Boxing, noble sport of the brave, the bold and the utterly punchy has discovered something of a second home in video gaming. Far removed from the sweat-stained indignity of the gymnasium, ardent fans of fisticuffs can now enjoy a good solid scrap of the action whenever it is they like--and all without having to act like a total tosspot down at the pub. Huzzah. Truly, we have entered a golden age
Within these games (not just boxing sims, but fighting titles of all ilk) there have arisen a huge number of primetime pugilists, each one worthy of our collective scorn, ridicule or acclaim. Today's top 7 looks at the very best of these granite-chinned champions--from the comedic to the colourful, to the downright concussed. So, take your seats, settle in and prepare to dodge some airborne spittle. These are the top 7 baddest boxers in all of gaming. "Uuuuuh letttt'sgetreadytoreeeeead!" (A quick note on criteria: In the interests of variety--and aggravating fanboys--only one competitor has been permitted per franchise.) Enjoy!
7. Heavy D! (King of Fighters)
Whoa there you filthy-minded miscreants, it's not that kind of 'D', whatever that is No, no this is the SNK 'Heavy D!', a shirtless 6"10 brawler hailing from the good old US of A. Cast out of the professional game following the death of an in-ring opponent, D! later reappeared as one of only 11 fresh faced participants in the inaugural King of Fighters. Blessed with outrageous height, superior strength and an unexpected turn of speed, D!'s many talents make him one tough nut to crack. Now if only everyone else would agree to stay planted on the ground--without their ranged attacks, or kicks
Nigh on unstoppable in the ring, D's devastating haymakers, killer combos and brutal, bowel-dropping uppercuts could give even the likes of Mike Tyson a few sleepless nights. Sadly, most of the man's considerable menace is lost upon viewing that god-awful excuse for a haircut. I mean, what exactly was he going for there? "Uh Jimmy, just give me something you might see Batman sat on top of".
6. TJ Combo (Killer Instinct)
TJ Combo may sound like the name of some gristle-filled burger shack nightmare, but this bruising pugilist is actually a former heavyweight champion. Having been stripped of his title over allegations of cyber-enhancement, (that's big metal arm thingies to you and me) TJ entered the titular Killer Instinct tourney as a means to repairing his upset rep. Of course, with so many otherworldly foes on offer, our main man Combo had to think up something truly daring in order to best these non-boxing baddies.
What he came up with was... the forward roll. Oh and a couple of different kicks, but mainly the roll. Fortunately--and despite Teej's obvious lack of imagination-- Combo still represents a powerful, if somewhat one-dimensional threat. Armed with a spine-shattering front jab, screen-clearing uppercut and any number of monstrous combos worthy of his name, TJ is the exact kind of hair-trigger tough guy you don't ever want to cross. He may just mistake that skull of yours for a speedbag
5. Roo (Streets of Rage 3)
What? You didn't seriously think this list was going to be a human-only affair, did you? Why, Kangaroo pugilists are the very backbone of modern boxing. They've seen it all, done it all, held every belt. One jumped-up joey even took Muhammad Ali to 16 sensational rounds.  Admired the world over for their fast hands and highly illegal footwork, Oz's marsupial maestros practically demand recognitionand who better to stand up for 'down under' than Streets of Rage's Roo.
Raised by the malevolent jester Bruce, Roo appears alongside his master during the second stage of Streets of Rage 3. A born 'inside fighter', this macho mammal prefers to get up-close-and-personal with his opposition--before landing several straight jabs to the abs. If-and-when that tactic fails him, Roo can also clinch into a series of unsportsmanlike swift kicks, swipe away with his elongated tail or drop a devastating left hook. Best of all, with most folks highly unlikely to fight back (lest the POd members of PETA show up) Roo's unbeaten streak looks to be in safe (glove bound) hands.
