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Friday, June 19, 2015

I Went to The Battle Bots Reboot Taping, And It Was Awesome

Posted By on Fri, Jun 19, 2015 at 5:00 PM

click to enlarge ABC/DAVID MOIR
  • ABC/David Moir

Tombstone, a 250-pound fighting robot that is unapologetically designed to just be one big weapon, powers up in the red corner, its large, horizontal-spinning blade gaining speed. Across the Battle Box in the blue corner, over a few buzzsaw-type booby traps and spike hazards, sits Witch Doctor, a bright-green robot with a one-toothed, vertical-spinning wheel beginning to gather momentum.

The lights are on, the box is locked – it’s robot-fighting time. These are the Battle Bots, and they are programmed to kill. (Sort of).

The crowd roars, having been waiting patiently inside the Mare Island Sports Complex, an old naval building that came to be known as the premier US West Coast submarine port during World War II, and was originally under the command of David Farragut – the guy who coined the phrase “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” during the Civil War’s Battle of Mobile Bay.

And although historians still debate the exact wording of Farragut’s command, Tombstone and Witch Doctor seem to have remembered the “full speed ahead” part, charging towards each other with reckless abandonment.


The robots meet, weapon-to-weapon, at the center of the battle box, sending sparks – and each other – soaring into the air. Shrapnel, chunks of robot, and various other pieces of debris hit the glass separating the audience from the action with enough force to illicit a huge applause on top of a nervous laughter usually reserved for airplane rides with too much turbulence.

Tombstone’s weapon seems almost too powerful for its own good, taking a huge chunk out of Witch Doctor but also causing the bot to flip around the combat area, taking deep bites out of the arena floor and damaging itself. But Ray Billings, the driver of Tombstone, is able to steady the number one seed robot in the tournament, again turning the weapon up to full speed and heading in for another attack on Witch Doctor.

Witch Doctor sees it coming and meets Tombstone weapon on weapon again. There’s even more sparks than the first time, but also a loud car-crash noise immediately followed by the thud of metal hitting the glass.

When the smoke clears Witch Doctor’s guts are spilled and Tombstone’s blade has been severed. The match is over (although I signed a contract saying I can’t tell you who won).

Behind me, a teenager turns to his friend and says, “That was the most exciting thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life. Let’s do this every week.” Next to him, a young woman draws sketches of fighting robots before offering them to her companion. “This one shoots green lasers . . . all this right here, that’s fire.”

It seems everyone in the audience was creating robots in their heads while teams back stage, in the pit, frantically put their real(ly damaged) robots back together in-between clashes. After the match I went in to the pit to help Billings survey the damage.

“That’s S7 steel [a shock-resisting tool steel],” Billings says, showing me what’s left of his robot’s blade. The steel, several inches thick, is cracked cleanly in half. It’s OK though, Billings brought three different blades. In fact, he brought an entire alligator-looking robot as back up just in case he might need it.

It’s only one of several matches in a single elimination tournament that ran for three days in Vallejo over the weekend.

This epic battle, plus several more, airs this Sunday, June 21 on ABC. 

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About The Author

Matt Saincome

Matt Saincome

Matt Saincome is SF Weekly's former music editor.


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