Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!: Boxing’s Most Racist Video Game

Leading up to and especially after Gennady Golovkin’s 19th straight knockout victory, there have been several comparisons drawn to “Iron” Mike Tyson. The comparisons have revolved around Tyson’s own 19-KO streak that came much earlier in his career (fights 1 through 19) and the aura of fear that seemed to enshroud all would-be challengers. But GGG certainly still has a long way before achieving even a semblance of the notoriety Tyson garnered over the course of his career and will likely never get his own video game.

The Nintendo Entertainment System, better know to a generation of gamers as NES, or simply Nintendo, debuted in the United States in 1985. Two years later it launched one of the most memorable combat games ever developed: “Mike Tyson’s Punch- Out!” It was 1987 when gamers first got exposed to Little Mac and his quest for pugilistic glory. Tyson, in real life, was the youngest heavyweight champion ever, and he used the same uppercuts in the video game to knock scarred challengers into unconsciousness.

When thinking back on that game, many gamers, like The Sports Fan Journal’s Editor-in-Chief and myself, first recall how much fun they had playing late into the night and a vague sense of how bad the pixelated graphics were in comparison to the smooth CGI offered by the Playstation 4 and Xbox 360. But if you have a working Nintendo, and can manage to blow off enough dust from the Punch-Out cartridge to actually get it to work, then you’ll see something else about the game: that Punch-Out might be one of the most racist video games ever.

That’s right. I said it. It had to be said.” I’d say it again. With characters like Soda Popinski (who powers up by downing a bottle of booze) and Great Tiger (an Indian boxer parading around the ring with a Bengal Tiger), Punch-Out exploits every racial stereotype it could pixelate onto the small screen. Such over-the-top depictions of race, although as shocking as when you realize childhood cartoons can be fairly twisted, are more at home in a boxing game than perhaps in any other type of video game because in the end, boxing’s relationship with different races and nationalities has always been theatrical and almost as unifying as it has been decisive. Check out the video for the full breakdown.

6 Replies to “Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!: Boxing’s Most Racist Video Game”

    1. Dang. Sorry Shadow, crazy how racism is so prevalent still. I found what you said insightful. Well worded.. A solid argument.. Then you were met with a true racist.. Someone saying how “white” you sound. With white being something negative.. And they had the nerve to call you racist.. Saying that you dont get it.. Wow.. What an idiot.. Its typical..

  1. The game was not racist and the guy in the cap in is an idiot.

    Let’s remember this was a game by Japanese programmers, one that has fun with everyone equally and in a way that parodies the stereotypes, which is the opposite of spreading them. The characters are so full of personality, and their uniqueness fills the game with enjoyment every time you play it, which is remarkable; it is too lovable and warm and silly in its dressings to be as offensive as you want it to be. In fact, if anything, this game manages to, at the same time as busting on everybody, be an amazing gift from Japanese developers to the children of America that it was designed for; a wonderful homage where the real life African American world champion and the next two toughest fighters were all from the US as well as the main character, a flyweight Rocky Marciano type with a Ralph Macchio air and a poor kid from the Bronx with only good in his heart, coached by an African American to defeat the heavyweight champion of the world in an underdog story. The statue of liberty is one of the high points of the game, as it celebrates pivotal moments (the first time as a kid that you beat Piston Honda and the first time you beat Bald Bull). Mac is dimunitive and runs in a pink track suit, so even America gets hit a little bit, which is only fair, but I thought the fact that America gets a lot of respect in this game at the same time was very respectful of the Japanese programmers who created the game for all of us as kids. They never went overboard with it, and I think calling this game racist is as dumb as calling a comedian like Chris Rock racist. There are ways to mock stereotypes without embracing them; not one of us thought that people from these countries would actually be like in this game, or expected every German we met in the future to look like a WWI Baron, but we just thought how silly and fun these stereotypes are.

    1. Wow it’s hard not to hear how white you are in defending racist depictions of multiple cultures. You obviously don’t understand racism and will probably defend your comment till you die.

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