While wrestling might not be as hip with the kids as it was when it was in its wheyday in the 80’s and late 90’s, it’s still a particularly big industry.
It’s estimated that the WWE has been worth over $1.25 billion after the launch of the WWE Network; the company is run by Vince McMahon, and although he can sometimes be a little stingy, he still pays his top talent an incredibly handsome salary.
The wrestlers that are able to frequently sell merchandise and fill the seats with screaming adoring fans are the ones that are paid the most.
Talent that has been in the wrestling industry for longer periods also make a premium on top of their salary, and receive a generous amount of medical benefits to make sure their body stays in peak condition, since one serious injury could end their career. The highest paid wrestlers in the WWE are all getting paid at least several hundred thousand dollars each year.
But who are these super rich wrestlers, and exactly how much are these professional athletes making each year? There is a lot of part-time talent on the list, but there are plenty of familiar names: here are the top 10 highest salaries in professional wrestling today.
#10 – Mark Henry ($877,000/year)
Before he came to the WWE, Mark Henry was a champion power lifter that participated in both the 1992 and 1996 Summer Olympics; while setting world records for lifting in his early 20’s, he was contacted by the WWE and was propositioned to be their next imposing “big man.” In 1996, Henry made his debut on “Monday Night Raw” where he body-slammed Jerry “The King” Lawler, and received a decade long contract from Vince McMahon (I’d have offered him a contract too if I knew he could sling me around like a rag doll).
Henry has been with the WWE ever since his debut, but he has been appearing less and less as a result of his weight catching up with him, and limiting some of his abilities. Regardless of Henry’s inactivity his long-term contracts are still good money, and he makes an appearance whenever needed. Henry has won three “Slammy” Awards, a European Championship, the World Heavyweight Championship, and the ECW Championship when it was still owned by the WWE.
#9 – Dolph Ziggler ($900,000/year)
Nick Nemeth is better known by his ring name of “Dolph ZIggler.” As an amateur wrestler in college, Ziggler was incredibly popular; he had 121 career victories at Kent State , and even went on to win the MAC Conference tournament three times.
Ziggler was signed by the WWE in 2004 to help expand into the developmental territory of Ohio, and he made his debut on the main roster as a member of the “Spirit Squad.” What’s interesting about the Spirit Squad is that it was a faction exclusively comprised of male cheerleaders, who would basically teach you how to spell “S-U-P-L-E-X” while driving you into the ground.
Over the course of his career that lasted for more than a decade, Ziggler won two World Heavyweight Championships, four Intercontinental Championships, a United States Championship, and a tag team title (he was filled to the brim with team spirit).
Ziggler is a workhorse that seems to show up on nearly every televised program or house show, which is how he earns his padded $900,000 each year (which also includes his travel expenses).
#8 – Kane ($905,000/year)
Glenn Jacobs is truly one of the elders of the WWE; when he debuted with the company in 1995, his first gimmick was that he was a dentist with awful teeth, and he worked for Jerry Lawler’s character named “Isaac Yankem, DDS.” The dentist gimmick didn’t work out (what do you mean people didn’t like the dentist?), so in order to keep him relevant they turned him into Kane, the demon brother of “The Undertaker,” an incredibly popular star.
Kane has played his role as a giant demon for nearly 20 years now, mainly serving as a bad guy (or a heel, as it’s called).
These days, Kane plays the on-screen character of an executive who no longer wears a mask, but still regularly tosses his weight around because he can.
Kane has won multiple championships with the WWE, but only the largest one (The WWE Championship) once. Kane has gotten into politics (oh great, another politician connected to the devil), and it’s estimated that he is now worth more than $7 million thanks to his big roles.
#7 – The Big Show ($1.2 million/year)
Professional wrestling has always been about characters that are both massive and scary, and it doesn’t get any more massive than Paul Wight (better known as The Big Show).
The Big Show debuted with the WCW in 1995, playing the role of Andre the Giant’s son (even though he really isn’t), before finally being signed by the WWE in early 1999; he has constantly been working since then, and is still on a full-time schedule 20 years after his debut (you know what they say: big feet, big views)!
The Big Show has won both the WCW Championship, as well as the WWE Championship, And in addition to the $1.2 million that he receives as a salary each year, The Big Show received a personal tour bus to make travel arrangements easier; it’s probably a good thing, because could you imagine a seven foot tall behemoth trying to drive around in a rented Ford Focus?
