RetroVision – Bison, Balrog, & Vega. Or was it the Other Way Round?

In order to celebrate Vega’s return in Street Fighter V, I’ve decided to explore the rather confusing and misunderstood naming behind not only the Spanish Ninja, but also two more iconic characters that debuted in genre defining fighter, Street Fighter II.  These three characters, alongside Sagat (who’s name remained unchanged due to his earlier appearance in the original Street Fighter), originally made up the team of Grand Masters.  These Grand Masters were actually CPU controlled only in the original release of the game, but later became available for general play through Street Fighter II’s many revisions.

Now most people outside of Japan who grew up with Street Fighter will know Street Fighter II’s Dictator and final boss as M. Bison, the boxer as Balrog, and finally Vega as the clawed Spanish fighter.  However, this was not the original naming convention as set out by Yoshiki Okamoto and his team at Capcom.

SFII
Bison, Balrog & Vega as they are named in English

You see, when leaving Japan the names of these three characters played a small game of musical chairs all moving to the one next to them.  Not only that, but this naming difference has maintained itself all the way through the series.  So much so that if I was writing this article in Japan, it would have lead with “to celebrate Balrog’s return”.

Consequently, alongside Balrog the Spanish Ninja, was the Dictator and primary antagonist Vega, and most importantly, the boxer M. Bison.  Now there is a reason I call M. Bison the most important here, and it’s not because he’s loved globally. It’s actually because this character is the root cause of the naming switcheroo.

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Before I tell you why, take a closer look at the character, and see if he reminds you of an extremely well known American personality from the 80s, and 90s.  Now that i’ve said this if you take a closer look (or just look at the image below), and you’ll notice a strong resemblance between Street Fighter II’s boxer (I’ll just call him the boxer for now to avoid confusion), and the “Baddest Man on the Planet”, the former Heavyweight Champion of the World Mike Tyson.  It’s not just the physical resemblance that was the issue, in fact this wasn’t the problem at all, given that Capcom didn’t alter the character’s appearance whatsoever.  No it was the name that was the problem, as in addition to the appearance, the name ‘M. Bison’ was also extremely similar to M. Tyson.

This allusion was entirely intentional, however there was considerable concern from Capcom USA that it could cause a lawsuit in America, and weren’t willing to take any risks when it came to the reputation of the game, thus Capcom altered the names. The reason behind also switching the Dictator’s name came about when the designers pitched the game to Capcom USA.  At this time, Capcom USA’s marketing department felt that Vega, was ironically a weakling’s name, preferring Bison (the name taken away from the Boxer) for the name of the primary antagonist.  As such, Capcom USA took the opportunity to switch all three of them round creating the confusion we still see today.

Mike Tyson & Balrog
Balrog/Bison & Mike Tyson Side-By-Side

Due to the global appeal of Street Fighter,  and the fact that Capcom have maintained these cross-cultural naming differences, many fans and gamers now refer to these three characters exclusively by the common nicknames; Boxer, Claw and Dictator, in order to avoid international confusion.  These weren’t the only cross cultural changes to be made by Capcom in terms of naming their characters though.  They’re not even the only changes when it came to Street Fighter, with secret boss Akuma alternatively being named Gouki, and Street Fighter Alpha’s Charlie being named Nash in Japan.

So if you are a regular Street Fighter gamer and play as any of these characters across the series, just remember not to mix up names.  Or maybe just ignore the whole strange naming convention and just have fun!

Simon Drake

A lifelong gamer with a fanatical love of all things Nintendo and Japan. So much so that I've written a thesis on one and lived in the other. Currently on a quest to catch every last Pokémon. Follow me on twitter via @DudeXChill or @RingsandCoins.

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