Professional wrestlers need a serious passion for the business in order to be willing to put their bodies on the line. It takes years of training and preparation to even get a shot in the business, and the wrestlers undertaking those challenges need a whole lot more to inspire them than simply getting paid at the end of it. However, getting paid is pretty darned important, so occasionally it became an issue even after they seemingly were getting to live their dreams.
The amount of money wrestlers get paid has been placed in the spotlight recently with mounting health concerns leaving wrestling fans curious how the talent is able to pay for all their medical bills. On top of that, it’s increasingly becoming public knowledge that while some wrestlers are compensated extremely well for their work, others are struggling to afford travel from one Raw to the next. Some wrestlers have taken to management and asked for more money, but that usually results in Vince McMahon showing them the door. Others didn’t even care for it to get that far, walking out on their own once their financial demands weren’t met. Keep reading to learn about 15 wrestlers who quit WWE over money issues.
15. The Rock – Paid More By Hollywood
The official story is that The Rock left WWE and wrestling in general in order to become a movie star, and that’s technically true, but let’s take a look at the subtext. The Rock is a natural performer who loves his adoring fans regardless of the medium, and there’s nothing that really separates a big budget action flick from wrestling, aside from the fact big budget action movie stars make a hell of a lot more money than wrestlers. Rocky still makes an occasional wrestling appearance when the hours are short enough and the price tag is high enough, but regardless of how badly his fans wish he’d make a permanent comeback, it will never happen. The Rock can make more money by starring in one film than he made his entire career as a wrestler, and more than anything else, that’s why he left the business.
14. Batista – False Promises and Movie Money
Batista is another wrestler who could easily continue to be a huge star in WWE or elsewhere in wrestling, but he prefers to spend his time making movies and doing other projects that can easily make him more money. When Batista returned to WWE in 2014, he needed the company to promise him a whole lot, especially since his stock as a movie star was higher than ever. Due to circumstances both in and out of WWE’s control, they failed to make good on the vast majority of those promises, and Batista walked out of the company later in the year. Of the many complaints he had with the company, the fact he apparently wasn’t being paid what he was promised was understandably near the top.
13. James Storm – TNA Paid More
James Storm is best known for his time in TNA, where he has been a multi-time World and Tag Team Champion. He made his shocking debut in the WWE Universe by appearing on NXT and started a brief winning streak, but if fans blinked they might’ve missed it, as Storm was back in TNA after only a few weeks. Storm’s jump was at first seen as one of many warning signs that TNA may finally be going out of business, but as it turned out, the whole ordeal was contractual maneuvering by Storm to get the best deal from whoever was willing to pay more for his work. NXT is the developmental league for WWE, and TNA treated Storm like a main event superstar, so it isn’t surprising TNA was ultimately willing to pay more. It’s still a little surprising Storm would still be willing to work for the sinking ship, though.
12. Carlito Caribbean Cool – Not Enough Money To Rejoin His Family
Carlito Colón, also known as Carlito Caribbean Cool, was never a main event star in WWE, but he did manage to make a pretty big impact during his few years with the company. He spent about five years in the company, first as a solo star winning the Intercontinental and United States Championships, and later teaming up with his brother Primo and unifying the WWE and World Tag Team Championships into the single title they remain to this day. Carlito left WWE in 2010, but his brother and cousin are still in the company, and many fans hope he might one day return and join them. Unfortunately it would seem unlikely, since it was reported in late 2015 that WWE actually contacted Carlito about returning, but he felt they weren’t offering him enough money for him to make it worth his while.
11. The Ultimate Warrior – Told To Take His Money and Get Out
The Ultimate Warrior has more or less been exonerated of his actions since his death, but when he was still alive, he was one of the most controversial wrestlers in WWE history due to his multiple dramatic exits from the company. Although Warrior left WWE three times, only the first time was really an out-and-out money issue. In 1991, Warrior sent a letter to Vince McMahon complaining about the fact he was paid less than Hulk Hogan for their work at the past WrestleManias despite the fact they were an equally integral part of the show. Warrior demanded $550,000, and McMahon actually acquiesced to the demand for a brief while. He wasn’t happy about it, though, and suspended Warrior immediately after SummerSlam. Warrior attempted to resign, but WWE wouldn’t accept, instead keeping him off TV but under contract for the rest of the year. Warrior’s future departures were more in relation to his no-showing events, but money was the root of the problem the first time around.
