Most of the time, once a wrestler signs a contract with the WWE, they pretty much own everything about them, but they also consider them independent contractors, as do other promotions who in most cases only pay per appearance. Their salaries are unequally based, in most cases, depending on how popular they are. WWE also owns the rights to use the likeness of their wrestlers, even after the actual wrestler has passed away.
The stipulations for TNA's current contacts are no better, only offering a set salary for wrestlers which is paid every two weeks and owning all rights to contract talent out as often as they wish to outside promotions. This means that no matter how many shows wrestlers perform, they will make no more than the original set salary rate for the remainder of their contract.
Neither company offers any form of benefits for health insurance, social security or unemployment outside of their own doctors (which only handle in ring injuries) and there is no compensation once talent has reached the point of retirement or cannot wrestle. Many wrestlers have also come forward in recent years with claims of being made to compete despite painful or even life threatening injuries. There have also been multiple claims of contracts leaving wrestlers without options to seek out other promotions for lengthy time spans after they choose to leave a company or are forced out.
With that being said here are The Top 15 Wrestlers Who Have Been Screwed By Their Contracts…
15 Scott Steiner
Scott Steiner claims that he was screwed not just by WWE, but TNA as well. He has mentioned how WWE brought in WCW talent and offered them big bucks so they could destroy them with bad gimmicks and losses. While it may be kind of hard to trust Steiner due to his antics through the years, this actually goes along with other claims made by WCW wrestlers who went to WWE.
He had similar issues with TNA when Eric Bischoff and Hulk Hogan were running the show and after he opted not to re-sign with them, he went on a few Twitter rants about the company. TNA filed a lawsuit stating that he was in breach of contract by publicly denouncing TNA, but it was thrown out. Steiner later filed his own lawsuit against TNA. claiming they put him in a negligent position by forcing him into the ring with Jeff Hardy while he was under the influence and the time-frame coincides with Hardy's problems with addiction. Steiner may have poor judgment when it comes to his vocabulary, but there may be some truth behind the words of Big Poppa Pump after all.
14 WWE's Female Talent
There has always been a lot of speculation about just how much WWE Superstars make off of their contracts and, while most believe that they are paid similar to athletes, this is not often the case. What is even worse is the inequality with which they pay their women.
This has drawn attention more frequently in the last year since it was brought to light by AJ Lee in a tweeted response to Stephanie McMahon's tweet of Patricia Arquette’s speech on the inequality of women in any workforce. It has never really been public knowledge exactly how much certain Superstars make, but there have been rumors based on documentation from court reports and other leaks.
AJ Lee's tweets brought up not only the inequalities in salary, but also the difference in screen time. In fact, some of the most recent listings show that the only males on the roster who make less than any women are Hornswoggle (who was recently released) and Bo Dallas, as the majority of women make far less than any male wrestler.
We felt that it was worth adding all women wrestlers to this list because they as a group have been treated unequally and are still being screwed by their contracts.
13 Rey Mysterio
Rey Mysterio has made headlines twice in the past year because of bum contract issues with two different promotions. Back in 2014, Mysterio felt that the WWE was pushing him down on the card and, after coming back from his knee surgery, they began pairing him with Sin Cara in 2012, making it look as though he would no longer be pushed as a single talent. Even though Mysterio had decided not to re-sign with the WWE, Vince had other plans and used a clause that freezes injury time and re-signed him without his knowledge. This left Mysterio stuck under contract with the WWE through 2015, though he wanted to leave, but he would then decline his paychecks.
Rey eventually signed with AAA back in Mexico and has been appearing on Lucha Underground, but there were recent rumors that he might make a return to the WWE. It turns out that AAA owed Mysterio payments and he was refusing to make appearances, but they have managed to catch up on payments. Since they're paying him again, it seems that he is again stuck under contract again, even though he was rumored to be returning to WWE, and being a victim of another company making it impossible for him to leave.
Ryback never struck a deal with Vince on a new contract earlier this year and according to him, it was not over the amount of his paycheck, at least not exactly… He was upset over the entire pay scale of the WWE and the structure that it is built upon. The truth is that while we may speculate on how WWE Superstars are paid, we have never really put much thought into why.
Back in May, Ryback wrote a lengthy post on the whole salary situation. Apparently, those who win get more money than those who don't, regardless of the fact that this is predetermined.
Aside from that, he also brought to light that the Superstars who win automatically get more merchandise to sell. So basically a guy like Ryback comes in and, while he is winning, everything is great. He gets paid well, has lots of fans, and sells lots of merchandise, but then he is asked to lose a few matches and does as he is told. As a result he loses fans, sells less merchandise, and, before you know it, he is being offered less pay. Sounds like being screwed by a contract, don't you think?
11 Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar has WWE right where he wants them right now. He shows up when he's supposed to these days, which isn't much considering his part-time status. He got to fight in a UFC match and he gets the same treatment as Triple H when it comes to travel and lodging, but, back in 2003, this was not the case.
