In the world of pro wrestling, there’s truly no promotion bigger than WWE. From pioneering sports entertainment to introducing iconic stars like Hulk Hogan, The Rock, and John Cena, WWE is in a league of its own when it comes to the wrestling biz — and when it comes to getting away with some pretty shady behavior, too. While the company has worked to overhaul its image in recent years, these suspicious facts prove WWE is concealing far more than just what goes on in the wrestling ring.
WWE CEO Vince McMahon is known to be a control freak behind the scenes, but it turns out he even has a hand in most broadcasts already in progress. The chairman reportedly has a live feed into his announcers’ headsets and can buzz in whenever he pleases to give them a piece of his mind if he feels the commentary isn’t up to par.
For a company that puts so much emphasis on giving fans what they want, WWE sure goes to some pretty great lengths to deceive them. Not only does WWE insist on pushing wrestlers most fans dislike or are sick of, but the production actually pumps in fake cheers and lowers the mic volume on boos to make these performers seem more popular on TV.
While WWE does cover the cost of overseas travel, anything domestic becomes the responsibility of the wrestlers themselves. Not only are they required to pay for their own transport to and from shows, but even the company’s biggest stars have to pay out of pocket for food and lodging, too.
Despite the company’s recent shift to a more PG-friendly product, WWE is still rife with bullying and toxic backstage personalities. Among the worst offenders is former wrestler/commentator John “Bradshaw” Layfield, who reportedly harassed the talent and even bullied announcer Mauro Ranallo out of the company.
WWE must have some pretty good lawyers, as all of their wrestlers technically become “independent contractors” once they ink a deal with the company. This simple distinction allows WWE to refuse its wrestlers essential benefits — including healthcare — all while making them exclusive to the company, meaning they can’t perform for other promotions. That doesn’t sound very “independent.”
One of WWE’s most infamous scandals took place back in 2005, when wrestler Dawn Marie was released from her contract after filing for maternity leave. Fans were outraged by the move, and after slapping the company with a wrongful termination lawsuit, Dawn and WWE settled out of court in 2007.
While the goal of every match — aside from entertainment — is to keep the performers safe, some wrestlers have let their bad blood boil over into the ring. From Batista and Booker T’s infamous brawl to Big Show and The Great Khali’s actual in-ring clash, plenty of real punches have been thrown — and they definitely hurt as bad as they looked.
Vince McMahon clearly has a ton of influence over his announcers, though that fact even applies to the words they’re allowed to say. “Belt,” “strap,” “feud,” “backstage,” “international,” “interesting,” “talent,” “DQ,” and even “hospital” are just a few no-no words that are liable to get you an earful from the chairman.
On top of having to pay for all of their own travel expenses, most WWE stars suffer an insanely grueling schedule. Wrestlers spend an average of four days per week on the road, with that number increasing to five if there’s a pay-per-view event on the docket. When they travel abroad, most wrestlers are required to perform a full seven days a week.
This may seem like common sense in the sports world, but considering the outcomes of all WWE matches are predetermined, paying the winners more seems ridiculously unfair. WWE tries to justify this fact by claiming these “winners” contribute more to the company’s success, yet is it really fair to underpay a more talented, harder-working wrestler just because another guy sells more t-shirts?
Another sneaky detail written into wrestlers’ “independent contractor” deals is that WWE takes a cut of any side projects they agree to, whether it be a movie or any other paid promotion. Because their work on these projects means time away from WWE, these wrestlers are charged “administrative costs” to basically reimburse the company for its trouble.
Performance enhancement and pro wrestling have gone hand in hand for decades, though with the institution of its Talent Wellness Program, WWE has begun to crack down violators… unless your name is Brock Lesnar. In 2016, Lesnar tested positive for clomiphene and was suspended from UFC — WWE, on the other hand, simply claimed that “part-time performers” were exempt from the Wellness Program and allowed him to continue wrestling.
