Plenty of the people on television get paid too much to do their jobs. Athletes arguably have it even better, making millions and millions of dollars for their few minutes per game on the field, but who are we to question what billionaire team owners want to pay their talents? Since professional wrestling is a combination of sports and entertainment, we feel more comfortable in judging Vince McMahon and the other wrestling promoters of the world for paying their talents exorbitant amounts of money, since in many instances the talent’s ability to entertain was blatantly and dramatically lesser than the price tag they were demanding.
We can hardly blame Vince McMahon alone for this. Vince offered Marc Mero the first guaranteed contract in wrestling history back in 1996, and that’s where the idea of getting paid too much for doing nothing started to become a thing in sports entertainment. However, when you look at the facts, Vince’s competition is often far guiltier of this than he is, and WCW superstars take up a big portion of our list. Some of these wrestlers are legends and icons who made the entire wrestling industry millions, but once you look at the specifics of their contracts, you realize even the star of the show can be bizarrely overpaid. Keep reading to discover which 15 wrestlers were given the most money to do the least actual work.
15. The Undertaker – $2M Per Year
The Undertaker is one of the greatest wrestlers in WWE history, and has more than earned his keep over the years he was active. At this point, though, the Dead Man is wrestling less than 10 matches per year and only making a handful of additional appearances, but somehow he remains one of the highest paid men on the roster. It doesn’t help that with his advanced age and undying career, the stories and matches he’s getting involved with aren’t up to the caliber they used to be, either. Nonetheless, Undertaker is bringing in over $2 million every year, with merchandise and Pay-Per-View revenue percentages boosting it up even further. If he were still the top star of the company that might make sense, but given his schedule, it makes no sense he’s the highest paid wrestler in the world not named John Cena when he barely gets in the ring.
14. Marc Mero – First Guaranteed Contract
We mentioned in the intro that Marc Mero received the first guaranteed money contract in WWE history, so let’s get into the details into just how much that contract overpaid him. First, you need to know that prior to Mero, most wrestlers were either paid by appearance or with short-term deals based on dates worked and money generated, but starting with him, thanks to the competitive viciousness of the Monday Night Wars, wrestlers were being contracted for long periods of time for a pre-agreed upon price, regardless of whether or not they even wrestled a single match during that time frame. Mero has never been specific about the deal he got, but he describes it as making a ridiculous amount of money basically just to travel the world with his then wife, Sable. Making the deal even better for Mero, he was injured shortly into his WWE run, which meant he got to continue traveling around with his wife and making serious money.
13. Bret Hart – $2.5 M Per Year
Bret Hart is a WWE Hall of Famer and one of the most beloved wrestlers in company history, and he could well have become the same in WCW, but things don’t always work out the way they’re planned. Hart jumped from WWE to WCW in late 1997 in part due to the company offering him a massive contract that promised him a guaranteed $2.5 million per year. That’s a hefty number, but it was actually pretty reasonable for one of the top stars in wrestling during the most competitive and popular era in industry history. The problem is, WCW had no idea how to use Bret, and he spent his time in the company mostly as a confusing lackey of Hulk Hogan. Hart also spent a significant amount of his time in WCW on the injured list, and they had no choice but to keep paying him his massive contract until he got better—which he never actually did. WCW eventually cut their losses and fired Bret after three expensive and disappointing years.
12. Disco Inferno – $300K Per Year
Fans of WCW know Disco Inferno was more than just a low card comedy act, as his role in WCW gradually increased as the years went on. That said, he never exactly rose above that comedy act, he only got to perform it higher up the card as his obnoxious personality grated with fans more and more. Disco started in WCW with a modest paycheck, but somehow he was up to $100,000 per year for dancing in five-minute matches by 1998. By 2000, he was making more than $300,000. If anything, Disco’s role as a wrestler was only decreasing, and his character’s direction was making less and less sense along with the company at large. Disco was a fun character who wasn’t untalented, but the simple fact is his name alone tells you how much a joke he was. Apparently, WCW didn’t put a price tag on comedy.
