'Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!' turns 30


On Tuesday night, a bunch of men are huddled around a table at a charity auction at a Foot Locker event in New York City.

They’re all staring at the same thing: a signed picture of a Mike Tyson screen grab from “Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!” with a Nintendo controller framed in it.

By the end of the night, the piece sells for $450, a decent price but a value to the winner, who undoubtedly still cherishes the memories of playing the game.

Thirty years ago today, “Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!” was released.

And while kids now might make fun of the graphics, children of the 1980s have a pretty solid argument for it being the greatest sports video game of all time.

Sure, the Madden franchise has its place, but it doesn’t have the buzz that “Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!” had.

Before the days of social media, talk of this game dominated.

The opponents on the way to facing Tyson? “Glass Joe,” “King Hippo,” “Great Tiger,” and my favorite, “Don Flamenco,” with a rose in his mouth.

I remember kids in my fourth-grade class talking about what they did in the game and, of course, how they did or didn’t beat Tyson.

We all memorized the cheat code to get straight to Tyson (007-373-5963), which was later revealed to be the phone number for Nintendo customer service.

It wasn’t just us kids. The greatest athletes were playing it too.

“Want to know the place to locate Walter Payton these days?” asked a Chicago Tribune article in November 1988. “A good bet is in front of his TV playing ‘Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out.'”

The single most amazing fact about the Tyson game was its longevity. It came out on October 18, 1987, and was still on the most popular holiday toy wish lists by December 1988, which at the time meant it beat out Starting Lineup figures.

Part of that had to do with Tyson himself.

Just two days before the game came out, he defended his three title belts for the first time against Tyrell Biggs and he continued to win, beating Larry Holmes in four rounds, and famously dispatching Michael Spinks in 91 seconds.

The other part was the game’s simplicity.

It was easy enough to conquer, but hard enough that beating Tyson — who would knock you to the ground with one good punch — still felt special.

“I met one kid who was 10 years old who said he beat me,” Tyson told Jimmy Kimmel in 2014.

From 1987 to 1988, Nintendo’s business soared from $830 million to $1.7 billion.

“Nintendo is more dominating in the game and toy industry than the Yankees were to baseball between 1949 and 1953, when they won five World Series in a row,” toy industry analyst David Leibowitz told the Los Angeles Times.

Nothing could touch Super Mario Bros., who are essentially to Nintendo what Mickey and Minnie Mouse are to Disney, but the Tyson game sure competed.

By October 1989, Nintendo had sold 9.1 million copies of “Super Mario Bros.,” 3.5 million copies of “Super Mario 2” and 3 million copies each of “Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!” and “Zelda.”

And then, the impossible happened. In February 1990, Tyson was shocked by Buster Douglas, and the game didn’t mean as much anymore.

For as big as the game was, Tyson didn’t profit handsomely from it. Even though the game itself had a $20 million marketing campaign, he was reportedly only paid $50,000 for a three-year deal that — as revealed in one of Tyson’s many appearances in court — came with no royalties.

Not that Tyson harbors any bitterness. The most popular items he signs at autograph shows are screen-grab photos of his character in the game and cartridges.

When I first saw a signed “Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!” cartridge at a card show, I had just to buy it.


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