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Ask 411 Wrestling: How Much Was the Ultimate Warrior Paid?

December 6, 2021 | Posted by Ryan Byers
Prime Time Wrestling 9-18-1989 Ultimate Warrior Image Credit: WWE

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

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ACM hails from parts unknown:

I wonder how the late Ultimate Warrior didn’t wrestle for very long and yet managed to live a luxurious life as compared to other wrestlers who worked day in and out. Was he heavily paid by WWF and WCW for his small runs?

Fortunately for ACM and this question, Warrior’s compensation has been pretty well-documented thanks to his numerous legal disputes with the WWF over the years.

Much of that information is publicly available in exhibits filed with courts in lawsuits, and one of the most concise summaries of those exhibits came in an article written by David Bixenspan for the now-defunct Fighting Spirit Magazine in 2014, which was considered timely because it was published shortly before Warrior’s induction into the WWE Hall of Fame.

The FSM article gives us some details about what the Warrior was paid during his WWF runs. As many people know, one of the disputes between the Federation and the man then known as Jim Hellwig centered on his level of pay around the time of Summerslam 1991. As part of those disputes, Vince McMahon wrote a letter to Warrior on August 26, 1991 in which he stated that, in the prior year (i.e. 1990), Warrior had been paid $1.3 million. Given that 1990 was the year of Wrestlemania VI with its Hulk Hogan/Ultimate Warrior main event, we can reasonably assume that was Hellwig’s best year during his first run with the Fed, which lasted from 1987 to 1991. The July 3, 1995 edition of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter corroborates this, stating in a blurb about Warrior working some indy matches (more on that later) that “huge merchandising checks” resulted in Warrior’s “annual earnings at his peak [being] well past the $1 million per year level.”

In case you’re curious, when adjusted for inflation, $1.3 million in 1990 would be $2.75 million in 2021.

The Warrior signed a new contract with the WWF when he came back to the company in 1992 after being “suspended” for a time. The FSM article does not report much on the details of the contract except to say that it resulted in Warrior receiving a greater royalty rate for merchandise than other wrestlers did, so it’s probably safe to assume that otherwise it was comparable to his pre-suspension contract. That run was also fairly short, as Warrior was back in the ring in April and had departed by November.

When he came back to the Federation in 1996, he signed an eighteen-month contract that guaranteed $1 million in compensation (comparable to $1.76 million today) if he had to work fourteen days per month or less. For any days worked in a month beyond fourteen, he would receive an additional $2,500.00. Of course, that was another short run, as Warrior was only around from March to June.

As far as WCW is concerned, Eric Bischoff claimed on his 83 Weeks podcast last August that he does not recall the exact figure but believes that Warrior’s compensation was just under $500,000.00 per year. However, in the June 15, 1998 Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Dave Meltzer reported that “most reliable sources” were saying that Warrior was contracted for between 36 and 38 appearances in exchange for just under $1 million in pay.

It’s worth noting that Warrior also did some wrestling outside of the WWF and WCW. It was rare, but it happened. He was booked on a tour of Germany and Austria in 1993, and, according to the May 24, 1993 Observer, there were some disputes about his pay there as well. According to the promoter of the tour, Hellwig originally agreed to a payment of $135,000.00 for 18 shows, though he wound up pocketing $144,500 across 10 shows because he held up local promoters for more money and then ditched the tour early. (For what it’s worth, though the Observer article has him working on ten shows, CageMatch only shows results for six, all of them against Hercules.) The July 3, 1995 Observer noted that, around that time, Warrior’s asking price for independent dates was $10,000.00 per shot.

Combine that with the fact that Warrior had other revenue streams outside of wrestling, including some acting work and selling his own merchandise independently when not signed to a major company and, yes, he did make a pretty good living despite not working night in and night out for many years.

Brian G. is reaching for the brass ring:

It would be cruel (and arguably impossible to answer) to ask who has won the most matches that awarded a title match opportunity in WWE history. What if we scale it back to who has won the most pay-per-view matches in history that awarded a title match or #1 contendership?

