The pay scale in WWE is fascinating to break down given the combination of sport and entertainment. Unlike other athletic forms, the best athletes don’t necessarily make the most money. The most valuable commodities to the company tend to get rewarded with big bucks in their guaranteed contracts. There are also bonuses for various accomplishments such as winning championships, main eventing PPVs and merchandise sales that add to a wrestler’s end of the year income total. Forbes recently released the information of the highest paid WWE stars of 2017. The highest paid wrestlers list provided some expected names and a few surprises.
More surprising, quite a few deserving wrestlers did not make the highest paid club. The fact that we know who made the most just showed it even more that the snubbed names deserve a bump in their pay. We'll take a look at the highest paid stars in WWE and why they make so much money at the end of the year. The wrestlers that were underpaid comparative to their peers will also be examined with the reasons as to why they should make more. These are the highest paid ten wrestlers in WWE and ten others that deserve more money.
20 Highest Paid: Randy Orton
As one of the longest tenured main event stars in WWE, Randy Orton earned $1.9 million in 2016. The figure is even more impressive when you realize he missed the first seven months of the year with a shoulder injury. Orton missed out on the usually large WrestleMania bonus and other perks that would have come if he worked the entire calendar year.
WWE views Orton among their biggest full-time stars, considering the likes of John Cena and Brock Lesnar work part-time schedules. Orton has been positioned as one of the top SmackDown Live stars. His storyline with Bray Wyatt helped make Wyatt into a bigger star and Orton continues to remain a top player. Expect him to make even more money in 2017 as the current WWE Champion.
19 Deserves More: Bray Wyatt
Randy Orton’s rival Bray Wyatt did not make the same amount of money despite working together for the majority 2016 following the brand split. Wyatt is one of WWE’s premiere young stars, even though Bray saw his fair share of ups and downs throughout the year. Wyatt was involved in a segment with The Rock and John Cena at WrestleMania 32, proving the company trusts him to engage in a promo with huge names.
His work following the brand split allowed Wyatt to become a top star on SmackDown Live. Along with Orton, Wyatt won the high profile Raw vs. SmackDown match at Survivor Series 2016. WWE always attempts to position Bray as one of the faces of the company, but he still doesn't make as much as his peers.
18 Highest Paid: Seth Rollins
The star power of Seth Rollins has grown through the years and it shows in his income. WWE paid Rollins $2 million in 2016 despite missing half of the year recovering from an injury. Rollins returned in the summer and spent the rest of 2016 as a main event star on the Raw brand. A plethora of main events from Rollins on Raw and PPVs allowed him to become one of the highest paid stars in the company.
Rollins is both the present and future of WWE, making him a multi-millionaire for his efforts. His annual income should rise with a full year expected and after a huge match with Triple H at WrestleMania 33. WWE invested a lot of time and effort into The Shield. They are seeing the interest now with all three being stars, especially Rollins.
17 Deserves More: Becky Lynch
The women’s division in WWE reached new heights in 2016. Becky Lynch is one of the top stars that helped push the movement forward for women’s wrestling in WWE. Lynch was involved in the incredible WrestleMania 32 match with Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks that stole the show. Most importantly, Lynch stepped up to help create a relevant division on SmackDown Live following the brand split.
Banks and Flair being drafted on Raw meant the SmackDown women’s division had a tougher time getting over. Lynch led the blue brand as the face of the women’s division and arguably made it a better source of wrestling than the Raw brand. There’s no doubt Becky deserved to be up there with some of the highest paid wrestlers in WWE.
16 Highest Paid: The Undertaker
The Undertaker only wrestled one match last year, but still found his way on the highest paid talents of 2016. WWE rewards the loyalty and tenure of Undertaker through the years by paying him huge money for his annual match or two. Undertaker earned $2 million last year for his match with Shane McMahon at WrestleMania, along with other televised appearances and merchandise bonuses.
It'll be interesting to see if WWE paid Undertaker any more for this year’s WrestleMania main event against Roman Reigns. Most believe it was Taker’s final match before retirement and he went out putting over WWE’s most heavily pushed star. WWE has yet to confirm The Undertaker’s future, but he's still considered one of WWE’s highest paid talents. You have to believe the company will pay him good money for any future appearances.
15 Deserves More: Rusev
Rusev has been a workhorse for WWE over the past few years, despite not making the highest paid WWE stars list. His consistency in 2016 was remarkable, doing everything the company asked of him from top of the card feuds to lower card comedy along with his fiancée Lana. Rusev worked against Roman Reigns on numerous PPVs for the United States Championship, putting him over.
Unfortunately, Rusev didn’t make near to what Reigns did and wasn’t a top paid star. Rusev likely did well for himself, but everyone wants to be one of the highest paid top stars. The road for Rusev will be tough as he attempts to become a legitimate main event star. Consistency should however be valued and Rusev deserves to make as much as the part-timers and names that missed half the year.
