Hidden Gems: Ted DiBiase’s 1985 Babyface Turn

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Photo Credit- All credits for photos go to WWE & Mid South Wrestling

”Stone Cold” Steve Austin at Wrestlemania 13, The Midnight Express & Jim Cornette in 1988, Andre The Giant at Wrestlemania 6, Daniel Bryan in 2014, Nikita Koloff in 1986 and Randy Savage at Wrestlemania 7 are all considered some of the best babyface turns of all time. That’s because they accomplished one or multiple of these goals: To earn the fans respect, to earn the fans sympathy and make the person who has turned look even better than they were before hand. Ted DiBiase’s babyface turn in Mid South in November of 1985 accomplished all those things.

Mid South Wrestling in 1985 is not known as one of it’s prime years like a 1980, 1981, 1982, or most famously 1984. Promoter Bill Watts in the year of 1985 seemed to go back to his 1983 philosophy of filling the main event spots with big, heavy guys like The Nightmare, One Man Gang, Kareem Muhammed and Lord Humongous. Whereas in their record year of 1984, the main event scene had more smaller and faster paced guys whilst maintaining realism, most notably The Midnight Express with Jim Cornette and The Rock N Roll Express being the feud that drew a lot of the record houses. However, an average year for Mid South Wrestling is still by normal standards great wrestling television and the November 16th edition of Mid South Wrestling (depending on the day it was broadcasted in a certain area) personifies that, as it is in my opinion, one of the best episodes of Wrestling television of all time. Mid South Wrestling is admired by Wrestling fans, Wrestling historians and people inside the Wrestling business for it’s episodic TV format and this episode is no better example of Mid South Wrestling telivision at it’s best with realism, blood, drama and a reason to emotionally invest.

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Ted DiBiase to most people will be remembered as the cartoony ”million dollar man” gimmick from the WWF and rightfully so because that gimmick was the peak of his career, even though he was a big star before he went to the WWF. However, for me his pre-WWF tenure, specifically in Mid South was his best work. He’s remembered for his Heel work in Mid South, having the feud of the year with The Junkyard Dog as well as other great rivalries with Jim Duggan. This episode shows what a pre WWF, more real, Ted DiBiase could do.

If you don’t want spoilers I suggest no reading further, but if you want to get a feeling of what happened, I suggest going further.

HISTORY

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For a bit of history leading up to this episode here is a quick recap of the story going into this episode. Ric Flair, after being taken to the limit by Butch Reed at the Superdome on August 10th and after nearly losing the NWA World’s Heavyweight Championship to Butch Reed on June the 24th, only to keep it due to a reverse decision, set an ultimatum to Mid South, stating he will only from now on defend the NWA World’s Heavyweight belt in the Mid South area against the North American Champion. The North American Champion by this point was Dick Murdoch, who was no easy challenge, but didn’t go as far with Flair in previous matches as Butch Reed had. Butch Reed, to attain his goal of becoming the first Black NWA World’s Champion would have to fight his friend Dick Murdoch for the gold and as Mid South television champion, he had first dibs on a shot at the belt. The two friends would form a feisty feud over the North American belt, with both men getting into a brawl on the September 21st episode of Mid South Wrestling. The two would collide in New Orleans in the Municipal Auditorium on October the 14th with Butch Reed defeating Captain Redneck to become the North American champion. This loss would send a bitter Dick Murdoch into ending his friendship with Butch Reed and whilst this wasn’t a full turn by Murdoch, it was planting the seeds of a Murdoch that thought everything and everyone was against him.

During this rivalry, Ted DiBiase would return to the Mid South area, off the back of a tour of Japan, on September the 28th stating that he wishes to throw his name into the hat to have a shot at Ric Flair’s NWA World belt because he is the man to hold the North American Championship more times and longer than anybody else. What I like about this is that everyone who’s eyes are set on the NWA World’s belt have a good reason to demand a match, Dick Murdoch because he was the North American Champion when Flair announced he will only defend the World belt against the carrier of that belt, Butch Reed because he was the one to take Flair to the limit, DiBiase for the reasons you just read and even Duggan, who was in a feud with Flair at this time before being distracted by the returning Buzz Sawyer. Also on the September 28th episode of Mid South Wrestling, we would see our first glimpse of Dick Slater with his lady friend Dark Journey signing a contract to join Mid South Wrestling. Dick Slater says that he has come to Mid South because he has been set a mission for 25 thousand dollars that will surprise the Wrestling fans (he also came in as the new booker I believe, replacing Bill Dundee).

