- This article is about the tournament. For the game series, check The King of Fighters (series).
The King of Fighters (ザ・キング・オブ・ファイターズ), stylized in-universe as THE KING OF FIGHTERS in all caps, and officially abbreviated as KOF (ケーオーエフ, pronounced as Kay-Oh-Eff), is a recurring tournament in SNK's gaming universe. It is prominently featured in the Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting series, as well as more frequently in the eponymous fighting game series. The tournament has been featured differently across the years, varying from a local competition to a global phenomenon.
The concept was first introduced in Fatal Fury: King of Fighters, although canonically, the first time a King of Fighters tournament was ever held was in Art of Fighting 2. Recently, the tournament's most prominent appearances are in The King of Fighters series, which was based on the idea developed in both series.
The King of Fighters is a martial arts tournament that was originally held in South Town, but fighters from all over the world were invited to participate. The tournament was not limited to any specific martial arts, and any kind of fighter is welcome to join the fray. Also, there are no limitations to weapon use, with KOF having a history of weapon fighters, such as the former champion Billy Kane.
The KOF was originally a single tournament, but when Rugal Bernstein first hosted it, he instituted the famous 3-on-3 rule. Teams of three fighters would compete against each other, with one fighter from each team fighting at a time. This rule was the basis of several tournaments, from '94 to '97, and again from 2003 to onward tournaments. The non-canon KOF '98, 2002 and XII also used this rule.
In 1999, a new rule was instituted. Teams were now formed by four participants instead of three, but only three participants would actively fight. The fourth participant was denominated as "Striker", and could only assist their companions a specific number of times during their fights. In 2000, a slight change to the striker rule was established. Now, a team could have anyone as his striker, not necessarily being limited to their fourth participant. Another change was made to the rules in 2001. In this tournament, a team could assign any number of active fighters and strikes as they would see fit. A team could have only one fighter and three strikers or four active fighters and no strikers at all, as well as any combination in-between.
The 2003 tournament marked the return of the 3-on-3 system, albeit with slight changes. All matches were taken place in a single round, but any time during the fight, a team member could swap positions with a fellow member, making fights even more dynamic. The position of Team Leader was also first seen in 2003. The next tournament carried on with these rules, but they were eventually revoked in KOF XII by production, and KOF XIII chronologically.
The singles iterations of KOF usually consist of 2-round fights, with the winner advancing to the finals to face that edition's host. In all KOF tournaments, fights are limited by a timer of usually 60 seconds. If time runs out and no winner is decided, the less damaged fighter is declared the winner. This system was changed in KOF XI, swapped for a judging system that would evaluate the fighter that sought the win the most and award him/her the victory.
Story (Art of Fighting-Fatal Fury Timeline)
Art of Fighting 2
The King of Fighters was a tournament created and hosted by Geese Howard in 1979, as seen in Art of Fighting 2. The martial arts enthusiast Geese created the tournament with the intent of scouting for strong fighters that could help him conquer South Town. Ryo Sakazaki used this opportunity to avenge the kidnapping of his sister the year before, an event triggered by Geese. Ryo was the winner of the first King of Fighters tournament in history, and after his defeat Geese escaped to Japan.
Fatal Fury: King of Fighters
When Geese returned to South Town, he established yearly editions of the King of Fighters tournament. Billy Kane, Geese's right-hand man, was the reigning champion for several years, until the Lonely Wolves appeared. The two sons of Jeff Bogard, a past rival of Geese that he assassinated, Terry Bogard and Andy Bogard, together with their friend, Muay Thai champion, Joe Higashi made their names during the 1992 edition of the tournament. They reached the finals, Terry defeated Billy and advanced to face Geese. The crime lord tasted defeat one more time, and almost died when Terry inadvertently knocked him out of the top of Geese Tower.
