In the ‘80s when wrestling was really starting to blow up in America, the first wave of ridiculously highly paid superstars emerged. During this time, promoters started to offer some of the first major guaranteed contracts bolstered by things like gate revenue and eventually merchandise sales. Since then, top-tier wrestlers have commanded the kind of salaries that equal the paydays enjoyed by the top performers in both the sports and entertainment industries. While modern contracts aren’t quite as absurd as they were during the WCW days - that company did not know how to manage money - modern WWE stars can still lay claim to some truly incredible salaries.
When you get down to it, though, which WWE stars are the highest paid of them all? For the most part, the answer to that question involves a list of the usual suspects. As you might imagine, some of WWE’s top talents are paid an appropriately high amount of money. However, there are some highly-paid WWE stars that bring in more money than we would have ever thought possible. These numbers have been taken by Forbes and various wrestling news sources. As for some of those usual suspects, some of them command a salary that is downright shocking. These are the top 20 highest WWE salaries of 2017.
20 Goldust - $550,000
There are a few wrestlers hovering around the $500,000 salary mark - including our boy Rusev - but Goldust has a slight financial edge on them all. Given WWE’s fondness for paying veteran/part-time wrestlers more than their modern full-time contemporaries (much more on that later) perhaps it shouldn’t be all that surprising to hear that Goldust still commands a pretty high salary. At the same time...well, it’s a bit surprising that Goldust still commands such a high salary. Goldust is used in a very limited mid-card capacity and usually just makes a cameo in some backstage comedy segment. $550,000 seems a bit high for the type of work that Goldust puts in, but we suppose that WWE has some way of calculating the monetary value of nostalgia.
19 Mark Henry - $877,000
It’s absolutely shocking to think that Mark Henry signed his first WWE contract in 1996. At the time, WWE signed him to a 10-year deal. They felt that Henry had the potential to become the company’s next big thing. Instead, Henry spent his first few years struggling on the mid-card before eventually settling into a mid-card comedy role. It wasn’t until Henry debuted the brilliant Hall of Pain gimmick that he finally lived up to his main event potential.
These days, though, Henry rarely appears on WWE television and has been talking about actually retiring sometime in the near future. Until then, Henry still commands an impressive $877,000 salary. If you’ve ever wondered why aging performers who don’t appear much like Henry still work for WWE, that number should answer all questions.
18 Dolph Ziggler - $900,000
There’s a strong argument to be made for the case of Dolph Ziggler’s career having been a series of disappointments. There have been several times over the years when Ziggler seemed to be on the brink of a main event run. Some have even said that he will one day become the next Mr. Perfect or Shawn Michaels. While Ziggler’s in-ring skills are undeniable, he’s never really been able to make that main event jump. Ziggler has made cameos in the main event scene, but he’s best described as a perennial top-tier mid carder who can maintain his “overness” even in losses. Still, WWE certainly takes care of Ziggler who reportedly commands a $900,000 salary which is a base figure above even some major WWE stars.
17 Kevin Owens - $950,000
Kevin Owens’ salary is both oddly appropriate and a bit shocking. See, when Kevin Owens debuted in NXT there were many people who said that his style and look would prevent him from ever becoming a main roster player. Owens shocked all the doubters by taking one of the shortest roads from NXT stardom to the main event roster that we’ve seen in modern NXT history. While WWE hasn’t quite kept Owens at the level he debuted at - he did beat John Cena in his first WWE match after all - he’s remained a constant main event player. Even still, it’s absolutely incredible that the man who many said would never really make it in WWE now commands a $950,000 salary that might be even higher when merchandise benefits are accounted for.
16 Chris Jericho - $975,000
Jericho’s salary is also a bit surprising for the simple fact that it almost feels like it should be higher. When Chris Jericho debuted in WWE in 1999, he became one of the first major young WCW stars to jump ship. Others would follow, but WWE always seemed to reward Jericho for his loyalty by offering him opportunities that not every superstar gets to enjoy. Granted, that’s because Jericho is one of the greatest of all-time, but the point is that WWE has historically treated him quite well. A $975,000 base salary is nothing to sneeze at, but given WWE’s fondness for paying part-timers who do far, far less work than Jericho much more money, it’s a little surprising that Jericho hasn’t at least crossed the $1 million mark.
15 Sheamus - $1.1 Million
This is certainly one of those salaries that jump out at you. To be fair, Sheamus is certainly a main event WWE star in the traditional sense. He’s a multi-time WWE champion, he regularly makes appearances for WWE on late night talk shows, and he’s even been in a few WWE produced films. However, there’s a feeling that Sheamus’ best days are behind him. While Sheamus is arguably as talented as he’s ever been, he’s also been stuck in the dreaded “creative has nothing for you” spot for quite some time. It’s doubtful he’ll get to enjoy another long WWE Championship run in the near future, meaning that his impressive $1.1 million base salary feels pretty generous. Of course, WWE clearly doesn’t want Sheamus to jump ship and pursue other opportunities.