In 2003, Brock had signed seven years of his life away to Vince McMahon and despite his new options, which included an occasional weekend off and him spending his own money on a jet to carry him to and from shows, he was still not happy. Just a year after signing the deal, Lesnar wanted out to pursue his dream of playing in the NFL so Vince let him go on one huge condition… That he sign a no-compete clause that covered the whole world and not for the average year, but for the remainder of his contract, which wouldn't expire until 2010. That would also include working for MMA promotions.
Fortunately for Brock, this most likely wouldn't have been upheld in court and when he filed a lawsuit against the WWE, Mr. McMahon was smart enough to settle and let The Beast Incarnate go about his business. Now Brock is back in the family and making both himself and Vince richer than ever.
10 Wade Barrett
Wade Barrett is yet another example of how the WWE can influence a wrestler to the point where they are basically signed under contract to boost the career of other Superstars.
After nine years with WWE, Wade Barrett opted not to re-sign with the company earlier this year. Throughout his time with the WWE, it seemed he had multiple chances to become one of the top Superstars on the roster, but after he failed with The Nexus as an uppercard player, he was given bad gimmicks that went nowhere.
There were a couple of rare occasions that Wade was given something good to work with such as Bad News Barrett, yet once the gimmick would begin to take off, they would drop it only to have him lose matches to others who didn't have the potential talent that he had.
Some of his biggest opportunities were messed up by other Superstars who refused to job (like Cena) or from last minute decisions, like his run in the King of the Ring tournament from last year which was so last minute that he had to wear King Booker's ten year old attire.
Unfortunately, for guys like Barrett, their contracts leave their Road to WrestleMania in the hands of WWE writers instead of their own, in some cases leading to an early release or retirement. Had he had some creative control, things could have worked out far different.
9 Prince Puma
Lucha Underground seems to be becoming the new WWE when it comes to long contracts which have specific no compete-clauses, stopping their wrestlers from having any chance to work anywhere in the U.S. until the contract expires.
There are several stories of wrestlers who have become more popular as a result of Lucha Underground and now have new options to sign with the WWE as they are trying to build their Latino audience back up, but they are stuck under long-term contracts with Lucha Underground and, in some cases, AAA as well.
One of the biggest names that the WWE has tried to acquire recently is Prince Puma, who has also been known in independent circles by Ricochet. He has been a key competitor for Lucha Underground but it has been rumored he'd like to sign with the WWE. Unfortunately, it has been said that despite his retirement match with LU, his current contract and no-compete clause has him tied up until at least the end of 2017, unless he leaves his current persona, gimmick, and mask behind him.
8 Eddie “Hot Stuff” Gilbert
Eddie “Hot Stuff” Gilbert is a prime example of how the WWE can continue to make money off a wrestler without any further consent, even after their passing. Gilbert was both a wrestler and a booker from 1979-1995, but is best known from his early years in WWE, WCW, and ECW.
In 1993, he broke kayfabe (which was rare in those days) and sat down for an interview to talk about wrestling. This later became known as the first shoot interview of all time and he died two years later of a heart attack in 1995.
Last year, his father, Tommy Gilbert, filed a lawsuit against WWE and ESPN in response to both using his likeness on WWE Network and ESPN Classic Wrestling without paying any type of royalties, but the case was later dropped.
WWE issued a statement that they were entitled to use everything because they now owned rights to both WCW and NWA content. Jim Cornette spoke up about this and similar lawsuits that had been filed and dismissed. His explanation was that many wrestlers thought they were simply signing a sign-in sheet to get paid to wrestle before Jim Crocket Promotion's televised tapings, when in reality they were signing a legal release for future claims.
7 The Young Bucks
You might have heard of the tag team known as The Young Bucks that have taken independent wrestling by storm over the past couple years. As of right now they are very popular and seem to be at the top of their game in the Bullet Club stable, but things were not always this good for the Matt and Nick, who had at one point made the mistake of signing contracts with TNA and were known as Generation Me. After signing a one year deal with TNA, they claim Kevin Nash saw their potential early on and wanted himself and Eric Young to drop their titles to them, but TNA refused the proposal.
After the brothers contract ran out, they re-signed with TNA for another two years, however, according to both Matt and Nick, TNA began leaving them off the card for live events and they weren't making any money. Creative then began to try and separate the two into singles stars and despite their reasoning that they worked better as a team, they pitted them in a feud brother against brother.
Eventually, Generation Me got tired of watching TNA from home and decided that enough was enough and asked to be released from their contracts. Since leaving, the duo has thrived, claiming to be the self-proclaimed “the best tag team on the planet.”
6 Shawn Michaels
In some situations, it looks as though WWE has no problem releasing wrestlers who have issues with how they are being used or over disputes with their contracts, such as Cody Rhodes, but this only seems to happen with those who are less popular.
