If you saw a tearful Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi standing beside his longtime rival Daigo “The Beast” Umehara last Saturday, you’d have thought the two Street Fighter veterans just finished playing an Evo final. But this was no grand tournament or glitzy showmatch.
Tokido and Daigo had just played their hearts out in a tiny, cramped room as part of a first to 10 set at Kemonomichi II, the latest installment in Daigo’s special exhibition series. It was a thrilling display of Street Fighter V at the absolute highest level, and a reminder of just how much passion these world warriors have for their craft.
To put this bout in perspective, Tokido and Daigo are two of the greatest fighting game players of all time. They’ve both been competing for decades, and, as a quick YouTube search will show you, have battled it out countless times across multiple eras of Street Fighter.
Daigo is perhaps the genre’s biggest household name, with decades’ worth of big wins that include his unforgettable Evo Moment 37 comeback. But while Daigo has fallen off the tournament scene a bit, focusing more on hosting events and being an ambassador of the fighting game community, Tokido continues to dominate Street Fighter V. He’s the reigning Evo champ, the Capcom Cup 2017 runner-up, and arguably the best overall player in the world right now.
Still, despite these professional achievements, besting Daigo in a long set is a personal milestone that Tokido has yet to conquer. Umehara is known to be especially dangerous when he only has a single opponent to worry about, as he’s showcased in previous exhibitions with some of the game’s greatest veterans. In fact, seeing Daigo completely decimate Seon-woo “Infiltration” Lee at Mad Catz Unveiled 2013 is what inspired Tokido to start taking his game to the next level.
“I was so shocked,” said Tokido in a teaser video for Kemonomichi II. “Here I had twenty years of playing fighting games under my belt, and now I had to change what I was doing. It traumatized me, that set.”
Tokido has since crafted quite the legacy of his own, but that hasn’t shaken Daigo’s confidence when it comes to long exhibitions.
“I feel like I don’t know how to lose this, especially in a first-to-ten set,” said Daigo before the bout. “It’s like, ‘You’ve done a very good job, Tokido-kun. You’ve worked very hard, but you have a lot to learn.’ I’m just here to teach him that and end it.”
After this incredibly anime-like buildup, it was time for these two legends to go at it. Tokido and Daigo sat down in a small, cramped room that seemed hand-crafted to replicate the arcade scene that both fighters cut their teeth on, with each fighter surrounded by a big crowd that cheered for every win and winced at every loss.
What followed was one of the best Street Fighter V sets in recent history, with Tokido and Daigo both showcasing an unparalleled mastery of their respective characters. The two players’ styles clashed spectacularly — Daigo’s Guile would surgically out-space and out-zone Tokido for one match, only for Tokido’s relentless Akuma to completely overwhelm his opponent for the next. Both players performed smart pokes, gutsy throws and beefy high-damage combos in a series of nail-biting matches that often came down to a pixel of health.
However, the gap between Tokido and Daigo started to show after a few games. The man known as “The Beast” began playing as if he knew every move Tokido would perform next, unleashing fearless flash kicks, impenetrable projectile sequences and clutch combo conversions. Just when Tokido seemed to be mounting a comeback late in the set, Daigo ultimately shut his rival down 10 to 5.
— HiFight(ハイファイト) (@HiFightTH) March 10, 2018
Both players were visibly drained after the match. Despite just crushing Tokido, Daigo seemed more exhausted than elated. Tokido couldn’t hold the tears back as Daigo gave a post-fight interview, bowing his head in disappointment after failing to conquer his demon.
In true Daigo fashion, Umehara showed nothing but respect for his opponent, citing Tokido’s superior performance on the tournament circuit. An emotional Tokido simply promised to come back stronger.
To some viewers, the intense emotions surrounding Kemonomichi II seemed over-the-top. After all, there was no exorbitant prize pool on the line, nor were any Capcom Pro Tour points up for grabs. Why would Tokido get so upset over a seemingly casual exhibition?
The answer is simple. It’s drive. It’s passion. It’s an urge to climb a mountain, whatever that mountain may be. Folks like Tokido simply want to be the best at what they do, whether it’s on the stage of a grand Las Vegas sports arena or in the confines of a crowded Japanese arcade. And if surpassing Daigo’s legacy is what fuels Tokido’s fire, anyone in his path during this year’s Capcom Pro Tour should be scared.