If you grew up in the Nintendo Entertainment System era of the 1980s, you almost certainly played Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!. The boxing title was unlike anything else out at the time. The characters were huge and expressive. Opponents were more of a puzzle to solve instead of button-mashing fest. And Mike Tyson remains one of the most legendary final bosses of all time.
Punch-Out!!’s history is full of fascinating facts. Did you ever wonder how much Nintendo paid Mike Tyson for his likeness? Or that some of the music is from an old razor ad? We cover all that and more in Punch-Out!!’s weird and wonderful roundup.
The Title Theme From Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! Is an Old Ad Jingle
The moment you turn on Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, the first screen proclaims “Mike is waiting for your challenge!!” as a whimsical march plays. Did you know that this music is actually a 1950s ad jingle?
The song is officially titled “To Look Sharp,” and the tune was the theme music for “The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports.” The razor company was the sole sponsor of this show in the early days of television. While the program covered football, baseball, and everything in between, Friday night boxing at Madison Square Garden was the primary focus.
Just like current NFL intros get you in the mood for football, the Look Sharp march was synonymous with boxing back in the 1950s.
Decades later, it became a nostalgic touchstone. In 1980’s Raging Bull, the house band plays the tune at protagonist Jake LaMotta’s Miami nightclub. And Coleco’s Head-to-Head Electronic Boxing used the tune in 1981, three years ahead of Punch-Out!!’s arcade debut.
How Much Did Mike Tyson Make From Punch-Out!!?
Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! is one of the most famous licensed sports titles in the history of gaming. But how much did the ‘80s boxing megastar make for lending his name and likeness? Not as much as you think.
In January 1986, Genyo Takeda was in the midst of porting his arcade hit Punch-Out!! to the Nintendo Entertainment System. Meanwhile, Nintendo of America President Minoru Arakawa attended CES in Las Vegas and happened to watch a 19-year-old Mike Tyson TKO David Jaco in the first round. Arakawa was stunned and called Takeda to recommend they sign this guy for the NES boxing game.
The deal was made, but since Tyson had yet to win a title at that time, he was reportedly paid only $50,000 for a three-year contract. Over the next year, Tyson would go on to win the WBC, WBA, and IBF heavyweight championships. Just six weeks before the release of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! on October 18, 1987, he unified all three. The timing for Nintendo couldn’t have been better.
Compare this to Activision’s Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater franchise. Hawk himself confirmed that after the first three games were megahits, he was handed a check for a staggering $4 million dollars.
Some People Can Beat Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! Blindfolded
Simply beating the final namesake boss in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! Is a legendary achievement in its own right. But some extremely dedicated players can play through the entire game blindfolded.
A Punch-Out!! pro named Sinister1 first attempted the challenge at annual charity speedrunning event Awesome Games Done Quick in 2012. It was a relatively brief run, but he returned in subsequent years, making it all the way to Mike Tyson at AGDQ 2014.
A player named Jack Wedge would be the first to beat the game blindfolded in one sitting in 2015. By AGDQ 2016, Sinister1 and Zallard1 raced blindfolded head-to-head to beat the entire game with Zallard1 taking home the victory at 25:27.
Four years later, these maniacs teamed up at AGDQ 2020 for a blindfolded “2 players 1 controller” run. Zallard1 handled Little Mac’s movements on the d-pad while Sinister1 unleashed all the punches. Incredibly, they beat the game at a time of 23:39.
The current record for a blindfolded Punch-Out!! run is a ridiculous 18:03, held by the legendary Summoningsalt. This player holds the world record in nearly every Punch-Out!! category. Incredibly, this time would place him in the top 30 against players fighting with full use of all senses.
Punch-Out!! Brought a Cinematic Flair to Video Game Boxing
It’s easy to take Punch-Out!!’s timeless gameplay and appealing presentation for granted. However, if you look back at what came before, it was a huge leap forward.
Sega’s Heavyweight Champ in 1976 was possibly the first fighting game and featured goofy boxing glove controllers. Activision’s Boxing in 1980 showcased ant-like pugilists from a top-down perspective.
Punch-Out!! arcade in 1984 utilized new sprite-zooming tech to make the colorful characters feel larger than life. Nintendo creative mastermind Shigeru Miyamoto designed the boxers and took them to animation house Studio Junio to make them shine like real movie characters. The dual-screen setup pushed nearly all of the HUD elements to the top screen so that players could look their rivals in the eye (through their fighter’s weird green wireframe body, of course) and be fully immersed.
When Punch-Out!! came home to the NES in ‘87, Nintendo added even more: pulse-pounding music played during the fights, inter-round dialog with trainer Doc Louis and rival fighters told a story of how the fights were going, montages featuring protagonist Little Mac jogging in a pink sweatsuit added heart, and Tyson’s intimidating one-hit-kill uppercuts frightened off all but the bravest challengers. These tenants added an element of the hit Rocky movies, which live on nearly 50 years later with the release of Creed III.
Assets and Sourcing
“Our History.” NBC Sports. https://www.nbcsports.com/our-history#decade_2.
Jonathan Dunn-Rankin, “Sega Center Offers State of the Art Video Games in 1977,” CBS 8 San Diego. YouTube video, 2:07, Apr 7, 2022, https://youtu.be/LwfeOu0QsGk.
Gaijillionaire, “The Story Of Punch Out!! Theme Song ‘Look Sharp!,’” GTV Japan. YouTube video, 8:14, Dec 1, 2018, https://youtu.be/4iBeleAy5RE
Norman Caruso, “The Story of Punch-Out!! | Gaming Historian,” Gaming Historian. YouTube video, 48:21, Dec 4, 2018, https://youtu.be/XAwM-lCI4YU
“Gillette Cavalcade of Sports – Boxing,” Mitch Alan. YouTube video, 3:21, July 3, 2009, https://youtu.be/C6cyy_rziuk
Kussoy, Howie. “Inside the Mania and Appeal of the Best Boxing Video Game Ever.” New York Post. July 11, 2017. https://nypost.com/2017/07/10/inside-the-mania-and-appeal-of-the-best-boxing-video-game-ever/.
“Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! Speedrun Records.” Speedrun.com. Elo Entertainment Inc. https://www.speedrun.com/mtpo?h=Single_Segment&x=5dw9qn2g.
“The History of Blindfolded Punch-Out,” Summoning Salt. YouTube video, 40:43, Feb 17, 2019, https://youtu.be/iZT6JEOC3D8
“Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! by sinister1 and zallard1 in 23:39 – AGDQ2020,” Games Done Quick. YouTube video, 36:03, Jan 14, 2020, https://youtu.be/lLGY_BNYLx8
“Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! – Blindfolded Race w/ sinister1 performed at AGDQ 2016,” Zallard1. YouTube video, 29:34, Jan 7, 2020, https://youtu.be/qN_Gk5jGdrQ
Martin Scorsese, director. Raging Bull. United Artists, 1980. 2 hrs., 9 min. https://play.hbomax.com/player/urn:hbo:feature:GWGwjvQHvEpfDXwEAAAAL?exitPageUrn=urn:hbo:page:GWGwjvQHvEpfDXwEAAAAL:type:feature.
“How Much Money Did Tony Hawk Make From Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater??,” Nine Club Clips. YouTube video, 9:47, June 16, 2018, https://youtu.be/d0l22xBcJZw
“Blindfolded Punch-Out in 18:03.54 (World Record),” Summoning Alt. YouTube video, 20:08, Mar 10, 2022, https://youtu.be/jc9XE6zns7A