Long before Niko Bellic tore apart Liberty City in “Grand Theft Auto IV,” the greatest video-game representations of New York belonged to the training montage of Doc and Little Mac, sprinting at what must have been a breakneck speed along the Hudson in order to build up enough stamina to land star punches into the jaws of Glass Joe or Piston Honda.[ref]I’m not sure why this name seems so strikingly racist, but MAN IT DOES[/ref] As a small child growing up in New Jersey, this exercise routine was something I could identify with, having seen that exact view hundreds of times, albeit in slightly higher definition than the 8-bit offering “Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!” could provide.
I used to challenge myself to see how fast I could knock folks out. If I could knock somebody out in two minutes, then I felt like a master. “Punch-Out!!” definitely got the most replay value of the ’80s Nintendo games, especially since most of the early ones were simple side-scrollers. I still have visions of trying to stop Piston Honda’s left-right combos/Bald Bull’s charge/Super Macho Man’s windmill, and Great Tiger circling the ring before getting dizzy and you knocking him out with a Star Punch.
I never could beat Super Macho Man or Mr. Dream. Somehow I beat Mr. Sandman but those two were the hardest characters along with Bald Bull the second time. You had to time that body blow perfectly for his charge or you’d be on the canvas.
This side of “Contra,” no game was more draped in ’80s patriotism than “Punch-Out!!” Somebody made this with Rocky in mind because no classic American villain was safe:
Von Kaiser – a throwback to beating Germans.
Piston Honda – More WW2 Fever beating a Japanese boxer.
Super Macho Man – The classic vain 80s villain.
Mr. Sandman – A throwback to Rocky beating Mr. T and Apollo Creed.
Soda Popinski – Cold War reference anyone?
Tyson’s greatest punch was undoubtedly the shot he gave to Shawn Michaels immediately after Michaels lost the WWF Championship to Stone Cold Steve Austin at “Wrestlemania XIV” in 1998. Pro wrestling was at one of its highest peaks ever, the WWF was finally making headway into beating rival WCW in the Monday night television ratings, and Vince McMahon executed a major coup by striking a partnership that would feature a “real” fighter in the fictional circus of the World Wrestling Federation.
It was a brilliant move, and one that to this day stands as one of, if not the biggest wins for pro wrestling in its battle to be taken seriously as a legitimate entertainment option. Nobody thought it was real in ‘98, but still, it existed in a vacuum, watched only by fervent teenage boys and D&D fat kids living at home.[ref]Yes, this is a generalization used for effect. Chill.[/ref] Until March 29, 1998.
Tyson was originally brought on as part of McMahon’s entourage, another corporate badass that could protect Vince and his way of life at the top of the WWF. He was placed in stark contrast with Austin, who, in his bid to become champion, was making life a living hell for McMahon. Tyson and Austin stared each other down on the Raw before “Wrestlemania,” face to face until a couple of shoves forced officials to break it up. When Vince announced that Tyson would be the special enforcer for the championship match between Michaels and Austin at “Wrestlemania,” the deck looked like it was clearly stacked against the Texas Rattlesnake.
And then, after a grueling battle at the FleetCenter in Boston, with the official referee knocked out cold, Austin hit Michaels with a Stunner and went for the win. Tyson leaped into the ring and counted to three, beginning the Austin era of the WWF. The tide had turned. Michaels confronted the baddest man on the planet, asking him what the hell happened, and then made the mistake of slapping him, only to be met with a quick right hand. Good ‘ol JR Jim Ross broke into his famous three beat big call, screaming “Tyson! Tyson! Tyson!”
In real life, the outcome of the match was all a set up to get the belt off of Michaels, whose back injury suffered two months prior at the “Royal Rumble” was forcing him into early retirement, but for the fans in attendance, it was a glorious mashup of reality and spectacle. Tyson, no stranger to over-the-top displays, fit in perfectly with the wild antics of the squared circle, and with the world watching on that late March day in 1998, he “punched out” the Heartbreak Kid.
My friend Thomas “Big T” Coxe hit a “Punch-Out!!” world record once when he knocked out Don Flamenco in 12 seconds.