An argument can be made for pro wrestling as a foundational “Big Bang” of the sports universe, like European soccer or international rugby. Wrestling, after all, is the 2nd-oldest sport. In a WWE Hall-of-Fame address less than 48 hours before his passing, Warrior reminded the audience that NFL legend Ray Lewis had gotten made-over by ESPN’s graphic designers as a “gimmicked” professional grappler. “That only happens with other athletes becoming wrestlers,” Warrior said. Not the reverse. Which is true – no TV producer would feel the need to dress-up a WWE Superstar in a Baltimore Ravens uniform to showcase how tough she is. Wrestlers look plenty bad-assed already.
Crazy circumstances have brought the ancient discipline back to its galactic-core status in 2020. UFC is the only legit competition to survive a pandemic-stricken March that has seen the suspension of major sports around the world. Now that Australian Rules Football is out for at least 2 months and a week following Gillon McLachlan’s damp-eyed announcement on Saturday, a scant schedule of MMA events is all mainstream gamblers and speculators have had left to chew on. Except for WrestleMania 36 of course – the WWE’s flagship show would produce another card of rigged matches, but the bouts would unfold live, with submission, pin-fall, and DQ outcomes wagered on by the public as if the promoters in the hallway (and the Superstars and the referees) weren’t already aware of what those outcomes would be.
Thanks to a bizarre decision at WWE headquarters, bookmakers’ plans to turn WrestleMania 36 into a betting bonanza could become a nightmare Las Vegas and London absolutely do not need right now. As of Sunday 3/22, the iconic show has been scheduled to be pre-recorded in studio before its Pay-Per-View premiere on Sunday, April 5th (or as is now being negotiated out of Stamford, a 2-day PPV event on either 4/4 and 4/5, or more-likely 4/5 and 4/6).
Fans may eventually thank the McMahons (and Paul “Triple H” Levesque) for turning an empty-stadium live event into a studio-magic production at the WWE Performance Center, since the lifeblood of a huge, jubilant crowd is a lost ingredient of all spring ‘20 wrestling cards anyway. The concept could be to make WrestleMania 36 into a full-fledged PPV action “movie,” since sports-entertainment’s usual live-storyline comedy is already missing its laugh track.
Sportsbooks may not be thanking WWE for the unorthodox move. This year’s unique WrestleMania schedule creates an unprecedented situation in which the actual outcomes of a “fight card” are known to a select group of individuals, first and foremost the wrestlers themselves, about 2 weeks prior to the expected close of gambling action. Bookmakers must decide whether or not to close-out WrestleMania 36 markets early if things start to get weird once shoulders have been pinned to the mat in taped-for-air ‘Mania 3-counts.
How WrestleMania 36 Spoilers Are Unlike TV Episode Spoilers
Las Vegas and offshore betting books offer odds on TV action-show plots, in which outcomes are known to the actors, director, writers, and crew far in advance. Hollywood indirectly helps Sin City by fiercely guarding against spoilers from The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones. Rumors about the next season or episode are treated like NFL injury blurbs. Bovada’s line on a potential GoT beheading might shrink to (-500) if the character is rumored to be killed-off.
Since the oddsmaker’s top priority is avoiding a huge payout, it’s no big deal if the character does in-fact get bumped-off (or chopped-off) in the next episode at 1-to-5 or 1-to-10 payoff odds. Nor does the occasional out-of-left-field surprise on a TV show tend to catch betting sites pants-down. Betting plays out the same way when a director “swerves” the public with an unexpected scene on TV as when a quarterback defies his reported injury and throws for 400 yards. So even though fictional television shows “happen” well before they’re aired and long before bets are taken, bookmakers feel comfy leading up to the premiere dates even if Tinseltown’s spoiler-dam leaks along the way.
However, a spoiler-riffic WrestleMania 36 could be a tougher animal for Las Vegas to corral for a number of reasons, starting with the identity crisis imbued on every wrestler.
Norman Reedus is good at keeping secrets of his character “Daryl” on TWD. But he isn’t “Daryl” when the show is off-air. He is the actor Norman Reedus. Thus it’s simple for Reedus to deflect or duck questions about the fictional entity he portrays. Wrestling, meanwhile, creates a grey area between performer and character. Chris Jericho, a marquee talent of All-Elite Wrestling, often dips in and out of his on-air wrestling persona several times during a single backstage interview.
When Ric Flair claims to have beaten Harley Race for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, it’s actually true from a point of view. Not fiction. Ric Flair actually did pin Harley Race by a referee’s 3-count at 1983’s Starrcade in Greensboro, NC. What’s left out of that description is that a performer named Richard Fliehr pinned a cooperative Harley Race in a rigged “title” match designed purely to sell tickets. Flair is capable of speaking about matches like an actor, an entertainer who portrayed a gimmick in the ring. At other times, he’s in full “whoo!” mode when supposedly “out” of character, boasting of gold belts as if matches had been fought on the up-and-up.
