Thursday, April 6, 2023

Classically Conditioned Champion Comparisons

I spent many a weekend night playing video games a while ago instead of writing…
Which leads to the inevitable group of posts about Fight Night Champion again.
Since I have no ability to stop the flow of usless information from my bucket like head, game information will me mixed with real world boxing history as well.
To highlight my laziness, this first bit lacks videos, and I was only watching the game have A.I. driven fights, not playing.
For a while, I wanted to see the outcome of putting the three shorter heavyweight champions known for their conditioning and damaging swarm punching against each other:
 Joe Frazier, Mike Tyson and Rocky Marciano.
Therefore, I made an egg cream and had a nice plate of Christmas cookies 
(Thanx Mom!) to enhance the evening, set the Playstation for zero players and let them go at it.

Joe Frazier was known for hitting as hard and as often in the fifteenth round as he did in the first. He'd fight and bob his way inside and ferociously land flurries of solid body punches. He also had what may be the most feared left hook in boxing. (Possibly due to a built in angle after breaking the arm in an accident involving being chased by an angry hog. Real life is a weird place, sometimes.)  He focused on old school conditioning of jumping rope, shadow boxing, bag drills, push ups, sit ups and roadwork while wearing work boots. (They protected his ankles and made boxing footwear seem lighter.)

Mike Tyson, when he was still mentored under the legendary Cus D'amato, had a no nonsense focus on training without the distractions that would come later in his career. His punches combined being hard, fast and frequent in terrifying ways. That coupled with deceptive head movement and a peekaboo style made him extremely hard to hit, and led to many quick and decisive victories. 

Rocky Marciano trained like no one before or since. He was capable of landing a knock out punch (usually mixed in with barrage of other powerful blows) at any time during any round, and whatever condition he was in. He was also able to take an inhuman amount of punishment himself, due to his conditioning regiment. When he wasn't "in training" (including birthdays and Christmas) he'd still run eight miles a day.

Curious about how the game would translate their abilities against each other, I did a three way round robin affair. 
I thought Frazier was going to come back and wear out Tyson as that's what people who know more than I do about the sport have predicted for a confrontation between the two men in their prime. That was very much how it looked was going, after Mike started with a strong attack. But Joe got nailed with a powerful countering uppercut in the 4th and went straight out without a count.
Marciano and Frazier tore into each other for a similar number of rounds, but Marciano was stronger and knocked him down a enough times that Smokin' Joe couldn't get up again.
The Marciano Tyson match was one of the fiercest I've seen in the game. They went at each other full bore putting everything they had behind crushing hooks and uppercuts. Both were already heavily bleeding from multiple wounds by the end of the first round.
Tyson wobbled Marciano a few times with punches that would have likely taken out most of the other fighters in the game, but the Rock had a chin of granite.
He knocked Tyson down in the second and fifth rounds.
At the start of the 6th, Tyson started to come back, stunning Rocky and knocking him down to the canvas. 

The reaction afterwards is something the game's A.I. got absolutely right.
Marciano got up, and I know its just a game but he looked pissed, punching the ground as he rose. He went furiously straight for Tyson without slowing down, waded through everything Iron Mike threw at him and then staggered him twice and knocked him out cold with the Suzy-Q.

Of course, then I had to try (and succeed) reversing the outcomes by playing the loser of each match. Then I rematched Tyson vs. Marciano playing as Rocky because he's one of the most fun fighters in the game to play as:
Withstand your opponent long enough to land the inevitable bout ending blast. Woo!
It was a very entertaining evening, thank you again Mom for the enhancement.

Analysis time:

In general the game has their skills and stats down pretty well.

One thing I think the game has wrong is 
there isn't enough power in Frazier's left hook.

True his knockouts usually came via his continuous hard hitting combinations. However, that hook has downed many a larger opponent with a single blow. Its rare in the game that it lands with the devastation it was capable of.

