The new season of Battlebots got off to a roaring start on Friday night. The production value of the Discovery Channel broadcast over the ABC broadcast was astronomically better. For starters, there were FIVE fights packed into one episode with a sixth bonus fight set to be shown during the Wednesday airing on the Science Channel. ABC couldn’t figure out how to get more than 4 fights (at a maximum of 3 minutes each) into 43 minutes of television whereas Discovery got 5 and the Science Channel re-air will have 6. That’s fantastic work all around by the production team.
Another great aspect was the “Fight Card” style of the show. With one “Main Event” match and several “undercard” matches each week, Battlebots has given us both made-for-TV headliners along with other quality matchups and an opportunity to see some new bots in action. This week certainly delivered. The Main Event featured defending Champion Tombstone (whose only loss in the 2 ABC seasons was to Bite Force in the first Championship) against Minotaur, a semifinalist from the second ABC season who has won on the global stage a number of times. We also got Season 6 Champion Bite Force facing off against crowd favorite Blacksmith and Season 7 runner-up Bombshell against a rebuilt Lock-Jaw whose builder Donald Hutson won 6 Giant Nuts in the early seasons of Battlebots. Finally, the rumble saw experienced builders Christian Carlberg, Gary Gin, and Hal Rucker face off with all new bots.
I’m also very excited for the new format of a “regular season” of up to 4 battles per bot followed by a 16-bot knockout stage. It appears the matchups will be chosen somewhat randomly and for TV purposes and the 55 bots were not placed into “pools” like in World Cup play (though a pooled round robin would be an interesting format to consider in the future). This should give us plenty of opportunity to see each bot in action and get to know different builders as they are profiled for the “main event” matches.
Bite Force vs Blacksmith
When we last saw Blacksmith, he was getting his hammer and left in a smouldering heap by Minotaur. Bite Force was the Season 6 Champion but saw his 7th season end after a precision shot by Chomp’s spike broke the chain of his weapon’s system. Bite Force stuck with the vertical spinner for this season while Blacksmith’s flaming hammer is back. Initially, Blacksmith did a good job keeping Bite Force in front of him with the spikes added to the front of his bot to keep the spinner at bay. But Paul Ventimiglia has proven to be one of the better bot drivers and eventually was able to get around to the side where he ripped a gash in Blacksmith’s armor. Bite Force stayed on the offensive and landed a big blow that sent Blacksmith toppling. As the two continued to dance with their front wedges keeping the other at bay, Blacksmith landed a few glancing blows then brought it’s hammer down in a shower of flame right on top of Bite Force’s spinner. The two appeared tangled for a moment and the thought crossed your mind that Blacksmith may have pulled a Chomp and broken Bite Force’s weapons driver. Ultimately, the blow did more damage to Blacksmith than Bite Force and the Season 1 champ was able to get his spinner working again. Blacksmith’s hammer had burnt itself out but that didn’t stop him from continuing to drop blows on Bite Force. As the clock ticked down, Bite Force got leverage and drove Blacksmith across the box and onto the screws, where Blacksmith got stuck as time expired. That left enough of an impression on the judges to make the right decision.
Result: Bite Force by unanimous judge’s decision.
Mecha Rampage vs Duck vs Free Shipping
The first rumble of the season pitted three legendary builders head-to-head-to-head with bots that were new to Battlebots competition. Mecha Rampage’s spinner was the most effective weapon in the fight. Free Shipping’s lifter did not prove to be an effective weapon, but his flamethrower…well, it might have been the most effective fire-weapon in Battlebots history. And finally, Duck. Well, Duck took a beating but weathered the storm. The first big hit of the fight came from Mecha Rampage blasting a wheel off of Duck with it’s spinning blade. Mecha Rampage had an advantage early, knocking one of the fork lifters off of Free Shipping, but then it started smoking and Free Shipping took the offensive. Free Shipping’s flamethrower ignited whatever was smoking inside of Mecha Rampage, forcing Christian Carlberg to try to use the speed of his spinner to put out the fire. Mecha Rampage landed another big shot to knock off one of Free Shipping’s wheels, but the flames overtook Mecha Rampage and the middle of his bot continued to burn. Duck entered the fray and got a big flip of both other bots. That pretty much ended the night for Mecha Rampage as it was left burning in the middle of the battlebox while Duck and Free Shipping exchanged blows.
We got an explanation of how the judging for this season works: a 5-point scale with 1 point for Aggression, Strategy, and Control and 2 points for Damage. After the Pyre of Mecha Rampage was extinguished, we got the result. After a number of controversial judge’s decisions last season, this year the panel is 2-for-2 in making the right choices.
