Victor “Punk” Woodly entered into the grand finals at Evo 2017 unscathed. Fourteen contests all resulted in Punk victories, leading into his date with destiny. The six straight wins in top eight seemingly signified the passing of the guard to a younger generation of American born players. But, to the behest of the American crowd, Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi had different plans.
Early on, Tokido meeting up with the conceded best player almost felt inevitable. Punk was busy disposing of players in winner’s bracket, while Tokido was cruising through the loser’s bracket and gaining momentum. Both players stood out among the rest of the top eight. Their level of play just looked significantly higher than the rest.
It’s important to realize the fact that Tokido and Punk played not only earlier in the bracket, but earlier in the week in training sessions at Justin Wong’s house. Reports from Wong and other members of the fighting game community say Tokido not only took it to Punk, but beat him 10-0.
However, Punk got the best of Tokido in winners quarterfinals with a quick 2-0. At the time, the win didn’t feel any more significant than any of Punk’s prior victories, but it seemed to light a fire under Tokido. And fighting under the scrutiny of elimination made Tokido turn on the Murderface.
Tokido’s Top 8 Run
As a result, Tokido, who’s known as one of the five gods of street fighter, upped his game. Despite a close 3-2 win over Ryan “FChamp” Ramirez in a tough matchup for Akuma, his punish and neutral game were clearly coming together. Tokido usually has stretches of brilliance but it’s not often that we see it all come together like at Evo.
A combination of good enough defense leading into heavy 40% combos made it tough on every opponent. Yes, Itazan Zangief took Tokido to a last game, last round scenario, but that’s the Akuma and Zangief matchup. As James Chen pointed out over commentary, every round in that set was either distinctly in one player or the others favor. It never got to a last hit situation.
Soon after getting through Itazan’s terrifying Zangief, Tokido was just gleaming with confidence. The hint of a smile on Murderface’s grin suggested that Evo had been decided and now everyone needed to sit back and enjoy the show. Ryoto “Kazunoko” Inoue gave it his best effort in loser’s finals, but fate had seemingly already been decided.
Tokido was the last player Punk wanted to face
It’s true that Punk, however confident and talented he may be, definitely wanted to avoid Tokido. Even if it’s just practice, getting constantly blown up by a player can leave a lasting impression. It’s almost a little brother complex. And the 32-year old who had failed at obtaining his ultimate goal of winning the Main Street Fighter game at Evo had to teach the young man a lesson.
In addition, Punk was attending his first Evo ever. Tokido has been playing Street Fighter while Punk was still in kindergarten. So, when Punk finessed his way into grand finals, Punk had to be aware of potentially having to face a red-hot and experienced Tokido.
The result? 6-1 in favor of Tokido, and it never really felt that close. In a year of Punk sweeping through everyone, Tokido made him look completely lost. And as the set continued, Tokido grew stronger and brought out more deadly Akuma setups. Keep in mind, Punk didn’t drop a game until Grand Finals. That’s how badly Tokido was in his head.
Nevertheless, Tokido earned the champion title by playing truly beautiful Street Fighter V. I don’t think I’m alone in the idea that what we saw from Tokido on Championship Sunday was the game being pushed to an even higher level. Punk and Tokido are carving their own path. And it looks and feels like they’re standing alone at the top of the mountain.
Featured image courtesy of twitch.tv/Evo