Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition pro Masato Takashi goes by many names. Fans know him as “Bonchan.” Some call him “The Last Nash.” To others, he is “The King” – attributed to his use of Sagat, both a former Shadaloo King and the undisputed King of Muay Thai. However you know him, there’s no denying that Bonchan has had a stellar year in the 2019 Capcom Pro Tour, and this year’s Evolution Championship Series awarded him yet another jewel in his crown of victories – a victory that shook the Mandalay Bay arena with thunderous applause.
Las Vegas’ Prime Super Premier Event
The Evolution Championship Series (commonly referred to as EVO) marks the largest fighting game tournament in the world. Boasting record-breaking entry numbers and crowds full of fighting game fans, EVO stands as a yearly pilgrimage for the community to engage in fun, fellowship, and compete for the coveted title of EVO world champion – a title that will forever seal a player’s place in the hallowed annals of FGC history.
Although EVO already stands out in the mix of seasonal tournaments, this year’s Capcom Pro Tour placed a different kind of importance on Las Vegas’s prime competitive event. While previous Tours have boasted both Ranking and Premier Events, 2019 is raising the stakes with a new Event tier, altogether – a Super Premier Event, awarding 300 more points than a regular Premier and giving fighters a massive shot at rising up in the CPT rankings.
The fall of champions
Thus, this year’s EVO marked a major opportunity for all World Warriors, and the competition did not disappoint. 2019 saw breakout moments from a slew of Street Fighter players, both on and off stream – including a surprising upset in pools.
Louisiana native and Texas resident Toi Bridges, known for his performance in the Street Fighter League Pro US 2019, was set to face off with EVO 2017 champion and 2018 Grand Finalist Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi – a face that many fans expected to see in 2019’s Top 8. However, this was not to be, as Toi knocked Tokido into Losers’ side during Winners’ Finals of their pool in a startling turn of events.
While Tokido was later taken out by Jonny “Humanbomb” Cheng, he wasn’t the only top SFV player to get eliminated ahead of Top 8. Victor “Punk” Woodley, the CPT’s number one ranked player, met defeat at the hands of EVO 2018 champ Benjamin “Problem X” Simon in Top 24, with Problem himself suffering defeat by Arman “Phenom” Hanjani shortly thereafter.
A wave of world warriors
With some of EVO’s biggest faces out of the runnings, the remaining competition shaped into wild ride, featuring fighters from all around the globe in a highly varied Top 8 – both in regards to region and character choice. Boasting warriors from China, the UAE, America, and the United Kingdom, Sunday’s Top 8 lineup was truly in the traditional spirit of Street Fighter: as were players’ character choices, with such fighters as Zeku, Sagat, and even Russian wrestling legend Zangief making a stand in the arena.
In fact, the only repeat character in Top 8 was Zeku: a surprising trend, as Zeku’s challenging playstyle and dual movesets make for a complex fighter. Chinese pro Yangmian Huang and UK rep DC “Infexious” Coleman both brought Zeku into the fray, making for a series of jaw-dropping performances with the age-defying ninja – a character for which Bonchan provided a fan-favorite matchup.
Let’s party – If you think you can keep up!
Rather than using Karin, Bonchan brought out Sagat to face Infexious’ Zeku in the Winners’ Final – a choice he claims was brought about by their previous meeting at Birmingham’s VSFighting in July.
“In VSFighting, I came up against Infexious in Top 8 and played his Zeku,” he explained. “From the contents of that match, I felt that if we fought again, I could still win with Sagat.”
Although Bonchan went all the way with Sagat against Zeku and won, Infexious wasn’t the only opponent he met with the King of Muay Thai: NLBC’s star player, Derek “iDom” Ruffin, likewise tussled with Bonchan’s Sagat, after making it all the way to Top 8 in Winners’ side to kick off Sunday’s competition with the most anticipated match of the evening.
“I first played Sagat because I wasn’t confident in the Laura matchup,” Bonchan said of their bout. “So, I felt that if I played Karin, iDom knows all about her, so he would have an easy time with that matchup. But, if I played Sagat, then he probably isn’t as familiar with him, so if we both don’t know about the matchup, it’s kind of more in my favor.”
Remember the name well!
In two massive victories, Bonchan defeated both iDom and Infexious to secure a spot in Grand Finals, where he would ultimately meet with the UAE’s Adel “Big Bird” Anouche. Big Bird wowed audiences with his stellar play and impeccable reactions using Rashid throughout Top 8, seeming to have an answer for every obstacle. Despite his impressive performance, he was met with a major challenge in the Losers’ Semi-Final, going up against Fujimura Atsushi’s world-renowned Ibuki to make for one of SFV’s most nail-biting matches to date.
Two of the season’s most immaculate fighters went toe to toe in nearly every game, with the action sizzling down to the wire in the final game, final round. Audiences clung to the edges of their seats as Big Bird optimized spacial control to seal the win with a well-timed Eagle Spike, taking out one of Top 8’s most formidable foes in a close 3-2 set.
Big Bird’s win streak wasn’t over, just yet: he went on to defeat UK favorite Infexious 3-0, making his way to Grand Finals to meet Bonchan in a matchup that had fans divided as to who they should root for. Both strong contenders in the 2019 CPT, neither Bonchan nor Big Bird had yet made it to EVO’s Top 8 stage in Street Fighter V, marking a momentous occasion for both players. It was underdog vs underdog, with Big Bird’s breakout performance representing the UAE and Bonchan’s jaw-dropping 2019 season rising to a fever pitch in the arena.
While Bonchan managed to stay in Winners’ side of the bracket, it seemed like Big Bird had his number, soundly taking the first two games ahead of what appeared to be an upcoming bracket reset that had the arena shaking.
“…in previous CPT events, have come across top Rashids and always won,” Bonchan said of his fight against Big Bird. “But I hadn’t come against Big Bird yet. I felt from the beginning that I could win, but when we started fighting, he was so strong, and I immediately lost the two matches. Even during that, I was thinking, ‘I can win this.’ I had confidence in the Karin/Rashid matchup.”
I’ll show you the divide in our class!
Bonchan’s confidence shone during their third game, when Big Bird appeared to be on the verge of a bracket reset. Determined to complete his Winners’ side run, Bonchan soundly took back the next two games, bringing their battle down to the final match of the evening.
Much like his previous match against Fujimura, Big Bird’s incredible play met Bonchan’s courageous confidence head-on, leading to another final bout in a final round. As commentator James Chen put it, neither Bonchan nor Big Bird would “say die,” with Bonchan ultimately emerging victorious in a breathtaking comeback after taking significant damage earlier in the round.
What’s next for the EVO champ?
This monumental victory means that Bonchan now holds the first Super Premier Event championship in the 2019 CPT, alongside his CEO and VSFighting Premier Event wins – but he isn’t going to sit back and smell the roses, despite having secured a guaranteed spot in Capcom Cup later this year.
“The result of winning gave me confidence, and of course, I’m happy about it,” Bonchan said of his victory. “But my actual activities from now on won’t change that much. I’ll still be doing the Capcom Pro Tour, but I don’t have to worry about having enough points to get into Capcom Cup anymore.”
With a successful EVO in the books, fans and competitors have another slew of Events to look forward to, as the 2019 season rolls into the fall months. Esports Festival Hong Kong marks the next Premier Event in August’s lineup, with Cologne’s Fight Club NRW and Ireland’s Celtic Throwdown also in the mix. With the Season already halfway complete, the competition is starting to stack up in a major way, with just five months left before Capcom Cup throws down at the Novo Theater in Los Angeles – and even Menat can’t foretell who will ultimately emerge the champion.