As the game’s very first appearance at the largest fighting game tournament in the world, a lot was on the line during Evo 2014’s Ultra Street Fighter IV tournament. It would set the stage for public opinion of the title moving forward and give the community an initial champion to watch during its lifespan. Additionally, favorites like Mad Catz’ Daigo Umehara, Infiltration, and PR Balrog of Evil Geniuses were eliminated before the finals, allowing a new set of challengers to take the stage and put their skills to the test.
Here’s how it all went down:
Top 8 Winners Bracket – Bonchan (Sagat) vs. RZR|Gackt (Fei Long) – 3-1
The first match of Ultra Street Fighter IV’s top eight at Evo 2014 saw Japanese monster Bonchan take on Razer’s Gackt. The former’s Sagat was unafraid of Fei Long’s mid-range prowess, staying in Gackt’s face and applying pressure before eventually dropping to the Singaporean’s own brand of offense. Bonchan would return strong in the second game, using well-placed Tiger Knees to find holes in Gackt’s defense. The final round was close as Bonchan continued to use smart uppercuts to punish some foolhardy advances by Fei Long, cutting a would-be comeback short and taking the first game.
Game two saw the first use of each character’s ultras, the first setting Gackt up for an easy win before Bonchan read his final maneuver and secured a victory for himself with Sagat’s own immensely powerful ultra. Unfazed, Gackt returned the favor, pressuring the Japanese master into making one too many mistakes. In a much different turn of events than the first game, Gackt jumped on the weakness he sensed in Bonchan and dominated the final round with a quick stun and knock out.
The first round of the next game saw Gackt corner Bonchan yet again, but the Japanese Sagat was able to fight his way out and earn another win thanks to a poorly chosen uppercut by Singapore’s last hope. The loss earned Gackt a ton of meter, which he used admirably in the very next round to once more corner Bonchan, capitalizing on more mistakes to whittle down his life and tie things up. After living much of his life in the corner over the course of the game, Bonchan appeared to welcome the challenge, reading Gackt’s every move and putting himself at game point.
After doing so well when trapped in the previous games, Bonchan refused to be put in that position again, maintaining ground with his strong footsie and zoning game to keep Gackt on his toes. Gackt would manage to tie up the rounds after learning from his mistakes in previous exchanges, but Bonchan once again took advantage of the Singaporean players various (and risky) gambits to push himself into the winners finals.
Top 8 Winners Bracket – RG | Snake Eyez (Zangief) Vs. RZR | Fuudo (Fei Long) – 1-3
Southern California hero Darryl “Snake Eyez” Lewis of Revolution Gaming had quite a road into top eight, defeating Razer’s Xian and Kevin “Dieminion” Landon of Empire Arcadia to bring his intense grappling style to this final group. As the games got underway, he was the overwhelming favorite, thanks to his strong performances in past events and status as one of the remaining two Americans left in the tournament.
With every hit, the crowd erupted in furious applause, watching as Snake Eyez made great use of Zangief’s pokes and throws to keep Fuudo from establishing any sort of rhythm. The audience’s approval was silenced for a moment when Fuudo was able to tie up the round count by abusing miscalculations on the American’s part. During the last round, the energy in the room was palpable as Snake Eyez’ fans sat on the edge of their seats, but the grappler would go down by one game thanks to Fuudo’s innate ability to predict jump-ins and punish accordingly.
Game two would see the top eight’s very first time crisis, both players content to use their strong mid-screen presence to dictate their respective sides of the stage. In the end, Fuudo came out on top thanks to a very small amount of additional health. But Snake Eyez came back strong, using a string of SPDs to quickly put Fuudo on edge and squeeze by with a round of his own. The Japanese player adapted quickly, however, silencing the crowd’s excitement once more with layers upon layers of intense offense.
Both players would enter the next game as if it was their first, easing into their patterns and feeling each other out for much of the first half of the round. As time neared the forty second mark, Snake Eyez kicked his gameplan into overdrive, pushing into Fei Long’s zone of dominance with strong green hands and going up in round count once again. The second round was a lesson in patience for the grappling master, one that he learned painfully as Fuudo continued to punish him for daring to leave the ground. Unwilling to give up any more space, Fuudo would begin the third round with a great footsie game, keeping Snake Eyez from claiming any space near his Fei Long. But, thanks to his patience after being placed in the corner, Snake Eyez would walk away with his very first game in this set.
