What does it take to be considered the best at a fighting game? In some cases, the distinction is awarded to the winner of an official world tour or circuit. In others, the best player is determined by the results from multiple events throughout a given year. For some, the answer is simple: Win Evo.

In TEKKEN 7, the best player was decided by a combination of these factors. While many considered Evo to be the ultimate test of strength, Bandai Namco also hosted their own championship event named after the fictional tournament at the core of TEKKEN’s story: The King of Iron Fist Tournament. Despite these distinct championship events, the TEKKEN community was spared from having to debate the merits of winning one over the other when it came to crowning an overall best player, at least for the first couple of years.

The first Evo tournament for TEKKEN 7 took place at Evo 2015 and was won by Japan’s Nakayama “Nobi” Daichi. Nobi would also go on to win the first King of Iron Fist Tournament for TEKKEN 7 that year, making a strong bid for the title of best TEKKEN 7 player in the game’s first year of release. The following year, Korean player Jin-woo “Saint” Choi would accomplish the same feat, winning Evo 2016 and The King of Iron Fist Tournament 2016. From that moment, Korean and Japanese players would dominate the game’s results, making the case that these regions were simply ahead of the pack when it came to TEKKEN 7.

However, there was one young player from Pakistan who would soon rise to challenge this narrative. And like his namesake, Pokémon’s Ash Ketchum, he had one goal: To be the very best.

“Somebody told me that you have to win this tournament, Evo USA, to become the best.”
– Arslan Ash, The Life and Times of Arslan Ash (EvoFGC)
Arslan Ash showcases his medal from Evo 2023. Photo credit: Stephanie Lindgren @Vexanie

Arslan "Arslan Ash" Siddique, like many other players in the fighting game community, got his start playing in arcades in his hometown. And, also like many others in the FGC, he became hooked on the feeling he would get from winning. Although he was young at the time, Arslan made a name for himself in his local community playing TEKKEN 5. He quickly established himself as the strongest player in his local area and began traveling to neighboring cities to compete.

“I was the king in the place where we used to live,” Arslan said. But when his family moved to a new location, he began to struggle against some of the players at his new local arcade. “People beat me so badly. I was too young. I was like, ‘I’m not the king right now.’”

Rather than letting defeat discourage him, Arslan became motivated to train even harder. By the time TEKKEN 6 rolled around, he had leveled up significantly. He was once again dominating at local arcades and began to compete in TEKKEN tournaments. When TEKKEN 7 was released, Arslan had become the best player in Pakistan, and he realized he had a real chance of making a name for himself worldwide. At this point, he decided it was time to travel outside of his home country to seek out stronger opponents.

Arslan’s first tournament outside of Pakistan was the small King of Fight GCC Oman, which he won without losing a match. From there, he traveled to Malaysia, where he would get his first opportunity to play against some of the players from Japan and Korea who were at the top of the global TEKKEN 7 scene.

In casual matches, Arslan found that he could hold his own and even defeat some of the best players in the world. He started his tournament run strong, winning a few matches in pools before falling to Korean player Lim "Ulsan" Soo-hoon in a close 2-1 set. After this loss, Arslan’s tournament life would be determined by his final pools match against the Evo 2015 and King of Iron Fist Tournament 2015 winner, Nobi.

Arslan Ash entered the match hot, taking the first game against Nobi’s Steve Fox. But the Evo Champion switched to Dragonuv and answered back, bringing the set to a third game. It came down to the final round, but Nobi would emerge victorious and deny Arslan a Top 8 spot at his first big event.

“It was a different experience for me,” Arslan told us in his EvoFGC interview. “These guys had a lot of experience…these guys knew how to handle pressure and how to play on the big stage.” While he let the nerves and pressure get to him in his first international tournament, Arslan was confident that he was capable of beating all the players in attendance, and he intended to prove it the next time he had the opportunity. 

In 2017, Bandai Namco created their replacement for The King of Iron Fist Tournament: The TEKKEN World Tour, a global circuit with the goal of bringing the best TEKKEN 7 players from around the world together to crown a champion. The next year, Evo Japan was created as the second flagship Evo event that would take place each year in Tokyo. Considering the strength of the Japanese and Korean scenes in TEKKEN 7, it became clear that winning Evo Japan would be just as impressive an accomplishment as its American counterpart. Suddenly, there were three different annual events that represented the top echelon of TEKKEN 7 competition. To be considered the greatest, would a player need to win all three events? Was that even possible?

