One thing that could easily be said about Punk is that he’s not the player he was before Evo 2017. Prior to that moment, people could only speculate on who would finally topple him. After Evo’s devastating loss to Tokido, he definitely began to struggle. Nothing could be more evident of that than Capcom Cup. While he avoided being the number one seed — much like Infiltration in 2016 — and going 0-2, he did self-fulfill a prophecy he laid out at Wednesday Night Fights prior to Capcom Cup, where he lost to the Last Chance Qualifer winner, Nemo.
This year, he doesn’t have to worry about this. But what he has to do, as a lower seed, is prove that he still has what it takes to win in the most-stacked brackets.
Back to His Roots
So much about Punk’s approach — and lack of results — in the game can be attributed to his experimentation this year. This can’t really be anything to fault him for. He’s young, and he needed to work out his own identity within fighting games.
This approach saw him not only switching characters (using Cammy and Cody, to name a couple) but toying around with different games, as we saw him playing more Dragon Ball FighterZ and BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle. While many could allude to this Punk not caring, nothing could be further from the truth. It was him being able to get a breath of fresh air to hit the reset button on his psyche.
When the chips have fallen, he has brought out his Karin where it counts, and proven that she is still just as deadly, if not more so, than she was last year. Whereas very few Karins exist on the Pro Tour at this point, he has still done everything nearly immaculate with the character to this date.
Last year saw Punk string together Premier win after Premier win. He also earned a smooth payday at ELEAGUE, showing he was the man to beat last year. This year… not so much. While he was able to nail down a few ranking events, he was unable to capture the magic he had last season.
This was of course, until he reprised his role as champion in North America Regional Finals, where he beat a streaking CJ Truth twice on his way to the title. This was a far bigger test than last year, where Punk seemed to skate through the top 8 bracket with relative ease. This means that although many felt that Punk had been caught up to, he is still on pace.
But one of the biggest problems I have with Punk right now is not only the fact that there are things he hasn’t figured out, but his visible signs of frustration in that fact. Even before the CPT season begun, Punk found himself visually tilted at THE COOL KID93 at Frosty Faustings upon being eliminated by his Abigail.
When you fast forward, not much has changed in that exact match-up. NorCal Regionals saw the same look when he fell to Problem X. Come DreamHack Montréal, nothing had changed. The ironic thing is, at the latter event, he counter picked Chun-Li against Itabashi Zangief’s Abigail to great success. So you have to think his frustration is ultimately at his own doing.
Punk just needs to trust his instincts. They’re very strong, and while his second-guessing may stem from his loss at Evo to Tokido, he ultimately needs to finally shake it off and not be stubborn. He has a great blend of characters that can counter nearly every player in the tournament.
Even if he’s afraid of Problem X, he needs to buckle down, ask for blind picks, and do his thing. Whether he has to play catch up or not in the score, he is ever capable, he just needs to be prepared to leave everything out on the table this year.
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