A seemingly unimportant sneaker relegated to retail outlets has gained relevance this week, with the full story of its video game-inspired design surfacing two years after its production. The shoe, a white pair of Nike Air Force 1s dressed in blue accents, nods to Evo Moment #37, the extraordinary conclusion of a Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike 2004 game that remains the most iconic moment in competitive fighting game history.
But what was supposed to be a sneaker celebrating the fighting game scene arrived without any overt connection to it, and was doomed to obscurity until now. Professional fighting game player Justin Wong, who was on the losing side of Moment Battle #37, discovered the Air Force 1 inspired by his most famous match just a few days ago.
“At first when someone tagged me I thought it was a troll or a fake,” Wong says, recalling that he only saw the shoe after a follower told him. showed a photo on Twitter.
Moment #37 happened in Pomona, California during the 2004 installment of the Evo fighting game event. The sequence goes like this: Wong, playing the role of Chun-Li, patiently lands punches on an opposing Ken, played by Daigo Umehara, until his life bar is reduced to a thin ribbon of pixels. With a good chunk of his own life remaining, Wong moves to finish the fight, performing a 14-hit super move. If only one hit lands, Wong wins. Even if his opponent tries to block, Wong still wins because the game will let a tiny amount of “chip damage” when a super move is blocked.
“Let’s go, Justin,” a crowd member shouts as Wong’s move begins.
Umehara, at the mercy of an oncoming barrage and an infinitesimal margin of error, leans into Wong’s move with a parry – better than a block – pressing his joystick for a maneuver that will undo the damage of the blow completely. He needs to land the parry just as Wong hits him, less than a tenth of a second after the hit connects. Then he must perfectly parry 13 more punches, grabbing each in tiny successive time windows.
As he strings them together, the spectators cheer him crescendo. Umehara as Ken directs the impossible, parrying each of Wong’s Chun Li 14 hits. After that, Umehara leaps up to parry a final kick. He caps off the defense by responding with his own super move at the end, his Ken downing Chun-Li in a hail of kicks as the audience erupts.
Although Wong lost that match, the Air Force 1 tied to Evo Moment #37 is not a traumatic shoe for him. He bought two pairs this week when he discovered the shoe, one on eBay and one by StockX.
“Even though it’s a loss for me, it got so many people into fighting games and that’s the point,” he says. “Our community is small, so if I have to take the L for community growth, it’s a W for me.”
Although it is not an official collaboration with Capcom (the video game publisher that makes street fighter) Where Evo (the annual event where Umehara performed his full parade) the Moment #37-based Nike Air Force 1 is packed with details that nod to the game. The cool blue used on the dubrae and midsole line are supposed to look like the super meter in Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike. The spiky ring around the top lace hole resembles the game’s parade graphics. The doubling of the Swoosh to the side represents how the characters are layered during super moves, and the lined Nike Air branding mimics the drop shadow treatment on the “KO” at the end of a round. The Air Force 1’s white canvas upper is inspired by Ken’s gi. Most self-explanatory, however, are the hidden characters inside the tongue tag that break down the full button entry for the Daigo Parry and its subsequent finisher.
After one of Wong’s followers alerted him At the shoe’s existence on Monday, the story of its development took shape on Twitter. Mark Julio, who works for Evo, explained that he connected with Nike years ago to help design a sneaker based on Moment #37. Julio posted a test version of the Air Force 1, saying they met with Nike in January 2020 to finalize the design. A former Nike employee named Hayden Walling added more detailsclaiming that he met Julio at the E3 video game convention in 2019 and convinced his colleagues at Nike to create a shoe celebrating the fighting game community.
The shoe arrived but the celebration never happened. Even sneaker bloggers, eager to log every update on the status of a sneaker release, paid no attention to the Moment #37-inspired Air Force 1 beyond the initial leaked photos. . A release date has never been confirmed. No one knew what the shoe meant. There is no evidence of stores other than Nike stores selling them. Julio didn’t know they had been produced until photos circulated on Twitter this week.
“It was meant to honor an iconic moment in the history of competitive fighting games. None of the stories that were talked about came to fruition,” he wrote on Twitter. “What a bittersweet feeling.”
Julio, who had helped design the shoe, quickly bought pairs on the resale market upon realizing the shoe had been made available at retail in a low-key fashion. As other fighting game fans learned of the history of the Air Force 1 Special Edition, interest in the shoe immediately exploded in the aftermarket.
Since Feb. 28, 2021, StockX has seen about 200 total pairs sold, more than half of which moved within two days of Julio and Wong posting about the shoes on Twitter. Their tweets boosted the resale value of Moment #37 sneakers by 34% this week. On August 1, the day the story behind the sneakers emerged, product page views on StockX were up 1,000% from the previous day.
The Air Force 1s are still floating around at Nike outlets in the United States as well, where they’re being sold for their original retail price of $140. most pairs listed on eBay are missing the lids of their boxes, which means they were probably purchased from factory outlets, where shoes are often sold in incomplete packaging. Some of them have Nike Japan labels – the Moment #37 shoe was originally intended to be released only in Japan and the United States.
Why did Nike decide to make the shoe just to refrain from marketing it and release it in the most reluctant way possible? The brand did not respond to a request for comment on the Evo Moment #37-inspired Air Force 1. A Nike employee who worked on the design declined to comment.
The label inside the street fighter-inspired Air Force 1 shows the shoes were produced between April and June 2020. The sample Julio posted on Twitter this week comes with a tag designating it as a Fall 2020 release.
Sources close to the project say Nike decided not to give the Evo Moment #37 Air Force 1 a full release because the shoe didn’t fit with the brand’s priorities towards the end of 2020. The company was going through a major reorganization fall, resulting in significant job losses. It was also operating at a time of maximum sensitivity. A pair of SB Dunks supposed to drop in 2020 that featured a coughing strawberry character have been pushed back a year; cough at that time carrying deadly connotations because of COVID-19. A Puerto Rican-style version of the Air Force 1 has been canceled altogether after customers reported that one of the flags on the shoe had been reversed.
For Nike, releasing a shoe to celebrate a street fighter the victory may have been deemed insignificant in the context of the coronavirus and the ongoing protests in the United States against systemic racism and police brutality. A source related to the shoe has heard that the brand has decided that its source material, a fighting game tournament, is not appropriate to highlight at this time. The Evo 2020 event was canceled after co-founder Joey Cuellar, then CEO of Evo, was publicly accused of sexual misconduct. Cuellar was immediately replaced by an interim CEO and Sony bought Evo the following year, but it’s easy to see why Nike wouldn’t want to be associated with the organization in 2020.
The fate this shoe suffered is not uncommon for major sportswear company projects. A lot can change in the typical 18 month course a shoe takes from ideation to release. Teams change, budgets change, people leave, and strategies are different. For this reason, a product may arrive without any of the contexts that originally informed it.
The Nike Air Force 1 that references Evo Moment #37 found some of that context this week as the public finally got a taste of the shoe. The real story behind the Nikes happened by chance just before the latest Evo event, which is happening in Las Vegas this weekend. Julio takes advantage of the timing: he plans to give Umehara a pair and have both players sign the shoes.
For Wong, much like his loss in the classic fight to Umehara, the loss of the sneaker exit was not a total loss.
“I was super bummed. It would have been so cool to have that story out there to grow the community,” he says of how the shoe came about. “But overall, I’m also thrilled to own a pair that tells my story.”
This story has been updated to include allegations of sexual misconduct against former Evo CEO Joey Cuellar.