It has become a point of both fascination and humor in our culture to study unusual terms of celebrity contracts. Maybe it’s as specific as a professional athlete who has financial incentives to achieve a particular statistical mark. Maybe it’s as absurd as an actor who demands only green Skittles in his dressing room. Regardless, these celebrities earn more than just big money—they get to call the shots in unexpected ways, or are asked to do unusual things by their employers.
The pro wrestling world is little different. Most wrestling contracts center on dollars and cents-- guaranteed money, plus percentages off ticket or PPV numbers, and off merchandise sales. Just the same, there are plenty of talents who had unusual elements to their contracts, to the benefit of themselves, the company worked for, or sometimes even third parties. In professional sports, a player might get the benefit of a certain guaranteed position—as a starter, for example. In wrestling there’s a different dimension of benefits ranging from backstage treatment, to dates required, to creative treatment. While every contract clause has its origin story and context, when we look back on what they really meant, they can leave fans scratching their heads.
This column looks at 15 particularly strange, unexpected, or downright dumb contract clauses for professional wrestlers. All wrestlers and all promotions were up for consideration. You’ll find that WWE and WCW get the most play, though. No doubt, this is because they had a combination of the most resources and the biggest rosters to open up the most possibilities for unusual agreements between management and talent.
15 Hulk Hogan’s Creative Control
This a clause so infamous that it became fodder more than once for on-screen storytelling, not to mention an influence on other talents’ contracts. Hogan reportedly had creative control, which meant that he had say-so over what his character would and would not do, including character arcs as well as wins and losses.
14 The KISS Demon’s Guaranteed Main Event
In the late 1990s, WCW signed a deal with the band KISS, designed to cross-promote the two entities. KISS would play Nitro, which was harmless enough. The bigger crux of the deal was that WCW would launch a new character known as The KISS Demon (and, allegedly, other KISS-themed characters down the road). On top of that, The KISS Demon was to have at least one main event match in the year ahead.
13 Jerry Lawler Allowed To Work Different Characters For Different Companies
Jerry Lawler signed with WWE in the early 1990s. Interestingly, he remained active, too, with the USWA—a promotion he co-owned, co-booked, and often served as a main event wrestler for in Memphis. In that era, WWE tended to be less committed to having exclusive deals with its talent, and USWA functioned as an informal developmental territory for WWE, so the arrangement seemed fair enough.
12 The Dudleys Give Up Their Name
Ownership of the Dudley name is and was fuzzy. When ECW went out of business, owner Paul Heyman gave Bubba Ray and Devon the rights to the name. As it turned out, though, he did so only in word, and not in any formal, legal way. Shortly thereafter, WWE bought up all of ECW’s assets. There was no reason for Dudley-related controversy at that point. The Dudleys promptly signed with WWE, so between WWE owning ECW, and The Dudleys purportedly owning their name, there was no dispute they could work under the Dudley Boyz moniker for their WWE run.
11 Jeff Jarrett Set Up To Extort WWE
There was a point at which it was a regular practice for WWE to contract talents for a set period, and then allow those contracts to expire and continue to work with the talent on a handshake deal until they could agree to new terms. For traditionalists, and performers without a lot of cunning, this system worked well enough and both sides were usually satisfied.
10 Scott Hall’s Favored Nations Clause
Scott Hall was among the WCW talents during the Monday Night War era who benefited from a “favored nations” clause in his contract. This meant that while he was signed for a particular dollar amount, he also had a guarantee that no one would be paid more than him. In practice, if a new talent was signed for more money, that meant Hall’s contract would be bumped up to at least match that of the highest paid wrestler in the company.
9 Brock Lesnar Can’t Be Disciplined
In 2012, the unthinkable happened when Brock Lesnar returned from his foray with MMA to sign with WWE. In doing so, he signed a unique deal—a big money contract that saw him work very limited dates. The merits of those contract terms alone are up for debate, but an additional wrinkle became clear this summer.
8 Randy Savage Brings His Brother Along To WCW
Randy Savage and his brother Lanny Poffo were each famously loyal to their family. It turns out that this included Savage making it a condition of his employment with WCW that the company had to sign Poffo too.
7 The Ryback Principle
After leaving WWE last year, Ryback has made the rounds giving shoot interviews, and even launching his own podcast. A common thread is he discusses how WWE wronged him and why he didn’t want to do business with them anymore.
Much of what Ryback has said is subjective—such as his claims about the company holding him back and that he could have been a much more successful star. There’s another point, however, that has drawn more general agreement. Ryback balked at the idea that winners get paid more than losers in a business with predetermined outcomes.
