Without any question, Vince McMahon is the wealthiest man in sports entertainment, and he’s done just about everything in his power to ensure this will always be the case. It makes perfect sense that the owner and CEO of the WWE Universe would also be the richest person in his business, yet McMahon has taken specific steps to ensure his employees will never make anywhere near the same amount of money he has. Obviously, the person signing the paycheques needs to make more than everyone on the roster, but there’s only far the pay gap can stretch before a businessman is accused of being greedy.
Granted, Vince himself would admit he loves his vast fortune. In order to become a certified billionaire, one has to cut costs and be frugal, which sometimes means paying employees less than they may deserve. It also means withholding benefits other employers might provide, like extended vacation days or health insurance, neither of which WWE offers its wrestlers. Of course, these are just business reasons, and the real way Vince controls wrestler bank accounts is by refusing to give them any freedom whatsoever in their careers.
Is this necessarily fair? That’s for fans to decide. The important thing is that McMahon can definitely get away with it. Everyone in wrestling knows the WWE CEO is crazy, manipulative, and megalomaniacal, but they can’t stop dreaming about working for him anyway, a fact he’ll always use to his advantage. For all the details on how he does it, keep reading to learn about 15 methods Vince McMahon uses to prevent his wrestlers from making money.
15 Giving Retired Wrestlers Contracts Just To Control Them
Theoretically thinking, a WWE Legends contract is just about the greatest gift Vince McMahon could give to his old stars. For the most part, wrestlers with this sort of deal are retired from the ring, simply making a handful of public appearances per year to represent the WWE brand at festivals, contract signings, or wherever else wrestling fans could be found. However, there’s a big catch in that most WWE Legends contracts come with the caveat that the wrestler needs to be mostly retired from the ring, not getting paid to wrestle anywhere else.
They’re also essentially signing away the rights to whatever gimmick they used in WWE.
It was for these reasons The Honky Tonk Man was reticent about signing one for years, wanting to maintain control of his own career. On top of these issues, Vince also only signs some legends, like WCW’s Sting, to make them look bad against his homegrown WWE talent, further hurting their potential to make money on their name value down the line.
14 Scrutinizing Social Media And Fan Interactions
In the interest of fairness, before we explain how Vince McMahon and WWE closely monitor the social media of pro wrestlers working for the company, let’s acknowledge that virtually every business in the world has the ability to do this.
If a person posts something questionable on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, their boss often has a certain right to punish them for it. That said, the level to which WWE scrutinizes social media is a bit much.
The thing is, social media is such a new and wide-reaching concept that many people still don’t understand how to use it responsibly. For example, Baron Corbin once had a cross exchange with an Air Force veteran on Twitter. Although the vet instigated the argument, and Corbin seemingly responded in character, many fans believe the Lone Wolf immediately fell out of United States Championship contention around the same time was no coincidence. Corbin further fell from grace since then, losing potential main event money in the process, all because he responded to a person who insulted him online, and Vince didn’t like it.
13 Saying That WWE Is The Only Option
There’s simply no way around it — WWE is the biggest wrestling company on the planet, has been for a very long time, and likely will remain such for the indefinite future. That said, despite what Vince McMahon might want people to believe, his company isn’t the only sports entertainment and/or pro wrestling organization out there. In fact, there are dozens if not hundreds more, all of varying shapes and sizes.
True, WWE pays its wrestlers significantly more than the all-stars of some local indie down in Tulsa, but some places like Impact Wrestling, New Japan Pro Wrestling, and Ring of Honor can come close for the right person.
According to Cody Rhodes, combine them all together, and a wrestler can make more on the indy scene than in WWE. However, Vince would never admit this, firmly implanting a mindset on all those in his company that they have no other options to succeed. This makes them accept whatever he offers them for the chance of being a star, not to mention put up with everything on this list.
12 Sticking Random People Together In Tag Teams
All right, so this next one is kind of a mixed bag, and has actually revitalized a few careers in the past. That doesn’t necessarily make it a good business plan, though, and it’s nonetheless a sign of how Vince McMahon controls his talent in confusing and potentially risky ways. Getting to the point, aside from actual family members and duos that formed prior to signing with WWE, the biggest tag teams around are random mishmashes of two wrestlers with nothing better to do.
Again, sometimes this strikes gold, as was the case with Sheamus and Cesaro or Tyson Kidd and Cesaro (and presumably anyone else and Cesaro, because he’s that good). Other times, fans get weird jokes like Tyler Breeze and Fandango or utter failures like Titus O’Neil and Apollo.
That last example in particular destroyed Apollo as a solo star, throwing away all his potential at a random whim of Vince McMahon. Even if it works now and then, when Vince mashes two wrestlers together, he’s putting them both at serious risk of failure, diminishing their value and paychecks.
