The original boss of the Street Fighter franchise is often and understandably cited as SF2’s M. Bison, but the final and frustratingly overpowered challenge of the very first Street Fighter game was none other than The Emperor of Muay Thai: Sagat.
Sagat’s history is an especially interesting one as he wrestles with relatable inner demons that Capcom expertly depicts through clever symbolism, and the fact that he’s a towering and battle-torn badass surely helps add to the charisma factor.
Though he started his career as a main antagonist, Sagat would actually go through more of a character arc than most other SF characters. He was demoted to sub-boss status in Street Fighter 2 and evolved further during Street Fighter Alpha from being an all out baddie to showing early signs of perhaps becoming one of the good guys.
Sagat, who is also often referred to simply as “The King,” was a natural fighter from youth as he would constantly get into brawls out in the streets of Thailand, but with no real direction or understanding these brawls would leave him bloodied, battered, and eventually with a weakened right eye.
Said eye injury caused a young Sagat to realize this chaotic approach to fighting wasn’t working, and so he decided to hone his aggression through the practice of Muay Thai. Growing through his early lessons and into a seven and a half foot tall behemoth, Sagat became a world champion at the tender age of 15.
One year later during his annual title defense, Sagat was challenged by a masked fighter who refused to offer his name. The two fought, and upon realizing Sagat’s eye was a weak point, this fighter pinpointed all his attacks right at it, eventually gouging it out completely.
This enraged 16 year old Sagat, who would give into his immediate anger and proceed to summon a power from deep within to launch his very first Tiger Shot projectile, killing his masked opponent, who by the way would up being Go Hibiki, father of Dan.
Though Sagat was the world champion, the title of “Emperor of Muay Thai” belonged to a man named Nuakan, whom Sagat would later defeat and thus garner his title. An onlooking Adon is inspired by this and asks to become Sagat’s pupil. All of that takes place before we ever see Sagat in a game, and thus brings us to the events of Street Fighter 1.
The character is rife with symbolism and themes as the ability to see and perceive is so important that many cultures throughout history have made vision a prominent thematic element of many different gods. Indeed, things don’t tend to go well for Sagat when he restricts his focus and fails to see the big picture.
His very first injury came about because he was simply brawling without much purpose or direction, his second major injury was also to his eye as his foe identified what you might call a blind spot, and capitalized on it. Things get worse for him when he later loses to Ryu and gets his second physical reminder (his trademark chest scar) of his lacking ability to pay balanced attention to all aspects of the fight.
Sagat figuratively lacks vision, and becomes blinded literally as a result. He slowly but surely begins to see the full picture thanks to his encounters with Ryu, whose name and Shoryuken technique are representative of the Dragon. In East Asian culture the Dragon and the Tiger are often juxtaposed as dualistic rivals.
Where the Dragon represents the heavens, the spirit, Eastern culture, and the Yang, the Tiger represents earth, physical matter, the West, and the Yin. Sagat’s exposure to and ongoing dialogue with Ryu broadens his horizons and widens his vision, (recall how he even develops one of his iconic moves after being inspired by Ryu’s uppercut) thus turning him into a more actualized and balanced version of himself.
Hear his full story thus far from before SF1 all the way up through Street Fighter 5 in the full video below. Do you hope to see Sagat pop up as DLC in Street Fighter 6? Chime into the comments with your thoughts on the matter, as well as on the character and his story.