Epic Rivals: Daigo Umehara vs Alex Valle
Daigo "The Beast" Umehara and Alex "CaliPower" Valle's first duel sparked the rivalry between East and West, North American, and Japan.
Last time we went into the rivalry between Capcom's popular fictional duo, Ryu and Ken. Now it's time for the real world equivalent from the '90s.
Daigo "The Beast" Umehara and Alex "CaliPower" Valle's first match against one another sparked the rivalry between East and West, North American, and Japan. Both were champions of Street Fighter Alpha 3 (Zero 3 in Japan) in their respective countries, so Capcom decided to have them face each other to crown the world champion.
The event garnered all the hype you would expect, even getting a 50-minute news report in Japan afterward. But before we get into the match itself, here's a brief look at the players they were before becoming the legends they are today.
Beast from the East
Far off in the land of the rising sun, an arcade Emperor was born, decimating his opponents across multiple titles. His name is Daigo Umehara, popularly known as "The Beast," or just "Daigo." He's also one of the Japanese "Five gods of fighting games."
Discovering he had a preference for competitive gaming at the age of 13, Daigo pulled off an outrageous 286 win-streak in Vampire Hunter which only ended because it was closing time at the arcade. His victories gave him the confidence he needed to enter his first tournament in 1995, GAMEST Cup's national Vampire Hunter tournament. Daigo dropped out of the tournament after losing in the Finals but won the second tournament of his career, GAMEST Cup's national Vampire Savior event in 1997.
In 1998, a 17-year-old Daigo competed in Capcom's official Street Fighter Zero 3 nationals at Tokyo Game Show and won. This earned him the opportunity to fly to the United States to compete in the international Street Fighter Alpha 3 Grand Championship.
Legend from the West
Over in the West, another star was born, taking out the opposition with a mix of skill and flair. Alex Valle is a Peruvian-American player that saw a lot of success in Street Fighter Alpha 2 and 3 at the time.
In 1996 at B3 - Battle by the Bay (the precursor to EVO), Valle achieved legendary status after he unveiled an unblockable combo he'd discovered in Street Fighter Alpha 2. Named the "Valle CC" in his honor, he used it to defeat John Choi in the Grand Finals. The young player also won the SHGL Super Final Street Fighter Alpha 2 Tournament (1996), UCLA Street Fighter III Tournament (1997), and SHGL Street Fighter Alpha 3 Tournament (1998). It was this last victory that secured his spot in the Grand Championship against Daigo.
The Street Fighter Alpha 3 International Championship took place on November 8 in San Francisco, California. Pitting the national champions in a best-of-3 match with five rounds each, Valle promptly took the lead after securing the first game.
Just like Valle, Daigo also enjoyed using the game's main protagonist Ryu, but that didn't mean that was the only character he could play. In the big event, Daigo chose Akuma instead of his usual pick, but both players chose the X-ism fighting style, which allowed them to create custom combo specials, a thing that Valle had perfected in Alpha 2.
At first, they appeared evenly matched, each round the fighting game equivalent of Tug of War. However, after Valle's win in the first game, it was as if a switch had been flipped in Daigo. Taking advantage of Akuma's aerial superiority, the Japanese player managed to overwhelm his opponent.
In the final game, it looked like Daigo had downloaded his adversary as he began to shut Valle down at every turn. A couple of grabs in quick succession and well-timed blocks seemed to frustrate Valle as he tried desperately to make a comeback. Smelling blood, Daigo made quick work of what was left of Valle's health bar, securing the victory and winning the title of first Street Fighter Alpha 3 world champion.
No two players made a more convincing Ryu and Ken, with Daigo, the Japanese warrior with a calm, focused, and authoritative demeanor. And American champion Valle, fierce, fast, and flashy. They made the perfect rivals both within the game and out.
Daigo's Ryu was known to be more of a zoner, keeping his opponents at bay and whittling down their hp. However, that didn't mean he was powerless in close encounters. Daigo eventually dropped Ryu for Guile in Street Fighter V after the series protagonist received devastating nerfs. Ryu's never quite fully recovered from that change, even though he's no longer as bad as he was when everyone dropped him.
Valle, on the other hand, is an aggressive player, just like the fictional character Ken. He's often able to dismantle the walls set up by defensive players while also beating offensive players at their own game. However, while Daigo has stuck to his Ryu substitute Guile, Valle hasn't been so faithful to any character. Rashid became his go-to character at major tournaments between 2016 and 2017; he's also relied on Kolin, Blanka, and Kage too. Valle has kept playing a variety of fighting games while Daigo has mostly stuck to Street Fighter V.
Since their big matchup in 1998, both players have won sets against each other, but for those that like to keep count, Daigo is undoubtedly ahead. While their rivalry sort of died down, it's always a treat to see these two greats face off in the ring. In a Capcom Unity interview, Daigo stated that his first match against Valle is one of the most memorable tournaments during his career.
Daigo and Valle have shown a commitment over the years to supporting the competitive scene, teaching, and guiding young, up and coming players on how to think like the pros and defeat them. Valle took that a step further by co-founding Level|Up, which hosts numerous tournaments of his own, like Wednesday Night Fights and the SoCal Regionals.