Ringing the Bell on Boxing Games

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The last mainstream boxing game, ‘Fight Night Champions,’ was released in 2011. (Courtesy Photo)

It’s been a decade since a boxing video game was either a top seller or part of the cultural conversation.  The last relevant boxing game, “Fight Night Round 3,” sold 3 million copies in 2006, according to VGChartz.

Recently retired champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. has been on the card of every pay-per-view fight to generate a million or more buys since 2012. However, the sport’s biggest breadwinner hasn’t appeared in a game since 2005’s “Fight Night Round 2”.

The boxing industry has been scrambling to find its next superstar to pick up where Mayweather left off. Boxing returned to basic cable, after being almost exclusively available on pay-per-view for years, with the Premier Boxing Champions series in 2015. However, the show has suffered low ratings since its initial broadcast last March.

Once a key entity in the “fighting” genre of video games, boxing’s loss of popularity has drastically affected its games.

In Oct. 1987, “Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!!,” released on the Nintendo Entertainment System, immediately following Tyson becoming the undisputed heavyweight champion.  The extremely popular game has achieved iconic status, selling over 3 million copies worldwide.

“Punch Out” pushed the envelope and ushered in the golden age of boxing games.

“Greatest Heavyweights” on the Sega Genesis was my formal introduction to boxing video games, featuring a roster of the best heavyweights to lace up the gloves. The game was a rehash of 1992’s “Evander Holyfield’s Real Deal Boxing” with major improvements in gameplay.

Each legend had his own signature taunt, such as Rocky Marciano’s “I’m gonna embarrass you!”

Throughout the 90’s, the championship belts constantly shifted hands, resulting in many champions getting their own video game.  Buster Douglas received his own game after a surprising defeat of Mike Tyson in 1991.

“George Foreman’s Boxing”, “Boxing Legends of the Ring” and “Riddick Bowe Boxing” were all released between 1992-93 to lackluster reviews and sales.

Several developers flooded the market with games, but none had an impact on me like EA Sports “Knockout Kings” on the Playstation 1 in 1999.

“Knockout Kings” was pivotal for its incredible roster of all-time greats and top notch contenders when it was released. Many legends like Aaron Pryor, Bob Foster, Earnie Shavers and Archie Moore would make first time appearances – many would make their only appearance in a game.

Developer New Corporation attempted to challenge EA Sports in 2001 with “Victorius Boxers: Ippo’s Road to Glory”.  The game was an extremely difficult but rewarding spinoff of the Japanese anime series “Hajime no Ippo”.

Although sales suffered, the game was critically acclaimed.

EA capitalized on the success of “Knockout Kings,” transitioning into yearly releases of the game. Until former lightweight champion Alexis Arguello launched a lawsuit that would have a drastic effect on games to come.

In 2004, Arguello sued EA, Sony and Nintendo for using his likeness without permission in
“Knockout Kings 2000” and “Knockout Kings 2001.” EA Sports managed to recover from the lawsuit and thrive in the boxing game market for several years, evolving the “Knockout Kings” franchise and ultimately changing its name to “Fight Night”.

Through the 2000’s, boxing’s popularity began to wane, with UFC and other combat sports gaining steam.

“Fight Night Champion” was released in 2011, creating a Rocky-esque story mode that helped the game sell more than a million copies. I spent many days in my dorm at Morgan State University on the game, honing my skills before competing against friends for bragging rights.

There hasn’t been a new mainstream boxing game in five years, as the industry scrambles to find a new face, to crown a new king. The sports uncertainty has deterred developers from investing time and money into another boxing game while attention has shifted to Ultimate Fighting, which see the release of “UFC 2” on March 15.

Maybe one day boxing will return, but for now, the final bell has rung.