Shawn Michaels claims that there was a time that he wanted to cross over to WCW during the Monday Night Wars because he was “miserable,” but Vice made it very clear to Michaels that this was not an option since he was still under contract with the WWE.
Shawn has also noted that Vince discouraged him from the move and, although he feels staying was probably the better choice for him, he has also recently commented on his current contract as being not under a “Legends” or “wrestler” status, but something special just for him. So things worked out fine for HBK.
5 Titus O'Neil
You might be wondering how Titus O'Neil made this list, as it doesn't appear he has been screwed by his contract, but I'm also sure many of you know about his suspension earlier this year.
Back in February, following Daniel Bryan's retirement speech, Titus made the unfortunate mistake of trying to horseplay with Mr. McMahon as he walked by. This lead to a suspension and Vince doesn't stand for that kind of stuff on air.
Many fans were outraged upon learning about the suspension, calling it a racist issue not only because of Vince's initial reaction, but also because of the severity of O'Neil's punishment. At first it was rumored that he would have a 90 day suspension which would have lasted past WrestleMania, yet it was later announced that it would be a 60 day suspension for unprofessional conduct.
In a business where wrestlers are actually paid in some cases to beat up the boss, it would seem reasonable that a little horseplay would be allowed and that if this were not the case, a warning could have been issued, not a suspension longer than one would get for a first time fail of the Wellness Policy. The fact that WWE can issue a suspension (which results in loss of pay) to what they call an independent contractor, for a first time offense over something silly, speaks volumes about their contracts.
4 Jesse Ventura
Jesse Ventura. the wrestler, commentator, and even governor, was one of the very few wrestlers to get screwed by their contract and win a lawsuit against Vince McMahon.
In 1987, when Ventura signed his contract as a commentator, he was told by Vince that only featured performers would receive royalties for video sales and waived his rights, but later found out that this was not the case. In 1991, he filed a lawsuit and won resulting in the removal of commentary from WWE Home Video. Ventura is also well known for trying to start a wrestling union back in 1988, which would have helped with the ongoing struggles that wrestlers still face today as a result of being dubbed independent contractors.
It has been said that most of the locker room was against the union idea, but many have come forward and mentioned that it would have been a good thing had Hogan not snitched Ventura out to Vince.
Ventura also got screwed with his contract in WCW because once Hogan came over, with his power for creative control, he made sure that Ventura lost all creative pull through Eric Bischoff. Ventura spent the majority of the last six months of his contract being paid to stay home which in retrospect isn't all that bad..
3 CM Punk
Most wrestling fans are aware of why CM Punk chose to leave the WWE, so we'll highlight the parts that fit into this list. After Punk's decided to leave, the WWE sent him termination papers that included that he had breached his contract. To make matters worse, this all went down on his wedding day and that's when he found out he would not receive royalties due to the breach.
Punk fired back on the Colt Cabana podcast and went on a rant about how WWE doctors failed to properly treat a growth on his back that turned out be a massive staph infection that could have killed him. He also commented on numerous times that his ideas were shot down only to be used later with a different wrestler. According to CM Punk, WWE ended up giving him everything that he wanted because they were worried that had it gone to court, they would have had to change their usage of wrestlers as independent contractors.
WWE's misuse of Punk was intolerable and devastating to fans who still hijack shows with CM Punk chants.
2 Jesse Sorensen
Up until recently, TNA's contracts were considered more flexible than other wrestling organizations such as the WWE because their wrestlers were not signed exclusively to TNA.
In 2012, Jesse Sorensen suffered a serious neck and spine injury after a high flying move by Zema Ion went horribly wrong. What turned out to be even more devastating was TNA's treatment of Sorensen following his injury. TNA not only refused to pay his medical bills, but also ruined his chances to hit them with a lawsuit by offering him a backstage gig and telling him that he would always have a place within their company. Once the statute of limitations passed for him to file the lawsuit and the organization began to have money problems, they released him from his contract.
1 Owen Hart
When his older brother Bret was screwed in the finish of the infamous Montreal Screwjob, the rest of the Hart family were so outraged by what Vince had done that they left and joined him in WCW, but Owen, who still had significant time left on his contract, was not released.
Afterwards, he wasn't used in any important storylines and eventually passed away due to an unfortunate accident that occurred during his entrance.
Following his death, Owen's family filed a wrongful death lawsuit, fighting the death clause that appears in all WWE wrestlers contracts stating that WWE is not responsible for any deaths caused by their negligence. The case was settled and the family was awarded $18 million. Since then, there have been more lawsuits filed by Owen's wife, Martha, who feels that WWE is trying to use his likeness for financial gain, while WWE contends that they are simply trying to keep his memory alive. With the history of WWE's greed when it comes to their Superstars and how their contracts are written, we wouldn't necessarily count her opinion out.