Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!: The Story Of the Unbeatable Video Game

Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!

Just forget about…

This sentence was told to every kid in the 80s who thought they could beat Mike Tyson in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!

Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out was a boxing video game released in 1987 by Nintendo. It featured a character named Little Mac who would have to go through a series of opponents to fight a dream match against Mike Tyson. It would sell over 3 million copies between 1987 and 1990. 

It contained the ultimate video game final boss in the form of Mike Tyson and seemed to be the stuff of urban legend. We all heard about someone’s older brother who had “apparently” defeated Mike Tyson, but that seemed like a giant bunch of crap.

There was no internet, and video gaming channels, where you could watch someone take him down. This may have been the most frustrating game ever at the time because it was unbeatable. Even if you got to Mike, it was going to be game over.

This is a look back at Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!: The unbeatable video game. 

Setting The Stage For Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!

He was not only one of the most intimidating boxers but most intimidating athlete ever. Most fights were won before he even stepped in the ring due to psychological trauma he put opponents through. Just the mention of his name was enough to throw your whole game plan off.

Whereas other boxers would enter the ring in lavish robes, Tyson would enter wearing a towel with a hole cut in it. Other boxers would wear brightly colored shorts and coordinated outfits. Tyson would wear simple black shorts and shoes – he didn’t even wear any damn socks.

There was no official entrance music for Tyson – he would just come to the ring to a recording that was basically one ominous note being played. Honestly, if you don’t remember this in the 80s, go check his entrance out with this “music”. It’s eerie and intimidating as hell. 

We don’t need to go over the whole career of Tyson, we know all the highlights and lowlights. The point is, in the 80s, there weren’t too many things bigger than him – and that meant making a video game.

Creating Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!

Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out! Started its life as an arcade game simply called, Punch-Out. With the growing popularity of the NES, Nintendo wanted to bring this arcade hit into the homes (if you want to learn how the NES was able to change the video game world, check out my article all about it).

The problem was the NES hardware had no near the power of a real arcade game. The assigned director of the NES version (and creator of the arcade game) Genyo Takeda would be the producer behind the game.

I loved the Punch-Out arcade game, and if you remember it, you recall the gameplay was different. The players were transparent so you could see all the gameplay, and fight, without interference. This was not going to be possible on the NES version, so they had to find a solution.

They came up with the idea of making the player you controlled shorter. This would give more room above the player and the opponent could fit into the screen. Since you would be playing a small fighter, they named him “Little Mac”.

So they created a new look to the character and would also add in some theme music, cut scenes, and a basic plot – all things that didn’t exist in the arcade version. 

How Mike Tyson Became Involved

The intent with this game all along was to just keep it called Punch-Out like the popular arcade version. The first version, or “Gold Version”, released for the Famicom in Japan did not include Tyson at all. The final boss in this game was Super Macho Man – not sure if they were aware of Randy Savage or not yet…

Super Macho Man was, of course, the final opponent in the arcade game. The Punch-Out arcade game came out in December 1983. Randy Savage had been using the name “Macho Man” since the 70s but it wasn’t wrestling related but given to him after he was known for getting into bench-clearing brawls while playing minor league baseball. He didn’t sign with the (then) WWF until 1985 so the name “Macho Man” wouldn’t have been an intellectual property before that, so it looks like Nintendo wins.

Anyhow, after the gold version of Punch-Out had been released, founder of Nintendo of America: Minoru Arakawa got to see a young Mike Tyson fight. This was before Tyson would become heavyweight champion and Arakawa was blown away by what he saw. He had never seen a boxer with such ferocity and skill being equally matched. 

This fight appears to have taken place sometime in early 1986 as the gold version came out on September 18, 1987. Arakawa thought they needed to have Tyson’s likeness on the game to give it more legitimacy and help its popularity. It was said they paid Tyson $50,000 to use his likeness over a three-year period. Remember, Tyson was still barely 20 years old and this would be the first endorsement game Nintendo would ever make. Up to that point, all sports game was Mario-based characters in them. This may explain why Mario shows up as the referee in Punch-Out. 