10. Nailz – Thought Money Was Worth Fighting For
Nailz is a rarely mentioned figure in wrestling history, in large part due to the insane scenario surrounding his exit from WWE. He wasn’t a huge superstar, but he became decently popular during his short run as a possibly cyborg ex-con feuding with the Big Bossman. Nailz lost the feud against Bossman, and then lost a far more significant battle behind-the-scenes with Vince McMahon shortly afterwards. The full details have been disputed and therefore the story is a little fuzzy, but it’s generally believed that Nailz attacked McMahon in his office, screaming at him about the fact he felt he wasn’t paid enough for SummerSlam that year and violently choking McMahon. Nailz claimed he was acting in self-defense while McMahon attempted to sexually assault him, but several eyewitnesses have called that story nonsense, and Nailz has openly admitted in court he hates McMahon’s guts.
9. Hulk Hogan – Left For WCW
Hulk Hogan’s decision to leave WWE and join WCW was one of the biggest in wrestling history, and it wasn’t without many considerations, but one of the biggest things he had to consider was money. Although fans were starting to wane on him somewhat, Hulk Hogan was still the biggest name in wrestling history, and that held a lot of value in 1993 when his contract with WWE was ending. Both WWE and WCW were making offers to lock Hogan into a long-term contract, but eventually WCW was able to come up with a monetary offer WWE flat-out “had no interest in matching.” Hogan’s contract in WCW featured a whole lot of perks than simply the money, but the money alone must have been pretty astronomical for WWE to basically give up on their biggest star. Hogan always considered returning to WWE if the money was right, too, but McMahon never found a number high enough to bring him back until WCW was out of business.
8. Kevin Nash – Master of Contract Negotiations
Kevin Nash is a WWE Hall of Famer and multi-time World Champion in both WWE and WCW, but in interviews where he has spoken candidly about his career, it’s become very clear that first and foremost, Nash is a businessman, and a good one. Nash loved working for WWE in the mid 90’s, and thought the company was ultimately going to win the war against WCW, but at the same time he knew that WCW had a whole lot more money to offer him upfront. Nash negotiated his contract in WCW to make sure that he and Scott Hall would always be the highest paid wrestlers in the company outside of Hulk Hogan, and the two would additionally help other wrestlers get paid more, which of course made their contracts go up as well. Nash was one of the most successful wrestlers in WCW, so he didn’t exactly regret the move on a professional level either, but it was money that made jumping an extremely easy decision at the time.
7. Scott Hall – Followed His Friends
Like his buddy Nash, Scott Hall loved working for Vince McMahon and WWE. Their Kliq famously had a lot of sway backstage, so they really had no cause to complain about their jobs, since they pretty much wrestled and beat whomever they wanted to. However, early in his career, Scott Hall was given some advice from WWE Hall of Famer Chief Jay Strongbow that he took to heart through his entire career. Strongbow told Hall that in wrestling you can either make friends or money, and Hall felt he already had a bunch of friends, so he went to WCW where they offered him a lot more money. Hall felt bad about the decision, and has since said he thought he was selling out, but his friends and his bank account always reassured him that he made a reasonable choice.
6. Bret Hart – Vince Couldn’t Pay Him, So He Screwed Him
The Montreal Screwjob is one of the most important and infamous events in wrestling history. Bret Hart was leaving WWE for WCW, and he refused to lose the WWE World Championship to Shawn Michaels at Survivor Series. In response, Michaels, Vince McMahon, and plenty of others conspired to trick Hart out of the belt. What is sometimes lost in this ordeal is the fact Bret was willingly leaving the company, and the reason was very straightforward—he wanted more money than Vince McMahon could afford to pay him. There were other factors involved, including trust and personal issues between Hart and the WWE locker room, but the money was definitely the most important part of Bret’s decision to leave the company he was once loyal to for WCW.
