Summertime is no-man’s land for sports fans. We’re fortunate to have a World Cup this year, but there are still no sports to watch after 4:30 p.m. EDT (baseball doesn’t count because nobody has watched an entire baseball game since 2007). Something needs to fill the void between Woj tweets. While there may not be many human sports going on this summer, Elon Musk says we will soon live in a posthuman world, so it’s the perfect time to dive into the best posthuman sport: BattleBots.
BattleBots is why God invented electricity. Surely the pinnacle of human innovation is a televised March Madness-style tournament in which robot gladiators try to smash, squeeze, slice, and melt their opponents with military-grade weaponry. There are knives and axes and drones with flamethrowers. Bots that get too close to the walls are smashed by giant hammers. Bots that stay in the middle get skewered by “kill saws” that rise out of the ground like the tigers in Gladiator. It’s everything you imagined doing with power tools as a kid fulfilled by teams of engineers from across the globe. Those engineers are very, very good at their jobs. To put the bots’ destructive power in perspective, here’s a Battlebot named Tombstone taking on a bowling ball.
BattleBots first aired in 2000, featured a one-on-one combat tournament, and crowned a champion each season. The series ended in December 2002, but the show maintained a cult following and in 2015 the series was revived by ABC. Many of the original teams re-entered their robots for competition, but with 13 years of additional experience and superior technology, the bots are faster, stronger, and more destructive than ever (in the above clip, the tip of Tombstone’s blade is spinning at 400 miles per hour).
Season 8 of BattleBots is ongoing, but the fights from the first two seasons are all online, creating the perfect YouTube rabbit hole to serve as your summertime sports sustenance. Without further ado, here are the top 10 fights from the revived BattleBots series.
No. 10: Beta vs. Overhaul
This is classic BattleBots: lots of hammer smashing, a one-dimensional robot looking lost in the world, and an old man in a polo trying to fist pump without dropping his remote control. This is an extremely one-sided affair––Overhaul’s strategy is to get a grip underneath the opposing bot, and attack its underbelly, like the Indominus rex did to the Ankylosaurus in Jurassic World. Unfortunately for Overhaul, Beta is designed to thwart this exact tactic, so Beta spends most of the match thwocking Overhaul in the face. The metal on most bots’ armor is so strong that hammers rarely lead to knockouts, which makes this match even more pleasing when Beta smashes Overhaul’s internal workings into submission.
(Also, this match establishes an excellent rule that will hold for the rest of this piece, and probably every BattleBots match ever: The prettier bot always loses. I don’t know why.)
No. 9: Warrior Clan vs. Nightmare
One of the best parts of BattleBots is how terrifying death machines can be rendered harmless by simply flipping them on their side. In this matchup between Warrior Clan, which resembles a Roomba attached to an upside-down dustpan, and Nightmare (the one with the giant spinning saw), Warrior Clan tries to use its three smaller minibots to get under Nightmare’s legs and topple it over. It works. When rightside up, Nightmare is a medieval torture device on wheels. On its side, it’s a French bulldog puppy that can’t roll over. Nightmare dies a pathetic death by flipping itself into the crack behind the screws, but in its brief life it created the best highlight in BattleBots history by blowing one of those minibots to smithereens and landing its blade right into the minibot flamethrower.
No. 8: LockJaw vs. Yeti
Styles make fights, and LockJaw and Yeti take the same approach to the sweet science: attack like rabid Honey Badgers. Sparks literally fly when they collide early in the match, but everything turns when Yeti breaks LockJaw’s jaw so its jaw can’t lock (as MythBusters host and ringside judge Adam Savage looks on).
Yeti’s spinning drum (basically a music box going really fast) sends LockJaw flying into the glass, and eventually pushes LockJaw into the pulverizer, the screws, and the kill saws (or as the announcer described this moment, “I dont think thats a parking spot Chris!”). Yeti escaped with the victory, but both robots showed heart.
No. 7: Tombstone vs. Witch Doctor
This is the BattleBots version of The Mountain and the Viper. Tombstone is the BattleBots GOAT with an official record of 12 wins, one loss, and a trail of destruction, devastation, and despair in its wake. So when Witch Doctor came out and began to whoop Tombstone’s 25-horse-powered ass, it wasn’t just a beatdown; it was a sea change.
Witch Doctor broke Tombstone’s fearsome blade and sent the bot flying to the other side of the arena, but that’s where everything changed: In doing so, Witch Doctor flipped itself over and landed upside down like a turtle on its back. Tombstone began a victory dance (even with its main weapon flopping on the ground), like the Mountain digging his thumbs into Oberyn’s eyes. Life sucks, and then your robot dies.
No. 6: HyperShock vs. Warrior Clan
This matchup features a flame-throwing drone versus a garden rake. The rake won.
BattleBots showcases warhammers, circular saws, and battle axes, but this is the first (and probably only) rake ever used in competition. The next time someone mentions Amazon’s drone delivery service, remember this GIF.
HyperShock is usually equipped with two robotic arms, but when the team learned that Warrior Clan would be also bringing a drone into the arena (which is allowed, I guess?) they went to a hardware store and bought a rake for $20.
“This is our drone smiting device,” the team told Yahoo. “It’s good for getting drones out of the sky. It’s also good for leaves.”
After HyperShock smacks Warrior Clan’s drone out of the sky (and then back into the sky),
it turns its attention back to Warrior Clan. The two chase each other in circles for so long the show should have set the video to “Yakety Sax.”. Finally, HyperShock uses its front weapon to disable Warrior Clan and then sweeps it under the pulverizer hammers to complete the stunning victory.