Fatal Fury 2
The following year, Wolfgang Krauser took the King of Fighters concept and created his own version of the tournament. In search of strong opponents, Krauser announced a worldwide The King of Fighters tournament and invited fighters from all over the world to compete. The Lonely Wolves participated once more, as well as Kim Kaphwan and Mai Shiranui, who would also make their names in the tournament. Terry managed to reach the finals and defeat Krauser to once again be crowned the champion.
Real Bout Fatal Fury
After Geese resurfaces in South Town and publicly announces his presence, he hosts another KOF tournament in order to draw his enemies to him and end their conflict once and for all. Terry managed to, once again, reach the finals and climbed to the top of Geese Tower to meet his mortal enemy. They fought each other in a heated battle, and Terry won, knocking Geese out of the top of Geese Tower again, this time to his death.
Garou: Mark of the Wolves
With Geese gone, the KOF tournament was only hosted again several years later, in Second Southtown, this time called "The King of Fighters: Maximum Mayhem". This tournament was held by Kain R. Heinlein, Geese's brother-in-law, who wanted to lure his nephew Rock Howard, who was living under Terry's custody. Rock and Terry met in the semi-finals, and Terry eventually won their fight. He proceeded to defeat Grant and Kain after him, but Kain convinced Rock to join him, mentioning that his mother is still alive. Terry finds Rock, but does not stop him from going with Kain, knowing they will meet again.
Story (The King of Fighters timeline)
In The King of Fighters series, the tournament is used as its main plot device.
The King of Fighters '94
After Geese's and Krauser's versions of the KOF tournament (the first of which takes place much closer than the 1979 date in the AOF/FF timeline), a ruthless crime lord known as Rugal Bernstein, seeking to add strong opponents to his statue collection, established his own version of KOF in 1994, this time with the 3-on-3 team rule. The Lonely Wolves, the Kyokugenryu Karate representatives, and several other fighters were invited to participate, but it was Team Japan that surprised the globe. Composed of Olympic gold medalist Goro Daimon, shooting champion Benimaru Nikkaido, and talented martial artist who wielded the power of fire, Kyo Kusanagi, Team Japan eventually reached Rugal. Kyo, Benimaru and Daimon were able to defeat the powerful Rugal, who then, exploded his ship, apparently killing himself.
The King of Fighters '95
The following year, more letters with the "R" seal were handed to the participants of the '94 tournament. Geese Howard wanted to have his own team in the tournament, so he summoned Billy Kane, the ninja Eiji Kisaragi, and mysterious Iori Yagami and stole the invitations of the American Sports Team (Heavy D!, Lucky Glauber and Brian Battler). Team Japan once again reached the finals, only to discover that Rugal was alive, due to the power of Orochi. He also kidnapped Kyo's father, Saisyu Kusanagi, and brainwashed him, making him fight his own son. Omega Rugal, as he called himself, proved to be an overpowering opponent, but the Orochi power eventually corrupted his body to the point of utter annihilation.
The King of Fighters '96
In 1996, the King of Fighters tournament was now hosted by a conglomerate of several companies, all under the command of Chizuru Kagura. Kagura, wanting to draw the attention of both Kyo and Iori, thought that the KOF tournament was the best way to do so. Team Japan reached the finals once again and managed to defeat Chizuru, but then, a sudden and strong gust of wind, who immediately transformed into a windstorm, destroyed the arena. A mysterious man, commanding the wind and calling himself Goenitz appeared and challenged the heir of the Kusanagi clan. Goenitz is one of the Four Heavenly Kings of the Hakkesshu, the most powerful servants of Orochi. Goenitz proved to be a challenge to Team Japan, but was defeated with the combined effort of Kyo, Iori and Chizuru.