While WWE has taken a more social-focused stance in recent years, it still celebrates a handful of big names with not-so-great legacies. The Fabulous Moolah was known to both financially and sexually exploit the women that trained under her, and Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka was charged with the third-degree murder of his girlfriend. Even The Ultimate Warrior was known for his history of vulgar and racist comments.
When WWE introduced its all-access WWE Network, fans were thrilled to be able to access the company’s extensive match archive and live pay-per-view events for one low price. What they didn’t tell fans, however, was that wrestlers wouldn’t be earning royalties from their old matches, and because people no longer had to buy pay-per-views outright, performers would no longer be receiving bonus checks for events like WrestleMania.
Making it to the WWE is considered reaching the mountaintop for most pro wrestlers, but unless you’re one of the company’s top stars, you won’t exactly be rolling in cash. While average salaries range from $100k to $500k, after travel expenses, the cost of buying their own ring gear, and the taxes that come with being an “independent contractor,” most wrestlers struggle to get by.
Maintaining “kayfabe” — or the illusion that all storylines and characters are genuine — is one of the core principles of pro wrestling, and WWE’s announcers are given a literal handbook to make sure they do so. A 2015 leak revealed a 10-page document used by commentators that covers nearly every aspect of the job, including real-life drama to avoid mentioning during shows.
Despite boasting about its so-called “Women’s Revolution,” the gender pay gap in WWE is enormous. According to public filings, WWE’s top female superstars make upwards of $500k a year — its male stars take home annual paychecks in the millions. This is the case even despite these women headlining pay-per-view events and taking the same bumps and bruises as their male counterparts.
Vince McMahon apparently isn’t the only decision maker in WWE, as the company’s biggest stars have tremendous influence over their careers — and sometimes, the careers of others. Ken Anderson, known as Mr. Kennedy, was a star on the rise during his WWE tenure, but after angering the likes of John Cena and Randy Orton, he was immediately dropped from the company.
“The Devil’s Favorite Demon” burst onto the WWF scene in 1997 and has since left a trail of destruction in his wake that includes three world-championship reigns. Outside the ring, Glenn Jacobs is actually the mayor of Knox County, Tennessee!
Despite not providing its wrestlers with healthcare, WWE does pay surgery and rehab costs for performers who get injured on the job — but there’s a catch. Sneakily written into every talent contract is a clause that allows the company to release any wrestler that’s been out of the ring for six weeks, though for big-name stars like Triple H, no such stipulation exists.
And if that wasn’t sketchy enough, a closer look at these infamous contracts reveals that the company is liable for literally nothing — It’s no wonder so many stars have decided to step out of the ring for good. Known as “The Phenom,” “The Deadman,” and even “Big Evil,” The Undertaker is arguably one of the most well-known – and feared – wrestlers of all time. These days, the 17-time champion works as a real estate investor and is married to former WWE Diva Michelle McCool.
Over the course of his illustrious career, Mick Foley was known for wrestling under three unique monikers: Dude Love, Mankind, and Cactus Jack. Today, Foley is a best-selling author and frequently tours the U.S. to promote his books.
If there was Mount Rushmore of WWE greats, the “Texas Rattlesnake” would be front and center. Austin’s beer-drinking, anti-establishment persona remains one of WWE’s most famous gimmicks, though the real-life Steve Austin prefers to spend his retirement sober on his Nevada ranch.
Known for his mind games, DDT finishers, and bringing his pet python to the ring, Jake “The Snake” Roberts is often cited as one of the greatest heel wrestlers of all time. He now tours the U.S. doing stand-up and recounting stories from his career.
While his character “Bradshaw” was generally well liked, John Layfield’s “JBL” gimmick was despised for his big mouth and rich-boy attitude. This character was actually based off Layfield’s real-life business success, and today he serves as the SVP of Northeast Securities.
Another mainstay of WWE’s era of scantily clad Divas, Torrie Wilson is remembered for her high-profile feud with Dawn Marie and villainous heel turn as a member of Vince’s Devils. Wilson is now a wellness blogger and fitness model.
