In the fighting game genre the most memorable characters often represent the best fighters in a particular form. Ken and Ryu for example are not simply practitioners of karate or ansatsuken, they are the absolute best in the world. Chun-Li is not a very good kung-fu practitioner, she is the best living kung-fu artist. She represents a legacy that includes the earlier Street Fighter masters Gen and Lee. Sagat is not a muay thai expert, he was formerly the greatest fighter in the world. Zangief is not simply a massive wrestler, he is a Russian hero. Fighting games are designed to answer the question of who was the best fighter and what is the best style. What would happen if the best boxer that ever lived squared off against the best karate master?
A small detail that you may or may not have noticed is how few characters in fighting games are presented wearing a championship belt. After all, real pro fighters don't wear their titles while fighting. But this is something that makes some game characters visually appealing. Dudley has a great design but he doesn't go around with his belts. The aesthetic choice of having him dressed in civilian clothing worked well in the lineup. Street Fighter III was a chance to introduce a new generation of fighters, one that wasn't as campy as the original cast. Yun and Yang for example had classic Chinese shirts and pants but also paired that with modern sneakers. Alex was an MMA star but wore overalls and heavy combat boots instead of trunks. As long as Dudley wore his boxing gloves it was painfully obvious what type of fighter he was. In canon Dudley had at least two, of what can be assumed, world championship belts. Here's a short list of some memorable champions in the genre, if not their fancy belts.
Not many boxers flashed their belts in game, one of those that did was Andrei. The Russian boxer was featured in King of Combat. The young boxer had a great belt design. The star, sickle and hammer were supposed to conjure up images of the old Soviet Union. It was perfect for the upstart. He was proud of his country. It showed in his Cryllic tattoos, amulet he wrapped around his boxing glove and militaristic haircut. In the best designs from the various studios every detail of a costume has to reinforce the personality of the fighter. The details should each tell a story. Whether it's a torn sleeve, a spiked bracelet or even an eye patch. They all have to mean something and not simply be a superfluous detail. There were other fighters in the various games that were as accomplished as Dudley and Andrei.
Muay Thai master Prayuth had a hefty belt that he wore in the King of Combat. The large circular fur-lined plate was reminiscent of modern championship belts. Flamboyant champions are nothing new in professional fighting. The best in the world wanted to show off from time to time. Over the past century and a half many different champions would add their own flare to the titles. They would encrust their belts with ribbons, fur and eventually gold plating and jewels. Some belts were even made of leather that had been dyed to a brilliant red or bright green. Prayuth's belt was representative of modern belts but its fur-lining also served a practical purpose. It could be worn while fighting. It wouldn't scrape or irritate his skin even with sweat. The developers on King of Combat even had an alternate color scheme and with it an alternate belt for Prayuth. The alternate title was more in tune with a classic championship belt. Instead of the sponsor logo there was a head of the mythical Garuda. It celebrated the spiritual origins of South Asian, specifically behind Indonesian and Thai culture. If Prayuth was the best Muay Thai fighter in the world then his belt should reflect the culture that created that form of fighting.
A belt that celebrated a culture and also looked intimidating belonged to Hakan from the Street Fighter IV. I was not a fan of his design, how he misrepresented yağlı güreş or Turkish oil wrestling. I was not a fan of the color of his skin and absurd blue hair. One thing that I cannot deny is the costume he wore. The chain and strap symbolized strength but it was the roaring lion that really caught my eye. I cannot say with any certainty that this was a championship belt. Modern oil wrestling championships are sometimes a trophy and sometimes a belt that looks like a modern wrestling title. Hakan's belt might have simply been a family crest or his business logo. In all regards it was a fine belt, accessorized by large metal chains and rings. Anyone could tell that only the absolute strongest could wear this ensemble.
One of the biggest and possibly gaudiest championship belts belongs to Antonov. The self proclaimed original King of Fighters champion wears the belt in KOF XIV. Although I would argue the legitimacy of his claim with the iconic Geese Howard and Terry Bogard who had been there since the first tournament. Anyhow the belt is plated in gold, with thorn tribal patterns, gold chains and enormous bull horns. Aside from being bulky it would not be sensible to wear in a fight. The horns would limit the range of motion for the wearer. I can only imagine the number of times Antonov split his forearms open each time he threw a punch. The reason that Antonov wore it was two-fold. It showed off that he was the champion obviously but less known was that he was hooked on smoking and he kept his trademark cigars hidden in the front plate. If it were reproduced I can only imagine that a combination title and humidor would make it among the most expensive belts ever built. Antonov's belt was meant to be over-the-top, bigger and gaudier than any other title in any fighting game. It was not supposed to look like a traditional belt as with Dudley, nor was it supposed to have elements of a particular culture like Hakan or Prayuth. If I could find an example of a belt that balances culture and gaudiness it would have to be Darun Mister's Indian elephant title.
The main plate, in gold or bronze, is a sculpture of an elephant wearing a ceremonial headdress. The side plates are silver and have the outlines of the global continents. It symbolized that this belt had been defended or recognized by promotions around the world. The elephant has a number of details. The flower pattern on the trunk and filigree on the ears mirrors the long standing custom of painting the elephants as a sign of reverence. The elephant has powerful cultural context, especially when considering the relationship that the Hindus have with the god Ganesha. This belt is not representative of Ganesha but it is supposed to make Indians feel proud. There was more forethought to this championship title than say the stages created for Dhalsim in Street Fighter II and Zero / Alpha which pandered heavily the symbol of Ganesha. Unlike Antonov's belt there is nothing that would interfere with the wearer. The elephant trunks are short and stubby, they wouldn't catch a person like bull horns could.
Darun was a unique character, inspired by various legendary Indian wrestlers including the Great Gama. In Street Fighter canon I would argue that he was a greater wrestler and champion than Zangief. I could back up this claim by pointing out that Darun not only held the elephant title, his alternate costumes featured two other belts. The gold and silver titles had a flat cut to them, they seemed to be from other, possibly Western promotions. Darun was a multi-promotion heavyweight champion and possibly the best pure wrestler in Street Fighter canon. Darun however was not the most decorated fighting game champion. In the next blog we will look at the character that had more belts than any other Street Fighter icon combined! As always if you enjoyed this blog and would like to sponsor me please visit my Patreon page and consider donating each month, even as little as $1 would help make better blogs and even podcasts!