In the late 90s, WCW managed to dethrone rival WWE from their previously uncontested spot atop the sports entertainment world. In large part due to Ted Turner’s boundless pockets, plenty of Vince McMahon’s top talent were persuaded into signing with WCW once their contracts expired with the WWE.
During the peak of the Monday Night Wars, Turner handed out some ridiculous sums of money through guaranteed contracts which paid performers more for far less work in return. While this helped the company build an impressive roster of marquee caliber talents which would help WCW surpass their competition in the battle for TV ratings, these ludicrous contracts would inevitably aid in breaking the company’s spine in the long run. In fact, along with huge payouts, some Superstars were granted creative control in their agreements as well, creating rifts that they could never settle backstage. Egos clashed and the quality of the product suffered because of it. While revenue and ratings plummeted, Turner still had to pay his roster. For every home-run contract the WCW signed, there were several strikeouts that went along with it. Today, we recount some of the most memorable ones from WCW's undercard. Here are the eight worst and eight best contracts from that class, enjoy.
16 Worst: Tank Abbott ($650,000/year Guaranteed)
Billed as one of the most prominent fighters in mixed martial arts in the late 90s, Abbott was brought in to pose as a veritable foe to the then-unbeatable Goldberg. He built a reputation with his time in UFC and other MMA promotions and was such a hot prospect that WCW decided to hand him $650,000/year guaranteed contract, despite his non-existent professional wrestling experience. His gimmick never got off the groun, and his sports entertainment career fizzled rather quickly as he was reduced to a comedic role during the infamous Vince Russo era, dancing his way to the ring as opposed to dominating opponents similar to the likes of Brock Lesnar today. This signing was a fail on just about every level imaginable.
His MMA record was 10-15 and it's difficult to tell whether he had a better record in WCW...
15 Best: Chavo Guerrero ($126,000 in 1998)
These contracts look like steals once you realise the careers most of the wrestlers on this list went on to have, and Chavo is no exception. WCW were overpaying their top performers, though that was simply the state of the market at the time. What could be a considered a steal in terms of pay versus performance only became evident years later when the majority of these wrestlers were kept on board by the WWE. Who really knows if WCW knew what they had on their hands with these guys. If they did, then great on them for paying them modestly until they blossomed. And shame on them for not being the workplace in which these highly skilled thrived. With better direction for these young stars, who knows how the Monday Night Wars would have really played out in the long run.
If we were looking at the most overpaid TNA stars though, it would be a different story...
14 Worst: Dustin Rhodes ($700,000/year 3)
Unless you were paying close attention, you may have missed the temporary fallout that Goldust had with Vince McMahon and the WWE which forced him to jump ship for a few months to WCW in 1999. Rhodes came over as a highly coveted free agent and earned top dollar for his talents. In fact, he was set to make $500k his first year with an $100k increase in each of the next two years. He failed in mounting a persona that was worthwhile andm within months, he was off of regular WCW programming. He was rumored to be going through some fairly daunting personal issues which may have affected his performances both on the mic and in the ring. When McMahon bought out WCW, he did not initially pick up his former star’s contract. After it expired, and Rhodes regained his focus, we witnessed the re-emergence of the Goldust character.
13 Best: Billy Kidman ($115,000 in 1998)
At the peak of his time in WCW, Billy Kidman appeared to be another young and exciting talent able to push the rest of the roster. The inventor of the shooting star press, Kidman, like many of his counterparts that figure on this list, accepted modest pays for the impact he ultimately had on the company. The Superstar was placed in lackluster storylines as part of Raven's flock in an attempt to give his character purpose, but like many of the creative ideas at the time, this idea never caught enough momentum to generate any significant buzz. Kidman proves to be another Superstar who would only reach his full potential once he was kept on by the WWE following the buyout because of his affordable contract. A reoccurring theme can be noticed with the type of guys McMahon decided to keep on board: talent makes names and not vice versa.
12 Worst: Disco Inferno ($300,000/year Guaranteed)
Disco Inferno, the sporadically humorous dancing wrestler. meddled in the mid to lower card for years. An average in ring talent at best, he survived as long as he did by using comedy in his gimmicks, which was his greatest strength. It was only at matter of time before Inferno would hit his proverbial talent ceiling and fizzle out. Nonetheless, due in large part to his close friendship with Vince Russo, the wrestler managed to secure huge paydays, earnings $300,000/year guaranteed during WCW’s last years for less than serviceable efforts. There was no way that Disco Inferno would ever become a huge player in WCW, but he still earned buckets of cash despite that fact. He did manage to win some champions during his WCW tenure, winning the Cruiserweight, Television and Tag Team Championships.
