One of CM Punk's biggest gripes with WWE that led to him walking out on the company earlier this year, as revealed in his recent podcasts with Colt Cabana, was his pay. Maybe he could have put up with the petty politics, the grueling schedule and the poor medical treatment he claims to have received at the hands of WWE's doctors if he felt he was being paid what he was worth. But he never was, even before his checks started shrinking, whilst his physical health deteriorated.
Particularly galling was when Punk had lined up a four hour autograph session at Wizard World one weekend that he'd be paid $20,000 for, only for him to get drafted into a tour of Mexico at the last minute instead and got paid a quarter of that amount, even though he had demanded the same money. When Punk complained, he only got an extra four grand, still less than half of what he would have made for just one convention appearance.
If Punk is getting paid so badly (just $1,250 per match on the Mexican tour before his complaints), then just think how bad that must be for someone at the bottom of the card.
Indeed, in a recent interview with WrestlingInc.com, former WWE wrestler Tyler Reks, who spent most of his time on the main roster from 2009-2012 buried in the mid-card without much of a push, argued that after taking out road expenses and taxes, he really didn't have that much money left to live on:
"[Pay] was getting crappy when I left, and the guys I've talked to now say it's beyond crappy. People assume [that] once you're on TV you make a load of money and drive Lamborghinis and stuff, and that's just not the case. Here's a perfect example: I hate to spill my salary on the internet, but when I left I got a bump to $100,000 a year. But a third of it goes to road expenses. The only thing they pay for is your flight. You pay for your own hotel, and car, and food. Could you imagine trying to eat out five times a day? As a body guy, you have to maintain your physique and that means eating five times a day. Spending all your money trying to maintain that? Good luck. Then Uncle Sam takes 20%-30%. You guys do the math and see how much I walked away with, which was next to nothing. I was making more money fresh out of college as an engineer fresh out of college in an entry level position than being on TV.
That's gotten worse from what I hear. They do a ton of tours, and some guys would be making $30,000-$40,000 in the day. I went to Europe and I think I brought home $5,000. Then there was one tour I flew overseas and did a ten day tour and made less than $2,000. I made less than $500 a show. The video games are getting worse - guys use to get paid up to $100,000 for being in the video game and now it's much, much less. The [wrestling] audience will think that's a lot of money, but when you're on the road it's not. We don't all have buses like John [Cena] and [CM] Punk and [Big] Show. You're breaking your body to barely pay the bills."
If it was bad when he left, then today it will be even worse, between house show business being stagnant, a huge drop in pay-per-view royalties due to the WWE Network failing to take off as hoped for, and the new 2K video game deal being less lucrative than the old THQ one.
Altogether 2014 will surely have been the worst time to make a living as a WWE wrestler for almost two decades, when similar stories were commonplace. For example, Shane Douglas claimed he made a better living as a teacher and working independent dates on weekends than he did as a WWF Superstar in the second half of 1995. Even Mick Foley and Steve Austin didn't make much more than what they had been making on the indy circuit beforehand in their first year in the WWF. Things aren't quite that bad now, but they're certainly not far behind.