The greatest rivalry in Super Smash Bros. Melee did not begin where most think it does. It didn't start in the Genesis winners finals, back on July 12, 2009, in Antioch, California. Rather, the seeds were sown two days prior, the very first day of the event, when Joseph "Mango" Marquez and Adam "Armada" Lindgren sat down to play each other for the very first time.
"Mango was one of the first people to introduce himself to me when I came to the venue for Genesis, if not the first," Armada recounted. "When he asked if I wanted to play, I was very excited ... I wanted to make an early statement."
The pair sat down for a couple of friendly matches. A victory to Armada ... a win for Mango ... and before they could square off again, brackets were being called. Both took something away from that initial meeting, one that still seems to hold true six and half years later when they dueled at Genesis 3: the importance of confidence. "Despite it only being two games, I had a feeling that I could keep up with him ... I gained some respect from him," Armada said.
Mango had a different take on it. "Thinking about it, I wasn't that impressed. Mostly because it was me not wanting to admit that he was good. I didn't want it to get into my head that he could beat me."
When they did meet for the first time officially at the initial Genesis event, Armada proved he could keep up and beat Mango by taking him out at the start of the winners bracket. At the end of the night in the grand finals, though, the crowd was chanting Mango's name as he ultimately won the tourney, ending the Cinderella story of the 2009 summer.
Going into Genesis 3 in 2016, commentator Kris "Toph" Aldenderfer cites that many hoped that this storied rivalry would continue at the tournament that started it all. "In a lot of ways, Mango vs. Armada is the rivalry that defines the pinnacle of tournament Melee," he says. "When the patriotic Mango was the undisputed king of a game dominated by Americans, Armada showed up at a perfect time to provide the narrative of international conflict." Yet with Armada coasting along through winner's bracket and Mango suffering a defeat before top 8 to Jeffrey "Axe" Williamson, some wondered if there would be another meeting between the pair.
But that's the way it had to be.
We shouldn't have been surprised to see Mango claw his way out of the grave and into grand finals; it was simply fate setting the stage once more, according to commentator Bobby "Scar" Scarnewman. "Three Genesis events, three Armada winners bracket victories, three runs from Mango through the losers bracket," he said.
Scarnewman alluded not just to their first clash, but their second in the summer of 2011 at Genesis 2, where Armada got a measure of revenge as he claimed victory over Mango. Armada made his way to grand finals relatively unscathed as Mango had to make a short trek through the losers bracket in order to challenge his most famed adversary.
Five years later, it seemed as if destiny was pulling the strings again, making sure that history would repeat itself. Armada made his way to grand finals with both Kevin "PPMD" Nanney and Juan "Hungrybox" Debiedma each able to take a single game from him in their sets, once again qualifying from winner's side. Mango seemed innervated as he took nine straight games from Michael "Nintendude" Brancato, PPMD and Axe before being pushed to the limit by Hungrybox, finally ensuring that the pair would be the only two grand finalists in the tournament series' history.
As easy as Mango made it look at times, the hard road that Mango had to traverse to get to grand finals has echoed some of his difficulties against the competition recently. Mango suffered a number of upsets to players on the rise, particularly in 2015. Yet, Armada's consistency since the first games he played stateside is the stuff of legend. For just over six years at major events, the number of players he has lost to can be counted on one hand. Analyst Daniel "Tafokints" Lee made it plain, "Armada has gotten the better end of him in their head to head set counts." The scoreline rests at 18-12 for Armada, thanks in part to an astounding 2015 where he took seven of their nine meetings. Lee continued, "Still, they have one of the most iconic rivalries in all of Melee's histories with electrifying sets that rarely disappoint." Of their thirty meetings, only eight times have the sets been so decisive that one player has been unable to snatch a game from the other.
When the two square off, you know what to expect. You expect to see fiery offense from Mango, and Armada agrees. "He's more of a rushdown player who likes to be in your face a big majority of the time, or in a position when you know he could attack at any second. His movement in close range is fantastic and he get people to act very afraid of him just because he puts a lot of mental pressure on them...he forces mistakes because opponents can't keep up with his speed, movement and spacing."
Yet, Armada is well aware of his own ability to make the most of opportunities given to him. "I'm more calculated and punish game heavy. If Mango instills fear based on his aggression, I scare people by killing them as soon as I touch them. I only had my brothers to play with for years, and since I was the most dedicated toward improving, I always wanted play more than them. I had no other option than to play against the CPU. This taught me so much about how I should punish chars and also gave me a lot of time to come up with new ideas."
"Each player fights with so much soul -- matches between the two typically look very different from their respective character matchup played at a lower level, seeing options used that are considered extremely unsafe by conventional standards," Toph added. "It's a testament to how well the two know each other."
As the pair sat down to play at Genesis 3 in grand finals, Mango mentally prepared himself, but then decided to play from his heart. "I told myself to be more passive, but I didn't listen," he laughed to himself. "At the end of the day, you have to view it as just another set, but it is hard to do that when I play Armada, there's just something special there."
Armada also had to scramble, as a wrench was thrown in his plans. "I thought Mango had the intention of going Fox only, but the tournament before he went Falco only, so it caught me off guard. I learned my lesson; I should always prepare for both of them no matter what."
Both players knew from those first games that something was different about the foe plugged in next to them. Mango thought back to their first meeting with a smile, "From the first time we played at Genesis, anyone who was there knows. To this day, I've never felt that type of energy in a room."
The first set saw Mango take two games in a Fox mirror match, forcing Armada to bring out Peach, the character he rose up the ranks with. While he was able to win a game on Dreamland, he finally fell short on Yoshi's Story, a smaller stage that benefits Mango's aggression and gives his opponents less breathing room.
That information was all Armada needed. He remained obstinate and stuck with Peach to take three of the next four games in order to take the trophy home. While Armada went home with the hardware, Mango and his fans returned to their abodes with a new confidence. Mango looked like himself, the Mango of yesteryear, the one who was viewed as the best player in the world before Armada wrestled that claim away from him. Their last meeting is just like their very first, all knotted up, and the rivalry that seemed lopsided in 2015 seems to be burning brighter than ever at the start of 2016.
As these two veterans continue their clashes, they are both aware of the magnitude of their sets. "Mango and I started this rivalry at our first tournament together, and it still is the one rivalry that most people list as their favorite," Armada noted." I really do think it will continue to be the biggest rivalry until one of us finally decides to stop playing, which I hope won't be the case for a very long time."
When Mango was queried the same, there was a vigor in his abrupt response. He only remarked, "For life."