Snake Eyez’ momentum in the previous game would carry him into the next, and he appeared to use the audience’s second wind to recharge his own batteries. After defeating Fuudo in very quick fashion, the next round would once again drag on to the very end, the Japanese player seemingly content to sit on his life lead as the seconds whittled away. The American competitor’s unique brand of persistence would see him even the score, only to once again be foiled by Fuudo’s ability to make the most out of his collection of tools. With Fuudo on match point, the two adversaries once again let time run low with their patience. Unfortunately, Snake Eyez would wait just a second too long and lose to two time out rounds.
Top 8 Losers Bracket – EG|Momochi (Juri, Ken) vs. MD|Luffy (Rose) – 0-3
While many were probably expecting recent Dignitas acquisition Ryan Hart to function as Europe’s last player, it was Meltdown’s Luffy who would represent the continent on his voyage from France. Momochi, on the other hand, was hardly a surprise thanks to his numerous top eight appearances; he would, however, please the crowd by moving from Ken to Juri to take on Luffy’s Rose.
The Japanese player’s secondary character would hardly make a dent in the Frenchman’s defense in the first round, but he came back strong in the next thanks to his smart use of Juri’s fireballs and other sneaky maneuvers. As both players reached their end of their health, Luffy took advantage of Momochi’s persistence to close out another round and secure his first game.
After careful thought and some encouragement from the audience, Momochi decided to stick with Juri. This time around the move paid off, and Momochi was able to move around Luffy’s careful shell and earn a very close first round. Rose would come back strong, putting Momochi into a ton of mixup situations that ultimately ended in his defeat. The two players traded blows in the final round, providing the divided crowd a ton of digital violence to put their support behind. In the end, a hail mary Ultra on Momochi’s part would give Luffy his second game and even more confidence heading into the third.
Without little hesitation, Momochi returned to new main Ken for the next match, using his more direct fireball game and strong footsies to remain even with Luffy. The French Rose would put himself on top thanks to his continued knack for defensive punishes, but an unfortunate stuffing of his orb activation would give Momochi the tiny edge he needed to snatch victory away at the end of regulation. The second round saw Momochi continue to fight back even when pushed to the edge of defeat, but this time Luffy’s ultra would hit home during an errant jump-in by the shoto. Sensing Momochi’s frustration, Luffy switched up his gameplan in the final round, moving from his normal defensive position into one of pure offense to close out the set with smart uses of Rose’s normals.
Top 8 Losers Bracket – EG|Ricky Ortiz (Rufus) vs. HORI|sako (Evil Ryu) – 3-1
The second match of the first losers bracket round would put two gods on display: Ricky Ortiz of the United States and sakonoko of Japan. While he frequently used Elena for the early portions of the tournament, sako broke out Evil Ryu for his match against Rufus. The demonic character’s low health would be his downfall in the first round as he fell to Ricky’s relentless offense. The Japanese player would return the favor in the next round, trapping Rufus in the corner, reading jumpbacks, and punishing to tie things up. Fortunately, Ricky brought the crowd back to life with a repeat performance of his first round, quickly draining sako’s health and grabbing the initial game.
Refusing to give each other or the audience a breather, both players quickly jumped into game two, going toe-to-toe with smart footsies before sako went up in round advantage. The crowd would be drawn into the match once again thanks to Rufus’ popular ultra, pantomiming in unison with the chubby fighter’s most powerful attack. After Ricky forced a tie in round count, sako would rely a bit too heavily on Evil Ryu’s zoning game, allowing the American player to adeptly dodge his fireballs and gain ground before taking a second game.
The third game would begin with another close round in sako’s favor before Ricky would take matters into his own hands and absolutely destroy the Japanese player. Evil Ryu’s low health once again played a huge part in his loss, but his equally large damage gave him the second round he would need to finally get on the board.
Although played in the United States, sako’s popularity won over a ton of audience members, many of which began to reenact Evil Ryu’s ultra in opposition to Rufus’. While he went up in round count early, the Japanese player was absolutely overwhelmed over the next two, falling to Ricky’s dominant play and ending his great run at Evo 2014 with a seventh-place finish.
Losers Quarterfinals – RZR|Gackt (Fei Long) vs. MD|Luffy (Rose) – 0-3
After a loss and a win sent them to the next round, both players were coming into this game with something to prove. Gackt, after being dominated by Bonchan, wanted to show he belonged in this final group of players, while Luffy was adamant in showing that he should not be underestimated. The latter would quickly go up two games on the former, using his patented Rose defense to bait Fei Long into a long string of mistakes and punish accordingly.
