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Jack Wedge is a hotel worker from Prince Edward Island, Canada. And a while back, he found himself attempting the unthinkable.
Wedge was going to face Mike Tyson, the 5-11, 218-pound heavyweight boxing champion of the world. But as if that wasn’t challenging enough, Wedge would be wearing a blindfold.
OK, so we’re actually talking about a video game: the 1987 classic "Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!" And while this wasn’t going to be quite as risky as stepping into the ring with the real-life Tyson, it was still going to be crazy. Some thought even impossible.
Playing Games Blindfolded
Jack Wedge was maybe 4 years old when he first saw "Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!" at a friend’s house. Pretty soon, his dad brought home a copy.
"It’s one of the games that I used to play a lot with my dad when I was young," Wedge says.
"Punch-Out" is a boxing game. You control a character named Little Mac. You can punch and dodge, and if you knock your opponent down for the 10 count, you win. But if Little Mac is knocked down three times before that, you lose. That’s what makes the final boss, Mike Tyson, so difficult.
"His punches send you to the mat in one hit for a good portion of the fight," Wedge says. "One mistake, and you’re down. You’re down three times. That’s it. Fight’s over. You lose."
When he was 17, Wedge discovered the website GameFAQs. There, Wedge found a community of gamers that shared different techniques and ways to play the game, like trying to win only on the 10 count or without using any star punches, Little Mac’s super move.
"Before I know it, you know, I’m hooked, along with this other about half a dozen people or so," Wedge says.
Wedge began speedrunning — a way of playing video games where people try to beat a game as quickly as possible. But around 2005, the niche community felt they had accomplished just about everything they possibly could.
"Weekly or daily messages being sent back and forth there became like monthly to bi-monthly messages. And it just kind of — things slowed down for that right around there," Wedge says. "I mean, I’d still play the game the odd time, because it was one of my favorites, but just very casual there."
Then in 2014, Wedge was watching an internet stream of a charity event featuring elite speedrunners. That’s when he saw a gamer named Sinister1 trying to beat "Punch-Out" blindfolded.
"Punch-Out" relies on twitch reflex and memorizing patterns. And the patterns get more confusing and punches stronger with each of the 14 fights. But by listening to the game’s sound effects and memorizing enemy patterns, Sinister1 was able to predict what was coming without even looking.
Sinister1 had attempted the blindfolded run at that charity event twice before. But he had never come close to reaching the last fight. So when he reached Tyson this time, onlookers wondered if he was about to make history.
"I've got a quick question. Sinister, are you really human?" one asked.
But Sinister1 knew better when it came to Tyson:
"I’m just gonna say something about Mike Tyson," he told the crowd. "I don’t want to say it’s impossible to beat him blindfolded, but the odds of it happening would probably be about the same as the odds of winning Powerball or something like that."
Sinister1 explained that parts of Tyson’s patterns are just random. You couldn’t memorize them. And with his one-hit knockout punches in the early part of the fight, Tyson knocked out Sinister1 in less than a minute.
Mike Tyson looked unbeatable. But Wedge wasn’t convinced.
"It was kind of like a, 'Well, maybe. I don’t know. I kind of want to try it myself,' " he says.
A few months went by before Wedge would get his chance. He had a job and a daughter, and this was going to take some time. Then in early 2015...
"I remember just waking up one morning and looking out the window, and it was white," Wedge says. "And then I remember, all right, OK, sure, you know, getting up, getting my breakfast into me, going to go outside for my morning smoke, and I open the door, and it’s white and falling towards me, and I can’t see anything."
It was a record-setting snowstorm, and Wedge was stuck inside for a week.
"I was buying cigarettes from more prepared neighbors of mine by the end of that week there and going maybe a little crazy with nothing to do but have a couple of beers to unwind a bit every day," Wedge says.
Challenging Mike Tyson
Wedge knew that he finally had the chance to do what no other human being had ever done before.
By this time, a member from the original "Punch-Out" GameFAQs, DTysonator, had beaten Mike Tyson blindfolded. But he had skipped to the final boss. No one had ever beaten the game blindfolded from start to finish.
With the help of Sinister1, DTysonator and other gamers, Wedge soon mastered specific sequences of moves that allowed him to pull off perfectly timed punches and dodges for each opponent.
"Within probably the span of five or six days of working on this I was very consistently getting to the last fight, Mike Tyson," Wedge recalls. "But, I’d still be getting destroyed all the time there. It’s like, all right, back to the drawing board on this one."
Wedge started filming his attempts. The first 13 rounds were usually a breeze. But Tyson brought back the nerves:
"I have some new tricks on Tyson, so I’m gonna at least make it out of Round 1 here," Jack says in the video.
But, even with his new tricks, Wedge failed to beat Tyson during his first three filmed attempts. On his fourth try, he survived the most difficult part of the fight. And, after being knocked down only once over the first two rounds, Wedge felt good entering the third and final round:
"I can do this," he says in the video. "I could’ve won in Round 2. All right, focus, buddy. We got this. We got this."
But Tyson wasn’t going down easy. He connected on few early punches. And halfway through the round, as Wedge hit Tyson with multiple jabs, Tyson threw an uppercut that knocked him down for the second time.
Wedge was a single knockdown away from losing yet again. And with the clock ticking, Tyson connected on two more uppercuts. Another hit would finish Wedge.
But if he could stay on his feet until the final bell, Wedge would win.
And he did.
"It’s a sense of pride, I guess," Wedge says with a chuckle. "Even though it’s just a video game or whatever. But, at least for, like, this moment in time, you are the best in the world at this one thing."
Wedge posted the video on YouTube. After the first couple days, it still had less than 100 views. But…
"The next day, when I woke up, or rather when I was awoken by my phone just beeping constantly, it’s like, [I] pick up my phone, look at it," Wedge recalls. " 'You have 249 YouTube notifications.' I’m like, 'What?' "
The video had gone viral. And, as surprised as he was to see the attention his video received, Wedge was just as surprised to hear from people that he hadn’t spoken to in years:
" 'Man, I haven’t seen you in ages. We should, like, hang out and have a drink or something 'cause that was so neat, and now you’re famous and all that.' Like, you know, do they think that I’m, you know, getting money off this because it got so many views or something?" Wedge says with a laugh. " 'Cause I’m not."
Four years since the epic fight, Wedge still plays an occasional game of "Punch-Out." And his friends? Well, the small group of "Punch-Out" speedrunners has grown. Wedge says the game got a boost in popularity after his video went viral.
After all, he beat Mike Tyson … blindfolded.
This segment aired on October 26, 2019.
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