14 The Miz - $1.2 Million
Once upon a time, The Miz was one of the most hated WWE superstars in a bad way. As a “celebrity presenter,” many saw The Miz as one of WWE’s many attempts to capitalize on a brief flash of stardom. As the tag team partner of John Morrison, The Miz was constantly referred to as the Marty Jannetty of the group. As an initial main eventer, The Miz was downright reviled in the same way that some people hate Roman Reigns now.
Over time, though, The Miz has managed to win over even his toughest critics by becoming one of the best overall workers in WWE and one of the few true heels on the roster. We’d say that kind of talent is worth his alleged $1.2 million price tag.
13 The Big Show - $1.3 Million
To be honest, as incredibly disrespectful as all those “Please retire” chants that get thrown The Big Show’s way are, there is an element of truth to them. The Big Show has been on the WWE roster since 1999. In that time, he has been a world champion, he’s main-evented WrestleMania, and he’s participated in some high-profile celebrity matches. At the same time, WWE has rarely ever really used Big Show to his full potential as a great monster wrestler. Instead, Big Show has spent the last several years making random appearances as the “unstoppable foe” that is immediately stopped or otherwise reenacting the classic “big man in the battle royal” storyline. Despite all this, Big Show still draws in $1.3 million in base salary to go alongside a few perks.
12 Kane - $1.5 Million
Kane’s debut remains one of the better debut storylines in wrestling history. For weeks, Paul Bearer and The Undertaker made vague references to The Undertaker’s brother and some horrific accident. Kane’s eventual debut saw him cost The Undertaker a shot at the WWE Championship. Their subsequent months-long feud culminated in a brilliant WrestleMania encounter. Remarkably, WWE found a way to keep Kane relevant beyond that storyline and in the company for another 20 years.
While Kane’s fairly recent corporate demon storyline seems to finally be petering out, he’s still called upon from time to time to fill in as a monster wrestler or returning favorite. For that, he is compensated with an impressive $1.5 million salary that also affords him the right to certain merchandising incentives.
11 Stephanie McMahon - $1.7 Million
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that Stephanie McMahon is the only woman on this list, but we’re certainly a little disheartened. For the sake of context, the highest paid female performer not named Stephanie McMahon is Nikki Bella whose salary is around $400,000. Someone like Sasha Banks, meanwhile, draws in about $225,000 according to the latest figures. As you probably know, Stephanie’s salary is based largely on her work as a WWE executive. While she seemingly does receive a bonus for certain performances - especially WrestleMania appearances - she is not specifically contracted as a high-paid wrestler. Even still, $1.725 million plus private jet usage and travel accommodations is a pretty lopsided deal when you consider just how highly paid Stephanie McMahon is in relation to full-time female performers.
10 Randy Orton - $1.9 million
It’s still tempting to think of Randy Orton as that 20-something-year-old upstart, isn’t it? When Orton made his formal debut in 2002, he did so as a blue-chipper young upstart who would surely become champion one day. It didn’t take long for Orton to be catapulted to the main event scene or to win his first World Heavyweight Championship.Of course, that was 15 years ago. Randy Orton is now 37 years old and is theoretically entering the final years of his wrestling career. However, many believe that some truly great wrestlers don’t even really hit their prime until around this age. If that proves to be true with Orton, then we can certainly understand why WWE offers him a lucrative $1.9 million contract with merchandise, PPV, and travel bonuses.
9 The Undertaker - $2 Million
It should be noted that there are some conflicting reports regarding The Undertaker’s exact 2017 pay figure. Some suggest that the actual number is close to $2.2 million with others stating that the number may actually jump up once certain incentives are accommodated. However, as $2 million seems to be the most agreed upon figure, we’re going with that. It’s tempting to call this a $2 million a match contract, but The Undertaker has actually been more active in the last year or two than he necessarily was in the recent past. He’ll show up at house shows, appear for WWE in an official capacity, and even work some non-WrestleMania main events. Now granted, $2 million is a lot of money no matter how you argue the figure, but someone who's put in the kind of work The Undertaker has over the years probably deserves certain considerations.
8 Shane McMahon - $2.2 Million
It feels like forever ago that WWE fans wondered if Shane McMahon would ever return to the fold. Following a long run in WWE, Shane decided to leave his family business behind and strike out on his own. He encountered some success and some failures out in the word, but ultimately decided to return to WWE just in time for WrestleMania 32. At present, it’s still not entirely clear what Shane’s role in the company is beyond his position as on-screen commissioner and occasional wrestler. Whatever the position, though, he must be putting the work in as many reports suggest he is making somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.2 million a year. Just to put that in context, that’s more than Stephanie who has never left the company. Perhaps the tradeoff is that Stephanie has a lot more stock invested in the company than her brother.