#6 – Sheamus ($1.3 million/year)
Originally born as Stephen Farrelly in Ireland, this red-headed sensation became “Sheamus” and joined the WWE; before that, Sheamus was making his rounds through the European circuit, and finally made his American debut in 2007 when he signed with Florida Championship Wrestling (which has now morphed into NXT).
Sheamus is one of those wrestlers that casual fans like, but the die-hard fans seem to think he receives preferential treatment.
It’s been said that Sheamus is close friends with Triple H, which is how he managed to achieve his main event status and high paychecks. Sheamus not only receives $1.3 million each year, but his travel expenses are taken care of by the company: not bad for a guy whose catchphrase is literally “Fella!”
#5 – Randy Orton ($1.6 million/year)
You don’t see too many people using their real name in professional wrestling, but Randy Orton is a third generation wrestler, so he comes packaged with his family heritage.
Orton might have even more titles to his name if it weren’t for his suspensions as a result abusing banned substances, and violating the Wellness Policy.
Even with the downside of his drug use Orton has been a consistent moneymaker for the company, so they have to fork over $1.6 million each year just to keep his services around. Orton also receives a piece of his pay per view revenues, a percentage of merchandise sales, and travel accommodations to boot (live up to that one, Dad).
If you want to meet someone that will make you shake in your boots, try standing next to Brock Lesnar.
Lesnar was a college wrestling champion that was almost immediately signed by the WWE, and shot straight into the main events. Lesnar has won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship four times, and even managed to win the Heavyweight Championship while he was in the UFC (how’s that for fake).
Brock Lesnar has never been shy about the fact that he only competes for money; if it were up to Lesnar, he would live in a cabin for all 12 months of the year, and just collect his checks.
Lesnar wrestles on a part-time schedule with the WWE, earning $2 million each year in addition to the use of private transportation and a 3.25 percent bonus for merchandise, and a chunk of his pay per view revenue. It’s a good thing the WWE doesn’t pay Lesnar for every muscle he has or they would likely go bankrupt.
#3 – The Undertaker ($2.25 million/year)
Since he is technically not retired yet, The Undertaker is the longest tenured wrestler that is currently with the WWE.
The Undertaker only wrestles in one match a year, but it would be hard to imagine the event without him, as it happens to be the massively popular “Wrestlemania.” The Undertaker receives seven percent of his merchandise sales, has travel paid for him, and even gets a chunk of the revenue that comes out of Wrestlemania; since he helped to make the event what it is today, it seems that Vince McMahon has no problem paying him plenty for appearing, and doesn’t even charge him extra for the hospital bills he wracks up.
#2 – John Cena ($2.75 million/year)
You can’t think of wrestling these days without thinking of John Cena. Ever since 2005, Cena has practically been the face of the WWE, winning all sorts of high stakes matches left and right. Cena has won nearly two dozen titles during his time as a professional wrestler, and is one of the most polarizing wrestlers to ever emerge. You may remember some of Cena’s acting ventures that include titles like “The Marine,” and “12 Rounds,” But we’re probably being a little optimistic with that.
John Cena is far and away the highest paid full-time wrestler today. Cena frequently makes public appearances for the WWE, and is consistently the highest selling wrestler in terms of merchandise. Cena receives seven percent of the money that is spent on his merchandise, and he also receives a portion of the revenue that comes from pay per view sales, as well as WWE Network subscriptions. Since Cena gets paid every time the WWE does, so he is always looking for an excuse to hop into the ring.
#1 – Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson ($3.5 million/year)
It’s hard to believe that the jerry curled kid whose father was a pro wrestler would later become the biggest star in the history of wrestling. Johnson played college football at the University of Miami before suffering a severe injury, and ended up going into his dad’s line of work. Johnson debuted in WWE as “Rocky Maivia,” but really came into his own as “The Rock,” a trash talking, charismatic, and electrifying personality, who always seems to be cooking something up.
Johnson doesn’t come cheap these days thanks to the fact that he is one of the highest grossing stars in all of Hollywood, so every appearance for Dwayne nets him a small fortune. The WWE knows that Johnson’s appearance on a program will instantly sell out, so they pony up the cash without issue to ensure their seats are filled at premium events. Johnson also gets a seven percent bonus for merchandise sales, and only has to appear at the largest events like Wrestlemania (those roody poos are lucky he’s busy shooting the twenty second installment of “Journey to the Center of the Earth).