11. Bam Bam Bigelow – $400K Per Year
Bam Bam Bigelow had potential to be a huge star with his incredible agility and uniquely terrifying look, but the only company to treat him like a true main event star was ECW. That didn’t stop WCW from paying him like a main event star, and in fairness, his late 1998 debut was a pretty big deal when it happened. Bigelow was only one year removed from a run as ECW World Champion, and his entrance saw him demanding a fight with the still undefeated Goldberg. However, the catch of feuding with late 90s Goldberg was that Bam Bam was destined to lose his first big fight, and he became a glorified midcarder as soon as he did so. He floundered in the tag and hardcore divisions until WCW went out of business, but that didn’t stop him from making a whopping $400,000 per year to do so. Wrestlers in his position today are lucky to even make it to six figures.
10. Brock Lesnar – $2M Per Year
Brock Lesnar is the most dominant and destructive wrestler and fighter in the world today, and there’s no denying he is the biggest marquee star WWE has when they so choose to employ his services. With Brock currently back in UFC and his WWE appearances already highly limited to begin with, though, it seems a little tough to justify a reported $2 million per year price tag. That might be a fair amount for an active superstar constantly in the main event, but Brock has a seriously limited number of required appearances, and fans are starting to question if it even means anything anymore when he makes them. Lesnar’s star power, talent, and mystique still cause him to steal the show whenever he chooses to be a part of it, but he does so on such a rare occasion his demands are starting to look like a bit much.
9. Stevie Ray – $250K Per Year
Stevie Ray is the brother of WWE Hall of Famer Booker T, and was his tag team partner in Harlem Heat for the first decade of their professional careers. Harlem Heat were a popular and important tag team in WCW, but from the very beginning Stevie had the reputation as the weak link, which was solidified when his brother went to such great heights after they finally broke up. Booker T became WCW World Champion by 2000, and Stevie was stuck in worse and worse storylines about the hated from the start nWo B-Team. Nepotism has its benefits, though, as Stevie stayed in WCW as a lower card wrestler and commentator making upwards of $250,000 per year until 2000. Despite getting paid far more than he deserved and WCW treating his brother like a superstar, Stevie Ray sued Turner Sports for racial discrimination in 2002.
8. Ice Train – $200K Per Year
Who is Ice Train, you ask? Frankly, that’s a completely reasonable question. Ice Train wasn’t a bad wrestler for what his role was, but if he’s been completely forgotten by history, that’s because his role wasn’t very big in the first place. He briefly tagged with Scott Norton as Fire and Ice, and the team had the cursory feud after breaking up, but that was about it for Ice Train’s relevant mainstream career. Although we couldn’t tell you a single opponent of his post 1996, Ice Train apparently stayed with WCW until the bitter end, at which point he was making over $200,000 each year to do so. Ice Train briefly had a comeback in 2000 under the new name MI Smooth, but by comeback, we only mean he appeared on TV a handful of times in losing efforts. Essentially, Ice Train got paid an increasingly ridiculous amount of money each year to lose two or three minute matches that weren’t even aired on television.
7. Dennis Rodman – $1M Per Year
Dennis Rodman was one of the biggest sports celebrities in the world when he signed with WCW to make occasional appearances during the late 90s. Although he was a massive star, the fact he made less than ten appearances per year and only wrestled three matches total means he might have the per capita record for earning the most for doing the least. Rodman made over $1 million per year to appear in tag matches he barely was a part of, and was treated like the most important part of the show while he did so. His name and notoriety helped WCW and the nWo reign supreme during the Monday Night Wars, but honestly he wasn’t that big a part of their success, and his whole appearance signified that company’s trademark overindulgence.
6. Swoll – $350K Per Year
If you’re a diehard wrestling fan who has no idea who Swoll is, don’t feel bad. His tenure was so short he might not actually belong on this list, because WCW terminated his contract long before they had to pay him the ridiculous amount he was promised. Despite being virtually untrained and not going anywhere in the company, Swoll’s contract would’ve granted him $350,000 per year with a $50,000 signing bonus. Swoll had played for the Denver Broncos in the late 1980s, but his days as an athlete were way behind him when WCW offered him the deal in 1999. Swoll’s only role in WCW was acting as the bodyguard and enforcer of Master P’s No Limit Soldiers, and he stands as representative of that whole group getting paid far too much to get involved in a sport they had nothing to do with. Although he was fired only a few months later, his relatively huge signing bonus was already enough to call him overpaid.