The King of Fighters '97
Despite the destruction caused at the end of the previous tournament, KOF '96 was a success. Now a worldwide phenomenon, the King of Fighters tournament in 1997 was to be broadcasted by Satella to several countries. While Chizuru continues being the host, she also entered as a participant for the Women Fighters Team. New faces also joined the fray, namely Yashiro Nanakase, Shermie and Chris, who were secretly the missing three of the Four Heavenly Kings of Orochi, who used the tournament in order to gather the latent energy of the powerful fighters of the tournament to feed their master and bring him back to the world. Team Japan won the tournament once again, but Orochi revealed its presence by sending both Iori and Leona into the Riot of the Blood state, making them go berserk and attack many of the fighters. After they were subdued, Yashiro, Shermie and Chris revealed themselves as the last members of Hakkesshu, and their plot to revive Orochi. They proved a challenge but were defeated by Team Japan. It was too late, though, as their fight provided the last bit of energy that Orochi needed. The being incarnated in Chris' body and would proceed to annihilate humanity if it was not for the efforts of Kyo, Iori and Chizuru. The trio, heirs of the Sacred Treasures, managed to narrowly defeat and seal Orochi, saving mankind from destruction. Having passed out, Kyo was carried away by mysterious men.
The King of Fighters '99
Two years later, a new King of Fighters tournament was being held. Heidern had some information that the tournament had some ties with the NESTS cartel, a powerful syndicate that rules the underworld. NESTS was actually trafficking in biotechnology, and were known to develop unethical human experimentation. Two products of NESTS, the cyborg Maxima, and K', a young man injected with Kyo Kusanagi's DNA, entered the King of Fighters tournament together with Benimaru and Shingo Yabuki under orders from NESTS. The tournament's host, Krizalid, used KOF in order to absorb the fighters battle data - their latent energy - in order to power listless Kyo Kusanagi clones released all around the globe. K', Maxima, Benimaru and Shingo reached the finals and were able to narrowly defeat Krizalid. K' had discovered that his memories were all implanted by NESTS, and he and Maxima decided to go rogue and fight against them.
The King of Fighters 2000
The next year, the tournament was hosted by Ling and Heidern in South Town. The two mercenary leaders wanted to use KOF in order to draw out NESTS. In reality, Ling was being impersonated by a former NESTS operative named Zero. Zero used the tournament in order to power his Zero Cannon, a powerful sky-based weapon with the power to level entire cities. Zero wanted to destroy NESTS using the Zero Cannon, so he, not NESTS, would be the harbinger of a new era. During the tournament, NESTS' presence was seen in the Anti K'. The Anti K', a little girl named Kula Diamond, and her overseers, Diana, Foxy and Candy Diamond, were sent with two goals in mind. Destroy K' and crush Zero's plans. The team of K', Maxima, Vanessa and Ramon were able to reach the finals and face Zero, but he had already used the Zero Cannon South Town. When he was going to use the cannon to kill his enemies, the Anti K' managed to disrupt the Zero Cannon and fired it on Zero. South Town was nearly lost.
The King of Fighters 2001
In 2001, the KOF was hosted by Nests, the CEO of the cartel. He wanted to bring all his enemies in one place in order to crush them all, but Igniz, one of the higher ranking officials of the syndicate, had other plans. The winners of the tournament were the team comprised of K', Maxima, Whip and Lin, who were all put into a spaceship where they were greeted by the original Zero, his lion, Glaugan, a revived Krizalid and Ron. They fight, and K' and his team manage to defeat their enemies. The spaceship is self-destructing as the heroes rush into NESTS real headquarters in space. There, they meet Igniz, who kills Nests and declares himself the new CEO of NESTS and the new god of mankind. Wanting to use all of NESTS's power for himself in order to achieve godhood, Igniz masqueraded as loyal, but revealed his true intentions. Deciding to test his newfound powers against his own creations, he attacks. It took the combined might of K', Kyo Kusanagi, Iori Yagami and Kula Diamond to fully defeat Igniz. He then activates the self-destruction of the space station, but the heroes managed to survive, saved by unknown benefactors. NESTS was finally destroyed.