The answer is John Cena.

Cena has won a title shot on seven different WWE pay per views, namely on No Way Out 2005, Royal Rumble 2008, Elimination Chamber 2011, Money in the Bank 2012, Royal Rumble 2013, Hell in a Cell 2014, and TLC 2014.

Second to Cena is Stone Cold Steve Austin, who has won five title shots on PPV, with those victories coming at Royal Rumble 1997, In Your House: Revenge of the Taker, Royal Rumble 1998, St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, and Royal Rumble 2000.

After that, there are several wrestlers who have four number one contendership victories each, those being Shawn Michaels, Edge, The Undertaker, Randy Orton, Daniel Bryan, and Roman Reigns.

Jon is out of order:

In wrestling history, has there ever been a worse match placement decision than not making Rock/Hogan the main event of WM 18?

I know people will say that’s easy to ask in hindsight, but they actually promoted it as the main event!

Tell me I’m wrong or at least give me some other examples.

Hogan/Rock WAS the main event of Wrestlemania XVIII. It was promoted as the most important match on the card, and therefore it was the main event. That’s what the phrase “main event” means.

However, you are correct that it did not close the show, which in retrospect does seem like an odd decision. Longstanding wrestling tradition does hold that a world championship match should go on last, but WWE had broken that “rule” many times over before Mania 18.

Is there a more confounding placement decision?

I am hard-pressed to think of one, but the other example of this that always boggles my mind is Summerslam 1994, which had a promoted double main event of Owen Hart vs. Bret Hart in a steel cage for the WWF Championship and the Undertaker facing Ted DiBiase’s impostor Undertaker.

Though I understand that Taker was a major star at the time, he was certainly no bigger than Bret, and anybody looking at those two matches on paper had to know that one was going to be significantly better than the other.

That’s exactly what happened as well, with Bret/Owen being a banger while Taker/Taker has gone down in history as being legendarily bad. I have to think that if it were not positioned to close the show it would not be remembered as poorly as it has been.

Red thinks that sharing is caring:

Taking out the Andre/DiBiase angle, the only two WWF Champions from 1/23/84 to 3/31/90 were Hogan and Savage. This prevented guys like Piper, Orndorff, Andre, DiBiase, Perfect, Steamboat, Jake, Honky Tonk, and Rude from potentially having a run. If it was a different time, at least a few of them would have gotten a shot.

My question is, even though the times were much different in 85-88, was there ever any thought to having Hogan drop the title and chase say Piper for WM 1 or 2, Andre at 3, or DiBiase at 4? Why were they so afraid to take the belt off of him, or was it nothing more than a power play by Hogan? Hogan/Piper at WM2 or Hogan/Andre at WM3 with Hulk chasing would have been awesome.

Ted DiBiase has claimed in some interviews that there may have been some thought given to making him the WWF Champion headed into Wrestlemania IV, but that does not appear to have been given too much consideration before the company went with the ultimate plan of the championship being vacated and put on the line in a tournament.

Regarding the others, the company was not “afraid” of taking the belt off of Hulk Hogan, and there was no power play involved.

This is just how the WWWF/WWF operated for its first several decades of existence. Look at Bruno Sammartino. Look at Pedro Morales. Look at Bob Backlund. The company’s entire business model was based around a dominant babyface champion taking on all comers and winning more often than not for a period of several years, with only brief interruptions from heels, mainly for the sake of transitioning the title to another babyface who would also hold it for several years.

Asking why more people didn’t get WWF Title reigns during the Hulkamania era is essentially taking the sensibilities of professional wrestling in the late 1990s and beyond and trying to retroactively apply them to a different time in the promotion’s history. It’s like asking why there weren’t more reality television shows in the 1970s. That just wasn’t the convention at the time.

Tyler from Winnipeg is looking for a new group of friends:

How did Colt Cabana become a member of The Dark Order?

