Many of us changed our minds about Rose after watching Meltdown’s Olivier “Luffy” Hay smash his way through the Ultra Street Fighter IV finals bracket at Evo 2014, but it didn’t hit home until he decimated Masato “Bonchan” Takahashi in two straight sets. How’d he do it? I asked Arturo “Sabin” Sanchez of Team Spooky, Anthony “Crackfiend” Nguyen, and Eric “Juicebox” Albino to tell me what they thought was the key to the matchup.
After viewing the Rose/Sagat matchup in Ultra Street Fighter IV several times across multiple players (Ryan Hart and Bonchan vs. Luffy), it’s fairly obvious to me (as a person who uses Rose as a secondary) that Rose puts Sagat out of his comfort zone completely. I consider Sagat a zoning/fireball archetype; with the buffs given to Rose in Ultra, it’s much easier for her to impose her gameplan in this particular matchup. It’s interesting to note that Luffy was already beating Sagat players in ver. 2012, and with her buffs, now it’s even harder for Sagat to win.
At mid-range, due to the EX drill buff going through fireballs, it’s very hard for Sagat to play the game he wants to play. Rose also has her reflect, but it’s much harder to do at mid-range (due to Sagat being able to alternate fireball speeds). However, when you watch the matchup, I feel like Luffy played it like ver. 2012. He did do EX drill through fireballs, but only a handful of times (maybe twice in both sets).
At fullscreen, Sagat can’t do any zoning at all — it’s pretty much futile, and just builds immense meter for Rose, which she can and will throw back at you.
Due to the fact that it’s difficult for Sagat to play a midrange game, and can’t zone from fullscreen, his only option is to maul and go on offense…but Sagat has a very weak walkspeed. His dash is good, but how can he close the gap to even get in Rose’s grill? Seems to be very difficult. Since Sagat really has to think about how he throws his fireballs in the matchup, it allows Rose to use her additional up close buffs. Her dash is one frame faster, for example, and her close medium kick has a much better hitbox than previous versions, making it a guess at close range for Sagat. Not only does it blow up throws, but it blows up crouch teching even easier now, and her combos do more damage.
It’s not hard to see why Luffy got into Bonchan’s head here. She can nullify zoning at full screen and mid-range, which only leaves the up close game, which is in Rose’s favor. If Sagat gets a knockdown, he can ride it to victory, but good luck getting in that position.
The match was a really interesting watch for me — even though I play Rose, I often run to Dhalsim in this matchup. There are still subtle spacing tendencies that you have to learn, and Luffy was in full control of all his ranges. When I played this match in ver. 2012 myself, I was often weak in the neutral, sliding at poor ranges that opened up opportunities for whiff punishing, and I would lose. So seeing someone like Luffy, who knew the matchup very well, was an eye-opener for me, and I learned a lot.
- Rose builds meters much faster and more easily, especially if Sagat throws tiger shots. Luffy commonly landed supers and had meter to spare for FADCs and EX Soul Spirals.
- Rose’s Soul Satellite allows (almost) free pressure in this matchup, and Luffy often took advantage of this twice per round.
- Rose’s close medium kick beats any attempt to break a normal throw, enables a combo, and is even on block. Luffy rarely missed combos from this.
From what I can tell, Bonchan’s thought process during this match was something like this: “I can’t stop Rose from building meter, so I’m not going to go crazy trying to prevent her from doing so by trying to rush her down. Instead, I’m just going to try and maintain a mid-range position and try to hit her attempts to close the distance with Tiger Shots and normals.” I think he did a really good job sticking to that plan and making it pay off as much as he could. Luffy took the free meter that Bonchan gave him then spent most rounds wearing Bonchan down with footsies and basic mixups. Bonchan won many footsie exchanges but Luffy simply outdamaged him in the long run.
The great thing about this set is how very little of it could be deemed complicated or difficult. We can try to analyze the specific spacings where Rose’s slide missed and Bonchan was in the perfect spot, and we can also try to find a pattern in how Luffy decided to dash forward in the neutral, but overall this matchup had almost nothing esoteric going on. This match was completely decided by pure decision-making and footsie skill.
It’s interesting to note that Bonchan may have been unprepared for the matchup. Tiger Cannon was an interesting decision, considering that the only times he landed it were to blow up false blockstrings and Tiger Genocide would have served him much better damage-wise in that regard. Additionally, we don’t often hear about Rose players doing well at or even getting invited to TOPANGA tournaments. We can’t be certain of these things but if they were factors in the results, you can bet that Bonchan is going to spend some time seeking out players of some of the other characters he has trouble dealing with.
This was a terrific matchup with two incredibly talented minds; however, I can’t explain how Luffy beat Bonchan. This is because I thought this match was closer than what meets the eye after reviewing it several times.
At a glance, Luffy won 3-1 in the first set, and 3-1 again in the second set. But think about it for a moment, was he truly as dominant as those numbers might suggest? With that, I want to go into a different type of metric: Health remaining during rounds won.
Types of Rounds won by Luffy and Bonchan
Luffy won a total of nine rounds with (at most) 25% or less. Feel free to disagree here, but I think that significant rounds won with less than 25% are rounds that can go anybody’s way — especially when you’re talking about world class players such as Luffy and Bonchan. On the other hand, rounds won with more than 25% health suggests player dominance, and they were practically even on the count.
Another useful metric for showing how even they were: rounds won in the corner vs. mid-screen.
To define corner vs. mid-screen, I separated stages into 4 quadrants. Let’s take a look at the table below:
Why is this significant? Simple: A player who can finish most of their rounds in the corner tends to out-footsie and freely pressure his opponent. To put it quite simply, that player tends to be the superior player in the matchup. When two players constantly finish a round in the mid-screen, it is suggestive that neither player is able to dominate the other. Why is that? Most likely, it’s because the skill level between the players are extremely close and now they must battle for every inch of ground possible.
In this matchup, 13 of the 18 rounds ended in the mid-screen. Two of those corner wins were by Rose compared to three by Sagat.
This isn’t a matter of how Luffy beat Bonchan. To me, the story of the match is this: Two of the best players in the world playing out of their minds, but one came out on top. Don’t let obvious numbers become the truth, such as the 3-1 victories in both sets. Allow yourself to take a closer look and enjoy the match beyond what you actually see. It’s truly a beautiful thing.[hr]
What do you think was the deciding factor in the Evo 2014 grand finals? Let us know in the comments!