WWE Free Agency: How Much Each of the Top 20 Wrestlers Should Make Per Year
Professional wrestling is a much different business than any other one you’ll find out there.
Whereas most jobs have hourly wages or salaries and a company’s workers are called employees, wrestlers are independent contractors whose earnings range from below the poverty line to the multi-millions.
Wrestlers generally pay for their own travel expenses—not to mention medical insurance as well—which means that it’s hard for those who aren’t at the top of the business to make a good living.
So, when taking all that into consideration, just how much should the WWE’s top wrestlers make?
Of course, we’ll probably never know how much money our favorite WWE superstars actually earn, because an accurate list of wrestler salaries is wrestling’s Big Foot.
But let’s assume the top 20 WWE stars get one lump sum per year and debate what that paycheck should say.
20. Mark Henry
Mark Henry’s been criticized as a bad wrestler throughout his career, but he’s managed to stay with the WWE since 1996.
Though never a huge draw or an outstanding technical wrestler during his tenure, Henry’s been around for a while and undoubtedly has a place in this business.
At this stage of his career, The World’s Strongest Man should probably be putting people over or helping the younger talent. Yet, he’s currently in the midst of a huge push on Smackdown as one of the brand’s top heels.
He’s earned it too.
Henry’s a reliable veteran, and he’s shown some great intensity since turning heel earlier in the year. He should be paid pretty well for it.
Though he was recently given a brief run at the top, R-Truth has spent the majority of his WWE career in the mid-card.
He’s a former WWE Tag Team and United States Champion, and whether he’s face or heel, he tends to be over with the crowd.
Truth can play the crazed heel like he did in his feud with John Cena, he can play the fan friendly rapper who constantly screams, “What’s Up?” and he can play a comedic tweener role like he seems to be doing as Raw’s resident conspiracy theorist.
He’s also a solid wrestler, who never really tears the house down but puts on good matches on a consistent basis.
Truth will have a spot in the WWE for as long as he wants it because of the versatility he’s shown in recent months.
18. Dolph Ziggler
Who remembers Dolph Ziggler’s reign as World Heavyweight Champion on Smackdown? Not many, I’m sure.
Yeah, Ziggler’s been World champion already, but the one thing that’s preventing him from staying there is his lack of mic skills (or his lack of opportunity to show the skills he might have).
Ziggler’s got a great look, excellent wrestling abilities and a good gimmick—Mr. Perfect 2.0, anyone?—but he’s going to have to step us a talker to be a consistent presence at the main event level.
He’s currently the United States Champion on Raw because the WWE seems to have to this philosophy of giving its mid-card titles to guys who struggle on the mic.
That being said, Ziggler’s in-ring skills are among the best in the company, and he should be rewarded for it.
17. Jack Swagger
I see a ton of similarities between Dolph Ziggler and Jack Swagger: Both have marketable looks, both can really go in the ring, and both have a ton of untapped potential.
For some reason or another, though, both wrestlers also appear to be stuck in their respective careers.
Are they career mid-carders? Are they main eventers, or future main eventers? Or are they going to fall off the map and wind up getting released?
I’m of the belief that neither Swagger nor Ziggler will be a main eventer as long as they’re heels on a currently stacked Raw show, but I also think that they’ll break out at some point and reclaim their spots in the main event.
Swagger’s already held the World Heavyweight Championship once, and it would be an absolute waste of an athletic, 6’6” guy to have him not hold it again.
16. Beth Phoenix
As long as Kharma’s on the shelf, Beth Phoenix is the most marketable Diva in all of the WWE. Hands down.
Kelly Kelly is a drop dead gorgeous woman, and Divas like Gail Kim and Natalya are great wrestlers. But Beth has the total package.
She’s jacked up, she looks good and she might very well be the best women’s wrestler in the company.
Though the Divas are clearly not a point of focus in the WWE—and likely won’t be for a while—Beth Phoenix is good enough to carry the division on her back and should be recognized as the face of women’s wrestling.
15. Wade Barrett
As crazy as it may sound, Wade Barrett has only been around the WWE for about a year-and-a-half.
Yet even in such a short span, Barrett’s shown that he has all the tools he needs to succeed in this business.
He’s already worked huge main event programs with Randy Orton and John Cena—his feud with Cena in 2010 was the biggest of the year—and he’s led two major stables (The Nexus and The Corre).
Barrett’s not the greatest in-ring worker you’ll ever see, but the moment he stepped in a WWE ring, his mic skills were already at the main event level.