Hailed as the greatest villain in pro wrestling history, “The Million Dollar Man” also had the technical skills to cement his legacy as a WWE icon. DiBiase has since become an ordained minister, preaching for the Heart of David Ministry.
No woman in WWE history made a greater career leap than Trish Stratus, going from oversexed diva to seven-time Women’s Champion. Patricia Stratigeas made a return to the ring in 2018, though she spends most of her time as a fitness master at her yoga studio, Stratusphere.
One of the first WWE Divas to grace the squared circle, Sable is not only remembered as a company sex symbol but was also the second woman to hold the reinstated Women’s Championship. She’s currently married to WWE star Brock Lesnar.
Most wrestling pundits include “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels in the G.O.A.T. conversation. Michael Hickenbottom is currently one of the primary trainers at the WWE Performance Center and also hosts his own television show, Shawn Michaels’ MacMillan River Adventures.
What WWE fan could forget the clock-smashing, worm-eating menace known as The Boogeyman? With his days of terrorizing the WWE locker room behind him, Martin Wright now works as an aerobics instructor in Aurora, Colorado.
Originally billed as “The Giant” during his tenure with WCW, Big Show has been a staple of WWE programming for over two decades. Outside the ring, Paul Wight Jr. earned his first lead acting role in 2010’s Knucklehead.
After a brief WCW stint, Jacqueline Moore made a name for herself in the WWF by winning the Women’s Championship twice and even the men’s Cruiserweight title. Moore left the company in 2004, though she was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2016.
Since 1983, “Hulkamania” has been running wild over the wrestling world to the tune of 12 world championships. A 2015 scandal caused WWE to cut ties with Terry Bollea, but after a series of apologies, he was reinstated back into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2018.
During his WWE career, the “Rated-R Superstar” achieved an unprecedented level of success, winning a record seven World Heavyweight titles and 12 tag-team championships. Adam Copeland has since made the leap to acting, most recently starring as Ketill Björnsson on Vikings. In 2020, he returned to the ring.
Hailed as one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, Ric Flair and his “Nature Boy” persona remain as iconic now as they were back in the ’70s. Flair is still involved in WWE and just recently married his former WCW valet, Wendy Barlow, in 2018.
Whether you know him as Hunter Hearst Helmsley, “The Game,” or “The Cerebral Assassin,” Triple H has become synonymous with WWE superstardom. Today, Paul Levesque serves as the company’s EVP of Talent, Live Events, and Creative, continuing to push WWE into the future.
After getting her start in Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling as Tina Ferrari, Lisa Moretti joined the WWE as Ivory where she became a three-time Women’s Champion. Following her retirement, Moretti opened Dowtown Dog, an animal care facility, in Friday Harbor, Washington.
As the most electrifying man in all of sports entertainment, The Rock put jabronis to shame with 10 world championship wins. These days, Dwayne Johnson is known as a Hollywood A-lister, starring in one blockbuster film after the next.
Once known as “The Legs of the WWE,” Stacy Keibler was pushed from the get-go as one of the company’s premiere divas on account of her striking looks. She’s currently pursuing a career in both acting and modeling and wed Future Ads CEO Jared Pobre in 2014.
Dubbed WWE’s top prize from its acquisition of WCW, Booker T’s legendary career is marked by 35 championship reigns, including 21 in WCW alone. The real-life Robert Huffman currently runs the Reality of Wrestling promotion in Texas City, Texas.
Most often remembered for her relationship storylines and feud with Trish Stratus, Lita will forever have a place in the record books as a four-time Women’s Champion. Amy Dumas stills maintains an active presence within WWE, having served as a trainer, producer, and commentator since her retirement.
Arguably the most technically gifted wrestler of all time, Bret “The Hitman” Hart is nothing short of wrestling royalty. After suffering a stroke in 2002 and battling prostate cancer in 2016, the 32-time champion has since focused his time on charity work concerning the two.
