In 2020, human boxers are replaced by robots. Charlie Kenton, a former boxer, owns Ambush, but loses it in a fight against a bull belonging to promoter and carnival owner Ricky. Having bet with Ricky that Ambush would win, Charlie absconds before Ricky can collect.
After the fight, Charlie learns that his ex-girlfriend died and he must now attend a hearing deciding the future of their son, Max, a robot-boxing fan with whom Charlie has virtually no contact since Max was born. Max's maternal aunt, Debra, and her wealthy husband, Marvin, want full custody, which Charlie (not really an "ideal father") bargains for $100,000, half in advance, and Marvin negotiates that Charlie retains Max for three months while Marvin and Debra go on vacation. Settling into a gym owned by Bailey Tallet, the daughter of Charlie's former boxing coach, Charlie acquires the once-famous Noisy Boy, but it is destroyed in a subsequent fight against Midas. As Charlie and Max attempt to scavenge parts from a junkyard to make a new robot, Max discovers Atom, an obsolete but intact sparring robot designed to withstand severe damage, and can mirror opponent and handler movements and store them in its memory due to its rare "shadow function".
At Max's behest, Charlie pits Atom against Metro, whom Atom overcomes. Max programs Noisy Boy's vocal-respond controls in Atom, and convinces Charlie to help him with Atom's fighting-move memory. This results in a series of victories, culminating in Charlie being offered a fight in World Robot Boxing, pitting Atom against national champion Twin Cities. The fight starts with Atom on the attack, but Twin Cities easily takes the offensive. Charlie notices a hitch whenever Twin Cities throws a right punch, and using this, Charlie controls Atom to a win by knockout. Elated by their success, Max challenges undefeated global champion Zeus, with the audience squarely on their side. After the fight, Ricky and his two henchmen attack Charlie for bailing earlier and rob him and max of their winnings, prompting a defeated and dejected Charlie to return Max to Debra.
This upsets Max, and when Charlie tries to convince him that living without him is better for Max, Max says he always wanted Charlie to fight for him and be there as a father. After Max leaves, Charlie returns to Tallet's Gym. While talking with Bailey about the events, the two kiss, revealing their attraction to each other. Persuaded by Bailey, Charlie arranges the Zeus challenge Max wanted and convinces Debra to allow Max to witness the fight.
Zeus dominates early, knocking Atom down with its first punch; Atom continues to get back up despite Zeus' punishment. Atom survives the first round, stunning the audience. Ricky, who had made a $100,000 bet with Finn, a friend of Charlie's, that Atom would not last the first round, tries to slip away, but is cornered by the fight's bookmakers. Meanwhile in the ring, Atom lands multiple punches but continues to be knocked down repeatedly. Late in the fourth round, Atom's vocal-respond controls are damaged, forcing Charlie to use its shadow function to make Atom mimic his boxing skills. With Zeus' programmers unable to compensate, the designer, Tak Mashido, personally takes control like Charlie has. Zeus is given a sound beating, once even hitting the ground and barely avoiding losing by knockout, but wins the match by number of hits since Atom could not beat it within the limit of five rounds. Zeus remains undefeated, but with Mashido's group left humiliated by the near-loss, and Atom is triumphantly labeled the people's champion.
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