On the verge of defeat, Gackt would soon near his very first round victory by pushing Luffy to the corner. Unfortunately for him, a smart orb activation on the Rose’s part would even the score and a follow-up drill would steal his near-win into an utter defeat. He came back strong in the second round, refusing to fall into Luffy’s traps and setting himself up with a good amount of meter to use EX rekkas in the third.
Luffy, on the other hand, entered the final round with a full super meter, something that weighed heavily on the match as it wore on. A few tense pokes coupled with another orb activation would slow the game down for a second before Rose wisely spent her super and finished the job in quick fashion.
Losers Quarterfinals – RG|Snake Eyez (Zangief) vs. EG|Ricky Ortiz (Rufus) – 3-0
For his match against Snake Eyez, Ricky would put away his usual aggression in favor of a more subtle offensive approach, using Rufus’ crouching fierce to keep Zangief out of throw range. The grappler would adapt, however, utilizing his own pokes to go up in life near the end of a round that saw very few attacks land cleanly and earn a time out victory. The second round would repeat the gameplan of the first, but this time around it was Ricky who went up early. Never one to give up, Snake Eyez continued to push into advantageous ranges, once again taking the round down to the final seconds and knocking Rufus out as Ricky pushed desperately for a win.
On tilt, Ricky quickly fell in the first round of the next game, pushed to the edge by Snake Eyez continued patience. Zangief would again go up in round count, but his shell was broken in the very next game. The crowd, stunned by the match between these two American titans, was unable to form a clear consensus for their support, many opting to remain silent as the players made their way through the elimination round. Another blocked EX Messiah eventually gave Snake Eyez the second round he needed to further the divide in game count.
Rufus’ low stun threshold would be put to the test in the next round, Ricky falling prey to Zangief’s ability to build momentum. Snake Eyez earned the top eight’s very first perfect, a rare sight against Ricky’s normal offensive gameplan. With nowhere to turn, the Northern Californian Rufus was brutalized continually by Zangief’s overwhelming mixups, and Ricky would leave the tournament tied for fifth place.
Losers Semifinals – RG|Snake Eyez (Zangief) vs. MD|Luffy (Rose) – 2-3
Fresh off their near-perfect performances, both Snake Eyez and Luffy sought to continue their dominant tournament runs in the next round of the losers bracket. Unfortunately, fighting against Rose can often be like slamming against a brick wall, and Luffy made no concessions for the Southern California player. The first game was a war of attrition on Snake Eyez’ part, one that he found very little advantages in. Luffy’s strong use of Rose’s normal kept Zangief at bay for the most part, whittling away his life little by little until there was none left to work with.
With the audience behind him, Snake Eyez pushed forward, taking a quick round one off Luffy in the second game. The French competitor would continue to push a bit too hard and allow Zangief the chance to ensnare him in his powerful grabs. Rose was afforded very little pace throughout the two rounds, and Snake Eyez’ quick victory finally gave the crowd something to cheer for.
Snake Eyez and Luffy would go on to split the first two rounds of the next game, both looking as if they had some new insight into each other’s gameplay. Rose was able to build up a ton of precious meter, using quick combos and her powerful super to go up on Zangief very quickly. The crowd, spurred on by the French player’s strong use of Rose’s tools, found themselves unable to sit still, and some even began to switch allegiances.
Much like the previous game, rounds would be split early on, Luffy taking advantage of Rose’s long-range ultra to drain Zangief’s life and Snake Eyez closing space with green hand to make sure his opponent couldn’t establish a ranged game. A near-comeback by Luffy would be avoided thanks to an errant ultra activation, which Snake Eyez greeted with an ultra of his own to close out the fourth game. The crowd, suddenly reinvigorated, chanted the host country’s name in unison.
Empowered by the support of his comrades, Snake Eyez took the fight to Luffy, endangering himself with risky plays that paid off with a first round advantage. On the edge of defeat, Luffy would dismiss his previous notions of defense and jump into the fray wholeheartedly, building meter all the while and tying up the round count. This meter would come into play in the final round, allowing Rose to maintain distance and keep Snake Eyez on his toes with her various fireballs. A quick volley of blows would heighten the suspense, but Luffy eventually took further control of the match and sent the last American player packing.
Winners Finals – Bonchan (Sagat) vs. RZR|Fuudo (Fei Long) – 3-1
With a trip to grand finals on the line, these Japanese players appeared intense in their desire to defeat the other. Similar to his match against Gackt, Bonchan adamantly controlled the mid-range game to keep Fuudo from establishing his own pressure, a move that would pay off to the tune of two quick rounds in the first game.
