Battlebots: MMA for Nerds

The Box is locked, the lights are on, it's robot fighting time!


What some of you may not know is that the greatest show ever ended nine years ago.

Over three years and seven events, Battlebots tore shit up on Comedy Central and proved to the world that science is totally bitchin'. Hell, they even had Bill Nye as an analyst.

But you might be thinking, "What the hell is Battlebots"?

Well, it's exactly what it sounds like. Two remote-controlled robots entered a bulletproof cage and attempted to beat the tar out of each other. And this isn't some animated Gundam crap; these were real, genuine, fighting robots. It was exactly as cool as it sounds.


Look at this thing. Look at this fucking thing. This shit weighed almost 500 pounds and could move.

Now, if you're thinking "This sounds boring", check this out:


Still not convinced? Fine. I'll put it in language you lot can understand.


Three minutes. Two robots. The match ends when one robot can no longer move or when time is up, at which point three judges decide a winner based on damage, strategy, and aggression. Sound familiar?

During the Battlebots days, there were four weight classes: Lightweight (up to 60 pounds), Middleweight (up to 120 pounds), Heavyweight (220 pounds), and Super Heavyweight (340). If a robot walked instead of rolled (like Mechadon up there), they were alotted extra weight. Since then, more weight classes have been added below Lightweight, including Featherweight (30 pounds) and Beetleweight (12 pounds).

Instead of an Octagon, the robots did battle in...The Battlebox


In case it's not obvious at this point, everything related to this sport is precisely as awesome as it sounds.

Bulletproof lexan walls. Giant hammers known as "Pulverizers" in the corners. Saws that popped out of the floor to shred unwary machines. Spikes lining the walls.

The crazy part is that it wasn't enough. One of the robots, a heavyweight named "Nightmare"...


That giant disk there spun at 300 miles per hour. You can start running now.

...actually managed to punch through the fifteen-foot-high roof when one of its teeth was sheared off the disk and hurled into the audience, where it injured the wife of one of the event organizers.

The Production

After the second season, the commentating team consisted of Bil Dwyer and Tim Green doing commentary that was probably taped after the fights had concluded. The majority of their commentary was either emphatic OOOOOOOHHHHH shouts or emphatic pointing out of the obvious. In between fights, interviews (also taped after the events) were conducted with the fighters while Carmen Electra or some other B-list celebrity pretended to be smart and talked about some of the tech behind the machines. While he didn't pop up in the later seasons, Bill Nye was often on hand as well, giving much more entertaining but much less silicone breakdowns. To be frank, this didn't add much. Picture the entirety of a UFC show being hosted by Goldie and you'll get a decent idea.


As you can see, there are some interesting parallels with our favorite organized human cockfighting. Let's take a closer look.


Fighting Styles

Wrestlers = Wedges and Rammers

 Slap_em_silly_medium Snowflake_medium

These robots generally have no method of finishing a fight, relying on controlling struggling opponents until time ran out and the judges gave them a win. They would shove opponents into wals, cart them randomly about the arena, and survive their opponents' efforts by focusing their entire strategy and construction on defense. In general, the only exciting fights they had were instances when they shrugged off insane punishment, only to latch onto the opponent once more and slow the fight to a crawl.



Basically this, but shinier.

Just like wrestlers, rammers and wedges had very simple methods of attack and remain the most effective design in competition, proving once again that the best way to succeed is to go through life in the least time-efficient way possible.

Submissions Specialists = Lifters and Flippers


The purpose of thse robots is simple: put the opponent in a compromising position. Lifters generally used electric motors or hydraulics to slowly pick the opponent up and tip them over. while flippers used compressed air pistons to violently hurl their opponents through the air, possibly damaging the opponent on the way down.

A lot of robots, due to weight or design constraints, were unable to move when placed on their back or their sides, which was basically the equivalent of getting submitted.


Bitch got Sonnen'd

Flippers tended to be hard to aim, vulnerable from the side, and limited in their effectiveness by their finite quantity of compressed air, but God help you if they got under you.

Strikers = Spinners

sPhrizbee_medium Surgeon_general_medium

This is the good shit. Spinners used kinetic energy as their primary method of attack, utilizing huge spinning disks, bars, or chassis-ecompassing shells to obliterate their opposition. While they were occasionally on the wrong end of Newton's Third Law, knocking themselves out while dishing out the hurt, no other type of robot could unleash even a fraction of the destruction they could.


Mama said knock you...holy fucking shit.

I could probably wax hyperbolic about spinners until all of you wanted to throw my computer into the Grand Canyon to prevent me writing more, so I'll just say this: spinners friggin' rule.

There were plenty of other types of machines, including thwackbots (similar to spinners, except they used their wheels to spin their entire bodies) and hammerbots (self-explanatory), but mostfell into these three categories or some hybrid thereof. With that taken care of, let's look at specific fighters' mechanical counterparts.

