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Battle royal (plural battles royal, also royale) traditionally refers to a fight involving many combatants that is fought until only one fighter remains standing, usually conducted under either boxing or wrestling rules. In recent times, the term has been used in a more general sense to refer to any fight involving large numbers of people who are not organized into factions. Within combat sports and professional wrestling, the term has a specific meaning, depending on the sports being discussed.
Outside of sports, the term battle royale has taken on a new meaning in the 21st century, redefined by the 2000 Japanese film Battle Royale. This new meaning of "battle royale" refers to a fictional narrative genre and/or mode of entertainment inspired by the film, where a select group of people are instructed to kill one another until there is a triumphant survivor.
The label of "battle royal" has been applied to several events. In the 1700s in the United Kingdom, some bare-knuckle boxing conducted according to Jack Broughton's rules included matches between 8 people. Referred to as "Broughton's Battle Royals", these events were notable enough to be referenced and spoofed in political cartoons of the era. While the practice eventually fell out of favor in the United Kingdom, it continued to be practiced in the American colonies of England. Lower-class whites who lived in the backwoods practiced the "free-for-all" as well as "rough-and-tumble". This practice also spread to American slaves, who would hold mass fights as a form of sporting entertainment. (Frederick Douglass wrote that such sporting distractions, as well as alcohol, were "among the most effective in the hands of the slaveholder in keeping down the spirit of insurrection.") While a few masters sanctioned slave boxers (as shown in the 2012 film Django Unchained), this practice appears to have been rare in general, as slaveholders did not wish to damage their "property"; the majority of these events were run by the slaves themselves for their own amusement.
After the Civil War, the battle royal entered a popular phase, but one also considered shameful and disreputable in retrospect. In it, promoters for boxing events would arrange for brutal free-for-alls with few rules that were generally between all black boxers. The audience for these spectacles were almost always white people, unlike the pre-War entertainment done within the enslaved community. A battle royal was a frequent "opener" event for boxing and wrestling shows during the 1870–1910 period. They originated and were most popular in the American South but eventually spread to the North as well. However, the events fell out of favor, especially in the North; in New York, the State Athletic Commission banned the battle royal in 1911. They continued in the South from 1910s – 1950s, but with less popularity. The 1952 novel Invisible Man is a well-known cultural depiction of the brutality of such events, and helped change attitudes sufficiently such that by the 1960s, battle royals had been banned even in the American South. Despite all of this, the battle royal was a way for a would-be boxer to get noticed; successful battle royal champions gained enough prestige to be able to work their way up to proper normal boxing matches. Jack Johnson is mentioned in relation to this in Ken Burn’s documentary about him. Joe Gans and Beau Jack are two famous examples of successful boxers who started in battle royals.
In professional wrestling, the battle royal is a match involving anywhere between four and 60 wrestlers that takes place entirely inside the ring — a wrestler is eliminated when a wrestler scores a pinfall or knocks out his or her opponent(s) (but rarely submissions). Some promotions allow over the top rope eliminations or enforce them exclusively, notably normal battle royals in the WWE and also in their annual Royal Rumble. Battle royals are often used to determine the top contender for a championship or filling vacant championships.
World Championship Wrestling was known for having the largest battle royal in wrestling, held annually at their WCW World War 3 pay-per-view events. The three-ring, sixty-wrestler events consisted of all sixty wrestlers parading out to the ring (usually without formal introductions to save time) and beginning to fight at the bell. Once the number of wrestlers in each ring had dwindled down to a number suitable for a single ring, the wrestlers would all move to the designated "Ring #1" out of the three and would fight to a winner. The winners of the four World War 3 battles royal were Randy Savage, The Giant, Scott Hall, and Kevin Nash.
World Championship Wrestling also held an event called Battlebowl in which 20 men started in one ring and would have to throw others into a second ring. From that ring you would be thrown to the floor for elimination. The last man in ring one would rest until one man was left in ring two. Those two men would then battle until one man was left and would be declared the winner. In 1991 Sting won the match after it coming down to him and Lex Luger. Every year thereafter Battle Bowl took place with only one ring and a normal battle royal.
Numerous variations of the battle royal also exist, including:
- World Wrestling Entertainment's Royal Rumble: an over-the-top rope elimination match which starts with two competitors and adds a new competitor every two minutes, usually up to a total of thirty entrants, with the final remaining competitor being the winner
- Total Nonstop Action Wrestling's Gauntlet for the Gold: an over-the-top rope elimination match in which the final two competitors face off in a one-fall singles match
- Tag Team Battle Royal: a standard battle royal in which teams of two, three, or four combatants compete for group victory. Variations have been used in both WCW and TNA.
Battle royale genre
In the 21st century, the 2000 Japanese film Battle Royale, itself based on the 1999 novel of the same name, redefined the term "battle royale" in popular culture. The term "battle royale" has been used to refer to a fictional narrative genre and/or mode of entertainment inspired by the film, where a select group of people are instructed to kill one another until there is a triumphant survivor. The "battle royale" phenomenon has become especially popular in the 2010s. Battle Royale set out the basic rules of the genre, including players being forced to kill each other until there is a single survivor, taking place on a shrinking map, and the need to scavenge for weapons and items. The "battle royale" concept had first gained mainstream popularity in Japan, where Battle Royale had inspired a wave of manga, anime and visual novel works during the 2000s, before the concept gained global mainstream popularity in the 2010s.
There are a number of popular battle royale video games, films, manga, anime, and visual novels. Along with the Battle Royale franchise itself, other examples of battle royale films include The Hunger Games franchise (2008 debut), The Purge series (2013 debut), Assassination Nation (2018), and Ready or Not (2019). Popular examples of battle royale games include PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (2017), Fortnite Battle Royale (2017), Knives Out (2017), Rules of Survival (2017), Garena Free Fire (2017), Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 (2018) and Apex Legends (2019).
Along with the Battle Royale manga (2000 debut), other examples of battle royale manga and anime include Gantz (2000 debut), Basilisk (2003 debut), Bokurano (2003 debut), the Fate/stay night franchise (2004 debut), Future Diary (2006 debut), Deadman Wonderland (2007 debut), Btooom! (2009 debut), the Danganronpa franchise (2010 debut), Magical Girl Raising Project (2012 debut), Darwin's Game (2012 debut), and the Death Parade series (2013 debut).
Examples of battle royale visual novel games include Higurashi: When They Cry (2002 debut), the Fate/stay night series (2004 debut), Dies irae (2007), the Zero Escape series (2009 debut), and the Danganronpa series (2010 debut). Fictional battle royale video games are depicted in the manga series Btooom (2009), and the Phantom Bullet (Gun Gale Online) arc of the light novel series Sword Art Online (2010) where it is called Bullet of Bullets.
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