In an attempt to make his way around Sagat’s fireballs, Fuudo would rely very heavily on focus attacks in the second game. Bonchan, however, continually read these moves and punished with tiger knees, breaking their armor and putting Fei Long on notice. One round turned into two and, despite Fuudo’s ability to push Bonchan into the corner, the Fei Long player went down hard in game two.
The third game would see Fuudo finally earn his first round, his corner pressure proving to be just a bit too much for Bonchan to handle this time around. While Sagat would land a chance ultra to make things closer to even, Fei Long’s continued offense was able to slowly chip him down and give Fuudo the game he needed to regain his confidence.
And regain it he did. My mixing up his rekkas, Fuudo was able to dispel any notion Bonchan had of his gameplan, continuing his offensive resurgence. Sensing the shifting tides, Bonchan secured two late round victories thanks to risky use of focus attacks, pushing his health bar to the very brink in an effort to earn his position in grand finals.
Losers Finals – MD|Luffy (Rose) vs. RZR|Fuudo (Fei Long) – 3-0
Despite his devastating loss to Bonchan just moments earlier, Fuudo would find no respite. He was immediately thrown into a match against Luffy, whose run through the losers bracket had seen him devour some of the strongest players in the world on his path to the losers finals. The two very different paths these players had taken to this match so far was apparent in the very first game, as Luffy continued his ridiculous momentum to a quick victory. Fuudo, having a very hard time establishing any sort of foothold in Rose’s defensive wall, struggled fruitlessly at every stage.
Sensing a decline in the usual Japanese dominance, the audience quickly threw their cheers behind Luffy, especially after the second game concluded faster than the first. A look at the players’ faces said it all: Luffy was confident and ready for Bonchan while confusion spread across Fuudo’s normally stoic face. At first, it appeared as if Luffy’s zealous demeanor had got the best of him as he fell in the first round of game three, but an onslaught of drills in the second tied up the count and put him at match point.
Grand Finals – MD|Luffy (Rose) vs. Bonchan (Sagat) – 3-1 reset, 3-1
While the rigorous matches Luffy had played so far would wear out the average competitor, he is anything but. Bringing the long line of defeated opponents to the table in the grand finals, Luffy was ready to take the gold home for his home country of France. Bonchan, however, was on the same page, on the verge of turning his near-perfect trip through Evo 2014 into a championship victory.
Befitting two characters of their status, the first two rounds devolved into a war of fireballs, both players ready and willing to keep each other at bay with consistent zoning. Luffy maintained better composure, however, and was able to keep Bonchan on his toes throughout the entire first game on his way to an impressive win. This momentum carried him into the second game, where his smart use of Rose’s orbs regularly put Bonchan into losing situations.
But Bonchan didn’t get this far to rest on his laurels, and used his extensive knowledge of the game to adapt to Luffy’s frustrating gameplan. Entering the mid-range, he was able to weave his way through Rose’s fireballs and assorted normals and made sure Luffy was never able to use orbs in a similar fashion to the first two games. Sensing the changing tides himself, however, Luffy regained momentum through a smothering pressure he hadn’t exhibited in the match thus far, letting Bonchan know he had the capabilities to adapt mid-match as well and resetting the bracket.
With both players now in the losers bracket, the weight of what was on the line could be seen on their faces. Automatic entry into Capcom Cup, a hefty chunk of the prize pool, and more was in store for the winner, and neither wanted to see that go away. But, greater than that, was the pressure to simply win, to earn a first-place finish at the largest fighting game tournament in the world.
While many of the games thus far had been absolutely devastating on both sides, Luffy and Bonchan entered the new set with an added determination that slowed the proceedings down slightly. Gone were the hail mary specials and deadly mixups, replaced by more fundamental skills like footsies and zoning. But, time and time again, Luffy was afforded the opportunity to showcase the improvements made to Rose’s game in contrast to Sagat’s own underwhelming changes.
Luffy used gaps in Bonchan’s defense to continually enforce his will, turning each stage into his personal playground. He was allowed to build meter with reckless abandon, a mistake that cost Bonchan more than one round as Luffy went up two games to nothing. While the Japanese Sagat was able to stem the tide for a bit, Luffy demonstrated that he was most definitely in his opponent’s head, blatantly walking forward into Bonchan’s range unafraid of the repercussions.
Bonchan’s adjustments from the first set were, at this point, completely forgotten, and Luffy continued to read his jump-ins, fireballs, and other aspects of his gameplan perfectly. Near the end of the final round, it was all Bonchan could do to keep the French player off his back, a reprieve that would end as soon as Sagat’s last uppercut sailed into the air for Luffy’s punish.