11 Forcing Them To Volunteer At A Charity
First things first, it should go without saying that volunteering for charity and/or giving money to charity are very good things. However, forcing a person to make “charitable” acts against their will is anything but, and entirely unreasonable. That’s Rob Van Dam’s argument, anyway, explaining why he was furious with Vince McMahon over an incident regarding Tribute to the Troops 2006 where WWE tried forcing him to “volunteer” his time despite being having initially claimed it was optional.
This meant traveling all the way to Iraq and wrestling for free, which is a noble way to bring entertainment to restless soldiers, but it isn’t something a person should be forced to do.
In essence, McMahon was demanding RVD (and the other wrestlers compelled to “volunteer”) work a free day halfway around the world in a dangerous environment. It also doesn’t help that the Tribute specials typically overlap with Christmas vacations, meaning Vince demanded they not take those days off after all. Sometimes, taking away relaxation is even worse than taking away the money itself.
10 Scripting (And Over Scripting) All Interviews
Once upon a time, the greatest asset a wrestler could possibly have in selling themselves and making money was a microphone. A talented, mysterious, or unique enough personality just needs to talk for a couple minutes to completely sell their story, and get millions of fans desperate to see how it ends. Unfortunately, the day of WWE superstars selling seats by speaking their minds is long gone.
Because Vince McMahon wants everything slick, corporate, and PG, his talent is almost uniformly expected to read from a script every time they’re on camera.
They have to stick to this script pretty exactly, too — Mick once told a story of McMahon going mad when Braun Strowman did a pre-taped interview and said “title shot” instead of “title match.” Stories like this kill monsters like Strowman’s mystique, and make him seem like just another cog in the machine when it comes time to talk. Of course, Strowman’s problems don’t even compare to those of Roman Reigns. Quite frankly, the Big Dog’s writers just suck, a problem that’s causing all of WWE to lose fans and money.
9 Ignoring Any Creative Suggestions
When Vince McMahon genuinely respects a wrestler, their discussions can actually be a free flowing exchange of ideas, and he listens to what they have to say. Most of the time, though, Vince tells a wrestler how it’s going to be, and they have no choice in the matter. Cody Rhodes discovered this the hard way when he was seriously dissatisfied and bored with his role in the company.
To try and fix the problem, Cody constantly pitched suggestions to McMahon’s top writers, hoping the boss would get the picture and change up his gimmick. Unfortunately, they didn’t, angrily ignoring Cody whenever he came with a new suggestion.
Apparently, this sort of thing is commonplace today, and the idea of a wrestler controlling their own character in this regard is reserved entirely for John Cena and Triple H. One would think a wrestler creating their own gimmick perfectly suited to their personality would be the best way for them to make money, but Vince would rather come up with his own thing and force them to do it, regardless of what it makes.
8 Onscreen Punishments For Anyone Who Speaks Out
It’s bad enough that Vince McMahon doesn’t listen when his employees have suggestions on how to improve their careers when things aren’t going to hot. Making matters worse, McMahon is also known to punish anyone foolish enough to go public with these feelings.
Granted, Cody Rhodes, the wrestler with the most vocal complaints in recent memory later said he wasn’t “punished” for repeatedly asking for a gimmick change and suggesting ideas the writers would turn down, but he did earn a “reputation as a complainer.”
In some respects, that’s just as bad, because it meant all the writers, and especially McMahon, didn’t like it when they had to talk to him. This means it wouldn’t have mattered how long Cody worked for WWE or the level of performance he put into his role; the writers didn’t like him, so he’d never be a main-event act. Naturally, that prevented Cody from ever making main event money, which is why he ultimately left the company for someplace where he could.
7 Refusing To Allow Outside Opportunities
Because WWE so completely controls worker contracts today, this item isn’t that much of an issue. That said, it once lead to two major WWE superstars leaving the company, and the personal feelings of Vince McMahon were the direct reason why. Back in the 1980s, Vince really didn’t like it when his superstars appeared in media outside of his influence. Even the free publicity generated by a wrestler regularly appearing on the popular G.I. Joe cartoon was a serious problem, because it meant that wrestler, Sgt. Slaughter, would be doing things Vince wasn’t writing.
Of course, from Slaughter’s point of view, it was just a huge paycheque for fun, easy work. Still, Vince wouldn’t let him do it, so Slaughter quit rather than lose the thousands he could make on the show.
Later, King Kong Bundy experienced a very similar situation when McMahon was furious Bundy appeared in magazine ads for Head Start Computer company without telling him. Like Sarge, Bundy was just trying to make an extra non-wrestling buck, but Vince wouldn’t let him, firing him when he found out about it.
6 Dominating Schedules
It makes sense that the further up the WWE ladder a person climbs, the busier they get meeting the company’s expectations. Naturally, though, there’s a limit to what a single human being can physically do in a given day without collapsing into nothingness. Three years ago, Vince McMahon pushed Seth Rollins extremely close to that limit after WrestleMania 31.
Rollins won the WWE Championship that night in California, followed by immediately hopping a plane to New York, where he filmed the Today Show the next morning. Then it was right back into the sky so he could go back to California for Raw that night. That’s two 10-hour transatlantic flights in a single day, and Rollins had no choice in the matter but to do it all.
