April 3rd 2016 is going to be a big day for World Wrestling Entertainment. Indeed, with a crowd in excess of 90,000 expected at the AT&T Arena in Arlington, Texas, the 32nd iteration of WrestleMania looks set to be the biggest event in the history of Vince McMahon’s sports entertainment behemoth.
As for the scheduled matches, they include WWE COO and reigning World Heavyweight Champion Triple H defending his belt against former champ Roman Reigns, ‘The Lunatic Fringe’ Dean Ambrose taking on ‘The Beast’ Brock Lesnar in a no holds barred street fight, and none other than Vince’s son Shane McMahon going at it with The Undertaker in the ‘Dead Man’s’ specialist match, Hell In A Cell.
It has the makings of a truly unforgettable evening. And while Messrs Lesnar, Ambrose and H would look to be in for a gruelling night, so the growing number of people who bet on WWE events will also be hard at it.
While it might seem a strange notion to some – gambling on a predetermined contest – the practice is far from new and the action it generates isn’t to be sniffed at. The spectacular growth of sport betting combined with the increased popularity of gimmick gambling has put wrestling in a position as lucrative as it is enviable.
“The first time I can recall discussion of pro wrestling betting on a large scale was prior to WrestleMania XXVII in 2011,” explains Brian Elliott, the editor of FSM, the internationally-acclaimed wrestling and MMA magazine. “I’d guess that the bookmakers cottoned on to the annual hype surrounding The Undertaker’s winning streak at WrestleMania [at the time Mark Callaway’s undead alter ego (above) was 18-0 at ‘The Show Of Shows’], and found an enthusiastic number of fans who believed in that so much that it was obvious there was money to be made. It didn’t hurt that The Rock served as a guest host on that show, creating even more publicity.”
But how can you bet on something that’s, well, ‘fake’? First off, while it’ll only be news to the very naïve that wrestling is predetermined, the booking is often altered at very late notice. Many is the champion that didn’t find out they were getting the belt until the night of the contest – the currently injured Seth Rollins only discovered he was ‘going over’ (winning) at WrestleMania 31 the evening prior to the PPV. And back in the chaotic months before World Championship Wrestling went belly up in 2001, it wasn’t uncommon for performers to learn that they were going over as they made their way to the ring.
It’s also important to bear in mind that, like any athletic contest, wrestling is at the mercy of in-ring injury. When future world champion Eddie Guerrero (below) debuted in the WWF (as it then was), he and tag partner Perry Saturn were meant to defeat their opponents the New Age Outlaws. However, when Guerrero dislocated his elbow after performing his signature Frog Splash, he was in no condition to continue and so the finish had to be altered on the fly. Sure, such events are rare but they’re sufficient to remind the gambler that betting on wrestling is anything but shooting fish in a barrel.
Exactly how hard it is is neatly summed up by Brian Elliott; “You might think that, since pro wrestling matches have planned endings, it would make it easier to bet on than, say, a football match. In reality, the fact that the outcomes are predetermined makes it impossible to track form or do anything but make a wild guess about what will happen. Just think: if football was as orchestrated as pro wrestling, the over-50s team from your local pub could beat Manchester United 6-0 at Old Trafford after having a man sent off. Pro wrestling is not bound by logic, so betting on it makes absolutely no sense.”
But just because it defies common sense doesn’t mean betting on pro wrestling is going to be counted out anytime soon. For wherever there’s money to be made, you can be sure that Vince McMahon will be all ears. What’s more, gambling on the outcome of matches is a great way for wrestling to indulge its insatiable desire to come off as real. Because of this, you can safely bet that gambling and wrestling is a tag team that won’t be breaking up anytime soon.