The only WWE pay-per-view my non-wrestling fan friends care about is the Royal Rumble, and that’s because we can easily gamble on it. The show’s namesake, 30-man battle royal is the promotion’s single most exciting match, and the fact that it enables our inner degenerates makes Royal Rumble one of our favorite nights of the year. If you’ve never done a Royal Rumble winner’s pool, it’s sort of like a March Madness bracket, only it moves much more quickly and requires no skill, knowledge, or expertise. Everyone throws some money together, numbers are drawn to determine which wrestlers are “yours,” and whoever winds up drawing the number that corresponds to the winning wrestler takes home the whole pot.
It’s simple, it’s exciting, and yet it still kind of sucks. The problem with a Royal Rumble winner’s pool isn’t the pool; it’s the match. That’s because the winner goes on to compete in a championship match at WrestleMania, the Super Bowl of the WWE schedule. That makes the Royal Rumble a huge plot development in a much larger story, which culminates at WWE’s biggest event during its biggest match. And the only wrestlers who get there are the company’s biggest, most famous stars—so, from a storytelling angle, only certain guys are capable of being written into that spot. And depending on what stories the WWE has been telling—in the last month or the last year—that shrinks the list of possible Royal Rumble winners down to five or six people. If the NFL was scripted, would they put the Cleveland Browns and the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl? No, they’d write in the Patriots and the Cowboys. You know, like how the NBA does it. (Kidding—kind of.)
That’s fine for a wrestling fan like me who cares about the show and the story, but if you’re just watching for the thrill of the pool, there are 25 combatants who are guaranteed to let you down. You’d wait and wait and wait for one of your guys to come out—Royal Rumble participants enter the ring in time with a countdown clock, but you don’t know who’s going to enter when—only to get someone like Heath Slater. I love Heath Slater as a wrestler and a performer, but he’s more likely to unseat Vladimir Putin as Russia’s president than he is to feature in main-event WrestleMania.
So I found a way to fix it. If the problem was that most of the wrestlers didn’t matter for the gambling, the solution was to put money on every single one of them: bounties. It doesn’t change the basic makeup of the winner’s pool, but it does make the Royal Rumble way more intense and interesting. All you have to do is assign a bounty to every single wrestler in the match. Pick a dollar value everyone agrees on; all 30 entrants are each worth that amount, no matter if you draw John Cena and Roman Reigns (two guys who could definitely win), or Apollo Crews and Rhyno (two guys who definitely can’t).
Now when you draw your numbers, you don’t just have those wrestlers for a winner-take-all pot. They each have a bounty on their head that someone else in the pool claims when one of their assigned wrestlers eliminates them. When your guy gets tossed out, you pay the friend who drew the guy responsible for that elimination; if one of your guys eliminates someone, you get paid. No wrestlers are meaningless, because they can cost or win you money, and “bad” wrestlers sometimes eliminate “good” ones during the match. Most importantly, even if you don’t end up with one of the handful of wrestlers who can actually win Royal Rumble, you’ll still have skin in the game.
Here’s an example: Let’s say your viewing party is composed of five people. Each person agrees to put $20 dollars toward the winner’s pool, and you assign the bounties at $2 a wrestler. You then draw numbers one at a time, from one to 30, so everyone ends up with six wrestlers. Before the match starts, everyone physically places their numbers in front of them, along with the actual cash for their wrestlers’ bounties. If you have number one, and out comes Seth Rollins, and your friend has number two, and out comes Sami Zayn, and then Rollins throws Zayn over the top rope, eliminating him, your friend hands you the $2 Sami Zayn bounty. (For this reason, it’s best to use cash, rather than mobile payment services like Venmo or Google Wallet—though you can go cashless by using poker chips to keep track and square up later.)
It doesn’t detract from the excitement of the winner’s pool or drawing one of the favorites. It doesn’t detract from the tension of the match as the number of competitors dwindles and certain wrestlers still haven’t come out; it doesn’t suck any air out of guys surviving for a long time. But what it does do is make you focused/angry/elated by every single wrestler and every single elimination. Instead of the Royal Rumble being mostly about being disappointed by which wrestler’s entrance theme plays when your number’s up, you get to root for and against everyone while they are in the ring.
