It seems like some of the community here believes that Zangief is a free match-up for Akuma in the sense that he can do a few hits and run away all day. I’m writing my report after fighting some high level Zangiefs, and actually beginning to realize that this is one of Akuma’s hardest match-ups. Allow me to explain.
Any Zangief that knows what they’re doing already has the spacing locked down for proper SPD initiation. Considering the range of SPD, you are at risk of playing the footsie game against Zangief, because if they guess correctly, they can SPD your limb and conduct an okizeme game from there. While some may say teleport, it’s actually becoming risky to use this as a method to get away from Zangief because it can be baited heavily by using green hand > EX green hand to hit upon recovery of the teleport, repeating the process of okizeme if you get knocked down again. A Zangief with proper spacing can follow a teleport on reaction, and if no teleport occurs, Zangief can still apply pressure with his excellent footsie game.
Zangief’s horizontal chop. Not only does this move do ridiculous damage for a normal, but it completely stuffs most of Akuma’s footsie range normals such as his sweep. It hits on standing and it hits on crouch, and is safe on both due to it’s insanely good range. It can also be used as a tick to apply pressure for SPD range or green hand punish.
Zangief’s roundhouse. Another excellent footsie that generates excellent range for SPD/Ultra by zoning in on the crouched opponent. Hard to react to and unless you know it’s coming, you’re at risk of eating an Ultra due to it’s quick recovery while adding the start-up frames of your move if you attempt to punish it late. With Zangief’s Ultra being 0 frame, it’s very deadly for Akuma.
Zangief’s low short. This tick alone stuffs Akuma’s roundhouse, which is his main tool for getting in on Zangief in order to link BnB. Being a safe normal with great range, it can be tossed out as a precaution tool if the opponent is waiting for a roundhouse and even if no roundhouse comes out, it’s okay for Zangief because it recovers quick and cannot be easily punished.
Zangief’s headbutt: the complete answer to demon-flip mixups. Aside from the roundhouse, Akuma’s demon-flip is the main method of closing into Zangief and applying a mix-up on his lariat; if he does the lariat early, you can dive down and get a free BnB. For a while, you can use the demon-flip as a close range mixup option on Zangief to make him switch up the timing of his lariats, and thus bait him out for damage. However, this entire-mix up game is negated due to the ridiculous stun of Zangief’s headbutt. With 600 points of stun, one hit from the headbutt followed by 1-2 easy normals by Zangief after results in a stun on Akuma’s very low stun meter. Free 50% or more damage for Zangief as a result because none of his moves combo much. Very little scaling is applied due to that fact.
The fireball game. Akuma’s keep away on Zangief is nothing like Sagat’s ability. While Sagat can toss them at rapid pace and use standing roundhouse to kick Zangief out of the air, Akuma cannot do such a thing due to his extremely slow fireball speed and punishable air fireball game. Not to mention that due to Zangief’s jump arc, Akuma does not have a reliable way to anti-air Zangief because he hops such a narrow distance. Considering the insanely large amount of health Zangief has, any smart Zangief player won’t mind using up a little bit of his health in order to close in on Akuma. The fireballs themselves practically do nothing on Zangief anyway. Close enough for Zangief to EX green hand through one fireball and you eat Zangief’s okizeme game all over again. You can only run away for so long before Zangief guesses correctly and punishes you heavily for it.
Zangief’s corner game. Once Akuma is in the corner, he’s in a very difficult spot once Zangief spaces himself. He can’t jump out because of headbutt, and with the correct spacing, teleport’s too risky because he can jump back > ultra, or EX green hand on reaction for knockdown. Not to mention Zangief’s excellent footsies mentioned earlier, and even getting out of the corner on Zangief is a mixup in itself.
Zangief’s 0 frame ultra. The only reason regular green hand is even viable. For someone so big, Zangief can move faster across the screen than half the characters on the roster, and due to the really quick recovery on green hand, punishing it on reaction is a 50/50 task because if your timing is slightly off, a skilled Zangief will be buffering ultra during the green hand and catch whatever you attempted to punish with. Considering Zangief’s ultra can do a minimum of about 60% on Akuma, and you have to play extra careful.
The bottom line? While I don’t mind Zangief having the tools necessary to beat Akuma, it’s far from an easy match. My main problem with this match is that there isn’t much Zangief puts himself out with to punish. His lariat is largely invincible for most of it’s active frames, a whiffed SPD is usually outside the range of anything but a roundhouse to punish with, doing a demon-flip is a very risky mixup due to headbutt’s insane stun, and having excellent footsies against Akuma makes the task very hard for Akuma to win this matchup. And to top it off, having such a large amount of health allows him to make a ton of mistakes and still makes it possible for him to come back for a win. Akuma has to guess probably 8 times a round correctly in order to beat a skilled Zangief, whereas Zangief much less. I think if the jab-roundhouse loop existed on Zangief, it would make the match-up easier, but as it stands, it’s a lot of work.
For anyone who feels differently, I strongly encourage any Akuma here to play against Vegeta X (MVC2 Sucks on XBL), or Jan down here in TX. I’m not sure of the other high level Zangief players in the states, but if you know some, try playing against them and see how the match-up goes.