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Published June 19, 2023

Before deciding to spend most of my 20s writing about Melee, I wanted to be a sportswriter. One of my favorite journalists recently wrote a piece detailing the greatest players of each American football position, as well as their closest active challengers. The rough equivalent of a position in Melee is which character you play, so naturally, reading the article had my creative gears turning. Who are the best representatives of each character in Melee?

Most of the top tiers have obvious answers. But one of them doesn’t: Fox. This is pretty interesting, isn’t it? The most iconic character in the game has a fun debate over who gets to be its greatest player. In today’s column, I’ll be examining each of Mango’s and Leffen’s cases for being the greatest Fox player. At the end of it, I’ll talk about one active, as well as obvious, challenger who could soon throw his name into the discussion.

Mango’s Case

Mango’s had an elite Fox for longer than anyone else, he’s won more majors with his Fox than anyone else, and, in my opinion, he basically invented rushdown Fox as we know it today. His case for being the greatest Fox of all-time is relatively straightforward – a byproduct of his accomplishments as the greatest Melee player of all-time. There’s no one else who’s, more or less, been winning majors for 15 years

For this particular discussion, we’ll need to differentiate Mango’s Fox from his other characters. Using Liquipedia, I went through each of Mango’s 32 first places at majors. I did my best to sort out the events he won with Fox from the events he won with anyone else, as well as the ones in the middle, where he played multiple characters. This was, by no means, a perfect process, as there are several unrecorded, undocumented, and frankly even irrelevant sets, like pools matches where he picked secondaries. But at the end of it all, I split Mango’s wins into roughly five different categories.

  • Solo Fox majors – where Mango only played Fox, or has only been documented as such.
  • Primary Fox majors – where Mango mostly played Fox, with another character present in a prominent set/prominent sets.
  • Multi-character majors – where Mango played a mix of Fox and another character at roughly equal capacity and importance.
  • Secondary Fox majors – where Mango mostly or overwhelmingly played another character, with his Fox occasionally present when he needed it.
  • Zero value Fox majors – where Mango’s Fox was either totally not in the picture or was so minimal of a factor that it functionally receives no credit for the win.

You’ll be surprised to find out that Mango only has one documented “solo Fox” victory: Evo 2014. However, as it stands, Mango has 13 wins that fall into the second category, one (The Big House 4) that falls into the third, and 10 that qualify for the fourth. The last category has eight. That gives us 24 wins that involve his Fox to varying degrees.

I took a broad approach toward quantifying each of these categories. Solo Fox majors fully counted as a point toward Mango, a primary Fox major was 75 percent as much, a multi-character major ended up at 50 percent, and a secondary Fox major finished at 25 percent. Majors without his Fox weren’t counted at all. Doing that, I ended up with a total of “13.75” as our final number for weighted Fox majors. Keep in mind that this number doesn’t account for the prestige of each major. It’s merely a rough approximation of how much credit we’re giving Mango’s Fox.

Major victories are one thing – like I referenced before, years at the top level matter too. More or less, he entered this level of play as a Jigglypuff player. He gradually picked up Falco for his first prime, then, following the infamous Scorpion Master period, he spent the 2010s as a Fox/Falco dual-main. With that said, the emphasis he had on each character was always shifting. Before his return to No. 1 in 2013, he mostly played Falco, and spent the middle of the decade moving his attention to the Fox. Then at the end of the decade, he went back to prioritizing the Falco, continuing that trend during the pandemic before switching back to Fox during the return of offline events. I’ve glossed over a few details here to keep things brief – for example, the Marth period, as well as where Mango is right now – but it provides some additional context for this discussion.

The last factor to consider: key head-to-heads First off, there’s the fact that Mango – mostly with Fox – boasts the lifelong advantage in his rivalry vs. Hungrybox, a GOAT contender (42-35 in majority Fox-Jigglypuff sets). It’s subjective how you weigh his Fox in other rivalries where he played multiple characters in the same set, but to my estimation, using a baseline criteria of counting sets in which Mango mostly plays Fox, he boasts the lead over PPMD (4-2), Mew2King (8-5),  Plup (9-3) and Zain (4-3 including LACS 4, 4-1 without it).

