When many WWE superstars talk about their wrestling careers, it’s always about the incredible high they get from performing for the fans, or their ability to live out their childhood dreams of competing in the WWE ring. I would imagine, however, that perhaps the greatest benefit that one receives from being at the top of the wrestling profession is the financial incentives.
While those who wrestle the independent circuit get paid very little (or if you wrestle for TNA you’re likely to not get paid at all), WWE superstars from top to bottom are paid a very significant wage. As it often discussed, however, not all is equal in WWE, and there are a dozen or so superstars who get paid noticeably more than their wrestling counterparts.
Whether this is a result of their star power, ability in the ring, or merely their standing within the company is anybody’s guess. Thereby, this list will count down the !0 WWE Superstars Who Will Get Paid the Most in 2017, and just for a little bit of flavor will throw in 5 Famous WWE Superstars Who Ended Up Broke and if they've been able to turn it around.
15 Got Paid - Dean Ambrose: $1.1 Million
As we begin our list we find ourselves starting with the man whose character certainly doesn’t seem like he’s getting paid over $1.1 million dollars in 2017. The “lunatic fringe” Dean Ambrose, was the first overall pick by Smackdown Live in the recent draft, and his significant salary reflects his position of prominence in the company. A well-known secret with WWE is that title holders get paid more during their stint with the Championship, so we can imagine that the current Intercontinental Title holder will be getting a pretty hefty bonus on top of his already outstanding salary. This is especially good, considering that this former Shield member lives in the very expensive Las Vegas area. Speaking of the Shield, don’t be surprised to see more members of this legendary stable featured later on our list.
14 Got Paid - Kane: $1.3 Million
I think the next two superstars on our list who “got paid” are the two most likely to draw the ire of the WWE Universe. As far back as 2014, both Kane and the Big Show were drawing fire from WWE fans because of their prominent position in Creative storylines. While both of these wrestlers were once huge stars (no pun intended) for the company, people were upset that these now older superstars were getting TV time and matches that could be going to the younger talent. While WWE has more recently heard this cry, cutting the amount of attention given to Show and Kane, they apparently have not translated it into a price cut for these superstars. Because of this, in 2017 Kane will continue to make a whopping $1.3 million. This number is well over the amount paid to other more prominently featured WWE wrestlers.
13 Got Paid - Big Show: $1.5 Million
We obviously lumped the entry of the Big Show with the entry of Kane on our list, so all of the comments which applied to his entry also apply to this one. I think the biggest difference between those two is the live fan appeal that Big Show brings to the table. Though he may no longer be heavily featured in WWE storylines, he is still a must-see feature of the WWE house shows. Due to his almost incomparable size, Big Show continues to be fan favorite of live audiences, and you continue to see little kids get wide-eyed when the seven foot tall, almost 500 pound behemoth makes his way to the ring. Whether this fact makes him worth his $1.5 million 2017 salary is a matter for discussion, but I personally wouldn’t recommend bringing it up to the giants face that you think he gets paid too much.
12 Got Paid - Undertaker: $2 Million
Before starting this entry I would like to say that I have the utmost respect for everything that the Undertaker has done in the WWE. He is one of the unquestioned legends of the industry and the amount of time and dedication that he put into his craft over the years is unbelievable. With that being said, it is unconscionable to me that in 2017 a fifty-year-old man who only wrestles a few times a year will be the seventh highest paid superstar in WWE. Even if you were to make the argument about the importance of drawing power, there is no clear evidence to show that the Undertaker brings in a substantial enough number of additional viewers to justify his exorbitant salary.
11 Got Paid - Roman Reigns: $2.1 Million
No matter your thoughts on Roman Reigns as a wrestler and performer, you have to admit that paying a guy who appears so predominantly on TV and who calls himself “the guy” only 2.1 million dollars a year is a pretty sweet deal for WWE officials. To put that into context, Reigns only gets paid $100,000 more than the previous entry on our list, a superstar who wrestles at most three times a year. Reigns meanwhile is a stalwart of not only WWE television but also the live shows and public interaction forums. I’m unsure when Reigns contract is up for negotiation again, but it’s easy to predict that his next contract won’t be as company friendly as the current one is.
10 Got Paid - Seth Rollins: $2.4 Million
I guess it’s a good thing that Rollins makes our list of highest paid WWE superstars, he probably needs the money to pay for all his hospital bills. But seriously, injuries aside, Seth Rollins is unquestionably one of the top stars in WWE and deserves to be paid as such. One thing I will point out is where Rollins’ 2017 paycheck ranks in comparison to his former Shield cohorts. Rollins will get paid significantly more than Dean Ambrose (15th on our list with 1.1 million) and he even gets paid about $300,000 more this year than WWE’s “top guy” Roman Reigns. Dean Ambrose won the first triple threat match between these three, and Roman appears to have won the support of the company, so Rollins can hold solace that he is at least the highest paid of all the former Shield members.
9 Got Paid - Randy Orton: $2.7 Million
Though he is no longer the perennial main eventer that he once was, Randy Orton is still a substantial part of WWE programming, and his 2017 income reflects as such. A friend and I recently discussed whether Randy Orton has lived up to the immense hype that he entered into WWE with, and that he increased by becoming the youngest ever World Heavyweight Champion. While it is true that he never became the icon that many suspected he would (icon in the sense of Stone Cold Steve Austin or even John Cena), he has still been a 12x World Champion and is a surefire first ballot WWE Hall of Famer. I think the key word to describe Orton is consistent, as he has been considered to be main event talent for nearly his entire career. Love or hate him, it is hard to argue that he has not been a really solid element of the roster upon which WWE could build around.