So this was a good move, but a bit of a risk. Tyson wasn’t a household name yet, and they signed him before he beat Trevor Berbick on November 22, 1986, to win the WBC heavyweight championship. It turned out to be a good signing as Tyson was now world-famous. By the time he was programmed into Punch-Out, he had three championship belts and was 31-0. 

The Game Play Of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!

This follows a bit of a “Rocky” story as the game is based around Little Mac who is trying to fight his way up the World Video Boxing Association. Mac is 17 years old, from the Bronx, and weighs in at a cool buck seven. There are three different circuits to fight through and the goal is to get to a “dream fight” against Mike Tyson (or Super Macho Man in the arcade version).

Little Mac isn’t the most skilled, but dammit, he has heart! This is basically if Rudy was a video game in the 80s. Little Mac can basically just throw right and left jabs along with right and left body shots. He does have one legit punch – a powerful uppercut. The trick is you can only throw this uppercut by earning stars which you accumulate for throwing a good series of counter punches.

There is also a life meter on Little Mac which rises and falls depending on how much of a beating he’s taking. When it drops too low, Mac turns pink and is pretty much spent. He can’t throw a punch but he can still dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge. 

You can win (or lose) fights by knockout or technical knockout when the person is knocked down three times during the bout. The fights go three rounds and they can also go to a decision. The winner is the fighter who had the best total of punches, knockdowns, and damage to them. 

Mac can fight ranked opponents and move up the standings. If he loses to one he does have a shot at a rematch but if he loses a title bout – he drops down the ranking. For the three circuits, there are three fighters in the first, or minor circuit, four in the major circuit, six in the world circuit and then, Mike Tyson.

Mike Tyson Punch-Out Characters

Let’s take a look at our competitors Johnny!

  • Glass Joe – the poor sap is from Paris and fights in the minor circuit
  • Von Kaiser – he hails from West Berlin, West Germany (kids, ask your parents what West Germany was) 
  • Piston Honda – A better boxer from Japan, he is the champion of the minor circuit
  • Don Flamenco – The illustrious bullfighter from Madrid
  • King Hippo – The big fella from the Hippo Islands. You can only hit him in the stomach and he can go down easy
  • Great Tiger – An Indian boxer who is able to teleport around the ring
  • Bald Bull – hailing from Istanbul, he can knock you down in one punch when charging you. 
  • Soda Popinksi – this was a way to clean up the original version as this character was known as Vodka Drunkensi in the arcade version. He’s Russian if you hadn’t picked that up yet
  • Mr. Sandman – Yes? A tough opponent who has a three uppercut punch combination

How To Beat Tyson

Practice. Wait, that’s how to get to Carnegie Hall. But this applies too. Here are some tips to go toe-to-toe with the baddest man on the planet.

  1. Punch the back of his head to do more damage, you won’t be able to take him straight on.
  2. Last for at least 1:30 as after this Tyson will stop the one-hit knockout punches
  3. Get him down to low, or no life and then duck like your life depends on it, because, it does…
  4. Going into the second round, he’s not going to be vulnerable until there aren’t any hearts left
  5. If you’re able to knock him down at this point he’s going to get up before ten so you have to keep working the jab
  6. You’re going to get rocked a lot so your duck and weave game better be tight when you’re not able to punch back
  7. The goal is to try to knock him down once a round as you probably won’t knock him out. If you can get to the third round, two more knockouts will get you the TKO and your best chance of beating him

Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out! Secrets & Easter Eggs

So it’s been more than 30 years since this game came out but old secrets keep popping up. This particular one was revealed by one of the game’s developers back in 2009 and has to do with knowing out “Bald Bull” in one punch.

