Waaaay back in the old old days, most of the toys kids had to play with were silent. Aside from a grinding gear or some kind of internal mechanism winding down, there were no sound effects that came from a toy in and of itself. Sure there were record players, pop guns, and assorted variations of devices that you could wind up and play one song over and over with. But aside from that, you had to make your own noises and your own special effects. But that was really part of the fun of playing with toys back then.
That all changed when I got a set of Knuckle Busters boxing figures. They were somewhat like the semi-modern “rock ’em sock ’em” boxing robots. But these toys were sculpted as a human, and looked like what a professional a boxer would look like. Boxing gloves on their hands and a long set of boxing shorts were permanently molded on. There was no boxing ring to put these toys in. You had the whole room you were playing in to move them around. (There was an option in later versions to tie a string to the base of each boxers so they would not move more than a foot away from each other, but mine didn’t have that option.) The controls were similar to the rock-em-sock-em series. One lever was for the left hand, one lever for the right hand. The controls were permanently molded on the back of the boxers, too. To punch, you moved one of the levers forward. The mechanical arm would then move out in a straight line. You had your choice of throwing a left body shot or a right body shot. The target? A giant red nose on each of the boxer’s faces. One hit on the nose and the figure would slump over at a very unnatural angle.
With no uppercuts available, and since each boxer was the same height and size, you had to be creative in how you leaned your boxer forward and over to hit your opponent’s nose. And since there was no ring to be had, sometimes these fights would get real interesting.
What was really amazing about this toy was that it came with sound effects. Real world sound effects.
On a record.
Inside the Knuckle Busters package was a 45 vinyl record. If you put the vinyl record on your record player, any little scrap would suddenly become a full on HBO Pay Per View sold out title bout. Because the record was nothing but crowd noise, audible impacts from what sounded like real punching, and loud crowd reactions to certain loud punches.
Combine the bloodlust roar of a crowd, real boxing bell chimes to sound the end of a round, and a solid 6 inch tall plastic toy? Things got violent.
You can see the front of the LP in the image below. The record survived just fine in the trunks, and fortunately, never developed a skip or scratch on it. If you enlarge the photo, you can see an artist’s representation of what the Knuckle Dusters boxers looked like. That really isn’t too far off from the reality of what they looked like either.
The second side was strange for the time. It was cut so it would not be playable on any record player. It really was a one-sided record only.
Listening to the audio, you can hear why. Everything after the first round is just a loop! It’s the same punches. Same crowd reaction. Same bells.
Click below to listen to the Knuckle Busters side A record…
Unfortunately, the Knuckle Busters met their demise thanks to some Knuckle Headed friend I had at the time who picked up his losing boxer figure and smashed it into my boxer figure, completely shattering them both. That was the end of that.
I couldn’t find any photos of the toy itself on ebay or Google as of this posting. The one video I did find was available on iTunes as part of a Hasboro toys and games archive project. You can click here to launch iTunes and see the commercial. My figures were the first generation, though, and did not have the “gritty” facial hair on the boxers and strings to tie the boxers together like they show in the commercial. Another post on a website called Robot Empire has images of what my first generation set looked like.
Ridiculous as it seems now, this was the beginning of a major change in toy design. Professional sounds and embedded lights were still a few years away, but standalone toys were quickly adapting to a new market’s demands for interactivity and playtime-immersion.
Since this is the only surviving memento of the toy, I think I’m going to put it in the ebay pile to sell later on.