Vince McMahon has built himself an empire of epic proportions. Ever since his evolution from the territory-era crossed into the mainstream he has been taking risks while reaching ever-greater heights. From the first WrestleMania to the the launch of the WWE Network, Vince’s legacy continues to grow. The WWE succeeds off the backs of the extremely hard-working and sometimes injured backs of the current wrestling superstars. So how much of that big WWE money gets back to its stars? Contrary to other sports, the WWE relies on a far smaller pool of athletes to conduct business. The athletes rely not only on their physical prowess, but their personality for ultimate success. Fans form a connection with their favorite (and most hated) superstars, which drives attendance and merchandise revenue.
Who needs who more? In some cases, like The Rock, the WWE gains much more from his celebrity than he does returning to wrestle. Vince has always loved bringing in celebrities, and The Rock is the guest star that can actually wrestle. But does the WWE completely rely on their superstars for success? The WWE has almost (but not quite) a monopoly on accessible quality wrestling. The mid-90’s featured an extremely depleted roster in the WWE, causing a dire financial situation. It wasn’t until superstars like Steve Austin and The Rock realized their potential that the WWE’s fortunes turned around. So just how much of the pie is going out to the top stars? The stars that sacrifice not only their bodies to pull of death-defying stunts night after night, but also their home and family life. It’s safe to say no professional athlete has a more grueling schedule. There is no offseason, there is only the next match.
The upper echelon of wrestlers gain free first-class air travel, private buses, five-star hotel, along with substantial compensation. The lower levels of superstar see a vastly different lifestyle. Their flights are paid for, but hotels and rental cars are not. Not to mention the amount of food a professional athlete/weightlifter needs to consume, after taxes and expenses, it aint as glamorous as it looks.
Time now to see where the top WWE superstars line up, you may be quite surprised where it all shakes down.
Mention: Roman Reigns – $245,000
Pretty low isn’t it? Since Roman has been pushed so hard so fast, he’s still on an entry-level type contract. Of course he will receive some bonus money for the high-card action the WWE has lined up for him. His Royal Rumble win had to be a nice paycheque and the pay for his WrestleMania main event with Brock Lesnar should be even better. Roman is obviously being pushed as the next big thing so he’ll have plenty of opportunity to turn his current deal into a much higher payday.
25. Bray Wyatt – $254,200
Bray Wyatt should be looking for a huge raise after this contract. He is by far one of the most exciting talents in the ring and absolutely owns the mic. Wyatt’s clever command of his gimmick has provided some very compelling TV in a low-era of Raw programming. Wyatt’s Undertaker-centric promos had to single-handily build their WrestleMania clash, which would mean a very nice payday for ol’ Wyatt.
24. Jack Swagger – $275,000
The Jack-of-all-trades has seen it all in the WWE. Former ECW Champion, tag-team success, even reaching as high as the big gold belt. Swagger recently finds himself mired in the lower mid card as of late. He still has a lot of good wrestling years left in him but will be hard pressed to reach his former heights. It seemed with Zeb Colter by his side that he was on his way to being a bigger star but he fizzled out after his feud with Rusev.
23. Seth Rollins – $310,000
The current WWE Champion lands at 22 for now, but should quickly ascend. Another player on the cusp of stardom with a surprisingly low annual salary. Rollins broke through the same time as Reigns in their hugely popular Shield stable, so it makes sense they are in the same ballpark. Rollins has proven his worth to the WWE and has a great chance to see a serious raise. A lot of it will now hinge on how he does as champion, which by all indications, seems he’ll be a huge success.
22. Titus O’Neil – $335,050
After a rocky start in NXT, Titus looked to finally harness his supreme physical ability into something usable in the ring. After gaining momentum as a tag-team with Darren Young, O’Neil looked to be getting a push after pulling a Shawn Michaels to Young’s Janetty. However, nothing much came from it and he’s right back where he started, teaming again with Young. O’Neil may not look it, but he’s near 40, and time has most likely ran out on any further upward progress.
21. Kofi Kingston – $354,200
Kofi has been a reliable worker who has produced some of the most exciting athletic spots the WWE has ever seen. He’s experienced great success in tag and mid-card singles, winning 10 championships. Though in this era, belts change hands rapidly. Kingston couldn’t manage to break through to main event status, but he remains a valuable contributor, and a member of our top 25.
20. Bad News Barrett – $445,000
Barrett has settled into a nice upper mid-card spot as the current Intercontinental Champion. He’s over with the fans and has shown great versatility. He’s carved out a nice living for himself but with the talent above him, he might find it tough to demand much more. He also always seems to get injured at the wrong time, which constantly halts his momentum. Barrett is one of the second-class wrestlers who do not enjoy any contractual benefits regarding first-class air travel or paid accommodations.