Jon Fitch = Voltronic

 20091214040826_jonfitch_jpg_medium  = Voltronic_medium

Voltronic technically had a weapon, a slow lifter arm built into the wedge, but he was essentially the most boring robot in the history of the organization. Not only did he blatantly break Battlebots's rule against extended holding, but his lifter arm could barely tip robots over. He won his fights by controlling his opponent and carting them around the ring, doing no damage in the process.

What makes him most like Fitch, however, is the fact that he never won a title. Every single time he made it to the finals, he was unceremoniously manhandled by a better lifter, often GSP-esque juggernaut Biohazard.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen. Even turning Jon Fitch into a robot can't make him awesome.

Anderson Silva = Megabyte

Anderson-silva-080710_0_medium = Spinner_medium

Megabyte competed in the final season of Battlebots and was promptly eliminated, losing its very first battle. After a redesign, however, he reemerged on the fighting circuit and...well, see for yourself.


But Megabyte's similarities to the (soon-to-be-deposed) champ don't end with having an uninspiring early career and being a whirling engine of destruction that it is suicide to approach. After getting bored of devouring every heavyweight with the horrible misfortune of existing in the same universe as him, Megabyte decided to move up to the Super Heavyweight class for a tournament, giving up over a hundred  pounds to his opponents.

He came in third.

And also similarly, Megabyte's ultimate rivals, SJ and Original Sin, are primarily rammers who withstand his onslaught and control him against the wall. Sounds like a certain American wrestling braggart to me,,,

Melvin Manhoef = Ziggo

 8169-27_melvinmanhoefheros10weig_medium = Ziggo_medium

Attacks too fast to see?


Somewhat fragile?


Legally assisted homicide to allow into a ring?

You decide.



Fedor = Hazard

 Emelianenkofedor21_medium = Hazard_medium

Hazard operated under a fairly simple principle: see that big metal bar on top? It spun like a helicopter rotor, protecting Hazard on all sides. While that might not seem like much, it was literally impossible to get close enough to hurt Hazard without getting your everything ripped off and pulverized into itty-bitty pieces.

But sheer destructive potential isn't what makes Hazard the Fedor of Battlebots. Rather, in a sport where countless robots have fallen to minor mechanical issues as small as having a wire knocked loose, a bad run-in with the spikes on the side of the Box, or even a freak-chance flip, Hazard went undefeated for the first three seasons it competed in. The only incidence in that time when there was another champion was when Hazard didn't compete at all.

Here's his Season 4 title fight against Complete Control, a unique machine who could literally clamp down on an opponent, suspend him in the air, and cart him into all the arena hazards.


That is several thousand dollars' worth of robot getting unmercifully obliterated without a single ounce of difficulty. That is Hazard.

GSP = Biohazard

 Polls_gsp_hands_on_hips_1007_140731_answer_1_xlarge_medium = Biohazard_medium

Masterful technique defeating gargantuan power, avoiding all damage in the process while dominating every conceivable foe you can think of. Biohazard's claim to fame is that it is a mere six inches tall, making it too short for almost any spinning weapon to damage. Plus, with the skirts on the side, it's impossible to get under him, leaving you at the mercy of the lifting arm that is built into the front. While Biohazard had some missteps, especially early on with rivals Voltronic and Vlad the Impaler, every fight since (excluding a disastrous title fight with newcomer Son of Whyachi) was a display of dominance. He won the final two seasons of Battlebots in the heavyweight division. taking damage only from the spinning blade of Mechavore, seen here.

He may not have destroyed his opponent often, but there was never any doubt who'd won the fight, just like with the welterweight kingpin.

Royce Gracie = La Machine


La Machine was the first wedge in the history of robot combat; in its first event, it crushed everything in its path using its impressive speed and maneuverability to smash opponents into walls. It handily won the middleweight rumble (picture twenty or thirty robots all in the same box and all fighting), and then, at the urging of the crowd, entered and won the heavyweight rumble as well. While its success didn't carry over into the Battlebots era, at which point its wedge design had been copied and perfected, La Machine is one of the greatest pioneers of robot combat, and one that almost every modern machine can attribute its success to, not unlike a certain undersized Brazilian grappler.


Igor Vovchanchyn = Blendo

20081203094510_igorvovchanchyn_jpg_medium= Blendo_medium

Igor Vovchanchyn is one of the underappreciated pioneers of MMA, a murderous puncher who developed a dangerous sprawl which allowed him to outclass then-kingpin Mark Kerr in the midst of a 35-fight unbeaten streak that has yet to be matched. Unfortunately, hand issues and an inability to keep up with the newer generation of fighters (including the only man to ever knock him out in MMA, Mirko Cro Cop) forced Igor out of the ring for good, but he remains one of the greatest fighters to ever live, and one who doesn't get the adulation he deserves.

