Long considered one of the most prolific individuals to pick up a controller, Daigo Umehara is arguably the best competitive street fighter player of all time. His contributions to the competitive gaming scene kicked off the e-sports craze in the first place.
He paved the way for future Japanese video gamers with his impressive achievements abroad. The man is a legend, and his track record proves it. He’s won 6 EVO tournaments and his high-level performance on the grand stage has wowed millions.
Origins of “The Beast”
Our story begins with “Ume” debuting his skills by challenging a bunch of older kids at the popular arcade game “Street Fighter II.” Little did they know, this 10-year-old Hirosaka resident was a World Champion in the making. He embodied the phrase “git gud” and started showing off just how well he could navigate around other players and their fighting tactics.
Despite lacking confidence, Umehara slowly made his way up the queue and earned the right to play longer by challenging other players to stay on the cabinet at his local arcade. Three years later he shifted his focus towards playing “Vampire Hunter” instead.
After spending an entire day at the Akihabara SEGA gaming center beating 286 other players, “The Beast” decided to go pro. He enrolled himself in the “Vampire Hunter” tournament by GAMEST Cup and the rest is history.
His first attempt at winning the GAMEST Cup landed him a spot in the finals before he was knocked out. Umehara tried again and ended up winning his second attempt at the GAMEST Cup tournament against fellow esports legend “Onuki” when he was only 16. The following year he competed in “Street Fighter Zero 3” and cemented his place at the top of the food chain by beating his old nemesis Onuki, yet again.
After pummeling the rest of the competition in Japan to a pulp, it was now USA’s turn to face the heat, and Alex Valle (The US national champion) didn’t stand a chance. 8 November 1998 was the day of the Grand Championship that took place in San Francisco. In a surprising turn of events, Ume came out on top despite being the underdog. His victory spawned a whole legion of annoying V-Akuma copycat players who were impressed by The Beast’s performance during the finals.
The Buildup To Evo Moment #37
At this point, Daigo Umehara was a name to be feared. Gamers who were acquainted with the Capcom competitive circles both feared and respected him for his God-like skills. As if winning his first international tournament and getting featured on Japanese television wasn’t enough, he decided to compete head-to-head against another prolific Street Fighter player, “Justin Wong.”
Before that bout though, he had to prove himself first by competing in several tournaments until 2004 came around. By that point, he released his own mini-autobiography (VERSUS) and a documentary featuring all of his undisputed victories at the 2002 US vs Japan exhibition. The versus gaming center “Challonge” was just a warm-up.
He was beginning to get a lot of traction in and outside Japan with an expanding international fanbase. 2003 was a big year for Umehara, he won the Super Battle Opera and Evolution Championship Series tournaments playing the same game, “Super Street Fighter II Turbo.”
Umehara VS. Justin Wong
Finally, he was ready to take on Justin Wong when they both met during the semi-finals. Both players had different ideologies regarding gaming so the tension was high, to say the least. After perfectly parrying 15 consecutive attacks near the brink of death, Chun-Li’s Super Art 3 was successfully blocked and Ume finished the bout with an unexpected jump-in punishment with his character, Ken.
Affectionately referred to as EVO Moment #37 (or the Daigo Parry), this fight is still considered one of competitive video gaming’s most important moments. The official YouTube video amassed over 5.9 million views since being posted in August 2015.
Early Retirement & Comeback
After retiring for a brief moment, around 2008, Daigo was back for more as soon as Street Fighter IV came out at arcades. During the lead-up to EVO 2009, Umehara competed against several top-tier players (including Justin Wong) in the Gamestop Street Fighter IV National Tournament in San Francisco.
He earned his free ticket to EVO Las Vegas and eventually ended up facing his long-time rival Wong, yet again. After a brutal take-down, Umehara was crowned champion. At this point, The Beast was at the peak of his career. He was selling DVDs and was featured in several documentaries/books, Ume was even writing his own column entries for the Japanese gaming magazine Arcadia.
There was no stopping for this grand champion as he participated in and won several high-ranking tournaments for all kinds of 2-D fighting games. He was a force to be reckoned with up until 2019, his reign at the top waned a bit and he’s currently one of the top 10 best Street Fighter V players according to the PGRSF 2016-19 list. He’s also one of the five Japanese Gods of fighting games.
The Beast’s Winnings
After participating in about 40 major-league tournaments, Umehara has earned a whopping $193,159.82 (or more), and a spot on the official Team for Red Bull. The 41-year-old is still a gaming phenom for his longevity as a competitive player.
He’s also a two-time Guinness world record holder for being the “most successful player in major tournaments of Street Fighter.” Even though he’s older than most of the competition, Daigo continues to wow audiences with his winning streaks. He won first place at the Capcom Pro Tour in 2018 and 2019, held in Birmingham and France respectively.