Boxing Simulation All-Time Heavyweight Champion Part 2 Computers and Production

About a computer simulation ran in 1967 to determine the all-time heavyweight championship boxer of the world.

The All-Time Heavyweight Championship of the World

Next Woroner and Guy LeBow, the veteran ring announcer hired to recreate the bouts, began to do some original research of their own. They dug through yellowed newspapers and magazines. They dredged up ancient round-by-round accounts of fights long forgotten. They sought out motion picture films of every bout that had ever had a lens opened upon it, including one classic that was shot by Thomas A. Edison. They interviewed each man that still lived except Gene Tunney, who refused them. They asked every question they could devise:

What pattern of punches did the fighter prefer? At what pace and rhythm did he like to move? What hurt him the most? Where did he cut most easily?

Out of this chaos they distilled a punch-by-punch story of each fighter's bouts for his 5 best years. This information was to be put into the computer along with each man's reactions in varying situations, so that the machine could predict a most probable response to any given event.

Finally, Woroner and LeBow deposited their mountain of data at the feet of their computer man, Henry Meyer. He isolated himself in a Miami hotel room and began to design a program. Using frequent conferences with expert Hank Kaplan and periodic trips to NCR headquarters in Dayton, Meyer slowly condensed thousands of random facts into the kind of tiny magnetic impulses that turn a computer on.

The NCR-315, which held some 160,000 "memory" positions, used more than 2,000 variables on each boxer to make 60 million calculations over 18 months. Realizing the impossibility of programming a fighter's personal feelings, attitudes, or frame of mind, Meyer worked out probability formulae based on the opinions of ring experts that were their best guesses about how a boxer would fight in top shape in his prime. The final program had some surprising subtleties. Meyer even built in a deterioration factor so that the fighters lost a tiny bit of energy on each punch. Certain other factors, such as speed, were modified depending on the corresponding factor of the opposing fighter. Of all the variables listed, Meyer found that the most important was raw courage.

Next the program was tested on the computer. Meyer began to play games with it, running hundreds of simulated bouts through the circuits and producing rooms full of printout sheets covered with the round-by-round details and the final result of each fight: KO, TKO, or decision.

Ready for broadcast, Woroner, LeBow, and sound engineer Frank Linale got together in Woroner's tiny studio in Miami under conditions of tight security. These 3 men were to be the only ones who knew the outcome until it was announced on the air.

Now LeBow's considerable talent came into play. The computer program lacked one vital element: It listed the punches thrown in each round but it did not list them in sequence. In their final script, Woroner and LeBow could rearrange and dramatize the punches, throwing in a clinch here and a missed haymaker there if they desired.

Linale's contribution was the realistic ring sound he laid onto the track behind LeBow's voice. He had taped actual fight crowds in Miami, capturing the grunts and moans, pops and whistles, boos and roars--even the shuffle and creak of leather on leather, the thunk when a fighter was hit. What came out was exciting enough to raise a sweat on the in-the-flesh fighters, who cheered themselves on along with millions of other listeners. The finished tapes were to be shipped to bank vaults or security safes at Western Union for delivery to participating stations shortly before air time.

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