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Power Ranking the 10 Greatest Sports Gaming Cameos

Sports Gaming

Power Ranking the 10 Greatest Sports Gaming Cameos

With the NBA, NFL and NHL all between seasons, we at OS have engaged in many discussions and debates as we celebrate a bountiful MLB season. Among these was a simple but dangerous question: who are the greatest celebrity/guest cameos in sports gaming history?

Fear not, as we have combed through mountains of data and have power ranked the top 10 greatest sports video game cameos of all-time. Here’s our methodology.

Celebrities/guests must meet the following requirements to be eligible:

1. The celebrities/guests cannot have professionally participated in the sport. Legends, therefore, do not count.

2. Celebrities/guests cannot have the game named after them. Mike Tyson is one of the greatest bosses of all-time in the Punch-Out! that displays his name, but everyone knows and recognizes him for being a titanic cameo and opponent.

3. Games must be sports games. As much as we would have loved to include the Wu-Tang Clan for PlayStation’s Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style, it was a four-player brawler as opposed to any sort of game that celebrates martial arts as a sport.

Once deemed eligible, they are given a score of zero to five, with five being the highest among the following criteria:

1. Personality Fit Within the League/Universe: There’s always more than just the game. How would they fare with reporters? Are they regularly attending practice? Would they be a voice behind the team or sit idly on the sidelines?

2. Sport Ability: If this special guest was dropped into the sport, how would he or she do from a performance perspective? Would they be able to wrestle at all? Could they hit a 98-MPH fastball?

3. Intangibles: This category is a catch-all for all cultural points, references or otherwise relevant characteristics that would give them a boost over their opponents.

Their totals were then added up and ranked accordingly. The maximum score is 15.

Honorable Mention: Everyone: Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball (SNES, 1994)
This one is a bit tricky, as it technically meets all of the parameters, but there are not any cameo appearances whatsoever in the game. Without the MLBPA license, the game features fictional rosters among real teams, stadiums and logos. Each team was roughly given a theme: the Astros are cartoonists, the Angels are famous actors, the Red Sox are Boston-area sights and people, etc. While it would be truly something to see the real Gary Larson square up a 101-MPH fastball from Gladys Knight, very few sprites actually line up with their corresponding real-life counterparts. Therefore, it does not crack the top ten but gets a tip of the cap for creativity.

Personality Fit Within the League/Universe: N/A
Sport Ability: N/A
Intangibles: N/A
Score: N/A

10. Steve-O: ESPN NFL 2K5 (2004)

Among the seemingly endless list of features in Visual Concept’s masterpiece is a collection of celebrity cameos that simultaneously raised a lot of questions but in retrospect made complete sense for the time. We all loved Jackass and its irreversible impact on American culture, and including then-Wildboy Steve-O was a notable cameo. However, to be fair, it was Johnny Knoxville who was annihilated by the USC football team in a punt return and Jared Allen on multiple separate occasions. Not Steve-O.

Steve-O did participate in the Football Follies sketch, where he demonstrated a lack of awareness on both sides of the ball. He did demonstrate notable durability throughout his career, earning a likely 90 Toughness.

Personality Fit Within the League/Universe: 0.5
Sport Ability: 0.5
Intangibles: 2.0
Score: 3.0

9. Fred Durst: WWF Smackdown: Just Bring It! (2001)

Somewhere, in the distant future, a young WWE fan will be entrenched in learning about the company’s heyday in the mid/late 1990s. Along the way, he or she might develop a penchant for vintage video games and become curious about WWE’s interactive representation during this time. 2001 featured a band by the name of Limp Bizkit at the epicenter of its culture. At the time, The Undertaker, one of the greatest wrestlers of all-time, was transitioning from a literal Lord of Darkness who crucified and brainwashed wrestlers on prime-time television into a motorcycle riding, leather-wearing biker. No kisses were stolen, and whether or not The Phenom had a hard time holding his alligators down notwithstanding, his entrance theme turned from a terrorizing, macabre omen into Rollin’ by Limp Bizkit. A bizarre sign of the times to say the least. To Durst’s credit, however, he was included in the game as his own wrestler. Not a valet, not a manager, a wrestler. But once he emerged with his red cap, hoodie and jeans, it was clear that this was trouble.

Durst’s in-ring ability might not be as sound as other entries on this list, but there is something to be said for inspiring The Deadman.