14 Highest Paid: Shane McMahon
The shocking return of Shane McMahon in 2016 saw him wrestle The Undertaker at WrestleMania 32 and become the Commissioner of SmackDown Live for the brand split. It's rather sad to see a member of the McMahon family make the highest paid talent list, especially because Shane did not take on any backstage roles. Shane's contract allowed him to rake in $2.2 million despite only wrestling two matches and having a talking role.
McMahon does deserve some credit for being one of the reasons fans enjoyed the atmosphere of SmackDown Live following the brand split. The success of the SmackDown brand has definitely improved Shane’s value as a performer in WWE. Shane will likely continue to make millions of dollars per year for his current role in the company.
13 Deserves More: The Miz
2016 was a year of resurgence for The Miz after many years of irrelevance. WWE hired his wife Maryse to return as his manager and the two worked absolutely perfect together. Miz became one of the most entertaining heels in the company, engaging in amazing feuds with Cesaro, Dolph Ziggler and even SmackDown Live General Manager Daniel Bryan.
The Miz's success has been one of the major reasons for SmackDown’s success. WWE should have definitely paid him enough to make the list of the top stars in the company. Credible heels are difficult to find these days, but Miz makes it look easy. Don’t be surprised if Miz wins the WWE Championship in 2017 and finds his way on the highest paid list this time next year.
12 Highest Paid: A.J. Styles
A surprising name on the list of the highest paid stars is A.J. Styles. Styles' first year in WWE was so successful that he ended 2016 as the sixth highest paid talent in the company. Styles delivered one of the best first years in WWE history and it was rewarded with the total of $2.4 million. WWE reportedly paid him big money, but the perks that came from his run made up the rest of it.
Styles had an impressive year, selling plenty of merchandise along with receiving a massive push. His big matches against Chris Jericho and Roman Reigns proved to Vince McMahon that Styles could be a major player for the company. Styles went on to become one of the top stars of the SmackDown brand, main eventing just about every PPV for the Tuesday program. His show stealing performances earned him the massive financial success.
11 Deserves More: Shinsuke Nakamura
The signings of A.J. Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura by WWE came at the same time, following both of their New Japan contracts expiring at the beginning of 2016. Nakamura was an even bigger star than Styles in Japan before both made the jump. WWE decided to make Nakamura the face of the NXT brand, as the developmental promotion needed new talent to carry the shows.
Nakamura is reportedly the highest paid star in NXT, but nowhere near the level of the biggest stars on the main roster. As cool as NXT is, that's one of the most popular reasons for everyone wanting to move on to Raw or SmackDown Live. Nakamura should be compensated for what he provides to NXT. It isn’t his fault that NXT needs the help and he deserves to be paid fairly for the sacrifice.
10 Highest Paid: Dean Ambrose
Dean Ambrose personifies the workhorse mentality that WWE wants from their performers, as 2016 was a career year for Ambrose as a singles star. Ambrose faced Brock Lesnar and Triple H in the early part of the year. That was only the start as he went on to win his first WWE World Championship before becoming the face of the SmackDown brand following the brand split.
Ambrose’s biggest contribution to WWE last year was staying healthy and not requesting any time off. No one worked more matches than Ambrose all year, with 204 bouts from television to live events. WWE rewarded him with $2.7 million total for all of his hard work. Ambrose appears to be sliding downwards this year, but at least he was able to cash in last year.
9 Deserves More: Sasha Banks
The women’s revolution in WWE was highlighted by the performances of Sasha Banks. Along with Charlotte Flair, Banks made history with both the first ever women’s Hell in a Cell match and women’s main event on a WWE PPV in 2016. Banks won the Raw Women’s Championship three times and sold more merchandise than any woman in the company aside from The Bella Twins.
However, she did not make the cut to earn as much as her top male counterparts. The fact that the main event stars of the women’s division don’t make nearly as much as the male main event stars shows WWE has a long way to go towards their mission of true equality in the company. Regardless, Sasha proved she was a star player for WWE as they go forward with the women’s division and they should show it in the form of currency.
8 Highest Paid: Roman Reigns
He’s not the good guy. He’s not the bad guy. He’s the rich guy. Roman Reigns made an impressive $3.5 million from WWE last year and that number will only keep going up. The early portion of 2016 was dominated by Reigns, with title reigns and the main event of WrestleMania 32 against Triple H. Reigns also led all full-time wrestlers in merchandise sales to match his huge push.
A mid-year suspension saw Reigns take a smaller role for a few months before becoming the top face on the Raw brand in time for WrestleMania season this year. Reigns main eventing his third consecutive WrestleMania, this time against The Undertaker, is likely to keep up his earnings. The massive win unofficially retiring Undertaker shows just how highly the WWE thinks about Reigns and they are doubling down on his push.