Tales of Ash
The King of Fighters 2003
The tournament returned two years later, with several of the tournaments past participants as well as newcomers receiving invitation letters sealed once again with an "R". One of the newcomers was a young lad called Ash Crimson, who entered the tournament with his own agenda. The tournament was eventually revealed to be hosted by Rose Bernstein and Adelheid Bernstein, the children of Rugal. Chizuru Kagura was also, mysteriously involved in the tournament, and with the power of the Mirror of Yata, summoned Kusanagi, a shadow of Kyo. In reality, Chizuru was being controlled by Botan, a member of a mysterious group known as Those From the Past. Botan and her companion, Mukai were trying to use Chizuru in order to weaken the Orochi seal, in order to give its power to their master. Chizuru, who had also summoned an image of her long lost sister, Maki, attacked the team of K', Maxima and Whip, but the sisters were defeated. Mukai, then, proceeded to test the trio. After an overwhelming struggle, Mukai was defeated, but he rose to his feet, unscathed and disappeared, together with Botan and several members of Those From the Past. Kyo Kusanagi and Iori Yagami helped in the fight, and they were checking the Orochi seal, when suddenly, Ash Crimson appeared and somehow managed to steal the Yatta Mirror from Chizuru. He vanished, promising he would take both Iori and Kyo's Sacred Treasures as well. KOF once again revealed itself as the stage of conspiracies. Although it was K' and his team that defeated the true enemies in Mukai and Botan, the official winners of the tournament were the Ikari Warriors (Leona, Ralf and Clark), who faced and managed to defeat Adelheid.
The King of Fighters XI
The next KOF was also hosted by Rose, in order to look for strong opponents for Adelheid. In reality, Rose was being controlled by Botan, who wanted her to host the tournament so Those From the Past could use it for their own machinations. They sent Magaki and Shion to break the Orochi seal. The tournament was won by the team of Elisabeth Blanctorche, Benimaru Nikaido and Duo Lon, who proceeded to defeat Shion. After his failure, Shion was trapped in another dimension by Magaki, who then challenged the winning team. Magaki was defeated, and like Mukai, rose to his feet, apparently unscathed, and tried to escape through a portal, but Shion's spear was hurled from withing the portal, killing Magaki. Due to Orochi's presence, Iori snapped and entered the Riot of the Blood, nearly killing Kyo and Shingo, Ash Crimson appeared and used Iori's uncontrollable state to steal the Yasakani no Magatama. Elisabeth and her team eventually arrived and confronted Ash, who eventually escaped from their sight, but not before telling them to tell Kyo that he will come for him next.
The King of Fighters XIII
Rose, still under the spell of Botan, held another KOF tournament. This time it was revealed that the leader of Those From the Past, Saiki wanted to hold a particular ceremony in order to fully reawake Orochi, so he could use its powers for his own schemes. Wanting to use the winners of KOF as sacrifice, he ordered Botan to use Rose for such end. Saiki absorbs Mukai's life force and proceeds to face the winning team so the energy spent on the fight could open Gate. Saiki, then noticed that the Gate was closing instead of opening, and then, Ash used that opportunity to rob Saiki of his spirit. This plan backfired, as Saiki was able to control Ash's body as his own, and attacked the winning team once again. He is defeated, however, and as Ash manages to retake control over his body after the battle, Saiki orders him to cross the gate so they can retry again. Ash refuses to restart time with Saiki, resulting in both being erased from existence, right after Ash said his goodbyes to Elisabeth Blanctorche before he ceased to exist.
