As one of the most acclaimed fighting game tournaments of the year, Combo Breaker is known far and wide as a massive celebration of fighting game culture, bringing with it nail-biting competition across multiple titles. Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition was represented in the mix as the Capcom Pro Tour’s fourth Premier Event, which threw down in an unpredictable showdown during the final weekend of May.
The return of Punk ‘Da Gawd’
Combo Breaker kicked off in the wake of a stunning winning streak by SFV prodigy Victor ‘Punk’ Woodley, who made major waves in the 2017 CPT in a similar, victorious run. Having taken the very first Premier Event of the 2019 season, Final Round, Punk went on to take 2nd place at NorCal Regionals against Hajime ‘Tokido’ Taniguchi - but he wasn’t finished, just yet. Punk’s competitive spirit saw him fly to Lyon, France to take The Mixup, leaving him at the top of the CPT leaderboard with a shiny collection of ranking points in tow.
Despite these major victories, Punk’s competitive spirit wasn’t always bright and burning. His intense rivalry with Tokido, one of SFV’s most consistent players, saw a striking break in his ambitious fervor upon being defeated at EVO 2017 in a historic Grand Finals set. With Tokido’s EVO championship in hand, it seemed like Punk had been thrown off his game in a big way: While he went on to have a relatively successful 2018 season, ‘The Alpha’ just wasn’t himself, and fans waited with ears pricked for Punk’s performance in 2019.
Punk has since made a major comeback, taking heads at every turn - but he isn’t the only player who has been shaped by the Evolution Championship Series, by far.
Problem X’s EVO championship
Benjamin ‘Problem X’ Simon, hailing from the United Kingdom, has been a notable face for some time in the competitive scene - but the player’s breakout season for SFV came in 2018, when he won three Ranking Events and made top placements in four others. However, these are far from Problem’s greatest success, which took place at EVO 2018 in an electric Grand Finals.
Facing off with Tokido - much like Punk’s run against the pro in 2017 - Problem took a massive victory against the tournament’s previous champion in a major win for the UK, as well as his main character, M. Bison, who had never won EVO in a mainline Street Fighter title. Having secured this championship for his region, Problem continued to take names in the 2018 season - but that didn’t mark the end of his competitive journey, by far.
Fight your way to the top
Both Problem X and Punk were set to compete in Combo Breaker 2019, which saw the participation of Street Fighter V’s top killers. With the 2017 and 2018 Capcom Cup champions in attendance, as well as names like Masato ‘Bonchan’ Takahashi and Daigo ‘The Beast’ Umehara, it was one of the most stacked tournaments of the year - which, as per Combo Breaker tradition, saw some unpredictable upsets.
While Tokido is hailed as one of SFV:AE’s most consistent players, the pro was knocked out of the runnings early on, thrown into Losers’ by Capcom Cup 2017 Champion Saul ‘MenaRD’ Segundo and ultimately eliminated by Street Fighter League’s Team Frost Captain Alan ‘Nephew’ Sun to take 65th place. Battle Arena Melbourne 11 champion Masahiro ‘Machabo’ Tominaga continued his winning streak to land in Combo Breaker’s Top 8 bracket, having secured his Ranking Event win just a week prior.
Machabo wasn’t the only underdog in Top 8, either; Street Fighter League participant Derek ‘iDom’ Ruffin was also in the mix, after an intensely close match against MenaRD, which saw the former Capcom Cup champion eliminated from the tournament. Having “leveled up” at the Street Fighter League: Pro-US tournament series, iDom was a crowd favorite amidst the competition, as was Belgium’s own Houmaid ‘Takamura’ Rabie and his strong Akuma.
Toppling the Top 8 bracket
Both Takamura and iDom fought hard, with iDom getting taken out of the runnings by Machabo and Takamura being eliminated by Haitani, a fellow Akuma main. Machabo himself had an exemplary run in Top 8, taking out iDom, Capcom Cup 2018 champ Gachikun, and even Haitani to land in Loser’s Finals.
While fans cheered for all fighters taking part in the bracket, viewers likewise speculated what would come of Punk’s fate in Top 8. Would he continue his winning streak to take the fourth Premier Event of the season, or would he fall prey to a fellow player, leaving the victory to another competitor?
Punk ultimately found himself facing off against Problem X in the Winners’ Final, after taking out Gachikun in a convincing 3-0 run. Problem decided on his tried and true main, M. Bison - a match-up Problem claims to dislike, evidenced by Punk’s solid victory over the Shadaloo dictator in another 3-0 set.
I’ll show you the divide in our class!
Despite this loss, Problem wasn’t out of the game just yet; the EVO champ managed to run it back to Grand Finals, taking out Machabo to face the player who’d sent him to Losers, once more. Rather than settling on Bison, Problem opted instead for Abigail, a strong secondary that the pro has used in multiple tournaments.
It seemed like Problem had a win in the bag: flipping the script with Abigail appeared to effectively befuddle Punk, who he took out 3-0 in a jaw-dropping comeback. However, Punk isn’t one to be outdone, seemingly having measured the Abigail vs Karin matchup against his opponent. Punk went on to flip the script a second time, vanquishing Problem X 3-0 and taking his place as the Combo Breaker 2019 champion.
What’s next for ‘The Alpha?’
Including this victory, Punk has now won three out of four Premier Events in the 2019 Capcom Pro Tour, with his only deficit being a second-place loss to his ultimate rival, Tokido. Sporting his usual, cheeky grin and a wave of momentum thus far, fans and fellow players have compared Punk’s current run to his breakout season in 2017 - his defeat at EVO, not included.
With Taipei Major and CEO on the horizon, Punk has two more Premiers left before he can make another showing at EVO. What will become of the young pro in the following months? Will he take yet another Premier in the interim, continuing his streak? Will he make it to EVO Top 8 yet again, getting a chance to face off against his demon on the very stage that witnessed his heartbreaking defeat? Only time will tell as the 2019 season continues into the summer months, with the CPT next heading to Taiwan for the next stage of battle.