4. Steve Fox (Tekken)
What is it with organized crime and boxing? Surely, there's got to be a better way to make money than to entrust your cash to a sportsman so proud he's practically a peacock. What if your fighter refuses to take a dive, or worse yet, changes his mind mid-fight? It's not exactly unprecedented either. Bruce Willis fobbed off the mob in Pulp Fiction, and that was one of the best boxing documentaries ever made
The same is true of Tekken's Steve Fox. A champion British bruiser, Steve's life took a turn for the spectacularly bizarre after running afoul of those shady Sicilians. A one-time middleweight champion, Steve's Foxxy boxing first made its appearance in Tekken 4, and has continued to cause headaches for his opponents ever since. Decked out in Union Jack shorts and a tasty pair of golden gloves, Steve favours punishing body strikes to the precision jab, a high stakes style that metes out as just much pain as it invites. With the mob still hot on his heels, this Fox fights knowing every battle could be his last, i.e. just the way it should be.
3. Afro Thunder (Ready 2 Rumble)
Who needs headgear when you've got a bushy cushion of hair shielding your skull? Not Afro Thunder, that's who. Star of the once-mighty Ready 2 Rumble franchise, this former NY cabbie brings a smooth-talking showmanship to the hallowed squared circle. That, and a wild-eyed indifference towards his own defence. With his long, lean arms allowed to hang low, Thunder must rely entirely upon his quick feet, sharp senses and big-swinging southpaw style.
Technically shoddy, but with enough raw charisma on show to power an Apollo Creed-themed cruise liner, Thunder takes the Rocky route to boxing glory in every respect. And just like the Italian stallion, our man has some serious issues when it comes to staying retired, having already quit the business once to pursue silver screen stardom. Ever the competitor, Afro would eventually return to the ring after learning of a younger cousin nabbing his mantle (and of course hogging the limelight). Hey, no one ever said boxers were a modest lot. "You can't stop the thunderbolt!"
2. Little Mac (Punch Out!!)
Nothing brings boxing fans together--from the 'fair-weather' to the outright fanatical--like a good honest underdog story. Just look at the Rocky franchise, a series so dedicated to that one simple ideal that even the all-conquering champ of Rocky part IV had to face off with a Soviet-made cyborg. Folks just cant get enough of the classic rags-to-riches formula, especially one that they themselves can be a part of. Enter Little Mac, star of the 1987 title Punch Out!! and the most unlikely of video game icons.
Short, skinny and weak to the point of open parody, Mac faced off against some of the biggest, brashest and sensationally blunt stereotypes the good people at Nintendo could imagine. And still, he kept on coming. Pummelled more often than a nerdy piata on sports day, Little Mac routinely risks permanent brain flamb for our pleasure and amusement. Still, he perseveres. His is a tale of struggle, courage and borderline masochistic suffering. Of course, its all made worth it in the end just to see that look on Mike Tysons face when Mac finally lays out the ear-stealing supervillain. So, here's to you Little Mac. Thanks for all of the arthritic thumbs.
1. Balrog (Street Fighter)
Famously based on 'Iron Mike' Tyson, Balrog--aka 'M. Bison' in Japan--(kudos Capcom, very cryptic) is today considered one of most readily recognizable faces in the entire Street Fighter roster. Though often mocked for his inability to launch simple kicks--to say nothing of that awful Misfits/marker-pen hair--Bal's silky skills remain more than a match for most high-flying competitors. Backed up behind a drooping 'peek-a-boo' guard--hey, not everything can be coated in testosterone, you know?--SF's most famous slugger favours big hits and huge hooks to patient 'outside' play.
Like Mike, Balrog chooses to utilize the so-called 'swarming' form--i.e. closing quickly with an enemy before unleashing all hell. It's a style that has no doubt proven useful within the confines of Street Fighter, where an alarming lack of boxing commissions and/or rule sets tends to encourage all manner of flame-throwing freak shows. Arrogant, angry and none-too-bright, Balrog represents the very worst of boxing's fraternal brotherhood. It's just too darn bad he's so damn good.
Get in the ring
"What do you mean my favourite in-ring technician didnt make the cut? I was so sure this was going to be his/ her or its year!" *heartfelt sob* Do you have any suggestions for better gaming boxers? Head on down to the comments section below to leave your inside tips, top picks and hurtful, hurtful slurs.
Want more punchy GamesRadar features? Here's one about the 19 Most Satisfying Punches In Games, and another on the Top 7... Creepiest Kids In Video Games.