No. 5: Complete Control vs. Bombshell
Here’s actual exchange between announcers in this video:
Announcer 1: “He’s roasting him like a marshmallow, Chris!”
Announcer 2: “If so grab the chocolate and the graham crackers, I want some s’mores!”
This matchup is chaos at its finest. Within 17 seconds, a drone takes flight, a robot digging a battle axe into a birthday present gets suplexed, and a potted plant (???) gets tossed asunder. I have no idea why a potted plant was mounted on wheels, but there is a story behind the birthday present. In the previous year’s tournament, Complete Control (the one with wheels and fire) beat Ghost Raptor by hiding a net in a gift-wrapped box that exploded on impact. Nets aren’t technically illegal, but they are highly frowned upon, and the incident caused a kerfuffle in the BattleBots community. The following year, Bombshell took a dig at Complete Control by entering this match with an empty gift-wrapped box as a taunt (spoiler: it didn’t work).
Complete Control (the claw machine that shoots flames) tries to grab Bombshell (the one with the gift) as Complete Control’s drone (which also shoots flames) hovers overhead. Apparently whoever is at the controls was drunk, because the drone crashes without being touched. Complete Control clamps onto Bombshell, envelops it like a Venus flytrap, and then lifts it into the air and scorches it with the tenderness of love letter to Prometheus.
Bombshell’s battered corpse lands underneath the pulverizer and inches from the gift it brought into the match. BattleBots is poetry.
No. 4 Minotaur vs. Warhead
In one corner we have a monster with a death frisbee for a head. In the other corner is a briefcase on wheels. Plot twist––don’t mess with briefcases.
Brevity is the soul of knockouts, and Minotaur’s fights are often nasty, brutish, and short. Here Minotaur needs just 20 seconds to decapitate Warhead (should we just say War?). Warhead-less begins stumbling around like a robot chicken with its head cut off, trying to blindly shoot flames in Minotaur’s direction. Minotaur promptly pushes it into the corner, where the pulverizer smashes both of Warhead’s flamethrowers at the same time (!) before Minotaur circles back and topples it over like a ragdoll. At first glance, Minotaur is the least threatening robot in the tournament. Don’t judge a robot by its armor.
No. 3: Bronco vs. Stinger
Seconds into this match, Bronco launches itself onto the screws, which is the BattleBots version of an own goal. It then starts flapping helplessly and eventually launches itself back onto the floor, albeit upside down. So many bots are often helpless when inverted, but Bronco is able to use its flipper to launch itself through the air like a gymnast, sticking the landing to get back into the fight on its heels.
Stinger, a distant cousin of the Transformer Bumblebee, unleashes its flamethrower. As Bronco flees, it runs right over the kill saws rising out of the floor. The only way Bronco could have started this match worse is if it immediately blew up (which happens sometimes).
Then Bronco suddenly flips Stinger—and the match—on its head.
That’s a 720-degree turn in mid-air, with an extra 360 degrees after the impact with the ground. Bronco turned Stinger into Tony Hawk with one flip, and then into a flaming husk with a second flip.
No. 2: Complete Control vs. Warhead
The bots hit each other so hard to open the match they spent the next 60 seconds wobbling like Jello.
“It’s like they’re trying to regain consciousness!” the announcer yells. “It’s like the end of Rocky II, Kenny!”
While we’re waiting for them to recover, I’d like to pause for a moment and appreciate the attention to detail exhibited by Complete Control’s engineering team. Not for how they built the robot, but for what they wore to this match.
The blueprint design on the collar adds an elegant touch to gladiator chic. The other team showed up in matching polos.
Once the bots reawaken, they begin circling each other. Warhead, which looks like a horseshoe crab trying to fly, gashes two wounds in Complete Control’s armor and then circles back, flame-throwing arms alight. Warhead slices open a third hole in Complete Control’s shell, shoots flames directly into its body, and then is launched backward by the impact. (This seems to happen a lot with Warhead—don’t the engineers know that for every action, there’s an equal-but-opposite reaction?)
Complete Control is Completely Destroyed, but Warhead landed upside down, and to avoid a draw it must show movement. Suddenly Warhead rises, pirouettes its way back across the arena like a drunk frying pan, and crashes into Complete Control’s flaming carcass before falling back down into the ground. As spastic as it was, that movement was enough for Warhead to claim victory.
No. 1: Minotaur vs. Blacksmith
Minotaur may not be the best bot of all time, but it’s the most fun to watch. Blacksmith goes toe-to-toe (tire-to-tire?) with Minotaur for all three minutes. It flips itself upright every time Minotaur’s drum sends Blacksmith flying (and there was a lot of flying) and hammers away at Minotaur’s armor.
Minotaur eats the hammers like a hungry hippo, and methodically beats Blacksmith within a millimeter of its life. Minotaur rips off Blacksmith’s front bumper, then the panel protecting the circuitry, then the hammer head itself. To its credit, Blacksmith doesn’t quit. Even when its primary weapon has been reduced to a chair leg, it (hilariously) stays on the offensive.
The only thing better than Blacksmith’s refusal to give up is Minotaur’s driver Daniel Zacarias Freitas doing the Kobe underbite before he (mercifully) sets Blacksmith’s chest cavity ablaze.
This matchup gave us flaming hammers, massive collisions, and bots shredded to spare parts, but these robots showed something even more important: heart. When the machines rise up, we don’t have a fighting chance.