As careers and shoot interviews are catalogued as historical record outside of the WWE circus, it can be more difficult for wrestlers to leave fans clueless before-the-fact even when trying their best to. When performers go off the rails, you can forget secrecy completely.
Drew McIntyre is currently a (-270) wager to beat Brock Lesnar (real name: Brock Lesnar) at WrestleMania 36. Lesnar, a modest underdog to win, is known as a gifted athlete who drifts from UFC to WWE and beyond, devouring what tasty morsels a shoot-fighting or sports-entertainment promotion can offer and then leaving for dessert elsewhere. Wrestlers who are considering leaving WWE are often booked to lose cleanly and/or relegated to mid-card status. Suppose Lesnar is told he’s losing to McIntyre at ‘Mania, executes the PPV match, then throws a public temper-tantrum while announcing a switch to fighting Sumo bouts in Japan or something.
Lesnar wouldn’t need to come right out and say that he lost to McIntyre on the card which will air in April. We’d all get the hint. At that point, there’d be a rush of betting action on the favorite to win.
With the outcome of the match practically announced on the internet prior to its PPV airing, Bovada’s options would be limited as to what to do with the Lesnar vs McIntyre market. Perhaps the sportsbook would run a “troll” line of (-100000) on a favorite’s win, as it does sometimes when Paris Saint-Germain is ahead by 15 points in the French soccer league.
But the gambling public – and its bookmakers – may be wary of such “clues” to the outcomes. If World Wrestling Entertainment appears nonplussed about performers giving shoot interviews in the weeks following WrestleMania 36’s filming, the promotion could be swerving its audience by allowing wrestlers to hint that they’ve won or lost ‘Mania matches, only for the opposite to occur during the PPV airing. WWE could even choose to film multiple finishes for each match and allow the “false” finishes to leak in the form of viral social-media clips. The intrigue of who wins or loses at WrestleMania must be played to the hilt as there can’t be the usual organic crowd reactions to get viewers going.
A safety-valve for Las Vegas sportsbooks which offer WrestleMania 36 odds right up to the opening bell is that the official outcomes will be the finishes WWE airs on the PPV, notwithstanding any material from “deleted scenes” so to speak, even if some additional footage is released on DVD or WWE Network later on. A referee could swear blues that they counted Charlotte Flair going over Rhea Ripley 1-2-3 at the WrestleMania “taping” scheduled to begin later this week. But if the footage doesn’t air in the ‘Mania PPV, it won’t count on the betting board, unless there’s a separate outcome which airs on the PPV weekend in which Flair is also portrayed beating Ripley.
Betting Tip for a Wacky WrestleMania 36
Vince McMahon could have bigger fish to fry in the next 2 weeks than overseeing a few sneaky-deceptive Superstar interviews. Imagine if a crooked referee, technician, writer, or even a disgruntled wrestler who observed WrestleMania’s finishes could be gotten-to by the wrong people prior to the close of gambling action on 4/4. Millions of dirty dollars could stand to be collected. You’ve got to know a few master criminals are at least brain-storming on who they could potentially target with a bribe to cough-up the entire WM playlist.
Gamblers are safer than bookmakers in this scenario. Obviously, speculators will want to keep their eyes peeled for strange remarks and flying-the-coop rumors surrounding any Superstars who have matches scheduled to air at ‘Mania 36. But there’s another lesson from the past that reminds WagerBop of C.S. Lewis’ passage about the devastating sins of youth – “Oh, dear lord, how we learn.”
Last year many of the online sportsbooks which boasted day-of and live (in-play) WrestleMania odds fell short, pulling markets on the night before the show for whatever reason. Having “booked” a viewing party of fans planning to gamble on the bouts together, your blogger had to sheepishly admit to the gang that we’d waited too long to take part. Bettors who had chosen winners, losers, and DQ’s in the days prior to WM got to cheer for their picks to pay off, but everyone else was out of luck before the card began.
That flaky bookie behavior was over a standard, live WrestleMania. With a tense, secretive, stressed-out vibe in Stamford and Las Vegas this spring, can you imagine the potential chaos as oddsmakers try to preserve balance and credibility in a “fringe” gambling genre that’s suddenly become an all-too-crucial cash flow in the short term?
Bookmakers can’t afford to lose-out on WrestleMania 36. They also can’t afford not to offer it.
WWE gamblers should get their heads in the game early and start crunching those numbers. Depending on the sportsbook of choice, they may not have the opportunity to place bets 24-to-48 hours before a bizarre pre-recorded WrestleMania graces TV screens in a quarantine.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.