Something very rare and crazy happened at WWE Battleground on Sunday: AJ Styles, a massive betting favorite to retain the U.S. championship over Kevin Owens headed into the event, wound up losing the match. Typically, when somebody is an overwhelming gambling favorite in WWE, it is widely presumed that the results have leaked and the markets have adjusted accordingly. This is especially true at “minor” PPVs.
On Sunday, according to the site WWE Leaks, which tracks shifts in betting movement on odds from the offshore book 5 Dimes, AJ Styles was a -4950 favorite to win. Kevin Owens was a +1650 underdog. This means that you would have needed to bet nearly $5,000 to win $100 if you were betting on Styles to win, and a $100 bet on Owens would have brought a return of $1,650. Jason Simbal, an oddsmaker for the Vegas sportsbook firm CG Technology, confirms to The Big Lead that these numbers are accurate (these books were not taking action on the event, but he was monitoring the numbers).
Watch the ending of the match, in which Owens squirms out of a crossface to briefly pin Styles for the 3-count:
Because this type of thing is so rare — usually WWE is oddly content to let its outcomes be effectively spoiled for those with a keen eye on the betting markets — there are a lot of theories being thrown around about what happened. For example:
“That wasn’t supposed to be the finish, that’s all I know,” said legendary wrestling reporter Dave Meltzer on his audio show, via WrestlingNews.com. “I don’t know if it was changed during the match. I don’t know if it was changed before the match. Styles was supposed to win when the show started. He didn’t win. It wasn’t like it was a ref screw up or anything like that because they could have gone out there and changed it. There was plenty of time to kick out [of the cradle finish] so it wasn’t anything like that. I don’t know what the screw up was or if it was a change at the last minute because Vince changed his mind but that was the deal. The finish was not the finish that there was when the show started. The only thing I heard was there was a discussion about the finish that people on the Smackdown crew knew about but they didn’t know the details of exactly what happened in the match.”
Looking at it closely, it doesn’t seem like it was a botch — i.e. one of the performers and/or the referee messed up — and it would be hard to believe that a botch could even happen with Owens and Styles, who are two of the most seasoned performers on WWE’s roster. If Styles sensed that this was going awry, couldn’t he have just kicked out?
The most likely explanation is that for a reason we’ll never know — maybe he wanted to stick it to the idea that gambling markets are ironclad determinants of results? Maybe he just had different thoughts about where the storyline should head — Vince McMahon changed his mind on where to go with the ending of the match.