The King of Fighters XIV
Sometimes later since the disappearance of Ash, a mysterious billionaire and self-proclaimed “first champion”, Antonov buys the rights of the King of Fighters brand to host a new tournament. Outside the tournament, a new evil entity that has a similar power as one of the new tournament's participants, Shun'ei has somehow emerged, and currently plan to go after the young man. During the tournament matches, Nakoruru tracks the evil entity direction to Russia, where the KOF’s final match against Antonov will be held, and Shun’ei himself will also be presented there. After the winning team defeats Antonov, the evil entity, in form of a fiery humanoid began to destroy the stadium. Nakoruru arrives in time and confirms to the presented fighters about this fiery entity is one created from time distortion caused by event that happened in this world's past and having the souls of the deceased past warriors inside its body.
The entity itself is revealed to be connected to one of Shun’ei’s half-power as it negates one of the young man’s arm. Antonov sacrifice his life saving a child from the entity’s fire attack. The former champion’s last wish to the presented fighters is to defeat the fiery entity before seemingly died. The fiery entity began to form its volcano-like armored form and began to roar only its name, Verse. As Verse is defeated and blows itself up, the souls inside its body are also released and revived once more. At the same time, Antonov has survived Verse’s attack with his willpower, which only knocked him temporarily until the monster is defeated. In the end, a worldwide search is commence for the revived warriors and later, Verse’s fragment is revealed to be fell to Australia and still alive.
The King of Fighters XV
Following Antonov's early retirement, the new tournament commissioner Anastasia sends out invitations to fighters to join the tournament; the mayhem caused by Verse's powers resurrects various long-thought deceased fighters from past tournaments as well.
Chizuru Kagura gathers the enemies Kyo Kusanagi and Iori Yagami in order to look after the seal of the snake demon Orochi. Shun'ei, a teenager with mysterious powers resembling Verse's, enters the tournament again alongside Meitenkun and Benimaru Nikaido to better understand his powers. During the tournament, they encounter a rival team led by a girl with similar powers to his own, Isla. Isla is being mentored by a woman named Dolores who wishes for her and Shun'ei to stop the appearance of more creatures like Verse, believing Ash Crimson's timetravelling in a previous tournament to have caused their appearance. However, a new creature labeled as Re Verse appears as the tournament progresses and targets the fighters, pulling them into another world. Following Re Verse's defeat, the mysterious goddess Otoma=Raga appears and attacks the teams. Upon Otoma=Raga's defeat, the fighters escape back to their world and are crowned as the new King of Fighters champions.
The King of Fighters EX
In The King of Fighters EX: Neo Blood sub-series, the tournament is largely similar to the King of Fighters series. The first tournament in the EX sub-series was hosted by Geese Howard and used the striker rules, similar to The King of Fighters '99. The second tournament was hosted by European millionaire Gustav Munchausen. Munchausen found a way of channeling the spirit of Goenitz into the body of Sinobu Amou, a little boy who were one of the ten Sacred Treasures of Japan. Wanting to test the power of his new weapon, Munchausen creates The King of Fighters EX2 tournament.
KOF: Maximum Impact Timeline
This continuity is mix of the Art of Fighting/Fatal Fury and The King of Fighters timeline. Here, Southtown is dominated by Mephistopheles, a gang who is run by Duke. Duke had defeated Fate, a former leader of the Addes syndicate, who was known as a Robin Hood figure in South Town. He had also adopted two brother, Alba Meira and Soiree Meira. A King of Fighters tournament, also called the Mephistopheles Fighting Tournament, was established by Duke and several famous fighters from all over the world were all invited to participate. Alba was the eventual winner, and managed to achieve his revenge when he defeated Duke.
A second King of Fighters tournament was eventually hosted by Addes, who remained active in the shadows. Jivatma was the host of the tournament and used it to attract the Meira brothers for his undisclosed goals. Alba defeated Jivatma and won the tournament, but Soiree was kidnapped by his enemies and still remains missing.
The King of Fighters movie
In The King of Fighters movie, the tournament is held in an alternate dimension, unknown to the public. When invited, participants may enter the dimension via a special bluetooth device. In the movie, the tournament is hosted by Rugal Bernstein, who looks to command the power of Orochi. The story focuses on Mai, Kyo, Chizuru, Iori and Terry who antagonize Rugal.
