AEW star Paul Wight has repeatedly said that he’s not bitter about his relationship with WWE being over. He may not be bitter, but it sounds to me like he at least has a giant chip on his shoulder with the way he was disrespected on his way out the door.
When Wight shocked the world and left WWE to sign with AEW, there was a rumor that his experience at Raw’s legends night earlier this year may have played a role in that decision. On Chris Jericho’s Talk is Jericho podcast, Wight described his final appearance on Raw, where he was treated like a pathetic has-been:
“I needed a restart, after the last Raw that I did that was just absolutely horrendous. I was going through contract negotiations then. Sometimes when you’re going through contract negotiations with them, they’ll try to, [for] lack of a better term, they’ll try to make things a little bit more awkward, difficult, or to prove a point. It’s part of the psychology of the game.
So they wanted Randy Orton to pie-face me...basically push me in the face and knock me down. And then I was supposed to just sit there in the chair and take it. And I’m like, well he’s not gonna shove me on my ass. No disrespect to Randy, but Randy knows he couldn’t do it if I didn’t want him to. You know? To do something accordingly, yeah, Randy could put his hand on my chest and I’ll sit down, because I’m not gonna fight Randy ‘cause he’s trying to get in my head. You can always do that story, even though it’s the wrong story to tell with me. I mean, [if] Randy put his hands on me, in all seriousness, a giant should have knocked him the hell out in the hallway. That would have been good business.
But then to go to the ring and sit on the ramp on the stage with Hogan and Flair and...to sit there on the ramp and then get called a has-been while I sit there and watch a match, it’s just...you talk so much about respect for legends and respect for Hall of Famers, but any time a Hall of Famer is around, they get run into the ground.”
I remember watching Legends Night at the time and being confused about WWE’s decision to have Randy Orton berate and intimidate the Big Show. The Big Show just wrestled Drew McIntyre and Randy Orton in the previous year, and was not some fragile or frail person who couldn’t protect himself from Randy’s tactics. It didn’t make much sense for Randy to so brazenly dominate Big Show’s personal space like that, and for Big Show to just take it. This was another piece of evidence in Paul Wight’s mind that it was time to find the exit door from WWE.
Wight also expressed frustrations with WWE’s tightly scripted promos:
“It used to drive me nuts during promos in WWE because I had a guy that’s 5’8” writing a promo for me, who doesn’t understand what it’s like to be a giant, and a chairman of the board who thinks I should tell everyone how tall I am and how much I weigh every time...I know how big I am, I just sound like a dumbass because I got to remind everybody...I never got a chance to put any flavor on it, to put any style on it, to be myself, ‘cause it was all written out for me. I had to do this, this, and this. And god forbid if it wasn’t executed like it was written.”
This one grabbed my attention, because despite WWE’s reputation for stifling creativity with overly scripted promos for most of the roster, I expected someone with Big Show’s tenure to have more leeway. But based on his account, he was in the same restricted bucket as nearly everyone else.
We’ve heard plenty of wrestlers who leave WWE share these kinds of frustrating stories about WWE creative and promos, which is why I want to move on from that and highlight some interesting comments Wight had about the system being designed to create turmoil backstage among the wrestlers, to the benefit of those in charge:
“You don’t really realize you’re a gear in the cog, because you’re fighting so hard. You’re fighting for everything....Back in the day, you used to fight for payoffs, and stuff like that for pay-per-views and positions on the card, ‘cause it made a difference whether you were on first, or whether you were on before intermission, or after intermission. All those things were weighed in, so you keep an environment of turmoil amongst the talent, and while the talents [are] fighting with each other, then the guys in charge can do whatever. You know what I mean? It’s a great system in how they will change the narrative so that it’s you that needs them, and they’re doing you a favor. They use key words like honor, family, loyalty, all this kind of stuff, but at the same time, if something happens, you’ll get dropped like a hot rock.”
Corporations in all fields have frequently tried to take advantage of their workers by lowering their guard through the use of words like honor, family, and loyalty; Wight indicates that pro wrestling is no different in that regard.
Wight also suggests that younger wrestlers in WWE probably don’t realize how much they are worth:
“The payoffs aren’t there like they used to be...WWE is doing really well now, but I don’t know if even these younger guys know really what they should be getting paid for what they’re doing.”
This is a good time for the reminder that even during a global pandemic, WWE just had its most profitable year in the history of the company, and they expect a similar level of profit in 2021. The wrestlers aren’t unionized, so they don’t receive anywhere close to the share of the company’s total revenue that athletes in MLB, NBA, and NFL do. WWE is also restricting or forbidding wrestlers’ ability to make money on outside ventures like Twitch and Cameo, even though the wrestlers are classified as independent contractors. It’s pure corporate greed at its finest. This might not be what Big Show exactly had in mind with his comment about WWE’s payoffs being lower and young wrestlers not knowing their worth, but these are all pieces of the same puzzle.