deep breath, hung up his Speedo, and retired from professional wrestling. Kristin, who was filling in occasionally as a nurse but had primarily become a stay-at–home mom, supported her husband in his decision 100 percent, even though she knew they would be stepping out of economic security and into faith.

“It’s not always easy in any job in any field, or for that matter, anywhere God puts you,” says Kristin. “Satan is always trying to pull you down. We learned a lot of lessons about God’s grace during Teddy’s time in wrestling, and we can use those lessons in our next step. We’re in a transitional phase, but we’re happy in it.

“I see God in the design of our marriage,” Kristin continues. “I am a realist. Teddy is a dreamer. I could happily settle for ‘ordinary’ any day of the week, but Teddy is not ordinary. I am part of Teddy now, so I can’t settle for ordinary, either.”

“Stepping out of the ring was frightening and exciting at the same time,” Teddy says. “We had financial security, but I was giving up time I would never get back. Now I’m not getting beat up or jumping off a top rope anymore. I’m home with my wife and my son instead of on the road 290 days a year.”

One of the first people DiBiase called with the news that he was stepping out of the ring was his friend and fellow MC alumnus Nick Coughlin ’06. Within weeks, he and Coughlin launched a new venture, a consulting and business development group called Dofflin Strategies. The business has garnered some high profile partners and clients and appears to be poised for success. 

“God blessed me with a platform, and I feel a responsibility to that. The wrestling world is huge, with millions of fans and social media followers. I want this to be a platform God can use to change the world, but if I can help in just a few spots, I'll be happy.”

-Teddy DiBiase, Jr.

Since his charitable foundation was based on his persona as a wrestler, DiBiase shuttered the Ted DiBiase Foundation, but he didn’t give up his passion for philanthropy. Instead, he launched a new charity, HopeSpot. Named for the wrestling term that refers to the moment of hope when the good guy fights back and just might defeat the villain, the charity will focus on specific “spots” around the world that need an injection of hope. HopeSpot will sell products and sponsor competitions and fund-raisers to fight sex trafficking, support orphaned children, provide clean water, assist in disaster relief, and help the homeless. HopeSpot is still in the development stages, but Teddy plans to use the celebrity connections he made through professional wrestling to launch the organization worldwide. 

God blessed me with a platform, and I feel a responsibility to that,” Teddy says. “The wrestling world is huge, with millions of fans and social media followers. I want this to be a platform God can use to change the world, but if I can help in just a few spots, I’ll be happy.”

Memories of his darker days in wrestling still bring tears to Teddy’s eyes.

“That’s a tough time for me to revisit,” Teddy says, as he looks at his wife and son. “It’s hard to talk about because I realize what I have now. But I don’t mind sharing what happened to me because I want people to know you can have the world, money, fame, and still be so unhappy if you don’t have a close relationship with Christ.”

As for his son, what would Teddy say if little Tate grew up and told him, “I want to be a pro wrestler, just like you”?

“Right now, I’d say no,” Teddy says. “But I know that when the time comes for Tate to make a decision about his career, I’ll pray that he lets God lead him and hope he makes a wise decision. Tate will make his own choice. My dad didn’t really want me to be there, but before I am my dad’s son, I am God’s son, and so is Tate.”

“Of all that Teddy has accomplished, I’m most proud of the decision he made to put God and his family ahead of everything else,” Ted DiBiase, Sr. says. “Teddy has grown into a man whose masculinity is defined by his character and his integrity. He is a caring and giving person. And at his core is what I’ve tried to instill in all of my sons. At his core is Teddy’s relationship with Jesus Christ.”

“I stepped out of the ring on faith and trusted that God would provide for my wife and our son,” Teddy says. “I was called to leave before I actually did it. When I finally gave it up, God opened the floodgates. He’s opened doors left and right. It’s really awesome to see, and it’s taught me to just let Him be God. He is sovereign. God is doing it all, and I’m just along for the ride.”