Ryback Speaks On Dangerous Travel Schedule, Low Pay For Headlining Events
Late last month John Oliver did a 20 minute segment blasting the WWE for the treatment of superstars. The former WWE U.S. Champion, Ryback has been an outspoken critic, in conversations, about the company’s treatment of talent.
This is not a new topic of conversation for Ryback. Even before the Oliver segment aired, he has spoken out concerning the way WWE athletes are treated. One of the primary issues is the grueling travel schedule. These issues among other matters, where touched on during the Oliver segment.
Ryback spoke with Raj Giri of Wrestling Inc at length on the latest episode of Conversations with the Big Guy podcast
“You’ve got to adapt quickly to the schedule and [you’re] hurting all the time. That’s one of the best things about not being on the road. You wake up and it is just one thing after another. Because it is never-ending. There is no off season or nothing. Again, I have my issues with WWE… there is good there, it does exist. But by default, why they do certain things [when] it could just be so much better. It is an adjustment for talent, booking your hotels, booking your rental cars, WWE takes care of your flights. But you must be good with your money. You are not just a professional wrestler. You’re a professional driver.”
Between air travel and late night road trips superstars are responsible for getting to each town. Ryback noted that he is surprised that there haven’t been more fatal accidents with how much talent are driving.
”I’m shocked that there have not been any deaths,” Ryback said. “Driving on one-way roads with semi-trucks. There have been nights I have been driving with my head bobbing, drinking my tenth coffee just to stay awake because I’m going on 45 minutes of sleep doing media in the morning. It’s a grueling schedule for the talent.”
Some superstars have dealt with pay discrepancies and complaints have been lodged against WWE in this matter. Issues of dwindling live show attendance and loss of pay-per-view revenue, many talent feel they are getting less than they deserve.
“Something that got me into trouble is I would keep track of the gates and ask the reps what our gate is tonight,” Ryback explained. “Then I would document that on my phone so then you can see what they are paying you. I saw my pay fluctuate so much for no reason. A lot of times you only get $500 for these live events. Especially the guys on the low downside. Therefore everyone tries to get as high as a downside as possible because they have to pay you your downside every week. What they try to do is whether you are on a $3,000 downside or $20,000 downside, they will put those live events and TV to equal that downside. It very important that you get a high downside there. Hunter and those guys will say downside doesn’t matter. They are full of it, they mean everything. And a guy with a million-dollar downside is making way more than a guy with a $100,000 downside.”
Both international and stateside shows are subject to the pay scale and have also suffered.
“When I main-evented a 20-day tour I made $35,000 (for the whole tour), nowhere near what previous main eventers made, but I have no way to reference that, so how can I check that?” Ryback asked. “To break this down you would probably do 10-12 tour shows and then TV you would get paid for. When I got downgraded creatively, working more, working longer matches, I was dropped down to the $15-16 thousand range.”
Ryback experienced further drops in pay, despite stepping up during an overseas tour. He explains that top talent dropped out due to injury and was told “don’t rock the boat and don’t ask questions”
“The ultimate blow was tagging during the RybAxel period, John Cena wasn’t on the tour for some reason (so refunds were issued), so Axel and I had to wrestle the Shield (Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose) in the opening tag each night because Roman and Randy main evented,” Ryback said. “Roman and Randy would kick off the show with a promo. We would go out and attack Roman and beat him down, Dean and Seth come and make the save and all chaos would break out. Then a tag match would be made between us and Dean and Seth.
“Then we do that 20-25-minute tag match for the John Cena refund match. Which no refunds were issued because we went out there and killed it every single night. Then Randy got hurt a week into this tour and said he couldn’t wrestle so they took me and Axel, with Randy in the main event working a six-man tag for the whole second half of the tour. Randy couldn’t wrestle during the match. We were 30 minutes every night, working hurt the whole time and I left shortly thereafter to get fixed. I made $13,000 that tour. I got that payout and turned babyface Ryback and asked this is the least amount I have made on a tour, we were sold out every night, supposedly this was the biggest tour we have done in years and I said we main evented, in the refund match with no refunds, working hurt for 30 minutes every night, this is nothing. The lowest I have ever seen for a tour. I was told don’t ask questions if you want to come back as babyface Ryback, don’t rock the boat and don’t ask questions.”
WWE does not administer financial transparency, keeping past numbers private from superstars. This lack of transparency gives WWE greater control over their talent.
“I do not have all the answers but there needs to be something done to keep them in line,” Ryback exasperated. “Because they abuse the system and they abuse the wrestlers. The wrestlers don’t have a voice. The main event guys are not going to speak out because they have their money, or what they perceive to be a lot of money. They have created this vicious environment where something needs to be done.”
Listen to the full episode here
Credit: Conversations with the Big Guy Podcast with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription