Starting in 1996 with Hulk Hogan backing the product, World Championship Wrestling went all-in and dented the WWE’s untouchable reign at the top. With success came more money, which was used to make a lot of wrestlers really rich. In 1996, a minimum of 90 wrestlers were making more than 10K per year. That number nearly doubled in 1999 when the promotion saw 157 wrestlers make over 10K. Although there were some happy campers financially, it caused a huge dent in the company’s armor.
Along with over spending, the company was an absolute mess behind the scenes with the intimates running the alyssum. Bischoff was like one of the guys as opposed to being a boss and this only hurt WCW even more. The company struggled on-screen and was eventually forced to see its product's demise when it came became way too much of a liability for Turner and his partners.
Today, we celebrate the highs and lows by looking at some of the best and worst contracts ever given out. We’ll specifically take a look at contract earnings from 1996 till the very end in the mid 2000s. Some names on this list are going to shock you (including our first entry). So without further ado, let’s find out who that is and who the others are. Here is a list of eight of the worst and seven of the best contracts in WCW history.
15 Worst: Dennis Rodman - $1,674,814
Eric Bischoff and WCW had an obsession with linking the world of Hollywood to the pro wrestling organization. The company craved mainstream exposure and did everything possible to bring in some of the bigger stars from the world of entertainment.
One of those people was NBA legend Dennis Rodman, who found himself in the headlines on the daily during the 1990s. Trying to pounce on that, WCW brought in the troubled NBA star but that came at a steep price and probably one of the worst in the company’s history considering how minimal and short-lived his impact was. Combining his salary in ‘98 and ‘99, Dennis made over $1.5 million. He made half a million in 1998 and added to that a year later making over a million with the pro wrestling promotion.
Rodman’s involvement was lackluster to say the least. He took part in two tag matches, one which saw himself and Hogan defeat DDP and Karl Malone. His final encounter took place during his return which resulted in a loss against Macho Man Randy Savage at Road Wild.
14 Best: Chris Benoit - $892, 129
The number you see above is absolutely ridiculous considering that’s how much he made from 1996 to the mid 2000s. To put things into perspective, NBA star Dennis Rodman made more than Benoit in one year than Chris did in a combined four. His legacy is forever ruined, but you can’t deny the talent he was and how much value he gave to the company.
Benoit finally started to make some decent money in 1999 making over $350,000 for the year. Although his pay was finally starting to increase, Benoit still left the company and did not look back searching for a greater role and a company that withheld more stability. WCW even had Chris win the title but that wasn't enough to keep his talents with the company. Looking at his salary, Bischoff and WCW certainly underestimated his skill and it’s mind blowing looking at some of the names that made more than him, including the likes of Ernest Miller, Bryan Clark, Jim Duggan and heck even a dude by the name of Kevin Greene out-earned him? Who is Kevin Greene? Let us explain in the next entry.
13 Worst: Kevin Greene - $1,066,000
Who and how is probably a question some wrestling fans are asking themselves. If you're familiar with the NFL, you’re aware of his contributions to the sport. Just this year in 2016, Greene was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame cementing his legacy in the sport forever. One thing's for sure however, he came nowhere near to the same amount of success during his pro wrestling run and it was in fact the complete opposite when looking back.
Joining the WCW with an impressive NFL resume, the company didn’t hesitate to throw some serious bucks at the former football player. His stint was horrid and featured an array of tag matches which took place sporadically. His final bout took place in 1998 when he teamed up with Goldberg to take on the nWo Black and White. He left the business for good when teams used a “no wrestling” clause in his contract. Although he left, his earnings probably made him feel pretty darn good making more than half a million in 1998. His career earnings in the three years eclipsed the one million dollar mark.
12 Best: Rey Mysterio – $1,176,666
Jumping ship from AAA Mexico to North America, Mysterio quickly climbed the ranks and became a huge pro wrestling star for his innovative Lucha Libra offense which lacked in North America during his debut. He started in ECW and would go on to make a name for himself with Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling.
Given his accomplishments with the company throughout his run, Rey pretty much made squat. His highest annual salary was in the final year of his deal when he made a little more than $364K. He was vastly underpaid in his other years and the likes of Alex Wright and Buff Bagwell out-earned the Cruiserweight when comparing salaries from 1996 till the mid 2000s. In no world should that have ever occurred, especially when you consider that Rey put the Cruiserweight Division on the map with his five historical title runs. Not to worry however, the WWE would capitalize on his magic as he would become the WWE Champion years later and make the big bucks.