Becoming the Best

The first-ever Evo Japan tournament for TEKKEN 7 went to Bae "Knee" Jae-Min, a TEKKEN legend from Korea who had been winning tournaments as far back as 2004 and was already an Evo Champion from winning TEKKEN Tag Tournament 2 at Evo 2013. Knee had taken second place at both the first King of Iron Fist Tournament for TEKKEN 7 back in 2015 and at Evo 2016, and he had plenty of other strong results to indicate that he was at the top of his game. If there was one obstacle that Arslan Ash would need to overcome to attain the title of the greatest TEKKEN 7 player, it would be Knee.

Other strong players at this time included Evo 2017 Champion Hyun-jin “JDCR” Kim, Evo 2018 Champion Sun-woong “LowHigh” Youn, and TEKKEN World Tour winners Byeong-mun "Qudans" Son and Jeong "Rangchu" Hyeon-ho, who took TWT 2017 and 2018, respectively. Although there were many players fighting for the title of best TEKKEN 7 player, none of them stood out as the clear number one, and nobody was able to claim all three of the game’s most coveted titles: Evo USA, Evo Japan, and the TEKKEN World Tour Finals. 

In 2019, Arslan Ash intended to change that.

After his defeat at the hands of Ulsan and Nobi at FV X SEA Major 2018, Arslan was determined to redeem himself at his next international event, and at Evo Japan 2019, he would get that chance. Since he had yet to prove himself on the global stage, Arslan came into his first Evo Japan as a relatively unknown player. Although this meant that he would be given a lower seed and have to face strong opponents early on in the bracket, Arslan believed that it also gave him an advantage.

“I was like, ‘I can win this tournament.’,” he said. “I knew [the top players’] playstyles, but they didn’t know my playstyle, because I used to watch their matches every day. But they were not prepared, because I was nobody.” As fate would have it, Arslan would be matched up against Knee early on in the tournament, where he would defeat the defending Evo Japan Champion 2-0. He went on to lose his next match, sending him into the Losers bracket well before Top 8. What happened next can only be described as one of the most impressive TEKKEN Losers Bracket runs of all time.

Arslan tore through the previous year’s Evo Japan runner-up, Sung-ho “Chanel” Kang, and American player Ricky “rickstah” Uehara before coming face-to-face with the defending Evo USA Champion, LowHigh. In an incredible display of poise and confidence, Arslan quickly dispatched the Evo Champion 2-0. He went on to win a total of eleven sets on his path through the Losers Bracket, taking out Nopparut “Book” Hempamorn, Jimmy Tran, Yuta "Chikurin" Take, and Jae-hyun "CherryBerryMango" Kim before defeating Filipino TEKKEN legend Alexander “AK” Laverez in two sets to take the tournament. Of all these players, CherryBerryMango was the only one who managed to take more than one game off of Arslan, bringing their set to a competitive Game 5. If the world didn’t know Arslan Ash’s name before Evo Japan 2019, they did now.

“It took me three to four days to realize that I did it…. I couldn’t believe that I [had] done this. I [had] won Evo.”
– Arslan Ash, The Life and Times of Arslan Ash (EvoFGC)

Heading into Evo USA 2019, Arslan was feeling more confident than ever with the Evo Japan 2019 win under his belt. This time, he was going in as one of the clear favorites to win the whole event. He fought his way into Top 8, where he would once again face off against Knee in Winners Semifinals. It was a close set, but Arslan prevailed over his new rival with a score of 2-1. He continued on to defeat American player Hoa "Anakin" Luu and moved on to Grand Finals, where he would play yet another set against Knee. Knee pushed Arslan to his limits, bringing the set to Game 5, but it was Arslan Ash who would come out on top once again and become the Evo 2019 TEKKEN 7 Champion.

“After I won Evo USA, I was kind of feeling…I [had] achieved something great. I [had] won something big.” Arslan said.

Arslan "Arslan Ash" Siddique after his TEKKEN 7 win at Evo 2019. Photo credit: Stephanie Lindgren @Vexanie

With his Evo 2019 win, Arslan joined the exclusive club of players to hold multiple Evo titles. He had shown the world what he was capable of, and many people were already lauding him as the best TEKKEN 7 player in the world. However, if he wanted to truly cement his legacy, there was one more event that Arslan needed to win.

