MendaRD is the people's champ.
© David Grousset

The People's Champ: MenaRD

MenaRD is extremely good at Street Fighter, but he's even better at winning hearts.
By Timothy Lee
9 min readPublished on
Before the final knockout finishes playing on the screen, he jolts up from his seat and stretches out his arms in an embrace to the crowd.
His eyes scan the audience for a familiar face and then he’s smothered by the excitement of his friends, who drape him with the Dominican Republic flag. The simultaneous chants of “Mena” meld with the roar of thunder sticks as the champion shakes hands with all the fans who came to a warehouse in Greenpoint to watch him play—and win. On this day, New York City, which has the largest Dominican community in the U.S, feels like a second home.
His name is Saul “MenaRD” Mena, and for the 24-year-old Street Fighter player and two-time Capcom Cup champion, winning Red Bull Kumite in New York isn’t just another competition to take down—it’s his way to repay the people who’ve supported him, by dominating the field and representing his country.
MenaRD doesn’t know about 85 percent of the crowd shouting his name, but he knows that if you do things right as a role model, all the DR will have your back like family. His influence goes beyond playing Street Fighter because he represents success through work, persistence and faith.
“I don’t know if he knows the impact he has on Dominicans,” says Michael “Yipes” Mendoza, one of the commentators for Red Bull Kumite and a New Yorker of Dominican descent. Mendoza is also a former Evolution Championship Series winner—arguably the most prestigious fighting game tournament ever—but on that particular day in March, he’s simply a proud fan of his fellow countryman.
“All our beautiful people were there to watch him play—friends of friends and people that didn’t know fighting games, were there to support,” Mendoza continues. “Mena is the fighting game ambassador, so we call him the president of the Dominican Republic (DR). They got a kid that they can champion.”
Today, MenaRD is an unstoppable force on the Street Fighter scene, but his path to victory didn’t come without a few obstacles. “It took so many things to go right to have the privilege to have this blessing,” Mena says. “I’m just grateful.”
MenaRD, pictured here in New York ahead of Red Bull Kumite, is the only two-time Capcom Cup champion in the competition’s history.

MenaRD is the only 2-time Capcom Cup champion in the competition’s history.

© Daniel Weiss / Red Bull Content Pool

Growing up in Santo Domingo, Mena lived in a neighborhood heavily affected by crime. In school, he had friends who dropped out because they were caught up in something. His parents shielded him and made sacrifices to provide for him as best they could. Playing fighting games alongside his older brother and his friends became his haven. Sometimes they’d lose electricity, a common occurrence in the DR. Still, Mena’s talent was clear from an early age. As the dream to pursue gaming began to grow, it took a village to make it possible.
The Dominican Republic has one of the weakest passports in the world, meaning its citizens need a business or work visa to travel to many countries, including the U.S. When Mena was 15, his small gaming community sponsored him to attend his first tournament. Then, at the 2016 Fighting Fest in Santo Domingo and the 2017 Northeast Championships in Pennsylvania, he placed second.
Those early successes gave Mena the confidence to keep going, but his parents expressed their hesitation, hoping he’d attend college instead. In that moment, he took a leap of faith and chose gaming.
“I was upset because I thought they didn’t understand what I was trying to do,” Mena explains. “But they still supported me. Every time I left the country, they needed to sign documents and pay a fee to let me travel, and they did it every time regardless of what they would say. I’m thankful for my parents for guiding me.”
Mena is the fighting game ambassador, so we call him the president of the DR. They got a kid they can champion.
Michael “Yipes” Mendoza, Red Bull Kumite commentator
When Mena won his first Capcom Cup in 2017, he officially put his country on the map in the fighting game scene. (“I cried when I saw him win,” Mendoza admits.) With his $250,000 in prize money, Mena invested in his local gaming community by sponsoring other Dominican players, forming his own team and upgrading their gaming facilities with monitors, consoles, faster internet and a bigger space.
Over the years, Mena traveled and trained with his best friend, Cristopher “Caba” Rodriguez, who is like a brother to him. Their relationship rapidly matured as they grew into a commanding force in their field, but nothing was guaranteed. For Caba, his life forever changed when his father, who raised him, passed away in 2021. Caba played through his grief at a world-class level in part thanks to the support of his best friend, who helped him build an independent lifestyle.
In December 2022, Mena moved to Boston, where his mother had established residency, but he maintains a strong bond with Caba. “He’s the most special case of a brotherhood to me,” Mena says of his friend. “If we stopped playing right now, I would be there for him for the rest of his life. We became each other’s strengths and grew together, and it happened because of Street Fighter and because of the community.”
A few months after moving to the U.S., Mena won his second Capcom Cup in Los Angeles, becoming the only two-time champion in the competition’s history.
In Brooklyn, fans rooted for Mena at Red Bull Kumite 2024 by waving Dominican Republic flags, banging thunder sticks and screaming his name.

