On-fire NuckleDu picks up second Premier event win in as many weekends
Last week, Du “NuckleDu” Dang ended a two-year gap between American victories at Capcom Pro Tour Premier events.
On Sunday, he ensured that the wait for the next American triumph was much shorter.
NuckleDu stormed through the losers’ bracket to win the Capcom Pro Tour North American Final at Red Bull Battle Grounds on Sunday. NuckleDu defeated fellow pre-tournament favorite Taniguchi “Tokido” Hajime twice in the grand final, winning both sets by a 3–1 margin.
The win was NuckleDu’s second Premier victory in as many weekends after his victory at the Canada Cup last Sunday. Before last weekend, American players had only won two Premier events in the nearly-three-year history of the Capcom Pro Tour.
The two finalists had faced off in the opening round due to the event’s structure. Tokido, ranked second in the world in the Pro Tour standings, won a last-chance qualifier tournament on Saturday to earn a spot in the North American Final. The winner of Saturday’s tournament was guaranteed the 15th seed in the 16-player event and an opening-round match with the second-seeded player, NuckleDu. Tokido won that match 3–1 to send NuckleDu to the losers’ bracket.
“I lost first round to Tokido and that really made me question if I was good or not,” said an emotional NuckleDu in an interview after his victory. “So I was really glad I was able to make it back [to the grand final].”
Tokido went on to defeat Ricki Ortiz, Kenneth “K-Brad” Bradley, and surprise star Victor “Punk” Woodley to earn his spot in the grand final.
NuckleDu’s path to a rematch was much longer. He had to defeat six opponents in the losers’ bracket to earn a place in the grand final spot opposite Tokido: Peter “Flash” Susini, Chris Tatarian, Antwan “alucarD” Ortiz, K-Brad, Justin Wong, and Punk.
Perhaps more impressive than the victory itself was the manner in which NuckleDu earned it. The 20-year-old won the Canada Cup grand final with a relentless, in-your-face R. Mika that didn’t let his opponent breathe. His grand final triumph this weekend was earned with Guile play that, while aggressive at times, frustrated Tokido with masterful zoning and patience.
Seth Killian, who provided analysis during Sunday’s broadcast, was impressed. “When [Tokido] lost to [NuckleDu] today, he didn’t just lose; he got wrecked,” said Killian during the event’s post-game show. “I have not seen Tokido lose quite like that before.”
NuckleDu raised the trophy at the end of the tournament, but it was Punk who raised the most eyebrows on Sunday.
Punk, just 18 years old, made an impressive run to a third-place finish. Punk was the tournament’s 13th-seeded player and had an opening-round match with Ryan “FChamp” Ramirez, who had beat Punk in their previous Pro Tour meeting. Punk and his Karin won that match, then scored 3–0 victories over Chris Tatarian and Justin Wong?—?the latter widely considered the world’s best Karin player?—?to earn a place in the winners’ final opposite Tokido.
Punk’s match with Tokido was a thriller. Punk won the first game with a pair of comebacks, but Tokido responded with four dominant rounds in a row to take a 2–1 lead. Punk responded with a dominant game of his own to tie the set, but Tokido won a hard-fought final game to win the set 3–2. Punk’s run ended shortly thereafter when he fell 3–0 to NuckleDu in the losers’ final.
Justin Wong finished in fourth place. Arubi “RB” Kao, who finished second to Tokido in Saturday’s tournament to qualify for the final, finished in fifth place alongside K-Brad. Ricki Ortiz and alucarD tied for seventh place.
Sunday’s result allowed Ryan Hart to officially qualify for the Capcom Cup. NuckleDu’s win allowed an additional player to qualify for the championship event through the global leaderboard. Nathan “Mister Crimson” Massol took that spot, but he had already qualified for the event through the European leaderboard, so Hart took the newly-opened European leaderboard spot.