11 Best: Chris Benoit ($107,000 in 1996)
Chris Benoit, similarly to the past couple of entries of underpaid WCW stars, was among the wrestlers who helped elevate WCW's overall product by filling the mid-card with arguably their best matches. He belonged to a breed of wrestlers who were the most able in the ring andm again, he was given little in terms of meaningful storylines and title opportunities. Displeased with usage, he too would jump ship in 2000 to the WWE, where he would earn his veritable worth and reach his full potential. Yet another low-ball by Turner and his team, modestly paying another high impact performer for what he actually had to offer. While he could never reach main event status in WCW, he did have a single WCW World Heavyweight Championship reign just before he left for the greener pastures of the WWE.
10 Worst: Ernest “The Cat” Miller ($450,000/year)
Eric Bischoff is rumored to have hired Miller after he served as his son's Karate instructor. Bischoff believed he had a look that the company could work with. He was billed as a “three-time karate World Champion,” though it was never specified which association gave him these titles. In fact, Miller had no previous wrestling experience, though creative gave him a serious push to try and establish his credibility as a fighter to be reckoned with. After that obviously failed, The Cat never even remotely came close to piercing the main event marquee,and resorted to jobbing while attempting to win over fans with less than envious humor in his promos. Somehow in all this, WCW had him on the books for $450,000 during the last year of their existence. Are you still curious as to how they went out of business?
9 Best: Dean Malenko ($128,000 in 1996)
Dean Malenko is another Superstar who was trapped in the mid-card not because of lack of talent, but due to gross misuse by WCW creative. Historical rivalries with Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio to name a few helped enhance the overall product of WCW as these performers put on spectacles for matches on the regular, despite limited major storyline implications. It is no surprise that most of these wrestlers who were modestly paid sought out their just worth and jumped to WWE when everyone at the time was doing the opposite. Turner and his enterprise got away with paying arguably their best performers way undermarket value. This is considered a steal on their part, though a mistake that would help sink the company in the end.
The Man of 1,000 Holds did have some success in WCW, winning the Cruiserweight Championship four times, along with winning the United States Heavyweight Championship and Tag Team Championships one time each.
8 Worst: Stevie Ray ($610,000 in 1999)
Stevie Ray could never outlive the shadow that his brother Booker T cast upon him as the “other” brother in the legendary Harlem Heat tag team, which won 10 Tag Team Championships during their time in WCW. On his own, Ray was slow and often clumsy in the ring, which was the complete opposite of his Hall of Fame brother Booker T. When Booker T broke out on his own while Stevie was injured, Ray failed to gain any significant momentum on his own upon his return, eventually resorting to commentary work during the final years of WCW’s tenure. Nonetheless, despite injury and misdirected booking due to his limited in ring ability as age caught up to him, he still earned a lot of cash by riding his brother’s coattails.
Even if he didn't reach great heights in WCW, at least he got to be the better half of a tag team with Big T, the former Ahmed Johnson. Better than nothing, right?
7 Best: Rey Mysterio Jr ($155,000 in 1997)
Similar to his long-time in-ring rival Eddie Guerrero, Mysterio will go down, when it is all said and done, as one of the greatest pound-for pound wrestlers of all time. His work in the Cruiserweight division helped add an extra component to WCW's programming, which helped the company out muscle their rivals (for a short time period) during the infamous Monday Night Wars. The quality of Mysterio's performances night in and night out helped innovate the world of sports entertainment and has left a lasting impact on the product we see today. When you consider what he was getting paid versus the legacy he left behind, this was another steal for WCW. Mysterio went on to have a career in the WWE after signing with them in 2002, which will undoubtedly result in professional wrestling immortality with a guaranteed spot in the WWE Hall of Fame. He would win major titles in the WWE, with his greatest achievement being his victory at WrestleMania 22 over Kurt Angle and Randy Orton to win the World Heavyweight Championship.
