The world of competitive Street Fighter has long been dominated by Japanese champions, as seen in the hallowed history behind the Five Gods of Japan’s fighting game community — but one young pro would turn this longstanding trend on its head in a huge way, winning the highly-coveted Capcom Cup not just for himself, but for the entirety of his home country.
From the DR to World Domination
Saul Mena Segundo, better known by his handle, “MenaRD,” became one of the biggest names in fighting game history in December 2017, taking Capcom Cup against none other than the legendary Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi. The then 17-year-old champion wasn’t always a globe-trotting World Warrior, though; in fact, Mena’s path to stardom began in a small game center in his home of the Domincan Republic, which boasted a just few setups and often unreliable power, leading to difficulties when trying to get in long training sessions — or even running local tournaments.
Taking inspiration from his older brother’s interest in fighting games, Mena began exploring the genre for himself, falling in love with the Street Fighter series and quickly finding success in competitive environments. Beginning his Capcom Pro Tour run in 2016, MenaRD soon became known for his explosive — and often unpredictable — play, growing synonymous with his character, Birdie, a warrior known for his stylish command grabs and flashy moves like EX Bull Horn.
In spite of his skill, it’s no secret that traveling from the Dominican Republic presents a massive challenge for citizens of the island nation, who are required to procure a VISA if they hope to visit the mainland United States and other Western regions. Considering these difficulties, it comes as little (albeit saddening) surprise that the DR esports scene was quite small in comparison to the rest of the world — a fact that Mena himself would later contest in a huge way.
A Breakout Season for the Birdie Main
MenaRD’s greenhorn run in the 2016 CPT preceded what was arguably considered his breakout season in 2017. Scoring 25th at season opener Final Round, Mena went on to take first place at Santo Domingo’s Game Over Tournament mere weeks later, putting himself on the map by winning a Ranking Event in his home country. The young pro was signed by RISE shortly thereafter, marking a huge feat for a player from his region and giving him the opportunity to take his talents around the globe. He went on to take 13th at the highly-esteemed Combo Breaker and second place at Colombia’s The Fight! — results that foreshadowed his later accomplishments, where he took second at Puerto Rico’s First Attack and fourth at Premier Event SoCal Regionals.
These placements earned Mena enough points on the CPT for his qualification in Capcom Cup, the most important tournament of the year for Street Fighter players. With $250,000 and an indisputable place in fighting game history on the line, the season’s final event pitted the Top 32 ranked SFV pros against one another for all the glory and a life-changing amount of money — a number that would drastically change MenaRD’s life, should he win.
Taking on Tokido
Mena’s Capcom Cup journey saw him start strong in Winners’ side, facing such names as 2013 Capcom Cup runner-up Xian, who he defeated in a nail-biting 3-2 run. Moving forward, he took out the 2015 Capcom Cup champion, Ryota “Kazonoko” Inoue, before facing off with the god of fighting games himself: Daigo “The Beast” Umehara. In a shocking turn of events, Mena defeated the hallowed pro 3-2, continuing his Winners’ side run in the Top 8 bracket to eliminate Itabashi Zangief in a dominating 3-0 victory.
It seemed as though MenaRD’s success continued to grow throughout the season in a phenomenal way; starting out in a country beset with both technological and travelling difficulties, the young player spread his wings to become one of Street Fighter’s greatest Cinderella Stories, which landed him in the most intense fight of his entire career against Tokido for the title of top champion.
Tokido has long been a mainstay powerhouse in the fighting game community — a fact that showed in his fight against Mena in the Winners’ Final, knocking the young hopeful into Losers’ side 3-2. Down, but not out, Mena faced off against Urien main Nemo in a bid to reach the Grand Final, defeating the Team Liquid pro in an electrifying 3-0 run that set him up for the runback of a lifetime on Street Fighter’s biggest stage.
The Fight of a Lifetime
It was all or nothing: MenaRD was tasked with winning not just one set, but two, in a bid to take the championship for himself. The young underdog from the Dominican Republic faced off against the monolith legacy of Tokido in a battle that mirrored NuckleDu’s own shock win over OG competitor Ricki Ortiz in 2016 — and their fight would be even more hype than its predecessor.
Tokido went into their Grand Finals set guns blazing, taking the first two games in quick succession and leading fans to fear a short end to Mena’s Capcom Cup run. This was not to be, though, as the youngster quickly reversed the tide of battle with a 3-2 win after an intense moment of focused reflection on the character select screen and impressively patient gameplay.
With his community cheering from their seats, Mena knew he was carrying the legacy of the Dominican Republic on his back as he entered what would be his final set against Tokido (after a well-deserved popoff). This time, Mena had his opponent’s number, pressuring Tokido and nearly taking the first reset game — if not for Tokido’s brilliantly-timed punish when Mena was at just a pixel of health. Taking the loss in stride, the Dominican fighter fought back to take the next two games, working his way up to set point as his comrades cheered with hype.
Tokido and Mena’s final battle came down to the last game, last round. With Mena at tournament point and Tokido having scored a game, it was the Dominican fighter’s last chance at securing the victory. Whittling his opponent down to a pixel of health with EX Killing Head, Mena sealed the deal with a well-timed kick, sending the crowd into hysterics with a win that meant so much more than personal fame and glory; it meant a brighter future for his entire community.
Giving back to his home community
Embraced by his FGC brethren in a heartwarming group huddle, MenaRD’s Capcom Cup victory left nary a dry eye in the room. One of fighting game’s most unlikely underdogs had just made history with a huge win that shone a massive spotlight on an oft-overlooked region; but of course, it wasn’t just his status as a Street Fighter champion that made an impact on the scene. Mena’s $250,000 check also helped facilitate greater resources for the Domincan Republic’s esports community, with the pro going on to found his own esports team, the Santo Domingo Tigers.
Also founding a Road to EVO circuit for local players, MenaRD’s esports winnings went back to the community that supported him in becoming a Capcom Cup victor, helping those who lifted him up during the hardest fight of his life. Mena’s championship was more than an “esports moment” — it was a meteoric development that forever changed the landscape of the fighting game community, with the CPT going on to place more Premier Events in the Caribbean for later seasons. When it comes down to it, MenaRD is a people’s champion, showing the world that neither age nor location is a barrier to a World Warrior’s fighting spirit.