This secret – according to the developer – had to do with watching the camera flashes happening in the crowd. The tip turns out to be from late-game designer, Satoru Iwata. In the first bout with “Bald Bull”, when you see a camera flash, it’s time to throw the knockout punch.

The next easter egg also involved “Bald Bull” and also Piston Honda. When you are fighting them in the second round, you want to look for a bearded guy in the crowd in the front row. He is 7 people in from the left and remains motionless throughout most fights. Against these opponents, and fighting them for a second time, keep your eye on him. When he ducks, it’s time to throw that knock-out punch. 

If this is timed out right, you’ll drop him as good as George McFly drops Biff. 

There was also the hidden “fourth circuit”. You can access this by entering 135 792 4690 then holding ‘select’ and pressing A and B at the same time. This opened the fourth circuit aka “another world circuit”. IN this secret mode you now could face the opponents in a completely different order and chaos would ensue. But in this circuit, there were no second chances – which should have been the tagline to the whole game…

Where the hell were these tips when we were kids? Would it have killed them to invent the internet a bit earlier? Thanks for nothing, Al Gore…

The Continuation Of Punch-Out

When Tyson’s licensing deal ended in 1989, it seemed like the obvious thing to resign him, but this wasn’t necessary. The game was already so established that it couldn’t really get more popular. Plus Tyson was so famous now that the costs would have been sky high compared to the paltry $50,000 used to first sign him. Also, things were starting to get out of hand in his personal life and it was probably better to separate themselves from him. 

And then Tyson got knocked out by James ‘Buster’ Douglas.

The game would live on, however, and so would Tyson. Intergalactic games would use Mike Tyson in ‘Power Punch’ which had Tyson fighting in space to become the best boxer in the universe! This game was made by an Australian company called Beam Software and put out by American Softworks. I definitely remember playing this somewhere but I don’t remember it having an amazing impression on me. 

So Punch-Out lived on over the years and here are some various releases of it:

  • Super Punch-Out!
  • Punch-Out for the Nintendo Switch
  • Punch-Out Wii

Why Mike Tyson Does Not Like This Game

Tyson said he always hated Punch-Out when he saw it released in 1987/88. He claims he “wasn’t a fan” and that “I had no idea it would be such a big, uh, thing”. He would later say the game grew on him a bit and his favorite character was Glass Joe – the only opponent he could beat. 

Apparently, Tyson had never even played the game until 2017 where he played it on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. They set it up so Tyson would go right to the end to face, uh, himself. 

He lost in 30 seconds…

The remakes of Punch-Out over the years would replace Tyson with Mr. Dream and the version for the 2009 Wii remake featured Mr. Sandman at the end. Those characters were pretty much the same boxer as the original Tyson character but with new appearances. 

Tyson, however, was not happy about having his legacy replaced. There’s obviously no way that Nintendo would include his likeness in the game now but in a tweet from April 2019, Tyson called out Nintendo for using Mr. Dream and asked the public who they thought of when they heard the name Punch-Out?

He does have a point. 

The Success & Legacy Of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out

It’s amazing the success this game had considering it was only out for three years. During its release from 1987 to 1990, it sold over 3 million units. This makes it the 11th best selling game for the NES in North America. It’s been ranked in several “top ten” lists of the best video games of all time.

But the legacy of the game would live on. The draw to it is its easy gameplay but overwhelming difficulty. You can learn it quickly, progress pretty far, but you’ll never get the holy grail. I personally didn’t know anyone who beat Tyson. The closest I got was hearing about some kid who had done it, but it was the 80s and you couldn’t prove a damn thing. 

Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out was unique as it was more than just a boxing game. There was an aspect of puzzle-solving as you would have to learn and recognize patterns to defeat the various boxers. 

This game will always be remembered fondly, had an additive component to it, and featured possibly the greatest final “boss” in video game history.  And while we’re talking about trying to beat Mike Tyson, take us home Dj Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince! This was actually nominated for a Grammy in 1989.