6 Worst: Kevin Wacholz (Nailz) ($200,000 for Two Dark Matches)
Better known for his time in the WWE as Nailz, with a high point coming in the form of a "Nightstick on a Poll" match against The Big Boss Man at the 1992 Survivor Series event, Wacholz was released from the company after many instances of unprofessional conduct stemming from highly temperamental behavior. At one point, he event barged into Vince's office to argue about his pay and put his hands on the boss. After journeying around on the independent circuit, he managed to somehow convince WCW to give him another chance. Performing as The Prisoner, Wacholz wrestled in two live events before he was again released in 1998, months after signing a contract, due to similar issues which plagued his career in the past. He made close to $200,000 for essentially doing nothing.
5 Best: Eddie Guerrero ($260,000 in 1998)
Revered as one of the greatest of all time, Latino Heat was modestly paid during his time in WCW while being hideously misused. The level of his talent was never appreciated in WCW and this forced a changing of the guard when he, along with a few others, jumped ship to WWE in 2000. Eddie struggled to break out into the main event scene in WCW, in large part due to backstage politics. Nonetheless, Guerrero delivered highlight caliber match after match and eventually realized his own worth and tested the greener fields of Vince McMahon's company. where he would finally warrant his just worth. Turner got away with one here, if you consider some of the total debacles listed in the worst contracts, in comparison to what Eddie was getting paid for masterful work. His crowning achievement would come in WWE, where he won the WWE Championship and successfully defended it at WrestleMania XX.
4 Worst: Bam Bam Bigelow ($400,000+/3 Years)
Many would argue that Bam Bam Bigelow was not overpaid as much as he was misused. For an athlete his size, his agility in the ring was truly remarkable. If he was given the proper booking and creative direction, Bigelow could have ended up being worth every penny. However, as often was the case towards the end of WCW, Bam Bam shuffled around the mid-card and was sent to revive a hardcore division that never had a pulse to begin with. He was also thrown into a bland stable known as the Jersey Triad with Diamond Dallas Page and Chris Kanyon, which was short lived. He also had a match with Shawn Stasiak where, if he won, he'd tattoo 'That Sweet Thing' onto Stasiak's body. Money very well spent.
The result of these terrible ideas was another ridiculous contract the WWE opted not to pick up once Vince McMahon bought out his rivals.
3 Best: Jeff Jarrett ($325,000 in year 3)
Many might argue that this should be on the eight worst contracts list, but let us put this into reasonable perspective. Jeff Jarrett was one of the only remaining talents left during WCW's ultimate demise that could still carry a match and he even served as the company's World Champion a few times. His talents were often misused as opposed to underachieving and given the state the company was in during their last days, Jarrett still performed his duties admirably enough to warrant a reasonable salary and hold the World Title even in their darkest days. Thus, his contract was a reasonable bargain if he was to be hand picked to be their champion. We're perfectly aware that this entry is debate, but we think that Jarrett was a true standout in the mid-card.
2 Worst: Buff Bagwell ($400,000/3 Years)
If his performances in the ring and on the mic could match his aesthetic appeal, then Bagwell would be remembered as true star. Instead, he served as a muscle prop on an already crowded nWo roster, meddling in the tag team division. He did manage to win six Tag Team Championships, though he never succeeded on his own, victim to his lack of functional athleticism and natural charisma on the mic. As many others did in the late 90s, Bagwell scored big on a contract which paid him to be just another background player in the grand scheme of things. When the WWE purchased WCW in 2001, Bagwell was initially retained. However, only weeks into his tenure, the powers at be quickly realized they may have overestimated the ceiling for their new acquisition and he was released rather quickly. Rumor has it that his mother called in sick for him and that spelled doom for Bagwell. Well, that and his terrible match with Booker T on Raw. Speaking of which...
1 Best: Booker T ($700,000/Year Guaranteed)
This proves to be one of those rare moments were WCW handed out a contract prematurely based on the potential of a rising star. At the time the agreement was reached in 1998, Booker had only been a tag-team performer and managed to capture a TV Championship Title during one of his brother Stevie Ray's several injury hiatuses. The TV Title was actually the third highest ranking singles title after the World Title and the US Title. Similar TV and US Champions such as Disco Inferno and Finley were being paid in the $250K-$300K salaries, and many would argue that they were overpaid for what they brought to the table. Booker went on to be a World Champion towards the end of WCW's tenure and continued his tear in the WWE, proving to have been worth every penny in the long run, now forever enshrined in the WWE Hall of Fame. Booker became one of the only WCW wrestlers to survive the Invasion angle, an accomplishment that is truly remarkable.