Combo Breaker 2015 was a tournament of opportunity. While many international players were overseas at Stunfest in France, many American Street Fighter players were battling it out in Chicago for Midwest bragging rights and some Capcom Pro Tour ranking points. One man would overcome a mental and physical hurdle to win it all and team Evil Geniuses wouldn’t make it easy.
Du “Liquid NuckleDu” Dang wanted this win for many reasons. He wanted to shake the reputation he felt he was building as ‘Mr. Second Place.’ Coming into Combo Breaker, NuckleDu’s last grand finals win was at Apex 2015 in January and he finished in third place at Norcal Regionals 2015. In three other appearances, NuckleDu wouldn’t make it out of the top 16, including SXSW Fighters Invitational and Final Round 18, where he’d end up in 13th place.
From winner's to loser's bracket, just like that
NuckleDu played well to earn his spot in another top 16, sticking with his trademark Guile while sparingly straying to his pocket characters. You’d know when he was confident when Guile’s shades came out, and it was often throughout the weekend. But nothing boosts confidence like winning a close set with Evil Genius Justin Wong, the current leader among North Americans in points on the tour. NuckleDu took their first set 2-1, sending Wong into the loser’s bracket.
With one Evil Genius down, NuckleDu would have to play another, Ricki Ortiz. “Ricki, is my demon. She beats me at every event,” NuckleDu said in a phone interview. “She kills my confidence.” Ortiz was on her way to one of her best finishes in some time and she certainly seemed to have NuckleDu’s number in their first meeting. After winning the first round with fantastic Sonic Boom and backfist zoning, NuckleDu accidentally paused the game in the middle of a critical second match, giving Ortiz the opportunity to take a free round by Capcom Pro Tour rules. It seemed the tide had turned in Ortiz’ favor and she would end up winning the set 3-1, sending NuckleDu to the loser’s bracket, where he would have to face Justin Wong again.
Fighting through the mental and physical stress
Not many get a chance to face Wong twice in a weekend and survive to tell the tale, especially given the physical pain NuckleDu was experiencing in addition to the devastating loss to Ortiz. NuckleDu had been in a car accident recently and he was still feeling the effects of that accident. He refused to miss Combo Breaker, despite a recommendation to skip the tournament.
When he was in pain, he wouldn’t let on. He still smiled and showed a calm under fire when he was backed into a corner, literally. Wong chose to stick with Rose, likely feeling that was his best matchup even after the results of the previous meeting. The match was close and every round came down to who would make the first mistake but frustration had set in for Wong once NuckleDu claimed the first round. Rarely do you see Wong make a character change mid-match. It’s even rarer to see him go through three characters, Rose, Rufus, and Adon, in the same set. “Yep, I am still free. I can’t beat Guile ever!” Wong tweeted. “Du my new demon.”
A weekend full of resets
It seems fitting that both Stunfest 2015 and Combo Breaker would be decided in similar fashion on the same weekend. Daigo Umehara defeated Yusuke Momochi by coming out of the loser’s bracket and resetting the bracket. NuckleDu coming into grand finals with that win over Wong would again face Ricki Ortiz and he would now have to reset the bracket in order to win it all. The mark of a great Street Fighter player is adjusting to your opponent. “I realized everything I did wrong. I wasn’t playing my style,” NuckleDu said about his first match with Ortiz. Anyone watching could tell there was a change in strategy and it worked. NuckleDu applied more air throws and flash kicks and he felt more confident in the matchup and it showed. His anti-air and zoning tactics were nearly flawless. It made Ortiz rethink her character choice and she went with Rolento. It proved fatal to Ortiz’ chances to claim first place as NuckleDu seemed to know the Rolento matchup in and out and he had all the reads.
At the end of it all, NuckleDu took a deep breath as exhaustion was evident. “I had to take this event serious. It’s more than just a game now,” NuckleDu said, referencing some personal issues aside from his recent accident. NuckleDu can rest a little bit easier knowing he got a first place finish finally, he beat his demon in Ortiz not once, but twice, and he put himself in a much better position to earn a spot in the Capcom Cup by points.