As a fan of “Tekken” and “Mortal Combat”-type fighter games, I didn’t anticipate loving EA’s latest boxing video game, “Fight Night Champion.”

Shortly after the game booted up, I was already picking myself up off the floor as a man who sounded like Mickey from the “Rocky” movies was giving me a heartfelt talk about the importance of heart and getting up.

I got to my feet and finished the round confused, not knowing the controls as if I was actually punch drunk. When the bell rang, I realized I was in a prison boxing match and was floored earlier by a head-butt that apparently isn’t grounds for a disqualification.

What kind of game starts you off face down on the canvas? How is that fair? Why am I fighting in prison? These questions were the first sign this boxing game might have a good story.

It did, and I was hooked.

Before you even see a menu, you are thrown into the above-mentioned Champion mode. This is by far the best story of any fighting game on the market — ever.

It has a crooked mobster with the police in his pocket paying off judges, trying to get me to fight for him; some family rivalry; a bit of romance; flashbacks; and a few twists.

The controls are nearly identical to its predecessor, “Fight Night Round 4,” so fans of the series won’t have to deal with a learning curve. Newbies like me will get the hang of them after a few matches.

It is a good idea to spend a little extra time on the heavy bag between fights to learn how to string combos together and bob and weave fluidly. This game is not a button masher. Learn defense, or risk getting knocked out by a stepping stone.

Controls are fairly simple and intuitive. You can use the right thumb stick or the buttons to throw punches. Triggers and shoulder buttons block, modify punches and change body movement into head movement.

The Legacy mode is the career mode. It is pretty robust. You can create custom fighters by adjusting their physical characteristics, fighting attributes and styles.

Experience points earned in minigames and matches can be spent to level up attributes, giving the game just the right amount of RPG flavor. You can even win over sponsors in your quest for the championship belt.

Once you have sufficiently developed your would-be knockout artist, you can test his/your might against friends and strangers alike. This is addictive to say the least, and at times pleasantly absurd. I am pretty sure I got knocked out by Ozzy Osborne.

Playing through the Champion modes before going online is the best way to avoid being humiliated by a digital caricature of a burned-out rock star.

Champion mode teaches you to diversify your fighting techniques by putting you in a variety of predicaments: a crooked referee calling your body shots low blows forces you to work upstairs; working as a sparring partner, who will get fired if you knock out your opponent with a head shot, means having to go to the body; a broken hand leaves you with only one good fist; a cut compels you to protect your head religiously.

I can’t forget to mention the visuals of this dark and gritty fighter. Skin textures, hair, eyes and pretty much everything on the character models are beautifully realistic and on par with some Hollywood CGI. Environments aren’t too shabby either.

The only complaint I have is the tedium of some of the minigames in the Legacy mode.

I highly recommend you lace up your gloves and experience “Fight Night Champion” for yourself even if you aren’t a fighter fan. It might change your mind. If nothing else, you’ll likely enjoy the ring girls.

The game earns its M rating, a first for an EA Sports title, for blood, strong language, suggestive themes and violence.

Bottom line: A-

“Fight Night Champion” has a gritty and compelling story that brings emotion into the genre and rivals box-office brawlers. The robust career mode offers tons of replay-ability on and offline.

Platform: Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and iOS


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