Result: Duck by unanimous judge’s decision
Huge vs SubZero
The next battle featured the gigantic Huge with its flexible polyethylene wheels and giant vertical spinning bar against SubZero, a bot from Pennsylvania that got us not one but TWO groundhog puns from Faruq. SubZero put attachments on top of their bot to try to fend off Huge’s spinner, which ultimately proved to only be damage fodder for Huge to knock off. SubZero had two opportunities early in the match to get a flip on the side of Huge’s wheels, but couldn’t activate the flipper quickly enough. That proved to be its undoing as Huge’s spinning bar knocked SubZero’s flipper out of commission. Huge stayed on the offensive and continued to pound SubZero with it’s spinning bar, taking chunks of armor off of SubZero. Both bots were still functional at the buzzer, but this was complete domination by Huge and an easy judge’s decision. This was a great first fight for Huge, who is built to combat a flipper but it will be interesting to see how their giant wheels would fare against a bot with a spinner that could cut them apart.
Result: Huge by unanimous judge’s decision
One of the other cool aspects of this season is rather than giving lengthy previews of every bot and their builder, the focus of the introductory segments is on the two “main event” bots. Ray Billings and Tombstone are clearly the favorites and he certainly enjoys the role of the heel. Ray also dropped this amazing quote:
“If you fight most of the robots that are here, you could win or you could lose. If you fight Tombstone, you could be utterly destroyed.”
Bombshell vs Lock-Jaw
Donald Hutson had a bad draw in the prior two Battlebots seasons. In Season 1 he had to fight Overhaul twice then in the second season he lost a close Judge’s Decision to Yeti then a controversial Judge’s Decision to Brutus in a fight where neither landed any big shots. This year, he got more aggressive by adding a vertical spinner to replace one of his clamping jaws. Bombshell was the runner-up last season as a “swiss army bot” with multiple weapons but came back this year with only its vertical spinner. Lock-Jaw’s new design proved deadly as the first blow of the match flipped Bombshell over. Hutson stayed on the offensive and gave Bombshell a few more hits. As Bombshell was being counted out, Hutson hit Bombshell again, knocking it back onto it’s wheels but still inverted. One of the cardinal sins of Battlebots is to not have a bot that can operate from an inverted position. Bombshell couldn’t get righted and was eventually knocked off it’s wheels again as Lock-Jaw knocked it against the wall. Donald Hutson was always one of the best drivers in Battlebots and proved it once again with a definitive knockout.
Result: Lock-Jaw by knockout
Tombstone vs Minotaur
The headline fight of the night was finally here. The massive horizontal spinning bar of Tombstone against the vertical drum spinner of Minotaur. Both bots came out aggressive and after a head-on blow, Tombstone got a shot against Minotaur’s side, knocking it across the battlebox. The Brazilian Bull was not phased and came right back in for a viscous collision that sent both bots flying. The hit was so devastating that Tombstone’s spinner ripped a gash in the steel floor. The bots continued to battle and Minotaur got sent flying again but stayed aggressive. Ultimately, Tombstone proved to be too much and the repeated blows disabled Minotaur’s drum. The clashes continued to slice up the battlebox floor, which is the most damage I’ve seen the battlebox take since Shark Bite took pieces of lexan out of the wall in a Season 4 battle with Killer B. Minotaur stayed aggressive and continued to throw itself into Tombstone’s spinner in the hope the kinetic energy backlash would do some kind of damage to Tombstone. That hope was ill-founded as Tombstone continued to function and deliver blow after blow. One shot left Minotaur high-centered atop one of the torn up sections of the battlebox floor. Unable to get its wheels into contact with the floor, Minotaur was counted out.
Result: Tombstone by knockout
EXTRA: Sharkoprion vs Kraken vs Deviled Egg
On the Science Channel broadcast, there was a bonus rumble between three unique bots. Kraken is a clamping/crushing bot with interior lights in the eyes and on a tendril like an angler fish. Sharkoprion is made of mostly recycled parts, including an old propane tank. Deviled Egg is another bot in the vertical drum spinner lineage. Kraken got the first serious shot of the fight, clamping on Sharkoprion while the shark-bots spinner flattened one of Kraken’s wheels. Another new change this season is that clamp-bots are permitted to hold for 20 seconds instead of 10. Deviled Egg took out Kraken’s other wheel right before Kraken had to let Sharkoprion go. The newly freed shark wasted no time and blasted Deviled Egg, flipping it over. Remember what I said about the cardinal sin of Battlebots? Deviled Egg was apparently never meant to be ordered over easy, because once it was flipped it was done. The two sea monsters turned back to each otherbut Kraken’s tires were both flat, rendering the bot unable to move. Kraken was counted out and Sharkoprion left as the only mobile bot.
Result: Sharkoprion by knockout.
What an opening night of Battlebots action. Welcome back, robot fighting. The lineup was filled with destructive combat, fun new bots and some wily veterans. This figures to be a great season with an excellent format that should give us ample opportunity over 20 episodes to get to know the bot builders and see their bots in action multiple times rather than the one-and-done scenarios. Mark your calendars for Friday Nights at 8pm for the rest of the summer for robot fighting action!
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