He’s dripping with charisma and is now finally flying solo, so I’d expect big things from Barrett in the foreseeable future.
Kane is likely on the tail end of his career, but he’s still going strong.
As evidenced by his recent matches against Randy Orton, Kane can deliver in the ring, even if his matches aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.
Perhaps better than anyone else on the WWE roster, The Big Red Monster has the uncanny ability to work as a heel, face or tweener, and no matter what, he draws nice reactions from the crowd.
Like other veterans such as Mark Henry and R-Truth, Kane should be able to call it a career at his own leisure.
But, if he can still perform both in the ring and on the mic, there’s no reason to think that his retirement will come all that soon.
13. The Big Show
Much like Kane, The Big Show has been around the WWE for quite a while now (since 1999) and has cemented himself as one of the greatest big men in wrestling history.
During his WWE Hall of Fame acceptance speech, Ric Flair even dubbed Big Show as the greatest big man he’s ever worked with, which is obviously a huge testament to Show’s skills in the ring.
If you’ve watched the WWE at all over the past several years, you know that Big Show can definitely wrestle for a guy of his size and also can contribute to the business in a number of different areas.
He doesn’t have to be a heel. But he can be. He doesn’t have to be in the main event. But he can be.
The bottom line is that The Big Show can basically do anything that’s asked of him, and that’s a good type of guy to have in your company.
12. Cody Rhodes
Cody Rhodes has never held a major singles title in the WWE, so I can see why some of you might object to me having him ahead of guys like The Big Show and Kane.
But he is the present and the future of Smackdown and the WWE in general.
Rhodes has progressed nicely over the past few years in a number of areas, from his gimmick to his mic skills to his wrestling ability.
And much like Wade Barrett, he’s one of the top up-and-coming heels in the wrestling business.
Rhodes has put on great feuds with Daniel Bryan and Rey Mysterio recently, and all it will take is another one—possibly with Randy Orton—to skyrocket this guy into full blown superstardom.
Sheamus has his fair share of both supporters and detractors, but as for me? I’m in the former group.
The Celtic Warrior is another WWE star who has everything you look for in a main event worker: Good gimmick, above average mic skills, a unique look and solid wrestling ability.
And, lo and behold, Sheamus even recently showed some versatility in his character, as he pretty much solidified his face turn on last Friday’s Smackdown.
That’s not a bad idea for the former two-time WWE Champion, who had a lightning quick ascension to the top of the WWE and should be there again soon now that he’s a fan favorite.
10. Daniel Bryan
Though CM Punk is certainly making a case for himself, Daniel Bryan is arguably the best wrestler in the world.
All you have to do is watch a few minutes of one of his matches, and you’ll realize just how impressive he is pretty quickly.
It is perhaps the main reason why Bryan is now Mr. Money in the Bank and by all means, a future World champion.
Not only is Bryan one of the most talented wrestlers on the planet, but he seems to be showing some character development since winning the MITB briefcase.
If Bryan can continue to improve his mic skills and maintain his popularity with the fans, the sky is the limit for him.
9. John Morrison
John Morrison has accomplished plenty of things in the WWE, but one thing that’s slipped through his grasp is a consistent main event (or World title run).
Some say it’s because of lack of opportunity or lack of mic skills—he’s a much better talker as a heel—but I believe it’s simply because the cards haven’t fallen his way yet.
Morrison will likely be a main eventer within the next year or so, because he’s incredibly over with the fans, has a chiseled physique and is one of the most entertaining wrestlers currently on the WWE roster.
As long as he keeps putting on a show in the ring, there’s no reason to think that Morrison can’t win the WWE or World Heavyweight Championship sooner rather than later.
8. Kofi Kingston
Kofi Kingston is a true joy to watch in the ring, a guy who knows how excite the crowd as well as anyone in the WWE.
He’s been with the company for about four years now, and it’s his fan friendly, high energy style that’s gotten him runs with the United States, Intercontinental and WWE Tag Team Championships.
Yet, despite his popularity, Kingston’s only had one real main event program (with Randy Orton in 2009), and has been stuck in the mid-card ever since.
It’s a shame, because Kingston does all the same things that main eventers like Rey Mysterio and John Cena do—wear bright colors, sell merchandise, get big pops from the crowd, etc.
Kingston could very well be one of the top two or three baby faces in the company if booked right.
Wouldn’t that be a welcome change?
