Learn the story of the 2009 BattleBots pro & collegiate tournament that tried to revive a long dead TV show
2009 was an interesting year. United States headlines were all about the economic crisis and the controversy over health care. The iconic Michael Jackson would pass away and swine flu was an international threat. While all this was happening, the California town of Vallejo was holding the first BattleBots Tournament in half a decade.
The 2009 BattleBots Pro & Collegiate Tournament is an event that will likely fly under the casual BattleBots fan’s radar. It was very small, a pilot season of sorts. This double elimination tournament was the first attempt in half a decade to get BattleBots back onto national television.
The tournament was held in the heyday of the Non-Televised Era, which led to many very well known teams from BattleBots’ past (and little did we know, future) to compete against one another in a major tournament of a very high caliber that wasn’t Robogames or the Combots Cup for the first time in four years.
And with this new event, a new BattleBox would have to be made. The new and improved BattleBox itself is an interesting mix of the BattleBox from the Comedy Central Era and from the Non-Televised Era. Interestingly, a lot of its elements were to be carried into the ABC Era BattleBox we know today.
The 2009 Championship BattleBox was smaller in size compared to the other BattleBoxes before and after it, excluding the 2014 STEM Tech Olympiad BattleBox. The 2009 BattleBox had the first set of driver operated pulverizers in the corner of the box. The rotating screws on the sides of the BattleBox now were completely serrated and went upward, allowing them to practically suck in some robots. We saw this happen in the ABC BattleBots Season 1 fight of Chomp vs Overdrive in Episode 2. Also the hellraisers, panels in the floor that would lift up to flip or snag a passing bot, would make a returning appearance in the 2009 BattleBox, with four of them appearing mid BattleBox.
The Tournament itself had three main classes. It had the 220lb “Pro” Class, which featured BattleBots veterans and popular teams from the Robot Fighting League (RFL) at the time. Along with the Pro Class, it ran two 120lb classes that were “Collegiate” and “High School”, featuring numerous teams from various universities and schools from all around the United States, and even a select few internationally. Both classes major classes (Pro & Collegiate) would feature their own share of big name competitors from that past and future.
The Pro Class was likely one of the most stacked tournaments of the Non-Televised Era, bringing teams like Mutant Robots (Lock-Jaw for ABC), Team Nightmare, and Team Loki out of retirement to take on the big dogs of the RFL in a double elimination tournament. Such names in this tournament were Bender (who competed in all five original Comedy Central season), Hugs & Kisses, and Surgeon General, both of whom had not fought since 2003.
Many Comedy Central Era all stars were also making the comeback as well, such as the Aforementioned Mutant Robots and Team Nightmare, with Root Canal, and Breaker Box respectively. Also competing was Team Whyachi with the same Warrior seen in the 2015 BattleBots Season, along with BoilerBots competing with a very similar looking Counter Revolution.
The RFL would also have a heavy presence at this event, as we saw the debut of soon to be legendary bots Tombstone and Stinger: The Killer Bee. Another RFL team showed up with a flipper named Vault, driven by a team which would soon make the deadly IceWave. A powerful spinner named Brutality was spawned by the same team who brought the world the 2015 BattleBots champion, Bite Force. A number of other teams that appeared on BattleBots this season also fought at this 2009 event such as: Sub Zero, Megabyte (Invader in 2016), and VD6 (Bad Kitty).
The Collegiate event was considerably less stacked with big names, but still held it’s own collection of names, such as Team Whyachi’s Falconizer and C2 Robotics’ Chunk, representing Cal Poly. Also competing was Category 5, a full body spinner made by the team that would one day bring the superstar Witch Doctor & Shaman into the scene. Other competitors include DracUCLA, which still fights today, and Pharaoh & Rhino, which were robots from colleges in Puerto Rico.
Both Pro and Collegiate tournaments were double elimination, meaning a robot would have to lose twice in bracket to be formally eliminated from the competition. Little is known about the Collegiate Championship, with no known traces of brackets on any website, plus very minimal footage of fights.
The Pro Championship was dominated by Paul Ventiligma’s Brutality, not losing a single fight all the way to the winner’s finals. The other finalist in this event was Root Canal, a Mutant Robots lifter which inspired much of Lock-Jaw’s look.
Root Canal lost to Team Moon’s spinning bot Eugene in the first round of the tournament, and get immediately sent to loser’s bracket. Root Canal then made a glorious losers bracket run, winning fights against Drumble-B, Breaker Box, Stinger TKB, Sub Zero, Warrior, Surgeon General, Tombstone, and finally VD 6.0 en route to the BattleBots 2009 Pro Championship Finals against the undefeated Brutality. Brutality would win though, making it one of only five BattleBots Robots to go undefeated.
This was also the first robot fighting competition since Robot Wars Series 7 in 2004 to be scheduled to air on national television. CBS Sports would pick up the Collegiate Tournament and set up a multi-episode showing around the 2009 holiday season with the rest of the CBS College Sports lineup.
Unfortunately, CBS was not able to find companies willing to advertise for commercial slots for the show, leading CBS to cancel the showing. It would later then be picked up by Fox Sports, along with the Pro Class tournament.
Later, Fox themselves withdraw their plans to air the tournament, likely for similar reasons as CBS. Another opportunity to air BattleBots on TV would not happen again until 2011 with James Cameron/Robogeddon. There also wouldn’t be any BattleBots non-collegiate events until 2015 with the ABC reboot.
Speaking of the 2015 tournament on ABC, if you missed the fights you can catch Third Law Sport’s reviews of the 2015 season.