EVO 2009 crowns its first World Champion

Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frasier. Manny Pacquiao vs. Oscar De La Hoya. Rocky Balboa vs. Ivan Drago. Daigo Umehara vs. Justin Wong…wait, what?

Gamers, especially those of the fighting variety, will likely know what that last matchup is all about especially after this weekend when the EVO 2009 Championship Series hosted in Las Vegas had wrapped up over 50,000 matches spread across many of the most popular fighting franchises in video gaming today. The largest annual fighting tourney of its kind in the world, they’ve been gathering many of the most competitive players on the planet under one roof for a chance at glory over the last ten years.

Competitive gaming isn’t a new thing that just appeared with the last generation of consoles, especially among fighting games which have seen countless tournament events…large and small…held throughout the world from the last of the local arcades to the vast convention halls of a place like Sin City.

Like anything competitive, it was only inevitable that there would be those individuals whose skill would earn them accolades and cheers from those following their careers. And in the Street Fighter circuit, two names stand out: Daigo “The Beast” Umehara, professional SF player from Japan, and Justin Wong who is arguably the best SF player in the States.

It’s not that interesting to watch two players mash buttons and swerve sticks, I’ll say that much. Even in the arcades when I’d watch two players go at it in Marvel vs. Capcom, the crowd wouldn’t so much as watch what their hands were doing as how well they were playing onscreen.

But what set this particular rivalry up for the long-awaited rematch this past weekend was their previous face-off in SFIII: Third Strike that pitted them against each other at EVO 2004. In the clip below, Daigo Umehara (as Ken) was on the verge of losing a match in the first set until making a comeback by blocking every move Justin Wong’s (as Chun-Li) super combo with only a few pixels of health left.

And with both players defeating everyone in their path through the brackets in this year’s EVO Championship series, their head-to-head rematch was almost expected. Short of becoming a remake of the final match between Rocky Balboa and Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, it was hard for some in the crowd not to get caught up in the same spirit. Both players’ personalities are also as different as night and day with Daigo’s cool and methodical personality contrasting against Justin Wong’s crowd pleasing walkabouts after scoring a victory against “The Beast”.

But after a spirited battle on both sides along with plenty of colorful commentary, Daigo ultimately came out on top as the first EVO World Champion. You can catch the last round of matches in the clip below which follows a best three out of five setup, although it would have been nice if there had been a visual graphic showing the particulars.

The clip below is particularly long, about twenty or so minutes of hardcore Street Fighter IV footage, but it’s great to see and hear the crowd along with the players get wrapped up in all of the excitement. Except for Daigo. Even when he tastes a little defeat, or pulls a victory, he’s still focused on his game.