11 Worst: Sid Vicious - $1,525,990
What makes this number so much worse is the fact that it was earned in just two years. Despite being way past his prime, Sid cashed in beautifully making more than $1.5 million in 1999 and 2000 combined. This number is more than what Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio and Chris Jericho made when you calculate their earnings from 1996 till the mid 2000s.
Sid made a name for himself with the WWE becoming a top of the line heel in large part due to his feud with Shawn Michaels, a guy who can make anyone look good. He would ultimately part ways as he began to slow down in skill but managed to ink a lucrative deal with WCW.
The former WWE Champ did manage to win the WCW World Heavyweight Championship on two separate occasions but he really is just remembered for his infamous promo botches and gruesome leg injury he sustained at a WCW PPV which is still celebrated to this day. After the injury, Sid was never the same again and it made his earnings numbers that much more ridiculous to digest.
10 Best: Eddie Guerrero – $1,232,932
The total income above stems from 1996 till the early 2000s. Like Benoit and Mysterio, Eddie was far above the others in terms of in-ring skill but it never carried over to his pay. As a matter of fact, wrestlers like Alex Wright, Stevie Ray and Konnan, significantly out-earned Eddie during the same amount of time which is truly mind-blowing.
In his run with WCW, Guerrero became one of the greatest Cruiserweight Champions in company history. He also added a United States Title run to his resume.
Knowing his skill and self-worth, Eddie left alongside Benoit, Malenko and Saturn as the four would enter the WWE as The Radicalz, craving a fresh new start. Like Mysterio, Eddie would earn the greatest success of his entire career with the company becoming a WWE Champion and the face of SmackDown for many, many years.
9 Worst: Lex Luger - $4,753,880
Looking back at his WCW career, it’s hard to believe that Luger ranks in the top ten in terms of the highest earners in company history. His body of work was extremely marginal throughout his run and he failed to make a legit connection with the audience. Despite that, he made the big bucks and cashed in quite nicely throughout his run.
Lex’s biggest contribution to the company goes way back to 1995 when he secretly jumped ship and joined WCW. Looking at the historical nature of the Monday Night Wars, this moment arguably ignited the greatest pro wrestling rivalry of all-time. Following the stunt, his contributions were few and far between. WCW initially tried to book him as a big deal but fans slowly fell out interest because of his lack of charisma. Despite that, he stayed with WCW for a very long time and out earned the likes of Scott Hall, DDP, Booker T and even the great Nature Boy Ric Flair when assessing his totals from 1996 till the mid 2000s.
8 Best: Raven - $662,782
Looking back at Raven’s WCW stint you couldn’t help but to remember how darn cool his character really was. Despite his short-comings of not breaking into the main event scene, his contributions were still very noteworthy. He feuded with some of the best the company had to offer and enjoyed a run with the second most significant Championship on the roster, the United States Title. Along with this, his promo work was far ahead of the others.
With all this being said and considering he had a lengthy run with the company, you’d figure he’d be at the very least in top 20 in terms of career earners since 1996. However, that is not the case. Raven is at the bottom of the barrel with laughable names like Horace Hogan, Barbarian, Tank Abbott and Disco Inferno out-earning the talent. Despite his terrible wages, Raven actually left the company because of creative differences. Following a meeting, Bischoff told the wrestlers that whoever had a problem with creative could leave. During the meeting, Raven literally got up and left. He was later granted his release.
7 Worst: Roddy Piper - $2,690,428
There’s no doubt, Piper is one of the greatest of all-time and his heel work was trailblazing to say the least. With that said, his WCW deal was absolutely ridiculous. An early tactic deployed by WCW was to try and copy previous things that worked in the WWE. One of those, was a feud between Piper and Hogan. The twist in the rivalry this time however saw Hogan work as a heel dawning the nWo colors, but the crowd just wasn’t all that invested as they had seen the program before.
Whether he was past his prime or not is debatable, but Piper’s run with WCW was awfully booked. Some blame WCW for their terrible writing while others believe Piper was uninterested and over the hill. Nevertheless he cashed in big time becoming the tenth highest earner despite his limited involvement. Roddy out-earned the likes of Ric Flair, Booker T and Scott Steiner. Speaking of Booker T...
6 Best: Booker T - $2,040,285
The infamous five-time WCW Champion was one of the only wrestlers on the entire roster to actually get built up properly starting off as a tag wrestler an eventually morphing into the face of the franchise.