The Quest for the Triple Crown

Arslan Ash started off 2019 as a relatively unknown player. He proved himself by winning Evo Japan 2019 and followed up this victory with several other tournament wins, leading up to his win at Evo USA 2019. Now, he was poised to close out his year as the best player in the world. Arslan entered the 2019 TEKKEN World Tour Finals as one of the favorites to take the event.

But it would not come to pass.

The event's structure was such that, for the first phase, players would select the groups they wanted to compete against to make it into the final bracket. Arslan was among the first to choose a group and placed himself in Group A. As other players took the stage to select their opponents, he was soon joined by Takumi “Noroma” Hamasaki, Marquis “Shadow 20oz” Jordan, and the first player Arslan had lost to on the international stage the year before: Ulsan. Next, the top four ranked players on the TEKKEN World Tour leaderboard got the chance to select their groups, starting with the overall point leader: Knee. Arslan and Knee had history at this point, and Knee was determined to finally strike back against his new rival, so he chose to place himself in Group A.

Right out of the gate, Arslan’s group phase did not go his way. He lost to Ulsan in his first match, took a set against Noroma, then fell to Shadow 20oz. To have a shot at making it out of the group, he would once again have to take a set off of the top-seeded player of the event, Knee. Unfortunately for Arslan, this would be the tournament that Knee got his revenge. With a score of 2-1, Knee defeated Arslan and eliminated him from the TEKKEN World Tour Finals 2019.

Bae "Knee" Jae-Min celebrates a victory over Arslan Ash at the TEKKEN World Tour Finals in 2019. Photo credit: Robert Paul @TempusRob

Three months after the TEKKEN World Tour 2019 Finals, the COVID-19 pandemic would put a temporary stop to in-person fighting game competitions. Arslan would not get another chance to win a TWT event until its return in 2022, but that didn’t stop him from padding his resume in the meantime. Arslan took first place at the WePlay Ultimate Fighting League Season 1 over fellow Pakistani player Awais “Awais Honey” Iftikhar in 2021. He followed this up with several more wins, including first-place finishes at CEO 2021 and Combo Breaker 2022. At Evo’s return to offline for Evo 2022, he suffered another early defeat at the hands of Shadow 20oz, but managed to claw his way through Losers to finish third after being knocked out of the tournament by fellow countryman Imran “KHAN” Khan. Knee would go on to become the Evo 2022 Champion for TEKKEN 7, further cementing his own legacy with a third Evo title almost a decade after his first in 2013. This also made Knee the second player, after Arslan himself, to win both Evo USA and Evo Japan for TEKKEN 7. If anyone would take home the triple crown and solidify their status at the top of TEKKEN 7, it seemed like it would be one of these two.

Arslan qualified for TEKKEN World Tour Finals 2022 by winning the Pakistan Regional Finals over Atif “Atif Butt” Ijaz. Just like in 2019, he was heading into the TWT Finals in peak form. He found himself in Group A once again. And, just like in 2019, he would come face to face with Knee in his last match to make it into the final bracket.

Just like in 2019, Arslan Ash would fall short.

Ultimately, neither Knee nor Arslan would progress out of the group this year. Instead, Italian player Joshua “Ghirlanda” Bianchi and the TWT 2019 winner Chikurin would move on, with the latter looking primed to defend his title. But it would be the other Pakistan representative, Atif Butt, who would shock the world by going undefeated and winning the 2022 TEKKEN World Tour Finals. While Arslan had put the region on the map, it was becoming clear that Pakistan held one of the strongest communities for TEKKEN 7 in the world. 

“You are only strong if your region is strong…and my region is so strong. I am so proud to be a part of Pakistan.”
– Arslan Ash, The Life and Times of Arslan Ash (EvoFGC)

At Evo 2022, Bandai Namco teased that the next title in the TEKKEN franchise, TEKKEN 8, was in development. This announcement signaled the beginning of the end for TEKKEN 7’s nearly decade-long run, making it likely that 2023 would be the game’s final year in the spotlight.

“I want to create my legacy moving into the next game, so whenever I look back, I feel proud,” Arslan said. If he were to close the chapter of TEKKEN 7 on top, this would be the year to do it.

Securing a Legacy

Evo Japan 2023 marked the first big TEKKEN 7 event of the year, and the first Evo Japan since the pandemic. Arslan had a relatively lackluster performance at Evo Japan 2020 by his standards, losing to Chikurin and Noroma for 25th place. Now, he was heading into Evo Japan 2023 with something to prove. A month prior, in February 2023, Arslan got married, and many people remarked that he would no longer be able to perform at the level he did in previous years.