5. Dustin Rhodes – $500K Per Year
Dustin Rhodes is a fantastic wrestler whether he’s competing as Goldust or under his real name, but there have been a few periods of his career that weren’t as great as the others. His initial WCW run made him a star from the get go, but when he returned to the company in 1999, things weren’t so great for him. Things weren’t so great for him in the ring, that is, because his contract was pretty fantastic. Dustin made $500,000 per year his first year, with promised $100,000 increases for his second and third year. The first year he made a universally panned appearance as Seven before switching to his real name and having a forgettable feud with Terry Funk before taking almost an entire paid year off. When Dustin returned in 2001, he started to receive a more prominent role by teaming with his father, but WCW went out of business before he turned into a star that could justify his price tag.
4. Mark Henry – $1M Per Year
Marc Mero received the first guaranteed contract in wrestling, and a few months later Mark Henry redefined the idea by receiving the first guaranteed contract for an unproven rookie, and it sure was a big one. Henry was a popular wrestling prospect as a winner of endless weightlifting competitions; and after competing in the 1996 Summer Olympics he signed a 10-year deal with WWE. Although he hadn’t even been trained as a wrestler yet, Henry signed for $1 million per year. The World’s Strongest Man eventually became The House of Pain and established a respectable wrestling career, but the first ten years when he was making record money were pretty horrible. He dated a transvestite, had diarrhea so horrible it effected his career, impregnated an octogenarian, and was generally treated as a comedy loser. The payment was enough to make Henry persevere, and somehow he actually started earning his keep before long. Of course, that was after a slight pay cut.
3. Tank Abbott – $650K Per Year
Tank Abbott was a popular and dominating MMA fighter in the mid 1990s who also had a slight notoriety for his appearance on Friends. Slight notoriety can often mean everything in wrestling, so Abbott made his wrestling debut for WCW in 1999 to the tune of $650,000 per year. WCW writer Vince Russo wanted to make Tank Abbott World Champion only one month after his debut in the sport, which might have explained his contract had he been worthy of doing so, but WCW officials hated the idea so much they fired Russo on the spot. Abbott still got to hang around and rake in the money, but he did so wrestling two-minute matches at the bottom of the card. His ultra goofy turn as 3 Count’s biggest fan was probably the best part of his career, but it came nowhere near justifying his cost.
2. Kevin Wacholz – $100K Per Year
Kevin Wacholz is best known for his time in WWE as the ex-con Nailz. He also spent a few months in WCW as The Prisoner in 1993, essentially the same gimmick. He was compensated pretty well for his time then, but at least he was appearing in major storylines. The ridiculous part of his career came in the Attitude Era, when WCW hired him back in 1997. Wacholz stayed on the WCW roster for two full years without making a single appearance on television. He was paid over $100,000 per year to wrestle only two non televised matches before the company realized it might be easier to just fire him again. Wacholz is an especially confusing case, considering his horrible reputation in the industry as a troublemaker.
1. Kevin Greene
Kevin Greene was perhaps the only athlete in history to have concurrent careers in the NFL and a major wrestling company. He played for the Carolina Panthers and the San Francisco 49ers while also wrestling in WCW for several matches per year. While Greene was a minor sports celebrity, he wasn’t exactly on Dennis Rodman’s level, and his one or two matches per year were typically treated as significantly less important despite his equally high caliber opponents. Somehow Greene netted up to $500,000 per year for his dozen appearances, and in fact the final year when he made the most money was also the year he did the least and barely wrestled at all. The NFL eventually mandated he stop wrestling if he wanted to continue his football career and he did as he was asked, but he probably made enough money that he could’ve stopped doing both and retired early.