Blendo, designed and operated by future Mythbusters Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage, had a similar career path as the first successful full-body spinner in robot combat, by which I mean the first to have a spinning shell that defends the machine from all sides. He was so destructive that he was banned from more than one competition for hurling chunks of his opponent through the walls of the box and into the audience. Sadly, once robots became durable enough to withstand his initial hit, he was unable to replicate his success and went winless under the Battlebots banner. Luckily, his spiritual progeny, like Ziggo, have proven his design to be one of the most effective in the sport.



Now that we have fighter analogues (and plenty more I could rattle off), let's look at some similar fights. Note: Some of the robots in these fights may be playing different roles than the ones I assigned them above. My reasoning behind this is BITE ME.

Royce Gracie vs. Matt Hughes = BIohazard vs. Megabyte

Robot combat itself didn't end with the end of Battlebots; smaller events cropped up, including the yearly Robogames I've had the pleasure of attending twice and which was thankfully broadcast on the Science Channel this summer. Biohazard, the heavyweight god of Battlebots, came out of retirement in 2005, drawing the surging Megabyte in his opening bout. The results were not pretty.


Biohazard had been beaten before. He had even been badly damaged before. But he had never been thoroughly obliterated. The game had simply evolved past him.

Royce Gracie had the same trouble with Matt Hughes; despite Hughes happily taking it to the ground, Gracie had nothing for him, and suffered a complete beatdown. Time catches up to all of us.

Dan Henderson vs. Michael Bisping = Nightmare vs. Slam Job

I showed you guys a still image from this fight earlier, but you have to see it in action to appreciate it.

Nightmare was the first vertical spinner to grace Battlebots, sending opponents flying through the air with that colossal disk. Slam Job, on the other hand, was a hammer-weilding machine that used its wedge design and side skirts to get under opponents and control them while delivering a beatdown. Jim Smentowski, builder and operator of Nightmare, said he expected Nightmare's disk to glance off the skirts of Slam Job without landing a solid blow.

Wrong. (sorry about the lack of embedding)

Nightmare hit Slam Job so hard he broke himself; he actually couldn't move, which meant it was a double knockout and the judges had to pick the winner. Guess who they picked.

Sure, it may not have the sweet revenge undertones of Dan and Mikey, but for the one hit that makes you go "Did you just fucking see that?", it doesn't get much better than Nightmare's finest hour.

Fedor Emelianenko vs. Fabricio Werdum = Hazard vs. T-Minus

All that you need to know about Hazard has been said above; he was the single greatest pound-for-pound Battlebot in the history of the sport. T-Minus was an incredibly powerful flipper, known to launch itself into a 540 flip to right itself if it ever found itself on its back.

Still, to flip Hazard, you have to get close to him, and getting close to him meant running into the spinning blade of death. T-Minus had added a small extension to its flipper to try to sneak under Hazard's skirts (tee hee) and flip him without getting mangled, but it still seemed like a longshot. I mean, he was fighting motherfucking HAZARD. How could he win?


Like that. One of T-Minus's flips launched Hazard's skirt into his blade, stopping it cold. From there, it was easy pickings.

This was the end of an era. A highly-skilled opponent known to be dangerous but still no match for the unbeatable champ pulling off the upset.

Just like that night fourteen months ago in the Strikeforce cage.

Mirko Cro Cop vs. Igor Vovchanchyn = Son of Whyachi vs. Nightmare

Son of Whyachi is one of the most interesting machines ever; rather than wheels, it used a shuffling system to get around, which let it use the extra weight granted by the walker rules. With this bonus, it utilized a gargantuan 70-pound spinning hammer arrangement to unleash absolute havoc.

When he and Nightmare went toe-to-toe, everyone knew something amazing was coming.


I love it when a plan comes together. Son of Whyachi went on to win the heavyweight title, violently whacking Biohazard into submission in a fight you can find on YouTube. He was so effective that the rules for walking robots changed, forcing him to move up to Super Heavyweight, where he never found the same success.

Mirko and Igor were the two best strikers at heavyweight, and with the colossal power each one possessed, a highlight was inevitable. Mirko flattened Igor with his legendary head kick, one of the most technically perfect specimens the sport has ever seen.

While we'll always have our Guillard-Stephens (Battlebots had one too: Mauler 51-50 vs. Mechavore, where both their weapons died in the first thirty seconds and they pushed each other around for the rest of the time), where the potential for a memorable slugfest is never realized, but sometimes things work out just fine.


There are countless other great mechanical slugfests, both in Battlebots and later, that you can find on the web. I heartily recommend checking them out.

So if you're ever sick of blood and bruises, try motor oil and exposed wires.

Nerds represent.

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