u can watch the entire recorded sf4 finals here. skip to about 25 mins in to see start of finals.
first match is ed ma vs eduardo. ed ma is considered one of california’s top players, and eduardo is puerto rico’s top player. to reach the finals in the winner’s bracket, ed ma had to beat john choi in an akuma vs. ryu rematch that choi won convincingly at devastation about a month ago. john choi is an OG sf2 player (he placed 2nd in sf 2 turbo hd remix to hung “afro legends” nguyen at evo) that has amazing zoning. after a round where it looked like choi was going to do it again, ed switched it up and pulled out the win. ed ma looked like he had a hard time against eduardo at first, but came out w/ the win.
next, justin faced daigo on the other half of the winner’s bracket. the justin daigo rivalry, of course, goes back to evo 2004 where daigo’s psychic parries of the justin’s super is the stuff of evo legend. earlier this year at the gamestop nationals, justin won the US sf4 championship and faced off against and beat the korean champ poongko and the japanese champ iyo. daigo, who was invited just b/c he’s a beast, and justin then faced each other and justin lost 4-0 w/ rufus. but justin said he’d pick differently in a non-exhibition match.
really, the rivalry is deeper than justin/daigo. it goes back to 1998 when daigo, fresh from winning japan’s national tourney, came to the US and beat alex valle, who was then the best US player in sf3 (choi was 2nd best at the time). that’s the original match that made japan’s dominance over fighting games well known in the US.
so w/ the weight of history on justin’s shoulders, he took on daigo again w/ a character he keeps as backup, abel. and even tho the matches are close, daigo takes justin out 2-0.
ed ma then takes on daigo and is also beaten 2-0.
so justin and ed make their way thru the loser’s bracket to face each other and justin takes out ed, just as he did at devastation. so after 1000+ ppl are eliminated the 2 players left standing are the 2 that gives the finals the most meaning. justin and daigo. again.
in the grand final, justin goes w/ abel for 1 match and loses. the crowd starts chanting “SWITCH! SWITCH!” and justin busts out boxer. he wins the first match and the crowd goes wild. he downs daigo 3-2 in the first set of 5 to reset the match count. but daigo adjusts and goes on to beat justin 3-2 in the 2nd set. the tactical genius of these matches is amazing even if there were some mistakes in execution from both players. they were both inventing things on the fly to bait the opponent and adjusting how they reacted to that bait if they fell for it earlier.
it’s also interesting to note how the crowd cheers. justin’s considered a pretty cocky player and most ppl cheer against him when he’s playing. but when playing daigo, the crowd backs justin and even chants “USA! USA!” when justin is winning. in the “i got next” documentary, one of the primary motivations of the players is to win against japan. but apparently the US still isn’t ready. not after 5 years, not after 11. but it was close. maybe next time…