1 - Tokido, the Japanese player who's been rocking Street Fighter at the pro level for decades, who will go on to win this tournament.
2 - Punk, a handsome, exceptional eighteen year old American kid who is favored to win, and spends the entire tournament beating the shit out of everyone he meets.
3 - FChamp, an American Dhalsim player who makes it to top 8 and gives Tokido his best competition outside of Punk.
To get the whole picture, start watching this video at this timestamp (3:26:36). Those are day 2 matches, and we begin with Justin Wong's Karin standing up to Daigo's Guile. Guile seems to have replaced Ryu in this tourney - there's not a Ryu or Ken to be seen! - and it's just cool to watch these two titans throw down in such a friendly, professional way.
Immediately following that match, though, is the first meet-up of Tokido and Punk, which sends punk to top 8. Meanwhile, Dhalsim main FChamp takes out a Laura and a Cammy to earn his place in the finals, and Tokido wins his next match to claw his way into the top-8 losers bracket.
The video of top 8 is three hours long, but here are the matches that make up the narrative in my head:
0:05:22 : Punk uses Nash's speed and zoning to shut down ItaZan's Zangeif. He remains favored to win, but ItaZan remains in the tournament.
0:36:49 : FChamp's Dhalsim meets Tokido's Akuma, and his patient, intelligent play cannot withstand Tokido's aggression. This is actually my favorite match of the entire tournament, and a compelling argument for how beautiful Street Fighter V can be as FChamp slips and slithers around Tokido's fireballs. It's the fight of FChamp's life, and he keeps it together, but Tokido beats him and stays in the game.
1:13:45 : Tokido's Akuma thrashes NuckleDu's Guile, and keeps himself in the tournament.
1:46:14 : In the Winner's Finals, Kazunoko's Cammy can't stand up to Punk's masterful Karin.
1:53:39 : Tokido has to take down ItaZan's Zangeif to stay in the game, and the top-eight wrestler finally goes down to Tokido's insane Akuma, which puts Tokido into the Losers Finals against Kazunoko's insane Cammy.
Defeating Kazunoko, once again, keeps Tokido in the game, and he moves on to the grand finals against Punk's Karin.
Punk has dominated every player he's come up against - including Tokido himself the previous day - and here Tokido has to defeat Punk in not one set, but two in order to reset the bracket and actually have a shot at winning EVO 2017. He can't lose a set, while Punk can give one up and remain in the game.
Punk went into it with a lot of nerves, you could tell, but he was still very confident. The stadium is chanting "U.S.A! U.S.A!" - this EVO is his to win, and... it all falls apart.
Punk is a better, nastier player than we see in these final scrims against Tokido. Karin and Akuma are both aggressive, rushdown fighters, and Punk has gotten this far by maintaining an incredible, predictive game of keeping his positioning perfect to remain safe while punishing every whiff by his opponents.
But at some point in those first three matches, the pendulum swings. Tokido begins successfully predicting like every mix up Punk sends his way, and brutally punishes it. He hammers a full set out of Punk, and resets the bracket.
It's all slipping away for Punk. This was his year. This was his chance. This was the year an American would win EVO, and it was supposed to be this upstart eighteen year old kid. The tournament was his to win, and he's lost his advantage over Tokido - a player twice his age, who's seen it all.
They go into the next set - Punk can still do this! The stadium crackling with electricity. His family are freaking the fuck out in the audience - he can still do this! But...
Tokido had his number. Tokido was completely, entirely, in his head. He knew what Punk was going to do before Punk did it. He hammered the American until Punk was terrified of displaying the kind of clinical, perfect aggression that earned him a place in the top two - terrified of getting that close to Tokido's horrific Akuma, terrified that this was all falling apart.
And Tokido just kept his cool. He had been working on calming exercises, lately, the announcers told us earlier, to keep the tourney nerves at bay, and age and professionalism simply overcame youth and skill.
Skip ahead to the award ceremony at 2:52:00 and watch Punk desperately try to stop himself from bursting into tears as he receives his second place medal. My heart breaks for him.
This was it. This is what he was working so hard for, and he could only watch, horrified, as his dream crumbled in the shadow of Tokido's Akuma. You feel like it was less that Tokido defeated him than that he simply lost. He, Punk, failed. Yes, you got second place in the biggest fighting game tournament in the world, standing among the Gods of Street Fighter and holding your own, but you lost, Punk. You could've beaten him - you know you could've, you did it 24 hours earlier! - but you lost. You had it and you let it go. You believed in yourself, and you let yourself down.
Or perhaps more likely, I'm imagining the same cruelty in him that I had, when I enjoyed a similar failure, scratching at the ceiling of my craft at his age.
|I call this piece Child In Agony.|
He pulls off his glasses and wipes at his eyes as the medal is placed on Tokido's shoulders.
Don't think this was it, Punk. Don't think this was your only chance. Don't think that you've peaked with EVO 2017, 'cause we all want to see this rematch in 2018 - and as a North American, I really wanna' see you win it.
This was awesome. Chamberlain was right.