Personality Fit Within the League/Universe: 1.5
Sport Ability: 0.5
Intangibles: 2.0
Score: 4.0

8. Flavor Flav: Def Jam: Fight for New York (2004)

It was almost impossible to pick a single musician to include in this wrestling/rap send-up. Though it functions as far more of a story-driven brawler than a wrestling game, it features a wrestling ring, allows custom wrestling-based movesets, and comes from the ashes of THQ/AKI’s exceptional WCW and WWF entries on the Nintendo 64. Warren G’s outfit is too casual. Method Man and Ice-T were very close runners-up. But given the WWE’s propensity to pull charismatic characters into their universe, Flavor Flav stood out in particular. His personality is an excellent fit — Flav hosted Raw in the past and took to a freestyle battle against William Regal. But in the end, he loses points for a likely disastrous in-ring ability — even though he is the only fighter on the Def Jam roster to have drunken master as his fighting style.

For now, we have to wonder what life would have been like if Flav was a wrestling valet instead of the hype man for one of the most important musical acts of all-time.

Personality Fit Within the League/Universe: 2.5
Sport Ability: 1.0
Intangibles: 3.0
Score: 5.5

7. Raiden: NFL Blitz (1997)

NFL Blitz, much like NBA Jam, yielded a huge roster of secret characters accessible via the name entry screen. One secret character rose above the mascots and programmers: Mortal Kombat’s Raiden. Raiden is quite literally a thunder god. He is a deity that manipulates thunder. His need to participate in something like American football already yields a comically low fit in the universe. But his leadership, astronomical pain tolerance, and ability to control the weather make him a player that any coach would want on his team and a highly marketable star. Not unlike the National Football League, Raiden’s reputation is built on the brutal and senseless slaughter of a host of vibrant characters and beings.

However, his ability to manipulate lightning and spelling of his name make him an ideal candidate for a Chargers/Raiders hybrid mascot if both teams had moved to Los Angeles. That could have made for a formidable cross-promotional campaign in Mortal Kombat and NFL Blitz’s glory days. Instead, it’s worth two Intangible points.

Personality Fit Within the League/Universe: 0.0
Sport Ability: 5.0
Intangibles: 2.0
Score: 7.0

6. Henry Rollins: Def Jam: Fight for New York (2004)

Punk legend Henry Rollins surprised everyone who booted up the game as the Killer Kowalski of the game, guiding you through tutorials in sweatpants. Rollins’ obsession with exercising in the 1980s created a wholesome professional wrestling look for him. Given his exceptional microphone ability, he would figure to be an excellent fit in the WWE Universe. Regrettably, Henry stands at 5-foot-9, which makes him undersized in Vince McMahon’s eyes. Let’s face it, he would have wound up with some heinous gimmick like “The Plunderer” with some goofy eye-patch and pirate attire, and would have jobbed in cruiserweight matches. That’s not the Henry Rollins that the world deserves, and that’s why EA gave the hardcore legend a prominent role in a game centered around hip-hop and wrestling.

Current WWE Superstar Seth Rollins looks very much like a young Henry, uses the Black Flag font in some of his merchandise, and cites Henry as the source of his in-ring name. So Henry wins some big intangible points here.

Personality Fit Within the League/Universe: 2.0
Sport Ability: 3.5
Intangibles: 5.0
Score: 10.5

5. Bruce Lee: UFC (2014)

This was tough. If he were coming into his prime today, Bruce Lee’s talent would make him an otherworldly draw for UFC. Pitting Bruce Lee against Conor McGregor and even Bas Rutten in UFC was a delightful way to tease the age-old debate. Lee is the master of cool, but how well would his personality translate in the UFC world? How would he walk out to the Octagon? What would happen to his legend if someone actually defeated him? Mixed martial arts is exactly that, and the debate of how well Lee would fare is an endlessly tricky one. Is it even comparable? How long could he fight with contrasting styles? His stoic personality would be incredible for fight narratives, but how quickly would it tire?

Much like Muhammad Ali actually wresting for WWE, the uncertainty of the translation of his talents into UFC ultimately limits him. But that’s why we have video games, right?

