Brett DiBiase didn't make it to WrestleMania like his father. He didn't collect the glut of championships that his grandfather did or win the WWE tag team title like his older brother. Instead, injuries forced him to limp away early from his WWE career.
Still a young man, still in love with the art of pro wrestling, Brett steps into the ring with surgically repaired knees, the shadow of a Hall of Famer weighing down on him.
When he wrestles, he does so with the sky-high expectations that come from carrying around the DiBiase name. It's a name that wrestling fans know well. Brett's grandfather, "Iron" Mike DiBiase, traveled the country in the '50s and '60s, earning championships in wrestling promotions in Florida, Chicago and the Midwest.
Mike teamed up with a number of legends to earn gold in the tag team realm: Karl Gotch, Freddie Blassie, Fritz Von Erich.
Brett's father terrorized WWE babyfaces during the company's rise to national prominence as The Million Dollar Man. Ted DiBiase is known as the man who crafted his own diamond-encrusted title, who bellowed out a cartoon-villain laugh and dropped his closed fists on the heads of men like Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan.
The Hall of Famer's son, Ted DiBiase, Jr., worked his way onto the WWE roster in 2008. Wrestling alongside Cody Rhodes and Randy Orton, he made up one third of Legacy, a trio of second- and third-generation stars. His WWE tenure lasted only about five years, but fans remember him far more than they do Brett.
Brett, Ted Sr.'s youngest son, looks a lot like his brother. Both are slimmer yet more built than their father. Brett is the smaller of the two DiBiase boys at 6'0'', 219 pounds, giving up three inches and a few pounds to Ted Jr.
In terms of charisma, Ted Sr. is the giant dwarfing his sons.
The Million Dollar Man is one of the most iconic characters in WWE history. His top-tier presence allowed him to hover around the main event scene for much of his career. He passed along his good looks and athletic ability to his boys, but not that level of star power.
Ted Jr. struggled to make his own name. He was always a solid performer on the mat but couldn't connect, couldn't make the kind of impact that his father did with his personality. Brett struggled even more. A part of that was due to not having that same electric charisma as his dad, but also because he spent a good portion of his early career lying on a surgeon's table.
He began that career in the squared circle long after watching his father battle for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania IV. The impetus that sent him into the sports entertainment business was locking horns with Ted Jr.
In a radio interview on ESPN 1080 The Fan, he talked of rolling around in the ring one day with his brother, who was training at Florida Championship Wrestling, WWE's developmental promotion at the time. That little taste of the wrestling industry made him pine to join the family business.
"After that, the sparks went off, and I was ready to move down there and stay there," Brett said.
Rubbing Elbows, Paying Dues
Brett's father wanted him to finish school, but a year-and-a-half into college, the pull of the ring drew the young man in. WWE saw enough in him to sign him to a developmental deal at age 20.
In 2008, the "minor league system," so to speak, was a different beast than it is today.
FCW was not nearly as sleek and well-structured as NXT is right now. Fans knew far less about the prospects learning the craft. The spotlight was dimmer; the buzz much softer.
That's where Brett first studied the art of wrestling. He had seen his father do it when he was young. He was watching it his older brother appear on Raw every Monday.
Now it was his turn, and he knew that he would be no ordinary rookie. He told ESPN 1080, "I can't just show up and be good. I can't be average. I have to be the best."
It wasn't long before he was wrestling his first show. Whether it was thanks to his genes or learning aptitude, Brett picked up the basics quickly.
On Aug. 9, 2008, he took on Sheamus O'Shaunessy (now just Sheamus) at the Midtown Youth & Family Enrichment Center in St. Petersburg, Florida.
His list of opponents during that time included a number of other familiar names. Brett wrestled Stu Sanders (now Bad News Barrett), Dolph Ziggler and Alex Riley, and he defeated Byron Saxton before he had traded in his wrestling boots for an announcer's headset.
At this point in his career, he knew that hard work was key. His father had told him so.
Speaking with Brian Fritz of the Orlando Sentinel (h/t ProWrestling.net), Brett said that his dad told him, "It's not going to be easier for you, but I expect you to be the first one there every day and the last one to leave, because you have to show people that just because you're my son doesn't mean that you want it the easy way."
Early on, he competed at less-than-glamorous locals such as a Jewish community center and the Florida State Fair. In little time, though, he went from working dark matches to being on FCW TV. On several occasions, he battled Dylan Klein, a spiky-haired grappler who had been in the game nearly 10 years by then.
These bouts showed flashes of what Brett could become.
He looked comfortable in the ring. He looked at ease squeezing his arms around his foe's neck. Scouts had to notice his smoothness in there and how good his footwork looked already.
WWE officials put him alongside some of the best talents on the roster. They paired him with a number of prospects who would eventually move up from FCW to WWE proper: AJ Lee, Bo Rotundo (Bo Dallas), Duke Rotundo (Bray Wyatt), Heath Slater. While those wrestlers have since made bigger names for themselves, it was Brett who first appeared at SummerSlam.
Briefly in the SummerSlam Spotlight
Near the end of SummerSlam 2009, John Cena looked poised to dethrone Randy Orton as WWE world champ. He had The Viper locked in his trademark submission hold: the STF. Escape seemed impossible for Orton.
