Boxing games have a rich history, but those on the early Sega consoles have always been hit or miss. While games the likes of Rocky II on the Sega Master System and Buster Douglas Boxing on the Genesis have cult followings, they weren’t exactly critically acclaimed and didn’t get sequels. With its unique side view, more strategic gameplay approach and beautiful character models, Acme Interactive’s 1992 Evander Holyfield’s Real Deal Boxing did a ton right and led to one of the Genesis’ most popular Boxing games, Greatest Heavyweights.

But before Sega gave Acme the keys to their boxing kingdom with Greatest Heavyweights, which features eight of the most beloved boxers in the history of the sport, they initially had to prove themselves with just one licensed boxer. That was the then Undisputed Heavyweight Champion, Evander Holyfield. With the face of the sport on the box, a cool create-a-boxer option and a 30-man career mode, Real Deal Boxing has just as much playability as Nintendo’s Punch-Out!! series, but with none of the cartoony charisma. Make no mistake, Acme’s game, which also featured mini-games to improve your character’s attributes, was for the die-hard boxing fan. This was anything but an arcade or casual game.

For the game’s producer, Scott Berfield, known as well for his work on several classics during the era including FantasiaTaz-Mania and games in the Strike series, the game was more about Sega keeping themselves in the boxing genre after a series of incidents led their franchise down a path of obsolescence. “I was a producer at SEGA of America- one of a few people. I had done the Joe Montana II Sports Talk Football game and was a fan of boxing. We had released the Buster Douglas game previously- it was a re-skinning of another game (Taito’s Final Blow), I think- and Douglas had been taken apart by Holyfield in a third-round knockout (on October 25, 1990),” Berfield said. “We needed to replace that tile with a license that mattered. I don’t really recall how the combination of the license and game came about, but basically, we went to the developer of ABC Wide World Of Sports Boxing for the PC and the Amiga- Cinemaware Corporation- to see about adapting it for SEGA as Holyfield. Several of us knew the Cinemaware folks, so I can’t really say whose idea it was. It turned out that they owned the rights to the codebase and the primary developer was available. I was assigned because I had bandwidth and loved boxing.”

Now set to re-skin another game and slap a new world champion on the cover, you’d think Sega had an appetitive for destruction. James “Buster” Douglas Knockout Boxing was out for less than a year before Douglas won the title and Taito’s game was far more suited for the arcade than, the consoles, where it earned lukewarm reviews on the Genesis and Sega Master System. Luckily for Sega, Cinemaware’s product wasn’t an arcade boxing game. Above all else, it had a sense of pace. It was methodical. It felt more like real boxing than most boxing games at the time. 

“The main point of contact was between me and the lead developer- Michael Lamb. We had a great relationship,” Berfield said. “Basically anything I would suggest we would discuss and it would be in the next build. He was great to work with. One really cool thing at Sega of America in those days was that once you owned a project, you pretty much had a free hand in crafting it. So it became a great creative conversation.”

With a lengthy resume that included racing, billiards, aviation simulators and licensed games in the Batman and Robocop franchises on a variety of consoles, Lamb was the perfect candidate to make sure Real Deal Boxing was more than a pure port. Going on to program the game’s sequel, Greatest Heavyweights, as well as Chavez and Riddick Bowe Boxing (an eerily similar title on the Super Nintendo), who ironically beat Holyfield for the Undisputed Heavyweight title in November 1992. 

The results post-release for Evander Holyfield Real Deal Boxing were ultimately important ones. Sega ultimately learned their lesson not to market a boxing game after a champion after Holyfield’s loss and then rebranded the series as Greatest Heavyweights, the success of the first game did what Final Blow, AKA James “Buster Douglas” Knockout Boxing couldn’t- captivate an audience. It also created some cool opportunities for Berfield professionally. “To be fair, it was a lot of fun, but it was just another title to work on. I did get to meet and change out with Evander and his crew in Las Vegas which was pretty cool,” Berfield said, who also has a fighter in the game, C.M. Berfield, named after his father. “At CES, when we showed the game for the first time, Evander was there and he and Tom Kalinske (president and CEO of Sega of America from 1990 to 1996) were filmed ‘playing the game’ when it was in demo mode and they were just mashing the buttons.”

While the game was a success post-release, garnering far better reviews than Knockout Boxing, Berfield admits the game could have been even better had a few other things fell into place. “I really wish we could have gone with a larger cartridge to do better audio and more animations,” Berfield said. “We should have added better options around clinching. We talked about it but couldn’t come up with a good mechanic.”

 Nevertheless, there was also the chance that things could have ended up far worse. Berfield admits Sega was dedicated to making sure Holyfield Boxing was truely, the Real Deal. That ensured the game was a step above their previous entries in the genre. “SEGA QA was amazing in those days and they caught things you would never think of,” Berfield said. “We had a bug found where the game would crash if the controller was pressed left and right at the same time. That is not of course, normally possible and I complained. They showed me a controller with bad contacts that would actually do that. So we fixed it.”

Now nearly 30 years since its initial release, the re-skin of an Amiga and PC game, that grew into the most beloved boxing franchise on the Genesis, has a legacy. While Berfield acknowledges that the cycle wasn’t a remarkably eventful one, he’s more than satisfied with the mark the game and subsequent series have left on the industry. “It looked damned good,” Berfield said. “It treated boxing as a sport instead of a circus act and recognized that it is a sport and should not be easy. I’d like to think that it was a precursor to more realistic boxing games such as the EA Series Fight Night. Prior to Holyfield, boxing games tended to be more cartoony and silly and not really about the sport.”

Patrick Hickey Jr. Patrick Hickey Jr. (330 Posts)

Patrick Hickey, Jr., is the founder and editor-in-chief of ReviewFix.com and a lecturer of English and journalism at Kingsborough Community College, in Brooklyn, New York. Over the past decade, his video game coverage has been featured in national ad campaigns by top publishers the likes of Nintendo, Deep Silver, Disney and EA Sports. His book series, "The Minds Behind the Games: Interviews With Cult and Classic Game Developers," from McFarland and Company, has earned praise from Forbes, Huffington Post, The New York Daily News and MSG Networks. He is also a former editor at NBC and National Video Games Writer at the late-Examiner.com