Arguably, a significantly larger issue is Smokin' Joe's toughness and resiliency.  This is a man who only lost to two other fighters in his career...
Both of them are listed among the greatest heavyweights of all time, and both called him the toughest man they had ever faced.

His losses to Muhammad Ali were among the most epic and grueling boxing matches in history. Joe was one of only four fighters (technically three, the one that inspired a franchise was a trip) to knock the Louisville Lip down. For the Thrilla in Manilla, he went into that fight at the start blind in one eye, and still lasted fourteen rounds against the man ranked "the Athlete of the Century."  After that match Ali said if he was ever in a holy war, Frazier was the man he'd want at his side.

Against George Foreman is an interesting case of perspective. 
Everyone else talks about how Joe Frazier was knocked down six times... 
Except for the man in the ring with him.
Big George always points out, "He GOT UP six times!"
Foreman was actually afraid because he knew if the fight wasn't stopped, Joe would have gotten to him eventually.
He also called Frazier the toughest fighter of his era. And that era was legendary.

As amazing as Tyson was, there is absolutely NO WAY Smokin' Joe does not get up after a single knock down.

It is ironic, then, that the A.I. controlled Joe Frazier exposed three other errors in the game's mechanics.

One is with Ali himself.  The game gets Ali's unmatched hand speed correct. At a minimum he's known as the fastest heavyweight, and to many the fastest boxer period. However, the accuracy is not so much there his ring intelligence, and will. The ability to punch that quickly means game controlled Ali frequently tires himself out, throwing FAR more punches than any human being would in an actual match. That self wear gives Smokin' Joe a knock out well before the length of a fight those two were known for engaging in. Remember, this is with a Frazier  who should be more powerful.  Ali was never knocked out, even in fights well after he should have retired. Maybe there will always be a spark of humanity that computers can't replicate...
at least computers in seventeen year old gaming platforms.

The second "flaw" was with his other listed opponent, Big George Foreman. The game comes with "comeback George."  While as an older fighter he still had knockout power, and arguably better boxing skills, ring generalship and defense, he didn't compare to the monster that George Foreman in his prime was. Sadly, young George Foreman was only available as a pre-order, and since I got the game over a decade after it came out he remains locked. Also sadly, unlike every other game I own, there's no "unlock everything" code online. 

I did find a video which claimed to have the recipe for creating Young George. I watched it bits at a time, carefully entering all the information into the game, and when I was finished...
I had a character that looked like Trevor Noah who got quickly and cleanly knocked cold by Joe Frazier in under three rounds.
So, he was deleted before I bothered taking any pictures.

The third is probably the most egregious error in the whole game.

Based on all the expert opinions I've read, (and believe me, when I obsess about a game like this, I do a STUPID amount of reading)
Sonny Liston was beyond terrifying...
And that was only his demeanor, never mind his boxing skills.

Just by standing up, he silenced the unstoppable mouth of Muhammad Ali.

His reach was inhuman, his strength legendary, and his intimidation unrivaled.

A natural left hander with an orthodox stance, his jab was the stuff of legends. George Forman said Liston was the only man to make him back up in the ring, and he did it using the jab. This was when Big George was in his prime and being trained by the much older fighter. 

Folks who know more about boxing than I do (who I will continue to reference without looking up their names, because the whole point of these posts is I'm being lazy) believe, out of all the heavyweights in history, only a young Ali could have beaten Liston in his prime.

In the game...

He has fair power, minimal speed, and underwhelming stamina.

Its like they took his showings in the losses to Ali, and tweaked his statistics to make that  his default performance against any foe.

Since I couldn't use young Foreman, Liston's power, and reach should have created a style similar to George that was totally incompatible with Smokin' Joe's approach.

Yeah, that didn't work out upon testing.

Then again, while it may be a HUGE fault in the game, there's something extremely cathartic after a terrible week at work to take on, and win against, one of the toughest and most intimidating men in history in a bare knuckles match using a digital version of myself.

Since I slacked off writing anything outside of the Disney World story and played games quite a bit this winter, there are many more boxing posts to come.

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