19. Zack Ryder – $535,000
Zack Ryder has had an up-and-down career with the WWE. He has cleverly used social media and a popular Youtube series to further his wrestling career. Despite a perceived lack of push from WWE management, Ryder’s fans were loudly heard, not only in their chants, but more importantly with their merchandise. Ryder has even branched out with a single “Hoeski” that cracked the iTunes top 100. He’s a savvy business man and should look forward to several more lucrative years.
18. Christian – $595,000
An Attitude Era vet, Christian came a long way from being a sideman in Gangrel’s Brood. In a story just crazy enough to be true, Vince McMahon had a gimmick that only he could come up with. McMahon didn’t like Christian’s face. He didn’t think he was ugly per se, he just found it annoying to look at; “ratty” was the term he used. Vince wanted a big blue dot to cover Chritian’s mug whenever he was on camera. However odd the idea may be, it’s a fascinating look into the mad genius behind the WWE.
17. Ryback – $665,000
Boy is Ryback ever a Vince McMahon guy. McMahon has an infamous bias towards the big men, where wrestling ability clearly comes second. CM Punk recently outed Ryback for hurting him in the ring on multiple occasions. Although Ryback does a great job on exposing his own in-ring weaknesses every time he steps between the ropes, he still makes twice as much as Rollins. The big guy commands a big salary despite only taking place in a handful of pay-per-view main events.
16. Daniel Bryan – $700,000
This just doesn’t seem right. Bryan, the opposite of Ryback in size, ability, and crowd appeal, makes just a small amount more. The WWE however did listen to the loud cries of the tortured fan base providing a fantastic WrestleMania moment for Bryan and the YESnation last year. The company also had him headline with Reigns at Fastlane, but he has now been saddled with the Intercontinental title, hopefully for the purpose of bringing prestige back to the belt, oops title, sorry Vince.
It feels like the WWE thinks that perhaps Bryan’s chant is more popular than he is.
15. Miz – $712,000
Miz is a modern-made star. Getting his start on reality television, he forged a patch to stardom in the WWE. He was perhaps brought up too fast, evidenced by a very poorly received main event at WrestleMania with John Cena. It’s most likely that he has had his shot at the top and won’t see the main event again, he’ll remain a well-compensated upper mid-carder. Although like Ryder, The Miz is a proven hustler and will likely find other lucrative ways to bring home the bacon.
14. Goldust – $725,000
It may come as a surprise, but Dustin “Goldust” Runnels has quietly amassed a 25-year career. Even more surprising is that he still provides quality work in the ring and shows no sign of slowing down. He is a great veteran to have around, especially to mentor his younger brother. When Dustin hangs em up (for good), fans shouldn’t be surprised to see him step away from his younger brother in the ring, and stand alongside his father behind the scenes.
13. Rusev – $725,000
Rusev has worked with the WWE and their developmental territories since 2010. His powerlifting background and physique are mighty appealing to McMahon, but the man can back it up in the ring. Rusev’s current gimmick is a new take on the classic anti-Russian vibe of the cold war. Perfect booking had him holding the US Championship hostage before John Cena took it from him. Fans are hoping Vince keeps paying enough to keep Rusev and his gorgeous valet Lana around for a long time to come.
12. Mark Henry – $877,000
Oh Vince, we thought you learned your lesson with the big men. McMahon signed Henry to a ludicrous 10 year contract in 1997 before the man had proven himself in the squared circle. Henry struggled mightily but eventually found his way. He’s still limited in the moves department but he’s developed into a solid mid-carder with some upward versatility. Henry combines Vince’s love for giants and powerlifters, so he’ll always have a job if he wants it.
11. Dolph Ziggler – $900,000
With Daniel Bryan and Roman Reigns out of action late last year, Ziggler was called upon to fill the void. He stepped up admirably, convincing many he was ready for prime time. However with Bryan and Reigns back, Ziggler has slipped down a few notches and might find it challenging to claw his way back up. At his current age and spot on the card, Ziggler has most likely reached his peak and will remain an upper-mid card fan favorite.
10. Kane, $905,000
Okay, so Kane is nowhere near as appealing as he used to be and has been horribly booked for years. But at least he has paid his dues to earn such a salary. Kane has been in the WWE for upwards of 20 years, and was incredibly over for many years with the audience. For WWE though, how many more years are you willing to pay that much for Kane, who simply doesn’t connect with the audience anymore? Glenn Jacobs has said it himself in recent interviews that the salary he makes is hard to walk away from.