We would soon realize what the mission was that Dick Slater was sent on. On the October 26th episode of Mid South Wrestling it is revealed that an unbooked Ric Flair arrived in Houston last night. We get shown footage in the locker room area in the Houston Coliseum of a camera man sneaking into the dressing room of Dick Slater, where we see Ric Flair and Dick Slater chatting to each other with a suitcase of money resting to the side of them before Dick Slater throws the camera man out. It is revealed all along that Ric Flair had set a bounty on Butch Reed and hired Dick Slater to take Butch Reed out for 50 thousand dollars. On the November 2nd edition of Mid South Wrestling, Butch Reed confronts Dick Slater before his match and threatens to take Dick Slater and that ”heffer” Dark Journey out if they ever lay a hand on him and a full of sh*t Dick Slater cowers away from Butch Reed and says he gave the money back to Ric Flair.

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The next week on TV Ric Flair is on television and says in an interview that he doesn’t need Dick Slater to take out Butch Reed and a man of Ric Flair’s calibre can go do it himself. Ric Flair is in the ring later that night set to face Al Perez, but Butch Reed comes out to the ring. Butch Reed says to Flair that if you want to take me out here is your chance and Butch Reed turns his back to Flair, Flair goes for the oppurtunity but Butch Reed counters it into a punch and the referee rings the bell for an impromptu match and if Butch Reed wins this surely he will be facing Ric Flair for the NWA World’s Championship next week? After a back and forth contest between the two, with Butch Reed picking up many near falls, Reed eventually beats Ric Flair clean in the ring with a shoulder tackle and the crowd at the Irish McNeils Boys Club goes wild. However, whilst Butch Reed celebrates this great victory, the bounty hunter Dick Slater attacks Butch Reed from behind and Flair and Slater gang up on Reed, hitting Reed with a forceful spike piledriver and Slater finishing the job by snapping Reed’s neck before running out of the ring as The Bruise Brothers run both of these thugs off. Slater saying he gave the money back and Flair saying he doesn’t need Dick Slater was all a cover up to blind us from the crime that was going to be committed. What is great about this is that it did something for everybody, it gave Butch Reed (who they were pushing as their next Black superhero after Junkyard Dog left) a clean win against the NWA World’s Champion, it put even more heat on Ric Flair because even when Butch Reed beat him he still sneaked out of the match and it put heat on the fresh new Heel Dick Slater.

And that is how we got where we are, the November 16th edition of Mid South Wrestling.

Joel Watts alongside Jim Ross announces at the start of the program that Ric Flair will not defend the NWA World’s Championship against Butch Reed due to the injuries Flair and Slater surfaced on the North American Champion. However, Ric Flair will still defend the NWA World’s Championship but against the number 2 contender Ted DiBiase. After this we see a video tape by Butch Reed in a neck brace saying he will eventually be back to get revenge on Dick Slater. Then we go to an interview with Ric Flair, dressed in his Wrestling attire and Black & White robe which is shortly cut off by an irate Dick Murdoch stating that he should be given the shot at Ric Flair not Ted DiBiase. After the break the NWA World’s Heavyweight Championship match is about to commence between Ted DiBiase and Ric Flair, but Dick Murdoch gets into the ring and gets on the microphone. He says to DiBiase that he was the one that got DiBiase into college, he was the one that got DiBiase into Wrestling and taught DiBiase everything he knows so DiBiase should step aside and let him have the shot at Flair. DiBiase gets on the microphone and calls Murdoch yesterdays news and refuses to give Murdoch his shot at the belt. In retaliation a wound up Murdoch punches DiBiase, DiBiase throws Murdoch outside the ring but Flair knees DiBiase in the back, sending him tumbling outside onto the concrete. Murdoch then takes this oppurtunity to bash DiBiase’s head into the ring post, splitting DiBiase wide open, DiBiase’s forehead squirts out blood, painting the floor of the Irish McNeils Boys Club Red.