My understanding is that, though the Dark Order is nowadays just a group of friends that hang out together and interact in comedic skits, they started off as a truly “dark” group, almost like a cult that was taking in individuals who felt they had no better place to go and then using them for unseemly purposes. Cabana came into AEW being portrayed as a veteran wrestler who was a bit down on his luck, as he went on a losing streak almost as soon as he joined the promotion. The Order promised that they would be able to help him get his career back on track, and that was all it took in order to get Colt to join the group. He remained a member after the organization gave up its cultish trappings and became a crew of goofballs . . . which his exactly the sort of stable he fits with.

Night Wolf the Wise is causing some panda-monium

How different would the WWE be if Stone Cold hadn’t been forced to retire early and Vince hadn’t lost his lawsuit to the World Wildlife Fund and was allowed to remain WWF?

I think that it would be in largely the same place that it’s at right now. There is no indication that the change of name from WWF to WWE had any negative impact on business. Regarding Steve Austin’s departure from the ring, the company was on a downward trajectory well before that happened, apparently owing in large part to Austin’s heel turn. The course of the promotion was not corrected when he turned back babyface at the end of the Invasion, so I would not expect that a few more years of him wrestling would have had any impact on the long-term trajectory of WWE.

Gilles is keeping his question short and sweet:

Why are so many wrestlers from New Jersey?

I can think of three reasons. The first is that New Jersey is a fairly populous state. In both the 2010 and 2020 U.S. censuses, it ranked eleventh in terms of population, which means that there are a lot more people there to become wrestlers than there are in other parts of the country. The second is that it is in the heart of the historical territory for the WWWF/WWF/WWE, which means that there have been a ton of professional wrestling shows there dating back to at least the 1950s. This means that there would be more people in the state with an interest in professional wrestling than there would be in many other states. Finally, New Jersey is home to the Monster Factor, which is one of the earliest professional wrestling schools to advertise itself on a national basis, starting in the 1980s. This means that individuals in Jersey who were interested in becoming professional wrestlers had relatively easy access to do so, even during a time period where getting into the industry was still akin to joining a secret society in many parts of the country.

It’s just Joe asking this next question:

Can you think of many singles/tag matches that happened in both WCW and WWF that were significantly better in WCW than in WWF (taking the best example from each, of course)? For example, Hogan vs. Warrior in WWF vs. in WCW or Curt Hennig vs. Bret Hart at Summerslam/KotR vs Uncensored.

I would say that virtually every cruiserweight match that took place in both promotions was better in WCW than it was in the WWF.

The WWE career of Ultimo Dragon is one example.

Dragon spent time in the company in 2003 and 2004, where he faced Eddie Guerrero on a July 2003 episode of Smackdown and Rey Misterio Jr. in October of the same year. Both of those were television matches that lasted less than four minutes. Meanwhile, Guerrero/Ultimo faced each other several times on Monday Nitro in matches that were also fairly short but were generally faster paced and harder hitting, including a successful Cruiserweight Title defense by Eddie against the Dragon on the October 6, 1997 Nitro. As far as Dragon/Misterio is concerned, there were three decent length pay per view matches between the two men, namely at Hog Wild 1996, World War 3 1996, and Spring Stampede 1997.

Also, Rey Misterio Jr. versus Psicosis took place on One Night Stand 2005, which, though it was an “ECW” show on paper was actually promoted by WWE. They wrestled for six minutes and it was far from bad, but it was nowhere near the many excellent matches that they had in WCW, most notably at Bash at the Beach 1996.

Some might say that this is not an entirely fair comparison given the relative positions of the two men and how they differed in the two companies, but Chris Jericho and Dean Malenko had two matches in the WWF against each other, one on the March 12, 2000 episode of Sunday Night Heat and the other on the December 14, 2000 Smackdown. They didn’t touch anything that happened in their extended feud in WCW, which included matches at Uncensored, Slamboree, and the Great American Bash in 1998 as well as a handful of matches on free television.

That will do it for this week’s installment of the column. We’ll return in seven-ish days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected]. You can also leave questions in the comments below, but please note that I do not monitor the comments as closely as I do the email account, so emailing is the better way to get things answered.