5. Tyler Reks – Wasn’t Making Enough To Travel
Tyler Reks was never a big deal in the WWE Universe, but the circumstances surrounding his departure from the company have been the subject of a variety of shoot interviews, where Reks has been vocal about his various problems with the company. Reks left the company of his own volition, in part due to problems with John Cena, but also in part due to the fact he felt he was seriously underpaid for his work. He admitted that on paper, his paycheck didn’t look too bad, but WWE doesn’t do a great job at covering their talent’s travel expenses unless said talent is a top star. As such, Reks and other wrestlers lower on the card are forced to pay for their own hotel rooms, taxis, and most expensive to Reks, their restaurant bills. It might seem like a first world problem, but it seriously adds up when you have to eat out for almost every single meal. After all the expenses, Reks felt he was barely making any money, and left the business to spend more time with his family.
4. CM Punk – WWE Network Pay
CM Punk’s departure from WWE and subsequent retirement from wrestling in 2014 was such a huge story that elements of it are still affecting wrestling and making headlines to this day. There were a great deal of reasons behind his exit, including creative differences with management and the feeling he was overworked and needed serious time off to heal nagging injuries, but one of the more understated issues related to his exit was money. Punk had openly been asking Vince McMahon questions about how wrestlers were going to be compensated differently in lieu of the success of the WWE Network. McMahon and other officials dodged Punk’s question, which he saw as a refusal to discuss potential money he should be making. It may not have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, but it was still a big deal, and is part of why he won’t be returning to the company for an extremely long time.
3. AJ Lee – Spoke Out For Women
As CM Punk’s wife, AJ Lee also had a great deal of reasons behind her decision to leave WWE and retire from wrestling one year after her husband, and once again, money was one of the many factors behind her exit. WWE has been constantly patting itself on the back over the past few years for spearheading the women’s revolution in wrestling, but they’re still far from perfect when it comes to gender equality. Women are increasingly receiving equal rights and opportunities to men, but in the majority of the business world, they are still paid significantly less than their male counterparts for doing the same job at the same level of performance. Especially now that the women are giving such high level performances, some of them feel they should be paid more, which is what AJ Lee tweeted in February of 2015, only a few months before she left the company. Calling out her boss Stephanie McMahon in the tweet, AJ claimed female wrestlers were doing better than ever from a professional standpoint, but were still being paid fractions of what the men made both on merchandising and in general. Her health and her husband may have played a bigger role in her departure, but the lack of equality was certainly a concern.
2. Ryback – Pay Me More
Ryback is one of the last superstars most people would think of when considering the concept of wrestling as a performance art, but his recent complaints about WWE prove there’s a certain artistry in the way he thinks. However, they also prove he feels that artistry should be paid for pretty evenly across the board, regardless of where on the card the artist paints their picture, so to speak. On May 2 of 2016, Ryback walked out of WWE on his own volition, claiming he wouldn’t be returning until certain contractual issues between himself and Vince McMahon were dealt with. Namely, he didn’t like the fact he was getting paid less now that his character was starting to lose than he was when his character was being booked to win. Ryback claimed his performance level only increased during this time, and feels the fact he never complained about a loss should be admirable and not punishable.
1. Randy Savage – WCW Paid Him To Do What He Wanted To
Randy Savage has the same story as about half the wrestlers on this list, the only difference being he and the McMahon’s never quite made up in full prior to his unfortunate early death in 2011. Savage was one of the top WWE superstars of the 80’s and early 90’s, but Vince McMahon was trying to create a “new generation” of superstars and move Savage to the announce booth in 1994. The decreased workload also included a pay-cut, and Savage wanted no part of either demotion, preferring to keep appearing in main events and being paid like a main eventer. In part due to financial inabilities and in part due to being steadfast in his decision to change with the times, Vince and Savage couldn’t come to terms on a new contract, and he left WWE in 1994 to go to WCW, where he was promised more screen-time, and more importantly, higher pay.
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