After a stand by bout between El Corsario and Jim Duggan, Bill Watts is in the dressing room with an update on Ted DiBiase’s condition. Watts says that DiBiase is badly lacerated and that there is arterial damage and trouble stopping the blood flow, but the medics have put a pressure tight bandage to DiBiase’s forehead. Watts also reveals that against doctors orders, DiBiase has demanded that he still faces Ric Flair tonight as he fears Flair will use this excuse to not defend the belt against him and he has worked too hard to get to this point and waste it. Watts says he has huge respect for DiBiase’s decision and guts and determination and that coming from the legendary and trusted Bill Watts, who has hated DiBiase ever since he turned his back on the Junkyard Dog, gave the fans a reason to respect DiBiase and admire him. But Bill Watts warns that in this match if that bandage on DiBiase’s head comes off it could get very gory, so parental discretion is advised. After that ”discretion is advised” sentence, it makes this situation seem so more real. I do wonder if this segment by Watts was taped after the DiBiase match took place as I know it was a risk to put on telivision, so much of a risk that when Jim Crockett Jr was given the tape of the match, he refused to air it on World Championship Wrestling on WTBS .

After the break, Ric Flair is waiting in the ring as Ted DiBiase, bandage on his head and blood stains on his chest stumbles to the ring. Flair goes right after DiBiase, capitalising on the impaired Man. DiBiase keeps fighting back through out the match, but as the match progresses he stumbles more and can’t perform powerful moves or even have enough strength to properly capitalise on a pinfall. The bandage comes loose soon into the match and as predicted its gory, DiBiase’s face covered in a crimson mask, not a spec of White skin can be seen on his forehead. The Blood pours all over the dirty mat and rubs onto Ric Flair, matching into Flair’s Red tights.

DiBiase towards the end of a gruelling match puts in his figure four leg lock on Flair, but Flair catches onto the ropes. DiBiase goes for it again, but Flair kicks DiBiase, sending DiBiase out of the ring, with DiBiase’s head colliding with the steel fence used as a barricade. DiBiase lays flat on the ground, totally out of it and loses via count out. Whilst some fans who haven’t saw this may say ”a count out, what a lame finish” a count out totally makes sense and is the best finish in this scenario. With DiBiase profusely losing blood, getting dizzier and hazier each second, it wouldn’t seem realistic for a fancy and convoluted finish to take place would it? The finish is simple and for that reason in the context of this story, its genius. After the match Dick Murdoch comes out, will he help his old student? No, Murdoch adds insult to injury and punches DiBiase right into his cut and then gives him a brainbuster on the concrete, leaving DiBiase to lay there like he’s dead. If Murdoch hadn’t turned full Heel by the last attack, he has now.

Jim Ross after the incident says Mid South will have a medical update on Ted DiBiase as soon as possible and that Mid South has phoned an ambulance. During the rest of the broadcast through the Bruise Brothers and Eddie Gilbert & The Nightmare matches, Jim Ross keeps giving us updates on DiBiase’s condition. Towards the end of the show we see a video tape of the aftermath of Murdoch’s attack on DiBiase with Joel Watts annoucning over it. We see Wrestlers, referees, Jim Ross, Joel Watts and Grizzly Smith crowding over DiBiase, checking to see if he’s okay, some trying to help DiBiase, some coming over to watch. The Beauty of this is that it feels real, if someone was laying there, unconscious after a brutal attack people would come over to either help or look. Over this Joel says that DiBiase was badly lacerated, suffered severe blood loss and cranial and spinal concussion. At another point we can see an unconscious DiBiase convulsing before he gets stretchered off onto a board into the dressing room. We see footage then of DiBiase with an oxygen mask over his face and neck brace around his neck, being treated by EMT’s before being rushed into an ambulance for further procedures with Watt’s saying that all we know for now is that Ted DiBiase’s condition looks grim.

Okay now remember what I said at the start of this about what makes a perfect Babyface turn. Ted here got sympathy because of the state of his condition, he got respect because he was determined to carry on through that condition and he looked better than he did before because he managed to survive for that long. This whole angle was also set up to write DiBiase off telivision for a while as he was going back to tour Japan, but when he came back to Mid South or should I say the newly formed UWF in 1986, he was a red hot babyface. If you want to see perfect Wrestling telivision I suggest watching this, its on the network and it’s on YouTube.

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