The King is actually quite a deep character whose full history is well worth learning about
Sagat is one of Street Fighter’s most beloved and charismatic figures and while most members of the fighting game community can recount a handful of snapshot moments from The King’s canonical history, much of it is tragically hidden behind the inconvenience of non-chronological storytelling spread out over 30 years’ worth of Street Fighter games and comics.
We’ve done a bit of a research project so as to share Sagat’s tale as he transforms from a petty bully of relatively weak character to an incredibly respectable, badass master of Muay Thai.
Many can cite his epic battle with the franchise’s poster boy at the end of Street Fighter 1 as the moment in which the original fighting game boss was given his trademark chest scar as well as the primary motivation for most of his Street Fighter career: his rivalry with Ryu.
We’ll get into all the details there, but would first like to highlight the significance of their tiger vs. dragon juxtaposition. Sagat’s tiger theme is most likely a reference to a Muay Thai fable about a king, Suriyenbodi, who was all about Muay Thai competition and wound up garnering the nickname “Siamese Tiger King.”
In East Asian culture, the tiger and dragon are often seen as equals that hail from different camps. The dragon signifies the intrinsic, the spirit, and the ethereal while the tiger represents the extrinsic, the physical, and the Earth. It becomes quickly apparent why developers chose to pit Ryu (whose name literally translates to “dragon”) against Sagat as a main story thread.
A bit of a disclaimer, it will come as a surprise to very few but Capcom hasn’t been exactly consistent with their storytelling over the years. There are sometimes holes or varying accounts in The King’s backstory, but we’ll do our best to note when such things occur.
Sagat grew up as a street kid getting into regular fights that he’d usually win, but that ultimately left him with lasting injuries to his right eye. He eventually decided to focus his affinity for fighting by learning Muay Thai, and would go on to defeat the “Emperor of Muay Thai,” Nuakan, and thus take his title. A young Adon witnessed their fight and requested Sagat take him under his wing, which he did.
The next we hear of the Emperor of Muay Thai is his conflict with Dan’s father, Go Hibiki. During their battle Go notices that Sagat’s right eye is a weak spot and directs all attacks toward it. He ends up taking out Sagat’s eye with his thumb, an act that causes Sagat to lose control (somewhat understandably) and kill Go with a new technique he’d been practicing: the Tiger Shot.
It was Sagat who actually put on the initial Street Fighter tournament and it was there that, as we mentioned earlier, he received his trademark chest scar from his bout with Ryu.
Ryu gives The King his trademark scar at the end of the first World Warrior tournament. Image credit: Image Comics Street Fighter 01.
Sagat took the advantage and brutally beat Ryu down during their SF1 encounter but wound up eating a brutal Metsu Shoryuken to the chest as Ryu dug down and called upon his darker side (sampling some Satsui no Hado energy) to steal the bout out from under The King.
Some accounts note that Ryu performed the uppercut as Sagat reached down to help him up. During this fateful encounter, some of the Satsui no Hado power of the Metsu Shoryu was embedded into Sagat but would lay apparently dormant until the events of Street Fighter 5. This kicked off a particularly dark time for The King as he made a rage-driven pledge to seek out and defeat Ryu for embarrassing him.
While perfecting a new technique inspired by the Shoryuken that scarred him (the “Tiger Blow” that would eventually become the “Tiger Uppercut”) Sagat is confronted and berated by Adon for losing to Ryu. The two do battle despite the fact that Sagat is still weak from his previous loss.
Adon wins, but only after taking a beating that leaves him in recovery for four months. Motivated again by a sense of hatred (inspired from an initial sense of shame) Sagat continues into the events of Street Fighter Alpha by joining up with M. Bison and becoming a leader in Shadaloo as well as Bison’s personal bodyguard.
He finds his way into a rematch with Ryu before he has fully recovered from their initial duel (the fact that he had also recently fought Adon surely didn’t help). A reluctant Ryu agrees to battle, but throws the match and lets Sagat win. Though initially disappointed, Sagat realizes that nobody likes the guy who’s motivated by hate and undergoes a bit of personal reformation.
Progress toward the dreaded Tiger Uppercut
This is a really good thing for Dan Hibiki, who calls out The King and throws down with him for killing his father years back. Sagat throws this match and lets Dan win (unbeknownst to Dan) proving he’s turned over a new leaf.
Alpha 3 sees the story go down a tad differently as M. Bison presents Sagat with a brainwashed Ryu so that he can exact his revenge. Our conflicted one-eyed hero fights Ryu until he’s able to knock him out from under Bison’s mind control with the help of Sakura, Chun-Li, and Ken.
With his mind cleared Ryu is able to drive Bison away and then he and Sagat show respect for one another, pledging to fight in the future once they can have a clean bout.
During the second World Warrior tournament (this time put on by M. Bison) Sagat aims to meet Ryu at some point in the bracket. Ryu winds up being knocked out of the event in pools by Ken and so Sagat, upon hearing his rival has already been defeated, forfeits during semi-finals for a third-place finish. He resigns from Shadaloo and goes home to train.
Heading into the third World Warrior tourney (now at the Street Fighter 4 events on the timeline) Sagat finds himself in something of a depression. He attends one of Adon’s exhibition matches and is mocked and challenged by his former pupil. The King makes quick work of Adon and, with his spirits now lifted, he enters the WW tournament (this time put on by S.I.N.) in hopes of getting a clean rematch with Ryu.
They finally encounter each other in a pure setting and have their fight… but we are never made privy as to who the victor is. Feeling fulfilled, Sagat returns to his home village where he is welcomed by family.
Sagat walking with members of his village during his Super Street Fighter 4 ending
This leads us to the events of Street Fighter 5 in which Sagat is initially spotted by Abel training up in the mountains. The Muah Thai master doesn’t have much to do with the game’s main story as he was added as DLC a few years after launch and exists somewhat tangentially to the main cast of characters.
He deals with more personal demons during SF5 as the Satsui no Hado in his scar flares up and threatens to take over. He fights it back in a match with Kage and winds up in a place of relative peace.
Sources: Street Fighter Wiki, History Behind the Warrior, New Sage, and Comic Vine.