If there’s one wrestler most fans wish would return the ring, it’s CM Punk. The six-time world champion was one of WWE’s main draws throughout the late 2000s, but after becoming disillusioned with the company he retired to pursue a career in MMA.
“The Franchise.” “The Vigilante.” “The Icon.” With nicknames like these, it’s no surprise that 15-time world champion Sting and his 30-year career are the stuff of wrestling legend. Steve Borden is officially retired now, but he has said he’d wrestle one more match if it’s against The Undertaker.
Getting hit with a “Batista Bomb” was a fate many succumbed to between 2002 and 2014, so it’s easy to see why “The Animal” boasts 6 world title reigns across his career. Dave Bautista has since taken to acting, his most notable role being that of Drax the Destroyer in the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise.
Whether leading the nWo alongside Kevin Nash or winning titles as Razor, Scott Hall has left an indelible mark on the WWE landscape. The 60-year-old legend has battled substance abuse issues since leaving the ring, but recent reports show Hall is now in phenomenal shape.
As a member of Extreme Exposé, Kelly Kelly turned heads with her looks and in-ring prowess, eventually capturing the Divas Championship in 2011. Barbara Jean Blank has since taken up acting, starring on E! network’s WAGS and most recently on Days of Our Lives.
Although his career was relatively short, Goldberg’s dominance in both WCW and WWE have solidified him as a wrestling great. After a 2016 return that saw him become Universal Champion, Bill Goldberg now runs and co-owns Extreme Power Gym.
From the mid-90s onward, if you wanted to sell tickets, you booked Chris Jericho. “Y2J” ranks among the top pay-per-view wrestlers in history. When he’s not touring with his rock band Fozzy, Christopher Irvine performs for All Elite Wrestling.
“DDP” was always told he was too old to make anything of himself in the ring, but 20 years and a few “Diamond Cutters” later, he boasts three world-title wins for his career. Dallas Page – born Page Falkinburg – is now a well-known yoga guru and radio host.
His infamous “Sexual Chocolate” gimmick aside, “The World’s Strongest Man” Mark Henry successfully translated a decorated powerlifting career into an equally impressive one in WWE. The two-time world champion currently serves as a backstage producer for the company.
Though he wrestled under his real name in WCW, WWE purists will always remember him as Diesel, or “Big Daddy Cool.” After a Hall-of-Fame career that included 21 championships, Nash has now begun an acting career, though he still wrestles on the indie circuit from time to time.
One of the biggest stars of the early 90s, Lex Luger held eight titles during his career and owns the record for most consecutive days and total days as United States Heavyweight Champion. Today, Lawrence Pfohl works with WWE on maintaining their wellness policy.
At 7’1″, The Great Khali was the most imposing force in the WWE from 2006 to 2014, defeating a slew of legendary wrestlers en route to a World Heavyweight Championship in 2007. Dalip Rana now runs his own wrestling school in Punjab, India, known as Continental Wrestling Entertainment.
With a nickname like “The Dragon,” fellow wrestlers knew right from the get-go that 24-time champion Ricky Steamboat wasn’t one to be messed with. After a brief stint as a developmental trainer for WWE, Richard Blood now serves as a company ambassador.
As the son of the late, great Dusty Rhodes, Cody received a heavy push during his WWE tenure, winning two Intercontinental Championships and six tag-team titles. He requested his release in 2016, however, and Cody Runnels is now one of the founders of All Elite Wrestling.
Despite never winning a title in WWE, Jerry “The King” Lawler currently holds the most recognized championship reigns in the history of professional wrestling. Most know Lawler for his work as a color commentator, and he also hosts a podcast called Dinner With the King.
In the days of WCW, Arn, along with Ole Anderson, Tully Blanchard, and Ric Flair, ran roughshod over the industry as “The Enforcer” for the iconic stable “The Four Horsemen.” Martin Lunde is now heavily involved in WWE productions, serving as the senior producer of Raw.