Balrog Street Fighter II
Image: Capcom

It's a well-known story that three of Street Fighter II's four bosses have different names in Japan. End boss M. Bison, for example, is known as Vega in the original Japanese version of the game, while the Spanish warrior Vega in the West is called Balrog in Japan. This name-swapping is because the boxer Balrog was called M. Bison in Japan, which, combined with his distinctive appearance, is a clear reference to real-world pugilist Mike Tyson.

Given how popular Street Fighter II was (and still is), you'd think that Tyson would have been aware of this fact a long, long time ago, but it seems he only found out fairly recently – and even then, there's some debate about exactly when he was made aware of the character.

Back in July 2019 (thanks, SportBible), Tyson was interviewed by ESPN presenter Arda Ocal, who popped the question we all would have wanted to ask: was he aware of Balrog looking a lot like him in Street Fighter II?

"No, I have no idea," was the retired champion's reply. When shown images of the character, Tyson appeared to be genuinely shocked. "Holy moly. Does he look like me?" After Ocal explained the whole name-swapping deal, Tyson stated that he had "never in a million years" been aware of the connection. He did, however, say that he was "really honoured with that impersonation."

So, is this really the first time Tyson had seen Capcom's 'tribute' to him in Street Fighter II? Apparently not, because in an episode of his Hot Boxing Podcast from March of that same year, Tyson addresses the topic in a rather more 'potty-mouthed' manner (please be aware the following footage is loaded with naughty words):

"They got me!" says Tyson. "They got me! Those dirty motherf*****s. Jacka***s." Ahem.

Around the same time that the ESPN interview went live, some people pointed out that Tyson had previously posed with someone cosplaying as Balrog, which could be taken as evidence that he was aware of the character before 2019 – but, as this ResetEra poster points out, he may have just assumed the person was cosplaying as him, rather than Balrog.

Balrog Mike Tyson
Image: ResetEra

So, it would appear that the jury is out. Perhaps Tyson faked his surprise for ESPN to make for good footage, or maybe he had just forgotten that he'd been made aware of it just a few months previously on his podcast? Maybe he has always known and simply pretends to be surprised for the fun of it. To be fair, if you'd been hit in the head as many times as Tyson has over his lifetime, you'd have a rubbish memory, too.