Obviously, it also gave him no time whatsoever for himself, bringing up the argument that taking away free time is just as bad as taking away money directly. In fairness, this example is rather extreme, but the fact remains WWE does similar things all the time, making it very difficult to follow a consistent sleep schedule.
5 Completely Controlling WWE Merchandise
Anyone who has visited an independent wrestling show surely remembers the merchandise tables. Wrestlers unsigned to a major promotion are allowed to create their own t-shirts and trinkets to sell fans after the show, and many get creative with the idea to make an extra buck. Promoters don’t necessarily care what they sell, so long as it isn’t patently offensive, and no idea could get turned down for corporate reasons. Unsurprisingly, things are the exact opposite in the WWE Universe. While most wrestlers do have a small say in their t-shirts and such, it’s ultimately Vince McMahon’s decision what goes on their merchandise, and sometimes, he makes things that no sane person would wear.
The wrestlers aren’t the ones physically selling their merchandise, either, and few vendors at arenas can create a connection with an audience that could get someone who doesn’t want a shirt to buy one anyway.
Of course, WWE superstars might not all have the time or creativity to sell their own stuff, but the point is that even if they wanted to, they wouldn’t be allowed.
4 No-Compete Clauses In Every Contract
During the Monday Night Wars, it would have made perfect sense for WCW or WWE would put no-compete clauses in their employee’s contracts. Strangely, they often didn’t, leading to some wrestlers jumping ship to WCW after a WWE Pay-Per-View and appearing on Nitro the very next night to talk about how everything went wrong (or vice versa, replacing Nitro with Raw).
Vince McMahon can only get fooled a certain number of times, so he eventually did start putting non-compete clauses in select wrestler contracts.
Specifically, Brock Lesnar had one when he left WWE in 2004, but he ignored it and wrestled for New Japan Pro Wrestling anyway. Further, Lesnar went on to challenge the non-compete clause in court, bringing up that it specifically got in the way of him making money. WWE disagreed, countersuing Lesnar for already breaking the agreement, only for the matter to get settled out of court when the Beast Incarnate made his inevitable comeback. While Lesnar’s a smart enough businessman to get around that non-compete clause, other wrestlers aren’t, and they can’t do anything to stop Vince from ensuring they don’t get work elsewhere.
3 Making Everyone Sign Away Their Names
No wrestling company has been better at branding than WWE, yet sometimes, they take things just a little too far. Discontent with simply controlling a wrestler’s look, gimmick, and the words that leave their mouths, Vince McMahon also wants to control their names, something fans with even a passing knowledge in independent wrestling have certainly noticed. There’s no real reason Bryan Danielson became Daniel Bryan or Tyler Black became Seth Rollins aside from the fact Vince owned 100% of everything those second names did.
This meant he could take all the credit for their success and pretend past work on the indies had nothing to do with it.
It also means any past merchandise or DVDs with their old names aren’t nearly as popular as they would be if that name was on WWE TV. The last indy wrestler who was actually allowed to keep his name and brand value was CM Punk, and seeing how that worked out for McMahon, it probably won’t ever happen again.
2 Failing To Pay For Travel Costs
Of all the items on this list, the next issue is almost certainly the one most wrestlers would like something done about, especially those lower on the pay grade. Perhaps the hardest part of being a WWE superstar is the travel schedule, and living life on planes, trains, and automobiles is just the tip of the iceberg as to why that is. More difficult than just the fact wrestlers are on the road all the time is that they basically have to pay for all this travel themselves.
Yes, Vince McMahon will fly his roster from state to state for Raw or SmackDown Live, but rental cars, hotels, restaurants, room service, and anything else of that nature is all on the wrestler.
To a main event superstar making millions per year, this isn’t all that big a deal, and might just feel like part of the lifestyle. However, a low-tier wrestler might find themselves barely breaking even. Even an upper midcard talent like Ryback suggested this was basically the case with him, which is why he left WWE. If things continued as they are, he may not be alone.
1 Refusing To Offer Health Insurance
Notwithstanding the fact WWE doesn’t pay travel costs, the most questionable part of Vince McMahon’s record as employer has got to be the fact his wrestlers aren’t given any form of company health insurance. Obviously, if someone gets injured in the ring, McMahon has to pay for their rehabilitation. However, due to technicality, WWE wrestlers are all independent contractors, meaning they’re entirely on their own in terms of long term health care plans.
This is almost heartless of McMahon, as he expects his wrestlers to be in top condition, working out every day at the gym, but he won’t pay to help with their injuries.
That’s not to mention the fact McMahon and WWE don’t do anything to help employees suffering sudden illness. Several wrestlers have attempted to change this in the past, most notably in a class-action suit filed by Raven, Mike Sanders, and Chris Kanyon, which was ultimately thrown out of court. After that case, it seems highly unlikely this practice will ever change, and WWE will keep making wrestlers pay for healthcare out of pocket for a long time to come.