7 Seth Rollins - $2.4 Million
Seth Rollins is the lowest paid member of the former Shield on the active roster which should actually just tell you how effectively that angle got everyone involved over. As for Rollins, he was the “just right” member of The Shield who was seemingly destined to be a big star. He was young, incredibly talented, had a good look, and even made a name for himself on the indies and in NXT. While Rollins most recent long-term injury did derail his push a bit, he’s still one of the best overall wrestlers on the roster and one of WWE’s most marketable talents. It’s no surprise, then, that Rollins currently commands a $2.4 million annual payday that is bolstered slightly by certain incentives and big performance paydays.
6 AJ Styles - $2.4 Million
For years, it just felt like AJ Styles was never going to make it to WWE and ultimately be one of those guys who wasted his best years in service of a company that eventually decided to stop treating him like the star he was. However, when A.J. went to NJPW, something amazing happened. AJ was always a great in-ring worker, but his time in Japan helped him learn and practice elements of psychology and character that had been missing from his overall game. He was a star before he ever arrived in WWE, but when AJ debuted at the Royal Rumble, everyone just knew that he had reached superstar status. WWE certainly pays him like a superstar as A.J. reportedly brings in somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.4 million a year.
5 Dean Ambrose - $2.7 Million
The next member of The Shield on this list is also one of the most talented and beloved members of the WWE roster. On the indie scene, Dean Ambrose - then called John Moxley - made a name for himself as a truly crazy man. He wasn’t quite a deathmatch specialist, but Ambrose’s unique promos and vicious in-ring work reminded people of guys like Jake the Snake and Mick Foley. While some fans were concerned that WWE wouldn’t know what to do with a guy like Dean Ambrose, the company has mostly managed to utilize his particular talents in interesting ways. Sure, it's nice to get a full-on maniacal heel Dean sooner or later, but we imagine that Ambrose’s reported $2.7 million annual earnings keep him happy as a babyface.
4 Roman Reigns - $3.5 Million
The final member of the former Shield faction on this list will probably not come as a surprise to anyone. Roman Reigns was the only member of The Shield to not have made a name for himself on the indies. Despite this, he was immediately identified as the one guy who would probably go on to become a major player in WWE by virtue of his build and heritage. Roman Reigns has his detractors, but there is no denying that the kid - he’s only 32 - is incredibly talented and isn’t going to be knocked off the mountain in the near future. While Reigns’ base salary was reportedly less than a $1 million at the start of the year, it’s now suggested that his contract and merchandise sales equal about $3.5 million a year in annual revenue.
3 Triple H - $3.8 Million
Triple H’s salary is another figure that seems to be bolstered heavily by the performer’s role within the company itself. While Triple H no doubt still receives a big WrestleMania check, most of his money seems to come from his status as WWE’s COO. Of course, said WrestleMania checks and other performance-based pay is no doubt inflated by Triple H’s status as an almost 20-year main event star. As for his COO contributions, Triple H has built NXT into the organization it is today and has helmed several major initiatives responsible for some of the company’s best recent moments. Triple H will likely take over WWE one day, so it’s no real surprise that he brings in somewhere around $3.8 million for his services.
2 John Cena - $8 Million (At Least)
The simple fact that John Cena brings in around $5 million a year more than Triple H must seem quite shocking to the average viewer. When you factor in Triple H’s duties as the WWE’s number two guy behind the scenes, it’s pretty amazing to think that a mostly part-time performer out-earns him. However, you can’t really understate just how popular John Cena is on a global scale. His base salary is actually a bit closer to $5 million according to some reports, but Cena’s merchandise and PPV incentives means that he pulls in at least $8 million a year with some reports suggesting that number is closer to $9 million. He also is afforded private jet usage which is always a nice job perk if you can get it. Couple that with all the gigs in Hollywood Cena has racked up recently and it's safe to assume Cena's salary has reached eight figures.
1 Brock Lesnar - $12 Million
Yowza. If you’ve ever underestimated the value of a performer making a name for themselves outside of WWE and then asking for a new contract, let Brock Lesnar’s contract serve as a constant reminder of how much Vince loves outside talent. Yes, Brock Lesnar reportedly makes around $12 million a year for his services in WWE which, in 2016, equalled 11 matches. However, Lesnar’s contributions to WWE go well-beyond his in-ring work. Lesnar’s matches still attract a good deal of mainstream attention for WWE by virtue of Lesnar’s time as one of the biggest draws that UFC has ever known.
Having said that, $12 million is a lot of money no matter how you justify it. WWE could bring in 10-12 high-profile wrestlers - or give some existing ones a raise - with the money they pay Lesnar to occasionally wrestle.