And then, as is so often the case in the wrestling world, the unexpected happened.
A fan darted under the ropes. He slid right into the fray, locked himself around the referee and choked him. This was not an Orton fanatic who evaded security; this was Brett's shot to enter the Legacy storyline.
Security carried Brett off, and the match continued. As a result of the distraction, The Viper retained the title.
The next night, Ted Jr. introduced his brother to the audience on Raw.
In the storyline, Orton claimed to having nothing to do with this interference. It was Ted's idea, an attempt to preserve his patriarch's title reign. Brett played a bit part in the backstage segment.
He was there to admit guilt, to wrap up that chapter of the story.
That SummerSlam would end up being the only WWE pay-per-view that Brett worked. It's fitting that his part in the event was so brief and that fans could barely see his face doing it. It's symbolic of his WWE career.
It was back to FCW for Brett, then; back to working through a stream of injuries.
Injuries Derail His Development
The next partner WWE found for Brett was a man who knew just how it felt to have to live up to the legacy of a famous father. Joe Hennig (who today goes by Curtis Axel) and Brett teamed up to form The Fortunate Sons.
Like Brett, Hennig's father is in the WWE Hall of Fame. Like Brett, Hennig's grandfather was a hard-nosed, intimidating grappler who was a star in an era before PPVs and cable TV.
Perhaps that shared bond explains their chemistry. Unlike the other duos Brett was a part of, this one clicked. They rose to the top of the FCW ranks.
Early in 2010, that led to them winning the developmental promotion's tag team belts against The Dudebusters.
That victory had to make Brett think about the future. Several past champions had jumped from being FCW tag champs to competing on the main roster. Eddie Colon went from winning that belt to wrestling with his cousin on Raw. The New Hart Foundation, Ziggler and Drew McIntyre took that route as well.
In the tag title bout against Alex Riley and Vance Archer the month after becoming champ, Brett was often the smallest guy in the fight.
He didn't look the part in the larger-than-life circus that is WWE. He had yet to fill out. He often looked up at his opponents.
Still, Brett was on the rise. He and Hennig both looked like they were closing in on call-ups, even after they lost the tag titles to The Usos. Brett was being talked about more than ever before.
Pro Wrestling Illustrated ranked him No. 164, in their annual PWI 500, above guys like PAC, Chris Masters and Tajiri. In an interview in WWE Magazine (h/t Pro Wrestling Torch), Ted Jr. talked about Brett being close to getting called up, possibly to do something similar to the Legacy angle.
But his body kept halting his progress.
He tore his ACL, forcing him to the FCW commentary desk while he recovered. That was just one of many setbacks. Ted Sr. told Phil Strum for Under the Ring in the Poughkeepsie Journal that Brett underwent four knee surgeries during his three years in the developmental system, as well as a neck fusion operation.
Brett's father explained to Strum, "There was a pain element after he would bump for a couple of days that they couldn't explain."
Brett moved onto refereeing briefly but eventually just left FCW. He was just 22 at the time. His dad was still a rookie at that age, learning the ropes at Bill Watts' Mid-South Wrestling.
It looked as if Brett's story would only last a few chapters and wrap up too quickly. He hasn't yet given up, though.
Six years after his FCW debut, a more muscular Brett walked out of the curtains in white paints, high-fiving two kids in Hulkamania T-shirts. He had returned to the business he fell in love with. Only the scale of the stage had changed.
Brett wrestled Jay Andrews in the main event for Pro Wrestling EGO in Canton, Mississippi, that night.
This was no SummerSlam, just a few dozen people sitting in folding chairs around the ring. Rather than the WWE posters that lined the FCW Arena, Brett was on this day surrounded by plain walls.
Build-wise, he looked more like his brother than ever before. Performance-wise, he did not look like his father as he laced the heel with right hands. There just wasn't that same Million Dollar Man magic. How much of that is being limited by years of injury and how much is Hall of Fame DNA just not being passed down is hard to tell.
Either way, Brett's career is on a different arc than his more famous family members.
He competes in small venues across his home state of Mississippi; battling in Clinton, performing in Brandon. He is the biggest name on the Pro Wrestling EGO roster. Rather than FCW or WWE gold, he has a much-lesser-known title in his sights.
In 2014, Brett won the Pride Premier Wrestling Heavyweight Championship.
In a new setting with a different set of stakes, a familiar narrative popped up during that reign. As PPW posted on its Facebook Page, Brett had to relinquish the title due to injury.
This time, it was his back.
He has since healed and returned to the ring. Brett made a surprise appearance for Pro Wrestling EGO earlier this year in which he chased "The Prince of Pain" Joe Kane from the ring, explained where he had been, promoted his next match and proceeded to pose for photos with fans.
There's no guarantee that had he not torn up his knee or been such a frequent visitor to the surgeon, he would have made it to WWE. The indys and NXT are crammed with athletes as talented as Brett.
And living up to an all-time great like his father is next to impossible.
While Brett isn't in there with the equivalent of Macho Man or headlining WrestleMania, but he's still living out a dream. Setbacks be damned, his passion for wrestling remains strong. What drives him is clear.
"I love this. This is what I love doing," he told the fans who watched him oust Kane and play the hero once more.
FCW match information courtesy of CageMatch.net.