Over the weekend, the Tekken World Tour finals played out in Bangkok, Thailand, bringing together some of the best Tekken 7 competitors in the world to fight for the year-end championship. While 2019 was filled with surprise performances from players outside of more visible regions like South Korea and Japan, it was players from those two countries who duked it out in the grand finals, a match that was ultimately decided by a surprise character choice.
The biggest story of the year in Tekken 7 competition has been the emergence of Pakistani players on the world stage. Arslan “Arslan Ash” Siddique shocked the fighting game community with his win at Evo Japan in February, and he proved that victory wasn’t a fluke with a similar performance at Evo proper a few months later. Atif “Atif Butt” Ijaz and Awais “Awais Honey” Parvez took the top two spots at Tokyo Tekken Masters in October, further cementing Pakistan’s burgeoning reputation as a dominant Tekken country. With Arslan Ash, Awais Honey, and last-chance qualifier Bilal Ilyas all part of the Tekken World Tour finals, many were looking for Pakistan to make a deep run in the main event.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it played out. All three Pakistani competitors would be eliminated in the group stage, dropping to players they had previously demolished like South Korean legend Jae-Min “Knee” Bae and Evo 2018 champion Sun-woong “LowHigh” Youn. Arslan Ash in particular shouldered a lot of expectations and responsibility after winning two Evo events in one year. After being eliminated early on, he apologized to his supporters on Twitter, which prompted an outpouring of love and congratulations for everything he had managed to accomplish throughout 2019.
“Thank you guys for the humble words,” Arslan responded a few hours later. “I’m fine now. Will train more harder next year.”
After the group stage came to a close, the Tekken World Tour finals moved into the top 8 bracket with an unsurprising mix of nationalities: four Korean players, three Japanese players, and one American competitor. Of these, Knee seemed best suited for going the distance due to ending his run in third last year, and all seemed to be going to plan until he encountered Japanese veteran Yuta “Chikurin” Take in the winners finals. Chikurin, using Fatal Fury crossover character Geese Howard, absolutely manhandled Knee, sending him to the losers bracket with a quick 3-0 match. Soon after, Knee would face off against fellow Korean competitor Soo-hoon “Ulsan” Lim in losers finals, suffering another 3-0 sweep to end his run in third place yet again.
While incredible Tekken 7 players in their own right, the grand finals matchup between Chikurin and Ulsan came as a surprise. With so much attention paid to the Pakistani competitors and some of their well-known rivals, both players were able to fly under the radar up until the finals. That said, it was hard to muster the same excitement as previous years—Byeong-mun “Qudans” Son’s nail-biting return to the United States in 2017 and low-tier hero Hyeon-ho “Rangchu” Jeong’s win with Panda in 2018 set the bar pretty high—but that all changed when Chikurin chose a surprising new character: Street Fighter guest Akuma.
Akuma has been a controversial character in Tekken 7 competition since his arrival in 2016. His ability to “focus” through attacks—a mechanic borrowed from Street Fighter IV that essentially lets the character shrug off attacks and punish accordingly—made him a strong contender out of the gate, and he’s only continued to have a presence in high-level play thanks to French champion Vincent “Super Akouma” Homan and aforementioned Pakistani competitors Awais Honey and Atif Butt. A recent nerf to his meter gain hobbled Akuma a bit, but not enough for his most adamant users to find a new character. That said, no Akuma players managed to qualify for the top 8 bracket.
Chikurin had last used the demonic fighter at a major tournament back in 2017, but something about the matchup against Ulsan’s tiger-wielding Kazumi Mishima led him to return in the Tekken World Tour finals, perhaps the most important match of Chikurin’s decade-long career.
Much like he had done to Knee in the winners finals, Chikurin came out of the gate in the championship match like a man possessed. Ulsan wasn’t granted a single moment to breathe, and Chikurin quickly found himself with a 2-0 advantage. With just one game to go, Ulsan seemed to finally get the hang of the Akuma matchup, snuffing out his offensives and side-stepping fireballs, but it was too little too late. In just a few minutes, Chikurin secured a 3-0 victory against Ulsan, claiming $75,000 and a massive trophy to commemorate his accomplishment. Afterwards, the rest of the Japanese contingency rushed the stage and hoisted Chikurin into the air in a display of solidarity, happy to see their country win its first Tekken World Tour championship.
But still, fans wondered: What was up with the switch to Akuma? An explanation came later courtesy of longtime Japanese player Kato “Yuu” Yuji, who revealed that Chikurin had practiced with Akuma exclusively for the potential Ulsan matchup.
“When Chikurin came over to practice before the Tekken World Tour finals, he grinded Akuma,” Yuu explained, according translations from fighting game community figurehead Andrew “jiyuna” Fidelis. “When asked, he said, ‘I plan to use him against Ulsan. I won’t use him against anyone else.’ For that to turn into this...”
Call it fate, call it the luck of the draw, but Chikurin’s player-specific training certainly paid off in the best way possible.
Ian Walker loves fighting games and loves writing about them even more. You can find him on Twitter at @iantothemax.