These numbers are obviously not at all perfect. So lest you think I’m a raving Mango fan looking to skew the numbers in his favor, there are three examples of all-time greats who’ve consistently defeated Mango’s Fox: Armada (17-23), aMSa (4-6), and, curiously, ChuDat (2-3).

Leffen’s Case

Leffen has a simple argument for GOAT Fox player. Although he wasn’t in the top echelon for as long as Mango, unlike him, Leffen undeniably had a stretch of time where he was winning majors with only Fox – no one else. Judging by Liquipedia’s definition of majors, Leffen has 11. BEAST V, CEO 2015, FC Return, WTFox, Super Smash Con, HTC Throwdown, GOML 2016, DPOTG 2016, GOML 2017, Evo 2018, and Super Smash Con 2019. I will cut to the chase: this is far more solo Fox main major wins than anyone in the history of Melee.

Furthermore, while his Sheik played a crucial role in him winning Battle of BC 4, Leffen still played Fox for most of the bracket. As a result, I still want to count that win as a primary Fox major. Using the same methods we had before in assessing Mango’s weighted Fox majors, we end up with a slightly lower number for Leffen 11.75. Depending on how you view it, Leffen’s fewer years within the top echelon than Mango could arguably make this number more impressive. If he stays active in Melee for the next couple years – admittedly, a large “if” – his Fox could easily catch up to Mango’s Fox in terms of weighted major wins.

Leffen’s obviously held back by his circumstances of being in Europe. Two career-sidelining events also come to mind: a year-long visa ban from America and the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, he’s still, nonetheless, been Top 5 to 6 in the world for just under a decade, with most of that time coming before his Sheik entered the picture. If anything, Leffen’s years at the top with Fox are more “involved” than Mango’s.

On a similar note for head-to-heads and matchups, Leffen’s Fox has been far more active and present across the cast. Leffen struggled way more, set for set vs. the toughest peers, as shown by his lifetime records vs. Hungrybox (24-24),  Mew2King (9-17), and Plup (8-8), but unlike Mango, who could swap to Falco amid danger, Leffen had no fallback option vs. these peers. The only matchup where Leffen did eventually develop that fallback option was Zain, and it wasn’t like Leffen’s Fox always keeled over and died vs. the Marth (3-3). And yes, even though Mango’s Fox has a small record of success in the ditto, Leffen has a far greater volume of experience within it. We have no reason to think Mango couldn’t have been good, long-term in the Fox ditto, but it’s not fair to give him the edge over Leffen as far as this part of their legacies is concerned.

I also think that there’s something special about Leffen being the only Fox player in the history of the game who forced Armada’s hand off Peach. His lifetime head-to-head with Armada may not show them to be equals (25-40), but when you account for secondary use from Armada, as well as account for the fact that Leffen’s first eleven sets against Armada came well before he became the major contending player we know today, it’s much closer (23-29). Granted, it’s not that much better than Mango’s Fox’s lifetime record vs. Armada. But considering the complete smackdown that Armada’s Peach put on every other Fox player in the history of the game – being the Fox who made Armada switch is certainly quite a feat.

There’s one final x-factor to bring up with Leffen. It is something that Mango will literally never be able to do: defeat his own Falco. As funny as it is to consider, I really think this is the biggest question we’ll always have when it comes to talking about the GOAT Fox and if Mango qualifies for it – the equivalent of assessing if it’s reasonable to view Wladimir Klitschko’s legacy with an asterisk because he never fought Vitali Klitschko.

I brought up Armada’s Peach before as an albatross for Fox players. In somewhat similar fashion, Mango’s Falco has been the ultimate test. Although Mango has dropped sets here and there in the matchup, there is not a single Fox player who’s taken on Mango’s Falco in multiple sets and come out on top. It is, bar none, the most timelessly large obstacle for any Fox not named Mango. Even Leffen is down 13-18 in the career-head-to-head. But what does that mean when Mango’s Falco has routinely turned the best Fox players of all-time into roadkill? Any amount of being competitive with him in several sets – not merely stealing one – is tremendous. In fact, there was a time when Leffen’s Fox actually beat Mango’s Falco five times in a row. Only SFAT and Cody Schwab can claim to have done this multiple times at all, and that’s for every single Fox player across the last 15 years.