If anyone else out there has been conducting their winner pool this way for 20 years or something, kudos. I don’t doubt you; I’m just telling you the truth when I say I’ve never read about this method anywhere and came up with it a few years ago as a way to improve my Royal Rumble parties.
Which is not to say it doesn’t present some unique wrinkles. That’s not a bad thing, because it only adds to the excitement and energy in the room. But to ease your adjustment to a new system, here’s a handy guide based on my own experiences to help you resolve any disagreements or issues that might come up:
- If one of your wrestlers eliminates another one of your wrestlers, you keep the bounty. It might not feel like a win, but believe me, when you get stuck with one of the Singh brothers, you’ll be begging your other guys to throw him out.
- If someone not officially in the match eliminates your wrestler, you keep the bounty. If someone was previously eliminated, but comes back illegally and throws one of your guys out, whoever drew that wrestler still gets your money. Is it fair? No, but take it up with the referees who let it happen.
- If your wrestler never makes it to the ring at all, like what happened to Curtis Axel in 2015, you keep the bounty.
- If two wrestlers team up to eliminate someone, they split the bounty. This is why you should always make sure that no matter the amount of your bounties, you bring smaller bills or coins to break them up. (It’s also why poker chips can work.) Avoid hard-to-split bounties for this reason: Instead of $5 a bounty, do $4 or $6.
- If three or more wrestlers team up and it’s hard to easily divide the bounty, ask the room to come to a quick consensus on who was most responsible for the elimination. The group might decide to hand it all to one person, or even assign it out as percentages, wherein one wrestler is said to have been 50 percent responsible and the other two were 25 percent. (So a $4 bounty would then be handed out as $2/$1/$1.)
- Assign one person to track all the numbers and write down the wrestler who comes out for each of them during the match.
- To avoid any real arguments, designate someone (who’s not the person tracking the wrestlers) the “fairness evaluator” before the match. They’ll be the final word on any disagreements that can’t be resolved by the group. This person must be the most honorable guest at your party, as well as someone whose judgment is respected by all. (It also helps not to invite assholes who care more about the money instead of having fun.) Sometimes the group cannot come to a quick consensus, and since all bounties should be paid out within roughly 30 seconds of an elimination—so you can stay focused on the match—the fairness evaluator’s ruling stands and can’t be appealed. They’re the ultimate authority and should make an immediate and decisive decision.
- On rare occasions the cameras or announcers will miss an elimination. You can wait to pay this bounty until you get a replay or a confirmation from an announcer, or the internet figures it out.
If your group is enjoying the spirit of the bounty system, which is designed to get everyone involved, the fairness evaluator shouldn’t be needed for most issues. The Royal Rumble has an amazing sense of urgency and energy, and the bounties shouldn’t be so large that anyone feels uncomfortable losing them. All of that makes it so the group usually comes to a consensus immediately. I’ve had friends vote against themselves because it was both the right thing and the easier thing to do. Also because sometimes their wrestlers have sucked so much in the match, and they didn’t get one of the likely winners, they gave up. That’s the most fun when it’s not you.
But no matter how much your group gets along, you still need to have a fairness evaluator. When Curtis Axel never made it to the ring, my friends and I had no idea what to do with his bounty. We froze. We couldn’t even figure out if that meant he had never entered the match, and was therefore still eligible to come out and win later, or if he was eliminated when the next entrant came in. Our fairness evaluator decided we’d wait for WWE to announce an official winner, to make sure Curtis Axel couldn’t show up at the end and win (not that he would have), at which time no one would get his bounty. And damnit if it wasn’t the prefect ruling under duress. The chances of an unprecedented event happening during a Royal Rumble match is always high, so be prepared.
So take this bounty system and use it this Sunday. Use it twice, even: There are two battle royals during this year’s show, the other being WWE’s first ever women’s Royal Rumble. Just imagine how terrible it would be to get skunked in not one, but two winner-takes-all pools in the same night.