His salary was also right on and something WCW should have done with all the other talents as well. Booker started off with a low salary at just over $150K in 1996 and steadily grew to a salary of $743,747 in his final year with the company. You truly wonder if the company would still exist had they taken this patient route with all the wrestlers on the roster, but that wasn’t the case. The likes of Bret Hart and Roddy Piper out-earned Booker despite their short stints with the company. This was a theme that plagued WCW causing them to lose way too much money on talents that had a minimal impact on the overall product.
5 Worst: Goldberg - $8,899,460
Like their on-screen product, WCW went over the top with everything including salaries. Bill Goldberg was the face of the company and one of the only stars they built from ground up. The company however, got a little too excited and paid Goldberg way over his worth. Bill finished off as the second highest earner in company history, making more than $5 million in 1999 which was double what any other wrestler was making (except for Hogan).
Not taking anything away from Goldberg, the man was certainly a draw but man did the company invest too many dollar signs into someone whose matches were no longer than five minutes. In addition to that, his microphone skills were limited and pretty much non-existent. At the end of it all, the salary got to Goldberg and he developed an ego behind the scenes which caused his work and legacy to take a hit. Had the WCW given him a reasonable deal, all that could have been avoided from the start.
4 Best: Chris Jericho - $660,764
As we discussed with Goldberg and his ego, Chris Jericho is a wrestler that could have benefitted from Goldberg having a cooler head. Instead, Bill looked down on Chris because of his size and lower-card standing with the company. Looking at Y2J’s career, it’s rather obvious the WCW missed out big time on one of the generation's best performers.
Jericho had some built up frustrations with the way the company was using him. Not to mention his salary which was an absolute steal at under $250,000 in ‘97, ‘98 and ‘99. Those that earned more than Chris included Chavo, Disciple, Sonny Onoo and Brian Knobbs. Yup, it truly was that bad.
Despite his terrible pay, Chris hung around and was only concerned with developing his persona. WCW constantly refused to comply which caused Jericho to part ways and join the WWE. After a slow start, Jericho found his footing and became one of the more prominent stars with Vince McMahon’s company.
3 Worst: Bret Hart - $6,754,074
Bret joining WCW was meant to not only revitalize WCW but do the same for his career after a brutal falling out with the WWE. WCW instantly made Bret one of the highest paid wrestlers and the stage was set for him to help the brand flourish once again.
Despite all the pieces seemingly aligning, his run was a major fail and one of the worst in pro wrestling history. Hart hated his time with the company and his performances even suffered for it. Bret was uninterested and seemed like a shell of a man he once was with the WWE. To this day, Bret blames the WCW and their terrible program on and off screen for his failure, while people like Bischoff claim Bret didn’t care from day one and was instead still basking over the Montreal Screwjob. No matter how you look at it, his salary was an absolute mockery as he was the third highest earner in company history making more than the likes of Macho Man, Sting and Kevin Nash which seems idiotic to say the least.
2 Best: Sting - $6,045,809
If there was anyone on the WCW roster that deserved their income, it was the most loyal employee in the company, Sting. When WCW struggled to get on the map early on, the one constant they had that the WWE didn’t was the Stinger.
He began as a blonde babyface who wore face paint and the crowd loved to get behind him. With the times changing, Sting felt the need to do so as well, and changed his entire persona based off of an idea from fellow wrestler Scott Hall.
Sting would morph into a mysterious “crow-like” character and change the landscape of the entire Monday Night Wars. His work against the nWo made WCW must-see television and all the big bucks the performers started to make were in large part because of the Stingers' contributions.
His salary throughout was quite modest (as he was). Sting finished the fifth top earner starting from 1996 but was most certainly number one in the hearts of many wrestling fans.
1 Worst: Hulk Hogan - $13,171,042
The model for WCW was simple, build behind Hulk Hogan. The company cashed in on his previous fame and went all in trying to re-create that with WCW. It worked to a point but then it just got ridiculous given his power behind the scenes and exactly how much he was making.
His 1998 contract was leaked and showed just how bad it really was. The contract included:
A $2 million bonus just for signing, 15% of all PPV sales he wrestled on (with a $675K guarantee), 25% of ticket sales from shows he wrestled in (including 25K guarantee), 20K per month for wearing WCW merchandise on-air and in photoshoots, and $175 per diem while travelling with WCW. In addition, Hogan needed to agree to all storylines.
This all equated to one huge mess behind the scenes along with a grand total of at least over $13 million from 1996 and on. His contract will forever be regarded as one of the very worst of all-time given all the ridiculous perks.
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