9. Chris Jericho – $974,000
Chris Jericho is a class-act. Although he was never offered the same courtesy by the veterans in WCW, Jericho has done the noble job of using his twilight wrestling years to put over the younger talent. Outside of wrestling he has parlayed his WWE success, and natural ability to entertain into lucrative work as an actor and host of a great podcast (check out his interview with Hulk Hogan). Interestingly, Jericho recently signed a contract with the WWE to perform exclusively in non-televised house shows. Jericho proves once again that he has a true passion for wrestling and how out-of-touch the WCW was to let him slip away.
8. Big Show – $1.2 million
A man with giant longevity, the Big Show cut his teeth in the WCW where he was admittedly very green, yet his shortcomings were masked by the bloated veteran roster. Once he made the switch to the WWE he had to learn fast, but ultimately transitioned into a very serviceable career. Part of his contract entitles him to a private tour bus as the Big Show gave a Big No to cramped air travel.
7. Sheamus – $1.3 million
Sheamus achieved huge success relatively quickly, prompting a divisive response from the fans. He has a distinctive look, can perform in the ring and is known as a tireless worker. As with any big push, detractors will form. Critics have pointed out that Sheamus’s push came after a rumored gym-buddy friendship with Triple H, a man no stranger to accusations of powerful friendships/relationships.
6. Randy Orton – $1.6 million
Randy Orton looks like he was made in a lab, designed specifically for wrestling. He works far better as a heel and it’s rumored he thinks so as well. He stands like a heel should, never completely straight, always a little shifty. He comes from a wrestling lineage and was obviously well-liked by management but he made the most of a great opportunity and came a long way with a lot of hard work. He deserves to be in this spot.
5. Brock Lesnar – $2 million
Usually when wrestling is brought up someone immediately has to shout out “it’s fake!”. Genius. Of course it’s not real fighting, as Bobby Heenan once said “a fight lasts 30 seconds, not 30 minutes”. It’s not fighting of course, its gladiators performing extreme ballet. It’s a suspension of disbelief. And no one suspends belief like Brock.
There’s nothing pretend about the physical ferocity of Lesnar. He conquered the WWE and then decided to conquer the UFC, striking a blow for wrestlers everywhere.
Brock wrestles a far reduced schedule for the WWE as a special attraction, and is rewarded handsomely for it. He is a huge draw and one of the best things going in the WWE. His salary for his new WWE contract has not yet been revealed, only that it’s for three years. With WWE really seeing Lesnar’s value now, we can assume he received a significant raise.
4. Triple H – $2.12 million
Triple H paid his dues like everybody else. He had his fair share of cheesy gimmicks, worked his way through WCW, and when the Monday Night Wars took off, he grabbed a spot and is still riding. While he certainly has his share of critics for his lengthy main-event status and marrying the boss’s daughter, you can’t deny the man has done some excellent work with NXT. If NXT is what happens when Paul Levesque is given control, then fans should be excited for the future of wrestling.
3. The Undertaker – $2.25 million
The elder statesman, the conscience, the backbone of the company. The Undertaker has reinvented himself through several eras, remaining connected with the fans, and providing some classic matches. His WrestleMania streak built so quietly at first, and grew to the level of mainstream news. Undertaker only wrestles one match a year now, but you can’t deny that his presence remains a huge selling point for every WrestleMania.
2. John Cena – $2.75 million
You knew he had to be up here, but he couldn’t take the top spot. Ten years with the company and its main man for a majority of it. Many have remarked on his outstanding work ethic, his willingness to learn and do whatever it takes. Cena, for all of the wins thrown his way, has still shown the willingness to do the dirty work when asked.
His match at ECW’s One Night Stand with RVD was legendary. They sent Cena into a snake pit. This wasn’t a PG era venue, this was loudmouth, hardcore ECW fans who had no problem screaming obscenities in his face. It’s ironic that in this case Cena really did seem against all-odds and his gimmick would have worked quite well. However it was booked to please the crowd, and Cena took the loss like a champ, while putting RVD over as the new one.
1. The Rock – $3.5 million
The Rock obviously doesn’t make this salary now, but rather when he was locking up with Cena at WrestleManias 28 and 29.
The Rock has a special relationship with the WWE. Millions of dollars for a very reduced contract will do that for you. But The Rock obviously doesn’t need money, and if he did, he could make far more for far less dangerous work. The Rock didn’t need to come back, he wanted to. And that’s a testament to the passion he has for wrestling, and how grateful he is. The Rock can still bring it in the ring, he still loves what he does, and the WWE loves paying him for it.
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