Personality Fit Within the League/Universe: 3.5
Sport Ability: 3.0
Intangibles: 5.0
Score: 11.5

4. Muhammad Ali: WCW vs NWO: World Tour (1997)

This one was also difficult. Ali is not directly licensed in this game. Instead, he appears as “Joe Bruiser” and is the game’s final secret character upon completion of the Heavyweight Championship title quest. He looks a thousand percent like Muhammad Ali, is the only boxing character in the game, and possesses no wrestling moves. Ali’s ties to professional wrestling have been long documented, but he never technically wrestled in a match. He had a 10-round martial arts match against Antonio Inoki, was airplane spun by Gorilla Monsoon after a match, and was a special guest at the first WrestleMania. His microphone skills were innovative, and there is no debate that prime Ali could handle, well, anyone, let alone a WWE Superstar, in a real fight. But barring intensive training, he would be limited to a Japanese-style striking moveset that does not always translate into success in the WWE.

Despite being a flawless personality fit, his wrestling best-case scenarios are more Brock Lesnar or Shinsuke Nakamura than Mike Tyson. But that’s if he could handle the training. I would think it’s pretty safe to say that we’re thankful he stuck with boxing full-time.

Personality Fit Within the League/Universe: 5.0
Sport Ability: 2.0
Intangibles: 5.0
Score: 12.0

3. Spider-Man: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 (2000)

For many ’90s kids, this was an extremely memorable unlock. As a 10-year-old kid, can you imagine playing through Career Mode as your created self, finally achieving that 100 percent completion, and waiting for your reward? Then you find out that what you’ve unlocked is not a video, extra level, or additional pro skater, but a completely playable Spider-Man?! What?! Activision made both Spider-Man and the Tony Hawk series at the time, allowing for the easy crossover. His rope swinging abilities and Spider-Senses already set him up as an astounding acrobat, and he could use his web to manipulate his board.

With that in mind, what exactly could stop him from becoming the greatest skateboarder to ever live? If unlocking him and playing with him was not enough, THPS 2 actually included a video of (we imagine) Tony Hawk dressed as Spider-Man skateboarding. So he’s already skateboarding and looks well-learned. Plus, wouldn’t Peter Parker have fit right in as a member of the Descendents or Bad Religion?

Personality Fit Within the League/Universe: 4.0
Sport Ability: 5.0
Intangibles: 4.0
Score: 13.0

2. Princess Peach: NBA Street Vol. 3 (2005)

There was much ado about the GameCube version of NBA Street V3, as Mario, Luigi and Peach were included as playable characters. Finally, we could resolve ancient sports debates such as LeBron vs. Luigi and what would have happened if the Portland Trail Blazers had selected Mario instead of Sam Bowie in the 1983 NBA Draft. However, the world’s most famous plumbers were no match for the third member of their squad: Princess Peach. Let’s put it in perspective: Peach is the ultimate female basketball player. She can go toe-to-toe with Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Larry Bird. NBA Street Vol. 3 finally showcased Peach’s true talent: basketball. She was fine in Mario Golf and Mario Tennis, but so was everyone else. She shined brightest when blocking, dunking and stealing.

She could take on NBA greats and prove that gender and size did not matter. And she did it in a casual pink getup while everyone else was fitted with expensive shoes and gear — not to mention her full head of jewelry. That makes her the ultimate trash-talker, too. She remains an inspiration to us all.

Personality Fit Within the League/Universe: 4.0
Sport Ability: 5.0
Intangibles: 5.0
Score: 14.0

1. Fresh Prince And Jazzy Jeff: NBA Jam: Tournament Edition (1995)

And here it is. Historians will look upon this as the greatest cultural crossover in sports gaming. NBA Jam, at its apex of popularity, was armed with an arsenal of future Hall of Famers in one of the greatest eras for the NBA. Buried in its Name Entry screen was the ability to unlock a host of fun and bizarre secret characters, such as Bill Clinton, the Beastie Boys and even Mortal Kombat characters. However, none were as perfect as the Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff. One can fondly recall Prince’s self-proclaimed adolescence on the basketball court even leading up to his transfer to Bel-Air Academy. DJ Jazzy Jeff perfected a role that few could master: he was the Stockton to Prince’s Malone; he was the Payton to Prince’s Kemp. The Nickelodeon Slime-soaked early 1990s world was littered with NBA Jam and the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and, simply, it was a flawless fit.

They soared in NBA Jam not unlike Jazzy Jeff as he was tossed out of Uncle Phil’s home. In a game that had to leave out the likes of Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal out due to licensing, they were the true kings. And for that, they are number one on our list as the only cameo with a perfect score.

Personality Fit Within the League/Universe: 5.0
Sport Ability: 5.0
Intangibles: 5.0
Score: 15.0

So, there you have it. What say you, beloved readers? Did we miss anyone? Should anyone be ranked higher or lower? Let us know in the comments.

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