8 Got Paid - Triple H: $2.8 Million
Out of all the entries on this list, I think that this is the one which shows just how out of touch WWE management is with its fan base. We talked earlier about the misgivings many might have about the Undertaker earning such a substantial salary for such a small body of work, but I think the fact that Triple H is paid even more than the Undertaker is substantially more absurd. The main reason for this being that Triple H is already being paid an extremely large salary by WWE for his role in its management team. Not to say that Triple H shouldn’t be paid something in addition to his executive salary for his superstar status, but I cannot foresee any reasonable argument as to why his additional salary (for only a handful of matches per year mind you) should be more than the likes of Roman Reigns or Seth Rollins.
7 Got Paid - Brock Lesnar: $6 Million
Earlier in this list, I discussed whether Undertaker was worth his large (at least in comparison to many other WWE superstars) 2017 salary when he only wrestles a couple of matches per year. The #2 entry on our list for wrestlers who got paid, and another part-time wrestler, completely blows up this discussion of the number of matches matching up with salary numbers. Though Lesnar typically wrestles only a few more matches a year than the Undertaker, the impact he has on the product in regards to storylines and ratings skews this discussion much more heavily into his favor. Though it has been lessened somewhat by his recent losses to Goldberg, any time Lesnar makes an appearance on WWE TV it raises the anticipation level in a way that no other superstar can match. For that reason, I’m totally okay with WWE throwing as much money as they need to at Lesnar in order to keep him coming back.
6 Got Paid - John Cena: $9.5 Million
If you are surprised by who the highest paid WWE wrestler for 2017 is, then you haven’t been paying attention to the business for the last ten years. Even with the focus on young stars and incoming talent, “The face that runs the place” still gets the best fan reaction on a weekly basis. I think a lot of this has to do with him being one of the few legitimate stars that WWE has on a regular basis (though his participation with WWE has been limited with his expanding movie career), but Cena continues to be one of the most popular superstars in WWE. A hidden aspect of this list is the amount of merchandise each of these superstars sells, and if the litany of John Cena shirts you see in the crowd every week tells you anything, it’s that John Cena will continue to be WWE’s highest paid star for at least the immediate future.
5 Broke - Scott Hall
I think that Scott Hall (aka Razor Ramon) is unique on this list because he just looks like the kind of guy who would end up broke in his late 40’s. For those of you who don’t remember Hall, he was a very skilled mid-card wrestler for WWE before making the jump to WCW as one of the principal members of the legendary NWO stable. With WCW’s reputation for wildly overpaying their top stars, it is surprising to some just how destitute Hall has become. A large part of this, sadly, is Hall’s addiction to drugs and alcohol. The wrestling industry has infamously been a cesspool for the illegal drug market, and Hall is another example of the negative impact these substances can have on a man’s career and even his life. Hall is supposedly now clean, so we hope his stint as a trainer with NXT can revive this legendary superstars bank accounts. It was recently reported that he had roughly $3 million to his name, so at least it is a happy story as of now!
4 Broke - Lex Luger
Sandwiched in between two superstars who recently haven’t been very popular with the WWE Universe, is a former wrestler who historically wasn’t very popular with WWE fans. Long before the WWE was getting trashed by its fans for continuing to push Roman Reigns in spite of a lack of concrete fan backing, Vince and company were intent on making former body builder Lex Luger the top star of WWE’s upcoming era. Luger’s lack of talent would derail these plans, however, that did not stop rival wrestling organization WCW from granting him an extremely large performance contract. This would later blow up in their face as he would face the same inability to connect with the crowd, reminiscent of the problems that he had with WWE. This would eventually lead to him being released, and apparently gaining quite a bit of debt with no sure income to pay it with.
Luger talked about his life experiences in 2013 with his book, Wrestling with the Devil: The True Story of a World Champion Professional Wrestler – His Reign, Ruin, and Redemption
3 Broke - Jimmy Snuka
With the death of Jimmy Snuka earlier this month, the #9 entry on our list now carries with it more emotional baggage than any of the other superstars featured. With the recently resolved court case over the death of his ex-wife, it has gotten lost in the shuffle just how hard the life of Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka was. Growing up in immense poverty, Snuka would gain immense notoriety in WWE for his high-flying arsenal of daring moves. Despite this, Snuka was not paid very much during his time with WWE (WWE salaries at the time were extremely low, and the only real money to be made was in advertising outside the industry), and shortly after retiring the Pacific Islander was almost completely destitute. I think it’s fair to assume that these financial problems led to many of the more troubling issues that he would experience later in his life.
2 Broke - Jake "the Snake" Roberts
I feel like the “Broke” sections of this article have been pretty sad so far, so for Jake “the Snake” Roberts I thought I’d include a funny anecdote which has been passing around the internet (and is verified). Apparently, at one point Roberts was so poor that he had to move in with his longtime friend, Diamond Dallas Page, and his wife. While there, one of Roberts trademark snakes (an over twenty-foot boa constrictor) escaped from its crate and was promptly found upstairs (Roberts was living in the basement like he was their loser son) by Page’s wife. This obviously did not go over well with Mrs. Page, but they were luckily able to work things out, and Roberts would live with the couple until he was able to move into his own place.
1 Broke - Virgil
I decided to include Virgil as the final entry on our list of “broke superstars” in order to share my personal story of this embattled legend. For those of you who don’t remember Virgil, he was the uh “servant” of the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase. His basic gimmick was that he was so hungry for money that he would do any ridiculous and devious job that DiBiase gave him, in order to secure a few bucks. Since his retirement, it has become evident that this is actually how Virgil is in real life. I currently work at a museum part-time (a museum that has no connection whatsoever with wrestling), and earlier this year they were able to bring in Virgil for a guest appearance and autograph signing. When I asked why they made the odd choice of Virgil to come in, I was told that he does these type of appearances for incredibly small amounts of money. I guess that everyone’s got a price.