7. Alberto Del Rio
Alberto Del Rio debuted around this time last summer, and needless to say, he’s taken the wrestling world by storm.
He’s already done something no wrestler’s ever done before—win the MITB match and the Royal Rumble in the same year–and he’s already established himself as a main eventer and bona fide star in the WWE.
Del Rio oozes charisma, can put on some stellar matches—check out his Ladder match against Christian at Extreme Rules—and has a huge appeal to the Hispanic audience, which is obviously good for business.
It’s a foregone conclusion that ADR will cement himself in WWE history with a World title run within the next year, if not sooner.
6. The Miz
The No. 1 wrestler in the world according to PWI, The Miz has surpassed everyone’s expectations with the way he’s performed over the last year or so.
After winning Raw’s Money in the Bank match in 2010, The Miz turned it up a notch, and he hasn’t looked back.
He went on to win the WWE Championship, wrestle John Cena at Wrestlemania 27 and solidify himself as one of the top heels in the wrestling business.
The Miz’s arrogant heel character has made for great TV (at times), helped elevate Alex Riley and given the WWE exposure that it wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.
His reality TV past and connection to the outside world has been excellent for business and made Vince McMahon a happy man.
5. Rey Mysterio
Rey Mysterio has a lot of haters out there who call his matches predictable and boring, among other things.
But Mysterio is one of the most well-known names in wrestling history and has been a staple of the WWE for years.
Despite being 37 years old, he’s still chugging along and putting on great matches with guys like Cody Rhodes, The Miz and CM Punk.
Perhaps most importantly, though, Mysterio sells a boatload of merchandise, with his mask ranking as one of the top-selling items in company history.
Until Mysterio can’t wrestle (maybe relatively soon because of his knees) and can’t sell merchandise, he’s going to be raking in millions from the WWE.
Since returning to the WWE a couple of years ago, Christian has been one of the company’s most complete performers, a guy who can connect to the fans, cut great promos and put on even better matches.
And now that he’s been given the spotlight on Smackdown, Christian has proven why so many fans wanted to see him when the World Championship.
He’s been phenomenal in every aspect. Phenomenal heel turn. Phenomenal promos. Phenomenal matches.
A veteran who’s been around for a while and accomplished a lot, Christian deserves to be rewarded—perhaps more than anyone else—for everything he’s contributed to the wrestling business.
Paycheck: $1.2 million
3. Randy Orton
Randy Orton might not be well-liked by all wrestling fans, as he’ll always have those who say he can’t wrestle or find him robotic both in the ring and on the mic.
But make no mistake about it. Orton has proven in his recent feud with Christian that he’s a better wrestler than people give him credit for, and he is indeed one of the biggest draws in the WWE.
Admittedly, I don’t think he’s necessarily the most entertaining talker or greatest grappler I’ve ever seen.
However, Orton has that connection with the fans that will make them spend their hard earned money to see him perform, and as long as he’s putting butts in the seats, he’s going to get a huge paycheck.
Now, if only we can have him be a little more consistent in the ring, then we might feel like him making millions is a little more justified.
Paycheck: $1.5 million
2. John Cena
WWE fans have an intense love-hate relationship with John Cena.
For the most part, he’s despised by the older fans and loved by women and younger children.
At the end of the day, though, Cena’s haters don’t matter because he is the top merchandise seller in the WWE and in fact, is one of the top sellers in the history of the company.
It’s not just because wrestling fans (or their parents) decide to shell out money on Cena gear. It’s because Cena is a better wrestler than most people think, he’s a great mic worker, and he has a ton of charisma.
For all those who disagree with that first statement, realize that Cena has already put on one PWI “Match of the Year”—for his bout against Shawn Michaels on Raw in 2007—and likely put on another one at Money in the Bank.
Cut the guy some slack. He’s a pretty complete wrestler and the biggest active name in the business.
Paycheck: $2.5 million
1. CM Punk
With Chris Jericho on hiatus, CM Punk is wrestling’s only total package.
Damn near everything this guy does is golden, whether it’s his epic worked shoot promos or his stellar matches with John Cena, Rey Mysterio or anyone else he wrestles.
Punk has been so good as of late that the WWE was essentially forced to move him from the dark side into that tweener role. Much like they did with Randy Orton in early 2010.
The Straight Edge Superstar now has the whole wrestling world watching his every move, and it’s up to him to deliver the goods.
If Punk does, then he could be the closest thing we’ll ever see to Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Paycheck: $3 million