Evo 2022 revived a rivalry as old as the Fighting Game Community itself; throughout many iterations of Street Fighter, Justin Wong and Daigo Umehara have gone to war against each other. In nearly every bout, Daigo has had the upper hand. Although Evo moment #37 is the Daigo victory many remember, Daigo’s Evo 2009 Grand Finals win over Justin Wong is arguably the most important.
That year’s grand final was epic; Wong came into the event as the underdog, having lost to Daigo twice leading up to this match. Daigo picked his main, Ryu, while Wong played Abel. However, after losing the first game, Wong famously switched to Balrog — a character no one had seen him play before. The switch paid off, at first; Justin rattled three straight wins in a row, pushing Daigo to the brink in the bracket reset. Daigo ultimately took the crown, but not for a lack of trying on Wong’s part.
The rematch at Evo 2022
Over a decade after that set, the two faced off once more as a part of Evo’s throwback matches program that is taking place this weekend at Evo 2022. A special panel took place before the best of five exhibition where both players reminisced over the legendary match.
“The night before [2009’s] top 8, I was in a hotel room with a bunch of Ryu players,” Justin Wong said. “I told them ‘I think I’m going to pick Balrog,’ and all of them told me ‘No, don’t do that, Daigo knows the Balrog matchup; pick Abel.'”
“So I trusted them, and they lied to me.”
Daigo agreed with Justin Wong’s analsyis.
“When Justin picked Balrog, I thought to myself, ‘Oh, he must have done research and saw that Balrog as a good Ryu matchup,” Daigo said. “He picks characters he knows I don’t want to play against.”
The Balrog picked looked in better in the exhibition; Wong looked dominant taking the first two games in the best of five matches without dropping a single round. Daigo had no answer to Justin Wong’s pressure. This exhibition showcased that Daigo didn’t have the magic, or that Justin Wong wanted revenge and practiced; the commentary duo — led by Joe “LI Joe” Ciaramelli — suggested the later.
But as the crowd stayed relatively quiet, Daigo woke up a little. with his back against the wall staring down a 3-0 with no rounds won, Daigo mixed up Justin Wong repeatedly with grabs and throws and took Game 3 to Round 3. The crowd started to cheer with Daigo looking like he relearned the game. With Round 3 back and forth, Daigo held a lead as the round time started to tick down from 10 seconds. With the onus on Justin Wong to find an opening, the new Balrog specialist managed to get the K.O strike as time expired to pick up the 3-0 sweep. The crowd cheer matched the energy their Evo 2009 Grand Finals set had.
Although Justin Wong won the Evo 2022 set 3-0, Daigo looked good playing a completely different peripheral than he did 13 years ago. Daigo was recently picked up by fighting stick maker, HitBox, to be a brand ambassador; the HitBox doesn’t have a joystick like other traditional fighting sticks have, opting for four directional buttons. This looks to be something that Daigo is still getting used to, and something he surely wasn’t using back in the days of SF4. With both players evolving over the years, in both skill and age, their rematch exhibition delivered another classic Evo moment.