The 90s gave wrestling the hottest period in the history of the business. WWE and WCW competed with the Monday Night Wars leading to both shows dominating the ratings. Wrestlers jumped back and forth between both major promotions leading to huge contracts being offered. Each promotion would offer a higher number to prove they wanted the talent of the wrestler on their roster. Many wrestlers took advantage of this to make ridiculous money while others somehow were underpaid during this boom. We'll look at some of the more surprising contracts to be agreed upon in the 90s by WWE and WCW.
WCW had the reputation of overpaying wrestlers due to Eric Bischoff not having to worry about his own money. Bischoff had Ted Turner’s check book and the full confidence to run the promotion by signing whoever he felt was needed to become the top wrestling company. WWE tried to be more responsible with their spending since Vince McMahon was using his own money to add talent, but they still made some wild moves. Both companies will be examined here as we look at the money thrown around during the war between them. These are fifteen of the most shocking pro wrestler contracts of the 90s.
15 Ultimate Warrior
WCW signed Ultimate Warrior after he had multiple falling outs with WWE. The lack of professionalism shown by Warrior made him an enemy of Vince McMahon. That influenced WCW to reach out to sign Warrior since they already had all the other top 80s WWE names like Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage and Roddy Piper. Warrior landed a deal with WCW worth $1 million.
The seven-figure deal was a downside meaning he made that money on the spot with the potential for more. WCW would only have him take part in a handful of matches leading up to a big showdown with Hulk Hogan. It was billed as the biggest rematch of all-time since Warrior was the only man Hogan never beat. The match is considered one of the worst of all-time and WCW never brought him back. Warrior essentially made $1 million in exchange for Hogan’s ego being fed with the win.
14 Big Show
A forgotten name to switch companies during the Monday Night Wars is Big Show since he is considered such a model WWE employee today. However, Big Show started his career in WCW as The Giant when Hulk Hogan discovered him at the gym. Most of his years in WCW saw Big Show make great money somewhere between $200,000 and $500,000. Not bad for someone lucking into a gig.
WWE however took it to the next level by stealing him away from WCW with a huge contract offer in 1999. Big Show’s size and athleticism made him the dream wrestler for Vince McMahon. WWE signed him to a ten-year contract with the downside of $950,000 per year. Big Show was instantly one of the highest paid stars in WWE despite being a mid-carder for most of the run.
13 Billy Kidman
Billy Kidman’s first contract was a rare occurrence of a WCW star being underpaid. The talent of Kidman always showed potential of having the in-ring ability to entertain fans. WCW figured out within a few years that he would be a fixture in the Cruiserweight Division. However, Kidman only made a very low $20,000 salary in 1996 as a secondary performer usually wrestling on WCW Saturday Night.
It is still shocking that any wrestler in WCW made that little money during the year when they overtake WWE. WCW was known for giving away contracts worth way more to pay wrestlers to sit at home. Kidman however seemed content taking the chance on his talent before earning a big pay raise and hitting six-figure salaries for most of his WCW tenure.
12 Vince Russo
WCW was so open to spending money that they ended up paying $350,000 to someone that may have killed the company. Vince Russo was the lead writer for WWE during the Attitude Era working under Vince McMahon. Many of Russo’s ideas were used during the rise of shock television, but there was always a filter to prevent all his ideas from being selected.
That changed in WCW when Russo had complete control in 1999 following Eric Bischoff being removed from power. WCW expected Russo to lead them to overtake WWE, but he instead just sunk them even lower. Russo’s idea led to WCW losing more money than ever and it became a huge issue for ownership. WCW quickly removed him from power and tried to make him work with Bischoff. Nothing worked, and Russo was gone about a year later legally stealing $350,000.
11 Tank Abbott
Another absurd WCW contract saw Tank Abbott make huge money after making the jump from UFC. MMA wasn’t as popular in the 90s, but WCW felt Abbott’s shoot fighting skills would have made him the perfect opponent for Goldberg. Abbott specifically joined with the end game being a huge PPV match against Goldberg to bring in huge money.
Fate would have it that Abbott is remembered for his dancing routines as a fan of the 3 Count boy band faction. WCW paid Abbott $650,000 per year to be a comedic act. It showed just how little business sense was used by the company at the time and why they went out of business. Abbott didn’t become a legitimate threat to Goldberg and they didn’t care to keep him credible in the slightest.
Chyna earned her big pay check in WWE by becoming the first woman that credibly challenged the male wrestlers. WWE saw Chyna become an attraction as the giant muscular bodyguard of Triple H. They continued working together in D-Generation X allowing Chyna to showcase her personality. The more we saw of Chyna, the more popular she became.
At one point, WWE wanted to have her face Steve Austin in a singles match at SummerSlam 1999, but Austin didn’t go for it. Despite the match never taking place, it showed just how valuable she was. Chyna made history as the first woman in WWE history to sign a contract worth over $1 million at her peak. Not many fans would guess this since Chyna was essentially erased from WWE history until her death.
9 Disco Inferno
If you want to feel depressed about your salary, remember that Disco Inferno made over $300,000 for the final three years of his WCW career. Disco is remembered as being somewhat funny comedic enhancement talent. WCW would slightly push Disco occasionally with a mid-card title run, but he was never a credible performer. Fans would laugh and mock him rather than expect him to defeat the top names.
