Road to Victory: Momochi’s Climb Through the EVO Top 8

By Michael Migliacio, Web Content Developer for Evil Geniuses

One warrior. Four matches. Unlimited hype.

Team Evil Geniuses Fighting Game Division player Yusuke Momochi once again defies the odds, ascending to glory as this year’s EVO champion in Ultra Street Fighter IV. While marks the first time that the Tokyo titan earned an Ultra Street Fighter IV title at EVO, it also serves as the culmination of months and months of hard work, dedication, and practice. Shortly after the release of Ultra Street Fighter IV, Momochi appeared to find his groove in the game, destroying the competition in tournaments both domestic and international. This string of notable victories culminated in a decisive victory at last year’s Capcom Cup.

After that, both Momochi and fellow Team EG member Yuko “ChocoBlanka” Kusachi became household names among the Japanese fighting game community — with the duo appearing to discuss professional eSports on several popular Japanese variety programs on TV and the Internet, and coaching aspiring pro players via analysis videos on YouTube which gather tens of thousands of views among fans.

This year, Momochi continued his campaign of destruction, claiming victory after victory at international tournaments. Examples of his victories include overcoming 15 of the world’s strongest Street Fighter players to claim the championship title of the SxSW Fighters Invitational as well as a second-place win at Final Round in Atlanta. Heading into EVO, Momochi was primed and ready for battle. However, the Top 8 of this year’s tournament held a few surprises that caught the champ off-guard.

Momochi entered the Top 8 in Winners, after overcoming a gauntlet of opponents in pools and Top 32 without a loss to his name. His first match would pit him against a friend and rival that he knows quite well: MCZ.Tokido.

Winners semi-finals: Momochi (Ken) vs. MCZ.Tokido (Akuma) 3-1.

With both players so familiar with each other, the match started off as many Shoto vs. Shoto matches do — with fireballs. Generally, Tokido tends to lean on the side of offensive play, while Momochi enters a match cautiously and adapts on the fly. While the match did go back-and-forth (with Momochi decidedly taking the first game, and Tokido rallying back with a few risky moves to tie it up), it was a clever read that allowed Momochi to keep his opponent locked down during the final moments of the last match, coming back from near death to clinch victory with a flaming Shoryuken.

Momochi’s next opponent would be far less predictable. Infiltration is generally known in the fighting game community for having a bunch of pocket characters, but the fact he decided to place two of them into play in Top 8 was a bit of a surprise…

Winners finals: Momochi (Ken, Elena) vs Infiltration (Evil Ryu, Abel) 3-2.

Momochi assumed that Infiltration might pull out unusual character choices for Top 8, but had done his homework. After watching Infiltration put Evil Ryu in play against another player, he was prepared for the inevitable. The first match pitted Momochi’s Ken against a very dangerous, offensive Evil Ryu. Though Infiltration’s Evil Ryu fought well, Momochi was tuned to the flow of the match, handily punishing his opponent any time he dropped one of Evil Ryu’s notoriously difficult link combos, eventually securing a victory. This victory forced Infiltration into a mindgame, whipping out a pocket character that Momochi admittedly wasn’t prepared to handle: Abel. Caught off-guard by the unusual choice and unable to respond to many of the new techniques available to his opponent, Momochi lost the next game and was also forced into a character change — one that few people saw coming. Bringing none other than Elena into the fray, Momochi called Infiltration’s bluff, and — after an admittedly rocky first round — he emerged victorious, guaranteeing a place in the Grand Finals against AvM.GamerBee.

Grand finals, first set: AvM.GamerBee (Adon) vs Momochi (Ken) 3-1.

Despite an early victory in the first game, Momochi had difficulty maintaining momentum for the remainder of the match. GamerBee’s Adon, well-equipped to handle many of Ken’s offensive options, made it exceptionally difficult for Momochi to maintain offense. A few unlucky hit trades and EX Jaguar punishes later, GamerBee emerges victorious, knocking Momochi into Losers and forcing yet another grueling match — one that would decide it all.

Grand finals, second set: EG|Momochi (Evil Ryu) eliminated AvM|GamerBee (Adon) 3-2.

On the ropes and keeping focus, Momochi made an unexpected adjustment that caused an audible reaction from the crowd: he would be deciding the outcome of EVO 2015 not as Ken, but as Evil Ryu — a risky decision he later described as “spur of the moment”. Going on instinct rather than explicit strategy is a hallmark of Momochi’s style, and his ability to adapt to his opponent by making that drastic adjustment ended up in his favor. The final match of EVO 2015 kicked off with a nail-biting back-and-forth, give-and-take brawl between two of Street Fighter’s strongest players. After being knocked slightly off balance by the previous loss (as well as an untimely equipment malfunction), Momochi rallied back — keeping his composure and eliminating GamerBee in the final round of the final match of EVO 2015, and cementing his place as one of the world’s strongest Street Fighter competitors.

But this year isn’t over for Momochi. In addition to continuing to practice and compete, as well as preparing for next year’s launch of Street Fighter V, Momochi is preparing to face GamerBee and several other Top 8 competitors at this year’s Capcom Cup. Will the champ prevail once again? We won’t have to wait long to find out…