Superman Punches and Shoryukens: The Parallel Identities of MMA and Fighting Games


UFC 148 has passed us, and with the much-anticipated Anderson Silva’s rematch with Chael Sonnen for the undisputed middleweight championship ending in (albeit one-sided) fireworks, many were stunned by the atmosphere and size of the crowd, with the event drawing the most gate revenue in UFC history. No doubt, Las Vegas was certainly the center of the fighting world that week- though this may be for more reasons than you may expect.

From July 6 to the 8th in the Caesar’s Palace, the EVOLUTION Championship Series took place for the tenth time. Evo, as it is called, is considered the PRIDE Grand Prix, Super Bowl and World Series all wrapped up into one for competitive fighting game players. Thousands of players from as close as the arcade down the street and far as Japan, Russia, Korea and Australia converge yearly for a chance to win trophies, money, and most importantly, bragging rights- the ability to be called the best in the world at your game.

But do fighting games and fighting have more in common than you think? Check the jump below for some fighting game concepts that seem more in place in the octagon than the Saikyo Dojo.

On the whole, about six tournaments took place during EVO. While each game has its dedicated fanbase (you’re reading an article written by a King of Fighters player), it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the Super Street Fighter 4: AE tournament was the "main event" of the competition. A simple enough premise: Pick one of 39 characters and use different attacks and combos to reduce your opponent’s health bar to 0. At face value, it’s pretty simple, not unlike early MMA’s objective to simply incapacitate your opponent. There’s a LOT behind the game, though, much like MMA.


In layman’s term, the "zoning" game, also referred to as "footsies" in fighting game jargon, refers to the mid-range ground based aspect of fighting game strategy. The ultimate goal of footsies, much like striking, is to control the flow of a fight/match, bait the opponent into making errors, and punishing them for mistakes. Shown below is an (admittedly low quality) video of an old school player, Mike Watson and his toying with an overmatched opponent. Just watch how his Guile (in green) ducks in and out of range- meaning the opponent’s character is unable to get his attacks off, but is still in enough range to get picked off by Guile’s long range attacks:

Mike Watson SF2 Hyper Fighting Guile (via Crayfis)

Look familiar? It’s not dissimilar to a fighter like Anderson Silva snipes his opponent from a distance like he did versus Yushin Okami, or how Jon Jones uses his freakish reach to control the pace of a fight without putting himself in immediate danger. On the flipside, not knowing how to control the flow of a fight or match is disastrous in high level competition- MMA fans will recall UFC 149’s disappointing showing by Hector Lombard and his apparent reluctance to engage, instead expecting Tim Boetsch to plod forward- and its curious similarities to Alex Valle’s defeat to Daigo Umehara at EVO 2006:

Evo Finals 2006: Daigo (1P) Vs. Valle (2P) 3rd Strike Semifinal Match (via jchensor)

Valle, playing as the white gi’d Ken, was content to stay in the corner at 2:40, expecting Daigo to simply try to rush him down- a fatal mistake to make at any level. Daigo simply countered Valle’s attempts at throwing hadoukens and eventually chipped away at him from a safe distance.

And not unlike MMA is the fact that the fighter on the offensive is not without options. Many games and specific characters are "rushdown" oriented, meaning they’re at their best when they’re in close quarters or applying copious amount of pressure to their opponents. Wanderlei Silva, Jake Ellenberger and the "Pitbull" Friere brothers are among other fighters who tend to "swarm" fighters and do most of their damage there. Knowing when to turn on aggression is often a deciding moment in high-level matches.

Take for example Daigo Umehara facing Chung-gon "Poongko" Lee in the Top 8 of EVO 2011. Umehara, referred to as "The Beast" or simply "Daigo" in tournaments, has been competing since 1997 and is considered to be one of the greatest players in fighting game history. That’s not hyperbole- one simply can look at this INCOMPLETE list of his accolades and tell that he’s got to be pretty good. At EVO, it’s generally a given that if Daigo competes, he’s going to place highly at the tournament. It had been par for the course at the 2011 event, where Daigo- playing as Yun, who at the time was a hilariously strong, borderline broken character as well-, was running rampant. The consensus was that Daigo was a buzzsaw and the entire field was at risk of getting cut down. He was simply too technically sound, too experienced, too good to get anything less than a podium spot.

This is when he fought Poongko and got absolutely demolished.



The way Poongko swarmed on Daigo was along the lines of Chael Sonnen taking the fight to Anderson Silva at UFC 117, except Poongko was there to finish the fight to the tune of a perfect victory, taking no damage in his final round. Poongko would go on to medal at the event at 3rd place, Daigo was sent to the loser’s bracket before fizzling out at 4th, a massive disappointment for him.

So the next time you're watching an MMA event, keep in mind that mixed martial arts isn't a super abstract thing- sometimes the language of fighting transcends sport, genre, and competitions.

\The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Bloody Elbow readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloody Elbow editors or staff.

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