The top eight of Stunfest 2016 showcased the level of quality necessary to be a world champion on the Capcom Pro Tour. In short, it's an incredibly high curve and it's only going to get better as the year progresses. International talent, you've been put on notice.
It was an incredibly stacked list of finalists and the winner proved to be difficult to call. The top eight started with a surprise quartet of 3-0 sweeps from both the winner's semifinals and the loser's round. Tournament darling, fan favorite, and last year's Ultra Street Fighter 4 Stunfest champion, Red Bull's Daigo "The Beast" Umehara was eliminated alongside Hiroyuki "Eita" Nagata.
And on the other side, last year's Stunfest runner-up, Evil Geniuses' Yusuke Momochi and Qanba's Zhuojun "Xiao Hai" Zeng were sent to the loser's side of the bracket. From that point on, every set was played to a tense back and forth rhythm.
No low tiers here: Razer's Kun "Xian" Xian Ho was magnificent. In a true show of variety, Xian displayed his talents through the rarely chosen character, F.A.N.G. He dazzled with block strings that left the opponent confused and afraid to react, punished accordingly to whiffed normal moves or unsafe special cancels, and suffocated enemies with both his poison and pressure. It was surgery. Precise movement, sharp button presses, and impressive pressure throughout his victories. He made F.A.N.G. viable and frightening at the same time. This is nothing new to a player that absolutely innovated Gen in Ultra Street Fighter 4 and singlehandedly brought that character to a new light. If Xian continues his momentum, it would come as no surprise if the same tidal wave is brought to F.A.N.G.
The grand finals. Razer's Ai "Fuudo" Keita extended his hand to Momochi after their set concluded amidst the cheers from the crowd, but the newly-crowned champion did not immediately receive his gesture. Instead, Momochi's eyes were fixed on the screen, his fingers on his buttons, and his concentration completely on the next match. It took a few seconds until Momochi broke out of his trance to notice the show of good sportsmanship from Fuudo and for the realization to dawn: he was the winner of Stunfest.
But that was just how intense the man was during the grand finals. He reset the winner's advantage with a swift 3-0 and finished off the tournament with another quick 3-1 series. The most impressive part of it all was the adjustment Momochi made after he was defeated by Fuudo in their first matchup in the winner's semifinals. In their first meeting, Fuudo controlled the space and pace of the match. He bullied Momochi with medium kicks, crouching normals, and the threat of a command grab. When they met again, Momochi met his opposition with wake-up reversals, reaction buttons to dash-ups, and whiff punishes.
He was a completely different player. The bullied became the bully and Fuudo could never correctly predict what Momochi would do on his wake-up, his mix-up game, or what his preferred button presses were. In the end, it was domination and the monster known as Momochi crushed through the end of Stunfest in decisive and devastating fashion.
The competition was certainly no joking matter. Fighters and styles of all manners were on display at Stunfest. There were ground game focused players like Hajime "Tokido" Taniguchi, Fuudo, Xian, and Umehara to reinforce the old fundamental Street Fighter habits. Then, there were momentum monsters like Eita and Haitani and truly unpredictable and reactionary players like Momochi and Xiao Hai. It was a showcase of the elite and how Street Fighter 5 could only evolve into a completely different beast altogether.