The contract became even worse in 1999 when Vince Russo made Disco one of the writers on his staff. Disco pitched ideas such as the invisible wrestler and Lance Storm being revealed as an alien. If you need any more reasons why WCW went out of business, just look at Disco’s salary and role over the final three years.
8 Rey Mysterio
Rey Mysterio was arguably the most underrated performer in WCW history. The luchador joined the Cruiserweight Division and instantly got over. WCW fans at the time were against the smaller wrestlers that didn’t have star power from past years. Cruiserweights were often heckled with “boring” chants before the match even started.
Mysterio would win over the fans every time and proved to be the MVP of the Cruiserweight Division from day one. However, the salary of Rey didn’t showcase this right away. Mysterio only made $37,000 for his first year in WCW. This improved to $154,000 in 1997 but that still appeared a bit low compared to other WCW talent. Mysterio finally started to make big money towards the end of the run and WWE just added to his bank account.
7 Brian Pillman
The career of Brian Pillman is remembered fondly due to being ahead of his time. Pillman had matches at his peak that would become what fans wanted from wrestlers today. Towards the mid-90s, Pillman suffered a few injuries to slow down his wrestling, but he took it up a notch on the character side. WCW got worked into releasing Pillman as part of a storyline allowing him to double cross them and sign with WWE.
The contract he signed with WWE was shocking. It was worth an impressive $300,000 but he had an extremely rare guaranteed contract clause. Pillman was the first man in WWE history to receive a guaranteed contract showing how much they believed in him. The injuries of Pillman prevented him from hitting his potential and it was viewed among the worst WWE contracts of all-time.
6 Bam Bam Bigelow
Every wrestler wants to be in the main event of WrestleMania for multiple reasons. Not only is it the biggest show of the year, but it usually leads to the most money for a wrestler. Bam Bam Bigelow proved this all the way back in 1995. WWE chose Bigelow as the man to have a match with former NFL star Lawrence Taylor as an attraction match.
Taylor defeated Bigelow in the main event of the show as WWE looked to get mainstream attention. A wrestler losing to someone outside of the business was looked down upon at the time. Vince McMahon rewarded Bam Bam for doing the job by paying $500,000 in 1995. This was huge money for WWE to offer at the time and it made Bigelow one of the highest paid wrestlers that year despite being a mid-carder.
Bill Goldberg making a ridiculous amount of money from WCW isn’t a surprise. However, the years in which he raked in the money was the shocking discovery. Goldberg peaked in 1998 by becoming the most popular star in the company. WCW believed in Goldberg enough to have him defeat Hulk Hogan for the WCW Champion less than a year into his debut.
Goldberg made $500,000 in 1998 when he was the most popular star in WCW. That figure jumped to an incredible $5 million in 1999 and 2000. Goldberg started to lose his drawing power around this time and WCW continued to sink lower into their eventual grave. Most fans would struggle to remember anything Goldberg did in 1999 or 2000, but they were his best financial years.
4 Lex Luger
The career of Lex Luger is not celebrated as much as most of his WCW peers today. Luger is viewed as one of the most overrated wrestlers of all time. WCW was the only promotion to ever benefit from having him on the roster. WWE tried to make him the face of the company in 1994 after Hulk Hogan left but he failed to deliver in the role.
Luger did better in WCW but was always viewed as being below the other true main eventers in the company. That didn’t reflect in his pay as Luger signed a massive deal when jumping back from WWE to WCW. Luger made between $700,000 and $2 million every year from his return in 1995 until WCW went out of business.
3 Mark Henry
WWE took a huge risk when offering Mark Henry one of the greatest contracts in company history to join. Henry competed at the Olympics as part of the American weightlifting team and Vince McMahon wanted him in WWE badly. This led to Henry getting offered a ten-year contract with a downside salary of $250,000 from day one.
Henry signed this contract in 1995 and didn’t become a top player in WWE until the late 2010s. WWE gave Henry the Sexual Chocolate character in the late 90s as a punishment for failing to live up to his contract. It was a long road for Henry, but he finally fulfilled his potential in 2011 when winning his first World Championship. The 90s portion of his contract is however considered among the worst moves in WWE history.
2 Bret Hart
A forgotten aspect of the Montreal Screwjob is the WWE contract that Bret Hart signed in 1996. Vince McMahon offered a ridiculous 20-year contract with a downside salary of $1 million every single year. It was realized one year into the contract that they needed to end it as soon as possible. McMahon talked Bret into agreeing to give up the contract and move to WCW for $2.6 million per year.
However, Hart’s WWE contract had a creative control clause that allowed him to decide how he would leave the company if the time came. Therefore, Bret refused to lose the WWE Championship to Shawn Michaels on his final show. Hart’s contract would have lasted until 2016 if he didn’t allow WWE to get out of it. You must believe he regrets leaving given how everything turned out with the Montreal Screwjob and his horrible WCW run.
1 Hulk Hogan
The most shocking contract of the 90s is clearly Hulk Hogan’s WCW contract. Hogan shocked the wrestling world when jumping from WWE to WCW in 1994. The biggest star in the wrestling industry switching companies required a massive contract. Hogan made a downside salary between $2 million and $5 million every year in WCW.
However, there were even more bonuses and perks in the contract that made Hogan the smartest man in wrestling for signing it. Hogan made 15% of WCW’s sales for every PPV he appeared on and an insane 25% of money for tickets sold on any event that he appeared on. There was also the creative control clause that Hogan often used to refuse to lose cleanly. As much as Hogan helped take WCW to the next level, his contract played a huge role in the company sinking.