Unfortunately, the initial pitch for that project was rejected by Midway for the simple reason that there seemed to be some doubt regarding the commercial viability of an arcade fighting game. Remember that this was all done before Street Fighter 2 really took over arcades, cemented itself as a game-changer, and inspired studios everywhere to start go all-in on the genre.
Instead, Midway decided to pursue an action game starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. The details of this part of the story sometimes get fuzzy, but it seems they specifically hoped to develop a game based on Van Damme’s Universal Soldier film. At the very least, the idea of adapting the mega star’s latest movie into a game must have seemed like a much more surefire hit than an unlicensed fighting title.
Recognizing an opportunity, Tobias and the rest of the four-person team that would go on to make Mortal Kombat decided to see if they could get Van Damme interested in the idea of starring in their martial arts game. Boon recalls that they even went so far as to send Van Damme a concept demo for that project by capturing a still of the actor from Bloodsport, cropping out the background, and replacing it with their own assets. There have even been reports that they were prepared to name their game Van Damme as the ultimate showcase of the star.
The idea fell through, and there seem to be some contradictory reports regarding exactly what happened. Boon once said that he’d heard Van Damme already had a deal in place with Sega that would conflict with their offer, but, as Boon notes, Sega clearly never released that game. If such a deal ever was in place, it seems nothing ever came from it. It’s also been said that Van Damme was too busy to model for the game’s digitized animations or was otherwise simply uninterested.
The entire Van Damme/Midway deal ending up falling apart, but there was a silver lining. Now given the time to properly recognize that the fighting genre was blowing up in arcades, Midway told Tobias, Boon, and the rest of the team to go ahead and work on their martial arts game, Van Damme be damned.
While Van Damme was technically out of the picture, the team at Midway were hardly ready to give up entirely on their idea of a fighting game inspired by Bloodsport