“When I got married, people started saying, ‘now Arslan can’t win anything…now his attention is diverted’,” Arslan told us. But his performance at Evo Japan 2023 proved that this couldn’t have been further from the truth. Arslan took first place at the event without losing a set, defeating several strong players and earning his third Evo title in the process.

“I was told getting married would hinder my growth as a player. It turns out, it did the opposite.”
– Arslan Ash via Twitter

In May 2023, Arslan would face off against Knee yet again in Winners Finals of Combo Breaker 2023. At this point, these two players had proven to the world several times over that they were the best of the best when it came to TEKKEN 7. They had pushed each other to their limits, and, with a new game on the horizon, this tournament could very well be the final opportunity for one of them to get the last laugh in their ongoing rivalry. 

Arslan took the set in Winners Finals with a score of 3-0, sending Knee to the Losers bracket, where he beat Evo Japan 2020 Champion Book to advance to Grand Finals. Then, he answered back and beat Arslan in a tight Game 5 to reset the bracket. Finally, with a set apiece, the two TEKKEN titans faced off in their final set on the big stage for TEKKEN 7. And in a clean 3-0 sweep, Arslan Ash defeated Knee to win Combo Breaker 2023.

Two months later, Arslan participated in the Gamers8 TEKKEN 7 Nations Cup for Team Pakistan alongside Atif Butt and KHAN. The three would go on to win the event over Team Japan and Team South Korea, taking home the largest prize pool the TEKKEN community had ever seen and making the case that Pakistan might just be the strongest region in the world at TEKKEN 7.

After taking home the win at Gamers8 for Team Pakistan, Arslan’s next target was Evo USA. In the leadup to the event, it was announced that Evo 2023 had broken the event’s all-time attendance record, with over 11,000 players registered to compete. TEKKEN 7 saw an increase in registration compared to the previous year with a total of 1,580 entrants, making it the second-largest TEKKEN tournament by entrant count after Evo 2019, which Arslan himself had won just four years earlier. With over 250,000 people watching, Arslan Ash made history and became the first player to win four Evo titles for the same game. Just as he had in 2019, Arslan had won Evo Japan and Evo USA in the same year, and earned a spot alongside some of the most decorated Evo Champions.

Arslan "Arslan Ash" Siddique holds his trophy after winning TEKKEN 7 at Evo 2023. Photo credit: Li Hoang @HelloItsLi

With the naysayers silenced, his rivalry with Knee settled, and his place in the history books secured, Arslan had only one more goal: Win the TEKKEN World Tour Finals.

One Last Chance

“Last time around, I made some mistakes, and I was kind of overconfident,” Arslan said of his previous attempt at the TWT title. But this time, he made sure he was prepared. “I was really excited [going into the TEKKEN World Tour Finals,] because that was the only feather missing from my cap. So I went in prepared and learned every player, and prepared five different characters to get an upper hand.” As it turned out, Arslan would need all of these characters for what he would do next.

Arslan was heading into the TWT 2023 Finals as the number one player on the points leaderboard, meaning, unlike in his previous two attempts, he would get his choice of groups to compete against in the group phase. But with all the best players from around the world in attendance, none of them would be easy by any stretch of the imagination. He decided to place himself in Group B, pitting himself against some formidable opponents: Anakin, “Raef” Alturkistani, Kim "Kkokkoma" Mu-jong, and the player who took second place to Arslan at Evo 2023, Akihiro "AO" Abe. Arslan’s first match of the group was a runback of this Evo 2023 Grand Finals set in the form of a Kunimitsu mirror against AO. As he had at Evo, Arslan took the set convincingly and started off his TWT run with a win. Next, he pulled out his Zafina to great effect against Kkokkoma’s Feng, dispatching his second opponent with another 2-0 victory. In his third match, he returned to Kunimitsu to take out Raef’s Negan and Jin, and guaranteed his spot in the Top 8 bracket. His final match in the group stage would be against one of America’s greatest TEKKEN players, Anakin. Anakin would push Arslan harder than anyone else in the group had so far, but this was an Arslan at the top of his game. He secured the win in Game 3, exiting the group phase undefeated and earning his place on the Winners side of the Finals bracket.

Top 8 began with a match between two of the strongest Korean players, Ulsan and CherryBerryMango, with the former taking a clean 2-0 win. Then, it was time for Arslan to play his first match of the final bracket against Evo Champion LowHigh. He started the set with Noctis, but LowHigh’s Bryan dealt first blood, winning three straight rounds to take the first game. Arslan answered by switching to his Kunimitsu and swinging the momentum back in his favor. He took games two and three in dominant fashion, sending LowHigh to the Losers bracket and advancing to Winners Finals against Ulsan.