In Brooklyn, fans rooted for Mena by waving Dominican Republic flags.

© Todd Owyoung / Red Bull Content Pool

When Street Fighter VI was released in June 2023, Mena struggled with it.

When Street Fighter VI was released in June 2023, Mena struggled with it.

© Todd Owyoung / Red Bull Content Pool

Today, Mena and Caba are considered favorites to take down any competition, but when Street Fighter VI released in June 2023, Mena struggled with the game. After his monumental success in competition with Street Fighter V, the newest iteration of the iconic series arrived as a complete overhaul. For Mena, something wasn’t clicking in the game’s mechanics and design, and he contemplated quitting before things became too frustrating. But he didn’t just struggle with results. At the time, he mentally lacked focus and the motivation to play, which didn’t sit well with his team, so he decided to figure out the root of the problem.
The simple answer was he lacked drive. With the help of sports therapist Ruben Aybar, Mena discovered his motivation had dwindled. After becoming the only player in history to win two Capcom Cups, what more did he have to prove? He needed to believe again. Therapy allowed him to see the mental hurdles and pressures he’d inflicted on himself, and as a result, he changed his overall approach to professional gaming. Now he had the tools to just breathe and be aware of factors that affect his mood in competition—things like crowd noise or even the temperature of the room. Putting a name to everything allowed Mena to create solutions, and that empowerment reinvigorated his drive to succeed.
“Therapy was not my decision,” Mena admits. “When the pandemic happened, my mom and my brother got COVID, and it was dangerously close. I was losing my mind.”
In therapy, he realized he needed to focus on what he could control. “If how I played took me to victory, that’s good, but it doesn’t mean I should be satisfied or that it was guaranteed,” Mena explains. “Just do your best with what you have and that’s all you can do.”
Ultimately, Mena credits everyone in his support system for giving him a sense of stability. “I was putting a lot of pressure on myself,” he says. “My team saw that and helped me become the best version of myself.”
At Red Bull Kumite, which featured some of the best Street Fighter VI players in the world, Mena dominated the final bracket of competition.

Mena is now 1 of the best Street Fighter IV players and a major influence.

© David Grousset

These days, MenaRD is arguably one of the best Street Fighter VI players in the world. He influences strategy and trends for character selection in tournament play. Because he plays two main characters, Luke and Blanka, at an absurd level—and both characters are interchangeable—top competitors are now taking a second look at Blanka’s potential. And while there are plenty of tapes to study for his habits and decision- making, no one can really predict or counter the nature of MenaRD’s play. For years, Japan heavily influenced the ebbs and flows of the Street Fighter scene, but today, the Dominican Republic is leading the way, with Mena at the forefront.
“The game’s options and mechanics allow the player to condition the opponent better,” Mena says of Street Fighter VI. “I can deal with a lot of the chaos, and all the things you need to counter or react are all risk and rewards that benefit my intuition. If I don’t know [my opponent] is going to do something, raw reaction won’t help, but if I know what you’re trying to do, I can stop it. Because I can confuse and condition people, I can play around people’s reactions and prevent them from stopping me more.”
He is the embodiment of a perfect player. Everyone sees a piece of themselves in Mena.
Michael “Yipes” Mendoza, Red Bull Kumite commentator
Mena’s ability to outpace other players makes him the most dangerous player to go up against in competition. “When it’s a setting where you play sets, my money is on that guy,” says Mendoza. “He’s young and super consistent, and every victory he gains, he just proves he’s real and pushes the culture forward. You can tell when someone isn’t here for the right reasons, and I never get the impression from Mena’s body language. He’s there to showcase what the fighting game community is about, win or lose.”
Although he’s in a good place now, Mena admits that first year playing Street Fighter VI was extremely difficult—the travel, the long training hours, the lack of motivation. He had to remind himself that what he was doing wasn’t a gimmick or an illusion. His recent wins at Red Bull Kumite and EVO Japan 2024—the latter of which happened as this issue went to press— affirm he’s the real deal.
“Seeing a kid that’s inspiring the culture, I’m so proud of him,” Mendoza says. “He’s the classic case of what the fighting game player represents—he won’t complain and moves on even in tough losses. He’s the embodiment of the perfect player. What I love about Mena is that he never changes as a person. Everyone that roots for him sees a piece of themselves in Mena.”
At the end of the season, with the most important people in his life around him, Mena is feeling good again. “When I see my family at a competition, I’m just grateful,” he says. “It doesn’t matter how I do, my mother and family will never take it for granted. I’m doing what I love all the time. It’s the best life I can imagine. It makes me play without pressure. I’ve already won, and I need to enjoy the moment.”

Part of this story

Red Bull Kumite

An epic battle comes to New York. Welcome to Red Bull Kumite 2024.

United StatesGreenpoint Terminal Warehouse, United States
View Event Info