The Queen of Fighters
Featured in SNK Gals' Fighters, the Queen of Fighters tournament is a spoof of KOF. It was held by the mysterious "Miss X", with the intent of crowning the strongest woman fighter in the world. Several women were invited, including from The Last Blade and Samurai Shodown series (two SNK series set in Feudal Japan).
The following is a list of people that have hosted a KOF tournament.
Art of Fighting/Fatal Fury series Timeline
The King of Fighters series Timeline
KOF: Maximum Impact Timeline
The King of Fighters EX Timeline
SNK Gals' Fighters Timeline
This is a list of confirmed winners (alternative or true) of all King of Fighters tournaments.
Art of Fighting/Fatal Fury Timeline
The King of Fighters series Timeline
- Note: With exception of Lin (which current status is unknown), all the members of the champion teams are alive.
KOF: Maximum Impact Timeline
According to the true story of The King of Fighters '97, it should be pointed out that Team Sacred Treasures (Kyo, Iori and Chizuru) is pointed as the winner of the tournament, with the trio facing Orochi and his Heavenly Kings in the climax of the tournament. However, this could be considered an alternative ending for the game.
It should also be pointed out that the winning team of The King of Fighters XIII tournament is unknown as mentioned in The King of Fighters: A New Beginning (KOF XIV's official manga adaptation). Both Team Elisabeth (Elisabeth, Duo Lon and Shen Woo) and Team Japan (Kyo, Benimaru and Daimon) have the possibility of being the champions, with Elisabeth being confirmed to have faced Evil Ash, but the Japan Team is the only team with a canonical ending that directly mentions their victory.
It should also be pointed out that Antonov was called as the self-proclaimed as "first champion" in The King of Fighters XIV, however this is not the case. In The King of Fighters: A New Beginning (a manga adaptation of The King of Fighters XIV), it's mentioned that neither Team won the tournament, due to the Antonov Super Arena being destroyed before the finals began (as Verse appeared). However, this information is non-canon to the game series.
Finally, according to KOF XV story cutscenes and endings, it is pointed that Team Hero (Shun'ei, Meitenkun and Benimaru) and Team Rivals (Isla, Dolores and Heidern) are the only formations to face the final bosses in the game (Re Verse and Otoma=Raga), due to the statues of their leaders as Amplified Specters.
Fatal Fury series
Art of Fighting series
The King of Fighters series
- The King of Fighters '94
- The King of Fighters '95
- The King of Fighters '96
- The King of Fighters '97
- The King of Fighters '98 (non-canonical)
- The King of Fighters '99
- The King of Fighters 2000
- The King of Fighters 2001
- The King of Fighters EX: Neo Blood
- The King of Fighters 2002 (non-canonical)
- The King of Fighters EX2: Howling Blood
- The King of Fighters 2003
- The King of Fighters XI
- The King of Fighters XII (non-canonical)
- The King of Fighters XIII
- The King of Fighters XIV
- The King of Fighters XV
Maximum Impact series
- Rose Bernstein and Anastasia are the only hosts of the KOF tournament who doesn't appear as a playable character in any game of the series.
- Anastasia is the only host who is only mentioned, but never appeared as a physical character in the KOF series. It is unknown if she would make a full-on appearance.
- Benimaru Nikaido is the holder of the most KOF titles, winning a total of nine tournaments ('94, '95, '96, '97, '99, XI, XIII, XIV and XV).
- Only six female characters have won the tournament: Vanessa (KOF 2000), Whip (KOF 2001), Leona Heidern (KOF 2003), Elisabeth Blanctorche (KOF XI and XIII) and the duo Isla and Dolores (KOF XV).
- The Bernstein family is the only of the series which all of its members are KOF tournament hosts.
- The EX2 tournament and Queen of the Fighters' don't have some winners listed in the lore.