Arslan Ash and Ulsan were the top two players on the TEKKEN World Tour 2023 leaderboard heading into the event, and it was fitting that this would be Arslan’s penultimate challenge in his quest for the TWT title. After all, it was Ulsan who first defeated him at his international debut back in Malaysia in 2018. The two had faced off since, of course, including a nailbiter of a set in Winners Semifinals at Evo earlier in the year, but Arlsan emerged from that set victorious before going on to win the whole tournament. Would this match go his way as well? To the crowd's delight, Ulsan started the set with Bob while Arslan selected Kunimitsu. Arslan made quick work of the first game, forcing Ulsan to switch to Kazumi, with whom he would win a much more competitive Game 2. Ultimately, the set came down to the final round in Game 5. Both players were playing safe, dashing in and out of range, throwing out safe pokes. Then, in the final moments of the final round of Game 5, Arslan found his opening. With his back to the wall, his health at under 20%, and one second remaining on the timer, he hit Ulsan with a low kick to take the set and advance to the Winners side of Grand Finals.

Now, only one thing stood between Arslan Ash and the coveted TWT Finals title. 

When he won his first championship at Evo Japan 2019, CherryBerryMango was Arslan's biggest obstacle—the only player to take more than a single game off of him. Four years later, Arslan would face off against CBM again in Grand Finals of the final sendoff for the game that these competitors had poured their souls into for the past nine years. But this time, he would not go in as the unknown prodigy from Pakistan. He was the G.O.A.T. of TEKKEN 7, and this was his final test.

“I was not pressured at all,” Arslan said of his feelings heading into this final match, “I just wanted to win this badly for my own inner peace.”

Heading into Round 1, CBM selected his tried-and-true Noctis, and Arslan brought out the fifth and final character he had prepared for the TWT Finals: Katarina. CBM took Arslan down to 20% health without being touched, but Arslan found an opening and evened it up. CBM took the round, but Arslan appeared to have figured something out as he took the next two rounds straight. CBM answered back, and Game 1 came down to the final round. It was looking close until Arslan found an opening and carried CBM to the wall. He picked up a hit on CBM’s wakeup and took the round, and the first game went to Arslan. Game 2 was taken to Infinite Azure, where CBM took a 3-1 win and evened the set score. At this point, it was clear that these players were evenly matched as they once again traded rounds back and forth. CBM took the first one. Arslan the second. CBM won again. Then Arslan. With the set tied 1-1, Game 3 went to a crucial final round. Arslan pushed CBM to the corner, but his health was low. CBM chipped Arslan down to a sliver of life, putting both players one hit away from taking the pivotal game. CBM went for a low while Arslan hit Katarina’s Harrier Stance into Swooping Swallow. Thanks to the jump from the beginning of the move, Arslan dodged CBM’s low hitbox in a slow-motion finish and cinched the round. From this moment, it was clear that Arslan had taken the momentum. CherryBerryMango won a round in Game 4, but Arslan ensured it would be his last. He won the next three rounds in a row, defeating CBM in the set 3-1.

Arslan "Arslan Ash" Siddique, moments after winning the TEKKEN World Tour 2023 Finals. Photo credit: Robert Paul @TempusRob

And with that, Arslan Ash had done it. He had not only become the first player to win the triple crown of Evo Japan, Evo USA, and the TEKKEN World Tour Finals, but he had accomplished it all in the same year. He was a four-time Evo Champion, he had beaten some of the biggest names in TEKKEN, and he had shown the strength of his home country of Pakistan on the world stage. While it’s not always easy to determine what makes someone the best at a particular fighting game, Arslan had checked off all the boxes to ensure that, in the case of TEKKEN 7, the answer was easy. As TEKKEN Director Harada-san brought out his TWT trophy, Arslan Ash closed the chapter of TEKKEN 7 at the top.

If you want to hear more from Arslan about his life and his experiences in the FGC, check out our video, The Life and Times of Arslan Ash, on the EvoFGC YouTube channel. Although the story of TEKKEN 7 might be over, Arslan assured us that he was excited to move on to TEKKEN 8 and try to continue his dominance in the next title.

"I just want to say thanks to all my supporters and my fans," he told us, "I want to be able to perform consistently and make everyone proud again and again."