ANAHEIM, California -- Rise's Saul "MenaRD" Segundo is your 2017 Capcom Cup champion.
The young Birdie took down Echo Fox's Hajime "Tokido" Taniguchi in the grand finals after falling to the Japanese legend in the winner's finals on Sunday in Anaheim, California. MenaRD was the only representative from the Dominican Republic in the top eight and used only Birdie throughout the final day. Tokido's second-place finish capped an incredible year that was highlighted with an Evolution Championship Series victory.
In a star-studded field with players from all timelines, from Cygames' Daigo "The Beast" Umehara and Tokido to young upstarts like MenaRD and Ponos' Naoki "Moke" Nakayama and everything in between, it was a finals to remember. Although the country representation was lacking with six players from Japan in the top eight, the skill and entertainment (and, most importantly, the character selection) was at its very peak.
With the next season of Street Fighter V on the way, this was a wonderful close to a season full of surprises.
The most encouraging take away from the top eight of Capcom Cup was the number of characters represented in addition to all the narratives. There were eight characters selected: Birdie, Zangief, Guile, Akuma, Rashid, Urien, Ibuki and M. Bison. The general health of the game's creativity in terms of selection continues to grow and should remain on track with the upcoming Season 3.
A Capcom Cup full of variety, upsets and intense action came down to two takes at a Birdie-Akuma matchup.
Tokido took down MenaRD in the winners finals in a very closely-contested 3-2 set and looked like the absolute favorite to take Capcom Cup and cap off his already-stellar year. In the rematch, with the set in his favor, Tokido controlled the space with fireballs and played keep-away to frustrate MenaRD. Unfortunately for the Japanese Akuma player, MenaRD's composure never broke, and he bullheadedly fought his way through fireballs, missed throws, and block strings.
"I was not reacting to the fireballs and adjusted to play more aggressively," MenaRD said. "When he didn't think about adjusting to his fireballs, I took advantage of that."
With the set tied up, MenaRD turned on the offense: He abused his sweep, locked down Tokido with command grabs and shorts, and anti-aired every single attempt from above.
MenaRD took his first set lead in the matchup with a 2-1 advantage following the bracket reset. The same pristine neutral game that took him to the grand finals helped him get the better of the Evo champion. Tokido's lack of answers to Birdie's space control and bulldozing offense was his undoing.
"I felt very confident because I had the Dominican Republic on my back," said MenaRD, whose fans rushed him on-stage following the victory. "I was not nervous and felt at home. I feel like every moment, my tournament life is on the line."
His win wasn't the only shocking moment of the weekend. Out of all the stories in the Capcom Cup top eight, none truly captured the insanity of the Capcom Pro Tour quite like Alienware player Naoki "Nemo" Nemoto's run.
Nemo's path in the Capcom Pro Tour was erratic; he announced only a few months ago that he would become a professional player with the last-chance qualifier as his only real opportunity left to qualify for the Capcom Cup. With just the one shot, Nemo battled through a nearly 250 player double-elimination tournament that rewarded only one player a spot into the cup and made it all the way to the losers finals of the Capcom Cup.
His tournament ended with a loss to the eventual Capcom Cup winner, MenaRD, in the loser's finals, but it was a run to remember.