Barring some exceptional AI development, Mango’s Fox has essentially been able to skip his fellow Fox players’ biggest obstacle. It’s like a student in a class who aced the homework, is respected by his peers, but he gets to skip finals. Worse yet, he writes the whole exam for everyone else, and they constantly fail. I have no idea how to measure this category. I do not want to punish Mango for being “too good” at a matchup with one of his other characters, and yet I genuinely believe that being competitive with his Falco is an amazing accomplishment.

Who is the GOAT Fox?

Mango is definitely the most accomplished player to main Fox. Yet I can’t help but wonder if his legacy as a Fox player is significantly different from his broader legacy. Is it fair to punish Mango’s Fox for the presence of his Falco? How can you possibly give the title of best Fox player to someone who arguably protected that title away from his peers with another character?

It really feels like Leffen is the one who committed the vast majority of his career to Fox. As such, maybe he should be the one who deserves acknowledgement as the greatest Fox ever. On the other hand, is there really such a difference between playing Fox one hundred percent of the time and eighty? Is it fair to give the title of best Fox to someone with a significantly less decorated resume?

I was conflicted to choose between these two players. When it came to my final decision, I had to remember the initial question I aimed to answer. I think Leffen’s accomplishments with solo Fox are unparalleled. If this was a question about the greatest Fox main, I’d have to give him the nod.

But my heart tells me that the greatest Fox player of all-time is the man who dethroned one of the only other people who has a claim to being as large of an obstacle for the best Fox players in the history of the game. Crazier yet, this was someone who forced the other Fox GOAT contender to pick another character. It’s really close, but I’m going with Mango as the greatest Fox player of all-time.

Can Cody Schwab become the GOAT Fox player?

Here’s another interesting question: what will it take for Cody Schwab to pass Mango or Leffen for the title? For starters, it’s more doable than you’d imagine, given both of those latter two players’ shifting directions away from the game. We’re lucky to see either of them at a Smash tournament, let alone trying their hardest. Compare this to Cody, who is dedicating the rest of the year to competing.

The first path toward putting his name in contention is winning majors with solo Fox, like Leffen. Having already won two majors in 2023, Cody is also fresh off a year when he won two other majors, as well as a regional over the 2022 No. 1 and 2022 No. 3. Factor in a Top 3 finish in the 2021 rankings, when he won Riptide and Smash Summit 12, and he’s currently five majors away from tying Leffen’s solo Fox major record. Assuming Leffen doesn’t win anything – or that his tournament win-rate significantly suffers as Cody’s remains high – this could happen as soon as within the next two years. Then again, that’s a huge assumption, and there’s the inconvenient fact that Cody currently has a Mango-shaped large roadblock in his way at any event featuring the two of them.

The second path is sheer years dedicated toward competing, with Fox in the picture and a Mango-esque resume of accomplishments. I will be blunt and say that I am extremely skeptical of Cody ever achieving this, let alone coming close. Mango began playing from his early teen years. Cody started while he was in college. He’s more likely to fulfill my 2025 timeline of becoming Melee’s Jerry Maguire than he is to be Mango 2.0.

The last path is unusual, but it’s the path that would differentiate Cody from everyone else in Melee history: finishing No. 1 for a whole year with solo Fox. Remember: Leffen’s never done it, and Mango’s always had another character or two to complement the Fox. It would be an extraordinary enough accomplishment to set Cody apart. As of right now, he’s currently tied with Jmook for major wins, and, just in my opinion, right behind him overall for the year. For Cody to confidently finish No. 1, he has to win, bare minimum, two more majors. One of them would likely need to be something on the level of The Big House or a Mogul Moves event.

If Cody does it, he will unambiguously have the greatest year of a Fox player ever. In the process, he’ll make this discussion even more fascinating.

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