7 Deserves More: Chris Jericho
Many of the highest paid stars on the list are veterans that work a part-time schedule. Chris Jericho was snubbed, considering he actually delivered at a higher level than his fellow veterans and works full-time. The Raw brand struggled following a few injuries after the brand split, but Jericho stepped up when he needed to, becoming one of the most entertaining performers on the show.
There is no way Jericho should get less money, as a talent, than Shane McMahon and some of the injured guys. Jericho’s friendship turned feud with Kevin Owens carried the Raw brand during the latter half of 2016 and was the most compelling program on the show to start 2017. Roman Reigns even admitted he has more respect for Jericho than other veterans for traveling the roads and putting all his effort into it. Jericho clearly should be a top paid star compared to other active legends.
6 Highest Paid: Triple H
Part-time wrestler and full-time Executive Vice President, Triple H earned $3.8 million for his work in 2016. Triple H won the WWE World Championship in early 2016 and went on to main event WrestleMania 32 against Roman Reigns. The title reign saw Triple H wrestle a few more times than usual before spending the rest of the year working behind the scenes.
Triple H continues to run NXT, find new stars for the company to bring in and plays a role in making the big decisions for Raw and SmackDown. It's no surprise that he's the third highest paid talent in the company. One would assume he made more given all of his roles in the company. You can only expect that number to increase as the years move along.
5 Deserves More: New Day
No members of New Day made the top highest paid wrestlers in WWE and that’s a huge disappointment. New Day had an incredible year, holding the WWE Tag Team Championship from the beginning of 2016 until the final month of the year. The record breaking title reign coincided with massive success from their merchandise in the form of unique items. Kofi Kingston, Xavier Woods and Big E earned various designs of multiple Funko Pop figures.
The peak of their branding came with the New Day official cereal Booty-O’s becoming a real thing. New Day were among the top stars in WWE all year, but failed to earn the money associated with the top stars. All three members are doing well, but WWE still finds a way to pay them less than part-timers and stars that missed half the year.
4 Highest Paid: John Cena
John Cena's huge success continued in 2016 with an estimate of $8 million made. That is extra impressive considering he was injured the first half of the year and had a part-time schedule when he returned. 2016 was the first time in many years Cena didn’t have the highest annual earnings in WWE, but the part-time schedule and fewer appearances didn’t prevent him from making ridiculous money.
Cena is still the most dominant wrestler when it comes to sales. His merchandise sold significantly more than anyone else in WWE. No one in WWE possesses the star power of Cena and that makes him arguably the most valuable star in the industry. WWE hopes Roman Reigns will be able to catch up to him, but Cena is still the top guy when it comes to many factors, including money.
3 Deserves More: Kevin Owens
Kevin Owens wrestled the second most matches for WWE in 2016 and held the Universal Championship for the last four months of the year. This somehow didn’t earn him enough to make the top ten biggest money earners in WWE. Owens definitely made the jump that could set him up to reach the true top tier status as his peers going forward, but he should already be there.
Very few people delivered the amount of consistent entertainment and match quality that Owens did all year. The injury to Finn Balor, forcing him to relinquish the Universal Championship, could have killed the title early into its inception. Owens picking up the belt to have the first reign as champion helped make it respectable before he sadly dropped it to Goldberg. Hopefully Owens finds his way to the top of the WWE with the likes of Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose at the end of this year.
2 Highest Paid: Brock Lesnar
The highest paid WWE star in 2016 was Brock Lesnar, at an astonishing $12 million. The sad part is it may have been Lesnar’s weakest year as a performer since returning to WWE. Lesnar worked against Dean Ambrose early in 2016 in lackluster matches before moving into a match with Randy Orton at SummerSlam that saw him brutalize him.
The year ended with Lesnar losing to Goldberg at Survivor Series in 86 seconds. You have to admire Lesnar for doing the absolute minimum in every way and still using his star power to make the most money in the company. That also might be the reason WWE decided to make him Universal Championship this year, in an attempt to get back their investment. Lesnar managed to add an extra $3 million to his income not counted here from his sole UFC fight.
1 Deserves More: Charlotte Flair
The biggest snub on the highest paid stars list in WWE is Charlotte Flair. WWE marketed the women’s revolution around Charlotte, making her the face of the division. Flair had standout performances at WrestleMania, SummerSlam and made history by winning the first ever women’s WWE PPV main event at Hell in a Cell. WWE absolutely treated Charlotte as one of the biggest stars in the company regardless of gender. That didn’t reflect in the payroll however.
No woman made the top ten highest paid stars and Flair should've been there, considering she held the Women’s Championship for the majority of the year with an undefeated PPV win streak. Charlotte is already a four-time champion and a massive star for WWE. They should have ponied up to show how they really care about equality, by paying her comparative to the likes of Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins.