I’m a sucker for a good sports documentary. Something like an episode of 30 for 30 can captivate me even when I’m not a fan of the game it’s covering. The world of sports is just ripe for drama. Players overcome adversity, fight through heartbreaking setbacks, and claw their way to the top of the mountain to accomplish their dreams. When made well, these works capture the power of the human spirit in ways few other pieces of media can.
This past weekend, I found myself engrossed in another riveting sports documentary. But it wasn’t about the New England Patriots’ comeback Super Bowl, Michael Jordan’s flu game, or a physical sport at all; it’s about Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!
The video comes from YouTuber Summoning Salt, who is known for crafting exhaustive deep dives about video game speedrunning history. The content creator has covered everything from Super Mario Bros. to Lego Star Wars, cataloging the great lengths that communities have gone to beat games as fast as humanly possible.
His latest video, The History of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out World Records, is his most extensive deep dive yet. Clocking in at a feature-length two hours and fifteen minutes, the video tracks the game’s history from the late 2000s all the way up to earlier this August when its latest world record was set. Its focus is a 15-year race to beat the game straight through, which can take under 20 minutes when done well. The video begins with an uncontested 17-minute world record set in 2008 and follows several players who scrapped to shave mere minutes of that runtime.
It’s exhilarating. Though it is a dense video at times, loaded with exhaustive technical explanations of how the game works, Summoning Salt knows how to underline the tension and drama of the race just like any good documentarian. He finds human stories within a decade and a half of grinding, painting a picture of a few dedicated souls who want to etch their names in history. There’s heartbreak and victory in equal measure. It’s also an unexpectedly personal project, as a mid-video twist puts Summoning Salt himself at the center of its history. It’s everything you’d want from a sports documentary … minus the physical activity.
Okay, yes: Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! is a video game, not a sport. Even so, the game itself is a perfect subject for a project like this. A full run of it isn’t the same every time. Opponents like King Hippo have different behaviors that players have to account for, as unexpected patterns can hit at the worst possible moment. Players must always be prepared to roll with the punches, as even a mediocre run can be saved at the last second due to good luck and perfect execution. A successful Punch-Out speedrun takes patience, determination, adaptability, and a whole lot of skill. Nobody breaks a leg in the process, but the mental battles are gripping — especially in the final battle with the dream-killing Tyson himself.
Though its two-plus hour runtime might seem like a tall order, The History of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out World Records is worth every second. It’s a left-field ode to the resilience of the human spirit, showing what it takes to truly become a master of one thing. And best of all is that the story isn’t finished. While it ends with an impressive world record, there’s still hope that someone could one day come along and shave even more seconds off the world record. Maybe you could be the next Punch-Out world champion.