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.
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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.
In retrospect, lots of insiders have claimed that this clause has been blown out of proportion. They cite that wrestlers have quibbled with storylines and had them altered to suit their opinions throughout time. They say that Hogan didn’t actually exercise this aspect of his contract much. Just the same, the idea of a wrestler being able to book his own path, let alone multiple wrestlers getting to do the same resulted in justifiable head-shaking from fans. It’s often been said that, in WCW, the inmates ran the asylum. This is one particular case in which Hogan was formally given a lot of control, arguably at the expense of the company and other talents.
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.
WCW tried to cast veteran Brian Adams (better known as Crush) in the part, but after some initial appearances, he allegedly didn’t feel comfortable with the gimmick, so it was handed off to inexperienced Dale Torborg. Torborg was, understandably, not polished in the ring and failed to get over with the fans. To see through the main event contract clause, WCW wound up billing a match between The Demon and The Wall as a “Special Main Event” at SuperBrawl 2000. The match conspicuously occurred toward the middle of the card, and with no titles at stake or a very high profile storyline. In short, the match was a main event in name only, and largely served to wrap up an embarrassing chapter for everyone involved.
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.
Things got complicated because Lawler was cast as a heel in WWE. Meanwhile, in his home territory, he remained a main event hero. The dynamic was functional. We were still in the pre-Internet days when fans weren’t fully aware of what was going on across the indies. Also, WWE was already transitioning to sports entertainment and not protecting kayfabe as fiercely as they once had. Just the same, when Lawler was a face, and WWE heroes like Bret Hart visited to play the villain, it was confusing for fans who did buy into the storylines. Moreover, it made for some interesting adventures in storyline reconciliation for publications like Pro Wrestling Illustrated that tried to make sense of it all to report in kayfabe.
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.
Problems arose when Devon and Bubba Ray left WWE in 2005. At this point, it came up that, despite Heyman’s word, by any legal documentation, WWE owned their name. This may have been a non-issue had it been worked out sooner—particularly before the Dudleys grew much more famous via their WWE work. As it stood, it led to nasty element to the split, with the Dudleys briefly pursuing litigation before they let their names go, only to reclaim them briefly when they re-signed with WWE nearly a decade later.
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.
As the Monday Night War took shape, Jeff Jarrett showed a particularly keen ability to play both sides of the fence. He had two separate runs in WWE and two separate runs in WCW, each move bringing more money into his bank account and pushing his character higher up the card. His masterstroke came in 1999, though. Upon his final departure from WWE when multiple accounts—including Chyna’s autobiography If They Only Knew—claim that Jarrett held up WWE for roughly $300,000 to drop his Intercontinental Championship to Chyna at the No Mercy PPV. Jarrett got paid, and though he burned his bridges with WWE, he got to have his cake and eat it too, moving on to become a WCW main event talent.
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.
The clause was a good one for Hall and other talents with the same contract. It made bad business sense for the company which saw its payroll balloon, though. Additionally, the clause created unnecessary political strife, particularly for those guys without the clause, who saw even very good salaries slip to the low end of the pay scale as salaries around them continued to escalate.
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.
Following a one-fight return to UFC, Lesnar got caught for having taken performance-enhancing drugs. He suffered a fine and suspension on the MMA end of his career. While the same drugs would garner most WWE performers a suspension, too, Lesnar was not held responsible. According to Dave Meltzer from The Wrestling Observer, because of the terms of his part-time contract, he was not subject to the same Wellness Policy rules as the rest of the roster. For a company that is supposedly more mindful of looking out for the long-term health of its roster, and maintaining professional ethics, this contract snafu reveals an important inconsistency and publicly raises questions about WWE’s real motives.
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.
Poffo got his contract, but would never actually appear in WCW. In multiple interviews he’s acknowledged that he got the job on account of his brother’s deal with the company, and that despite Savage pitching ideas on his brother’s behalf, the powers that be never went so far as to even contact him about appearing at any shows. So, Savage’s deal involved WCW paying out an additional salary in full for Poffo to sit at home. Perhaps the company felt the extra expense was worth it to bring a legend like Savage to WCW.
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.
The logic is easy to follow. If someone is scripting who wins and who loses, what sense does it make that one person makes less than the other for reasons that have nothing to do with his work, but rather the arbitrary choice of the booker? Just the same, against all reason, this pay structure is traditional and a part of all WWE (and other wrestling promotions’) employment agreements.
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.
By Hart’s own account, he hadn’t wanted to leave WWE, but McMahon all but pushed him out the door when he reneged on the deal. Had the two agreed to a more reasonable deal, it’s quite conceivable Hart never would have left for WCW and we never would have had the Montreal Screwjob. These seem like a good changes to the historical timeline, though they also raise the question if, in the absence of the Screwjob and with traditionalist Hart as a more influential figure, if Austin vs. McMahon and the rest of the Attitude Era really would have taken off.
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.
Things did not work out for Vader. He got a big push early on, and didn’t go down cleanly to Michaels in his first WWE Championship shot. Just the same, some combination of timing, politics, and the unexpected rise of new stars kept WWE from ever honoring its promise to Vader. In retrospect, that promise was ill-advised.
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.
Steiner has developed a reputation for being outspoken, and more often than not using over the top foul language and picking awkward times to speak his mind. His dealings with TNA were no exception as he wasted little time in speaking out about the poor state of the company’s business, and particularly against creative contributions by Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff. TNA filed suit against Steiner in the aftermath.
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.
Interestingly, it was a few years after that first contract had expired that WWE finally struck gold with Henry. In 2011, he launched his Hall of Pain gimmick and rose to the status of legit main eventer for the first time including a dominant run as World Heavyweight Champion and a memorable program with John Cena.
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.
The original deal worked out poorly, however, for Prince Puma. Puma is one of LU’s very best talents and has simultaneously built a reputation as one of the best independent workers in the country under the name Ricochet. Rumors abound that WWE and TNA are interested in him, but he’ll be limited through the end of the year on account of his LU deal.
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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