6 Bret Hart’s 20-Year Deal
As the Monday Night War heated up and WCW signed away some of WWE’s historically biggest stars, Vince McMahon sought to nail down one of his best and brightest of the contemporary era, Bret Hart. In Hart’s book, Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling, Hart writes about the contract he signed at the time, set up to give him top dollar over a 20-year span. By the plan McMahon pitched, Hart would go from being a top wrestler to eventually becoming the "Babe Ruth” of WWE as a legend and ambassador for the company.
Both sides agreed to terms, but only a year or so into it, the financial picture for WWE had changed, and McMahon realized he’d made a bad deal and there was every possibility that Hart’s monster salary over time would put the company out of business.
5 Vader’s Promised World Title Reign
While Vader made the cardinal error of not getting the guarantee in writing, he’s spoken in multiple shoot interviews about signing his WWE deal with the understanding that he was going to have at least one world title reign.
On his way into the company, Vader seemed like a perfectly logical pick for world champ in the company. He followed in the tradition of super heavyweights like King Kong Bundy and Yokozuna who Vince McMahon loved to push to the main event. Vader was a equipped with a world championship pedigree after reigning over WCW’s main event scene for almost all of 1993, and good chunks of time before and after. On top of all of that, it wasn’t as though WWE had a surefire top guy for a dominant title run like Hulk Hogan or Bruno Sammartino. Part of the appeal of top guys Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart was that they were vulnerable, and so either guy could weather a loss to Vader, with the potential to regain the strap in a high-profile rematch.
4 Scott Steiner’s Limited Free Speech In TNA
It’s standard practice now for contracts with major wrestling promotions to include some level of control over what a wrestler says and does in public. This usually limits itself a wrestler promising not to say anything especially stupid, offensive, or against his place of employment. Usually, that’s a term both sides can be expected to readily agree on.
An issue comes up when a company applies that term to—and expects it to be followed by—Scott Steiner.
3 Mark Henry’s 10-Year Contract
When WWE signed Mark Henry, they thought they had a blue-chip prospect on hand. Fresh off his successful appearance as a powerlifter in the 1996 Olympics, WWE locked him down in a lucrative 10-year contract.
During that initial decade with WWE, the contract became the subject of jokes. While Henry was certainly still an impressive physical specimen, he didn’t evolve into the main event player WWE might have hoped for, showing limited progress in his in-ring skills and remaining entrenched in the mid-card scene, most memorably under the comedic Sexual Chocolate gimmick. That can’t be what WWE had in mind when they first committed big money to the World’s Strongest Man.
2 Prince Puma’s No-Compete Clause
Lucha Underground, despite being a new and small company, made an aggressive launch in 2014. Their strategy included signing talent to the kind of no-compete clause that’s unusual in promotions of any lesser stature than WWE. For most wrestlers, this meant that they were not allowed to appear on any other American wrestling promotion’s television product until six months after their last episode with LU has aired. Given that LU tends to tape episodes months in advance, this tends to leave talents with nothing to do and nowhere they can go for lengthy stretches.
For many pro wrestlers, this deal is fair enough. Working with LU likely as not earns them more exposure and similar money to what they’d scrape together on the indies anyway. But for bigger stars, the same logic does not hold. This is why a major player like Alberto Del Rio got a different deal to sign with the company, and was free to appear on other wrestling TV without restrictions.
1 Kevin Nash As Main Event Talent and Booker
The position of head booker turned over a lot in WCW, and particularly during the Monday Night War era when the stakes were so high. Kevin Nash wound up as one of the people in power in 1998, thus splitting his duties between being a top in-ring talent and the top decision-maker in terms of the promotion’s creative direction.
While Nash is known to be intelligent, particularly when it comes to pro wrestling dynamics, it was a questionable choice for WCW to sign him to these two roles. On-air talent as creative heads has worked here and there. Vince McMahon and Eric Bischoff each incorporated their behind-the-scenes roles into being on-screen power brokers for example. Meanwhile, on-and-off WCW booker Kevin Sullivan was scarcely a main event player, and thus seemed capable of separating his creative choices from his own personal gain.
A number of reports claim Nash was put into power as a gesture of good will toward the locker room. Then the big guy wound up winning the world title by ending Goldberg’s undefeated streak in the main event of the biggest show of the year. While the quality of Nash’s booking work is totally up for debate, the point remains that he appeared to serve his own interests. His decisions wound up creating a lot more controversy behind the scenes than they resolved.
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