Curious case of M. Bison in 'Street Fighter'

The origin of "Street Fighter's" M. Bison involves a certain boxer with a similar name. Courtesy of Capcom

I used to play a football video game that didn’t have the licensing rights for Jerry Rice, but you could throw the ball to a superstar named Jerry Pilaf all day.

So when I started playing “Street Fighter II” back in high school, and saw a boxer named Balrog and a menacing boss (who doesn’t bite ears) named M. Bison, it immediately made me wonder if there was a connection to menacing boxer Mike Tyson.

Then I learned that in the Japanese version of the game, the boxer character was originally dubbed Mike Bison, making me curious to find out the real story behind the characters.

Was it simply a matter of Capcom not wanting to be sued when they localized the game for the U.S. markets, or was there more to the legend?

This past weekend, I finally got the chance to find out straight from the source.

Capcom celebrated the 25th anniversary of the “Street Fighter” franchise with a tournament and convention in the San Francisco Bay Area on Saturday, with winners taking home more than $500,000 in cash and prizes, including a customized “Street Fighter”-themed Scion FR-S Sports Coupe. And as I walked through the convention and watched the best of the best battle it out on screen for the cash and the car, I was fortunate enough to meet up with famed “Street Fighter” executive producer Yoshinori Ono. So I asked him about the similarities between Mike Tyson and M. Bison and the reason for the eventual name change.

“At the time of the development of ‘Street Fighter II,’ Mike Tyson was a worldwide phenomenon,” Ono said through a translator. “The creators wanted a character like him, but it was risky to use his name, so Mike Tyson became Bison, and then outside of Japan, he became Balrog.”

I then asked why the names of M. Bison, Balrog and Vega were all switched for the U.S. versions, and if there’s any more meaning behind the names, and Ono immediately started to laugh.

“Balrog, Vega and Bison, all three switched [from the Japanese version to the U.S.], but there’s no reason," he said. "We went with the easiest way, and the easiest way was just to switch the programming number. When you switch the programming number, it changes the names, but there was no reason behind it.”

Crazy how the input of three programming numbers ended up changing the face of pop and gaming culture.

But just think, it could’ve been a lot worse. Would you want to lose to a boss named Evander Jollyfield or George Boreman?