Goku’s Best Fight In Every Arc Of The Original Series

It’s important to acknowledge, especially in a martial arts serial like Dragon Ball, that the action often is the story. When the characters stop to fight, it isn’t the plot taking a break until the battle is often. More often than not, Dragon Ball’s most impactful battles develop the cast while pushing the current narrative closer to its conclusion. The series might not offer much time for peaceful discourse, but it doesn’t exactly need to.

  1. 23rd Tenkaichi Budokai: Goku Versus Majunior

Goku’s final tournament fights always have a sense of spectacle surrounding them, and the 23rd Tenkaichi Budokai is no exception. If anything, it’s the height of Goku’s martial arts career. After losing the tournament two times, Goku finally comes out victorious; but it’s an uphill battle.

Piccolo is fighting to kill while Goku is consciously fighting to win. It puts him at a disadvantage but it makes for an incredibly well choreographed battle that has Goku throwing out some of his most creative techniques & strategies to keep Piccolo subdued. That Goku wins by hiding his ability to fly and not through raw power is a nice touch.

2. Saiyan: Goku Versus Oozaru Vegeta

Goku enters his fight with Vegeta confident enough not to use the Kaioken right away. Not that it matters as the Elite Saiyan forces the technique out of Goku almost immediately. Kaioken x4 is able to put Vegeta in his place during their beam struggle, but Goku wastes too much energy and can’t fight back.

In the end, all we see is an infuriated Vegeta creating an artificial moon to transform into an Oozaru. Vegeta slowly hunts Goku down while he uses the last of his energy to stay alive. Unfortunately, he’s caught and tortured by the Great Ape, but not before scarring Vegeta’s eye.

3. Namek: Goku Versus Frieza (Round 1)

Fans love talking about Goku turning Super Saiyan on Namek and giving Frieza the cathartic beatdown of a lifetime, but said the fight is driven mainly by the excitement surrounding the story & and the culmination of Goku’s character arc. It’s great storytelling, but the fight itself lacks tension since the point is to give Goku overall control.

It’s far more compelling to watch Goku struggle to keep up with Frieza. Unlike Vegeta, Goku’s not running out of stamina anytime soon, but this ends up affecting his psyche. Goku enters the fight with confidence and throws the Genki Dama with desperation. Coupled with Goku & Frieza’s incredible banter, and this is one of Dragon Ball’s best battles.

4. Cell: Goku Versus Android 19

Goku’s fight against Cell during the Cell Games is a swan song unlike any other, but something needs to be said for how genuinely jarring his battle against Android 19 is. Future Trunks has come back in time to warn Goku about the Heart Virus and the Artificial Humans, but the former never comes to infect Goku. Until it’s too late.

During his fight with 19, Goku succumbs to the Heart Virus and very quickly loses control of the battle. Keeping in mind that Goku’s last full fight was against Frieza, and this is an excellent way for the Cell arc to establish lasting drama.

5. Majin Buu: Goku Versus Pure Buu

The Majin Buu arc tones down the action considerably. While there are plenty of fights, they’re all fairly short and lacking in arcs. The same is true to some extent in regards to Goku’s final fight with Pure Buu, but this battle is at least interrupted to pass the baton while directly leading into the climax’s second act.

More than anything, this fight is a chance for Super Saiyan 3 Goku to really go all out. It doesn’t last long, but the choreography is inspired and there’s a visceral quality to the combat that was missing throughout most of the arc. That Goku doesn’t defeat Majin Buu in this fight also reminds audiences that Dragon Ball isn’t about winning or losing.

6. Hunt For The Dragon Balls: Goku Versus Yamcha

Goku and Yamcha come head to head three times during the first story arc, and each one builds off the last in some capacity. Their first battle ends in a draw while serving as the series’ first martial arts match: Goku gets too hungry to fight back, but Yamcha’s fear of women forces him to recoil when he spots Bulma. Now full, round 2 ends with Goku knocking out Yamcha’s tooth and asserting victory.

Their final clash, however, comes at the end of the arc. Yamcha first joined the Dragon Team to steal the Dragon Balls from underneath them, but he’s built a genuine loyalty towards his friends. When Goku transforms into an Oozaru, Yamcha gets to come into his own as a hero by saving Bulma’s life and cutting off Goku’s tail to subdue him.

7. 21st Tenkaichi Budokai: Goku Versus Jackie Chun

Goku transforms yet again during the 21st Tenkaichi Budokai. Fate is not on the boy’s side as he regrows his tail on the same night as a full moon. During his match with Jackie Chun, Goku briefly looks into the moon and turns into an Oozaru. Out of options, Jackie Chun fires a Kamehameha into the air and annihilates the moon.

The two martial artists continue their fight shortly after, but they’re naturally exhausted. There’s a commitment to showcasing a lack of stamina that later Dragon Ball often lacks. In fact, Jackie Chun’s victory is strategized around taking advantage of Goku’s smaller body, his inexperience, and comparative exhaustion.

8. Red Ribbon Army: Goku Versus Grandpa Gohan

There’s an emotional quality to Goku’s fight with Grandpa Gohan that’s missing from a lot of Dragon Ball. While Goku doesn’t know it until the end of the match, he’s actually been reunited with his adoptive grandfather. Grandpa Gohan doesn’t just use Uranai Baba’s tournament as a means to reconnect with Goku, but to test how much he’s grown since his passing.

A fellow student of the Turtle School, Goku’s match with Grandpa Gohan is basically like watching Goku fight an older version of himself. Grandpa Gohan is in control, stylish, and understands when to strike & drop out. It’s no wonder Goku learns to let go so gracefully later in the series.

9. 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai: Goku Versus Krillin

The 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai is filled to the brim with incredible action, and while Goku’s match with Tenshinhan is the clear winner, particular praise needs to be given to Goku’s fight against Krillin. Best friends and former rivals, Goku & Krillin finally have the opportunity to settle who’s the better Turtle School student during the tournament.

The answer is obviously Goku, but Krillin puts up an incredible fight. Krillin is consistently depicted as a clever martial artist, and much of the match is spent focusing on him working around Goku’s freak strength. Had Goku not fortified his tail, Krillin would have actually been able to ring him out.

10. Piccolo Daimao: Goku Versus Demon King Piccolo

Goku fights Piccolo Daimao twice, and while he wins their second match, neither fight with the Demon King goes particularly well. Their first battle ends with Piccolo Daimao beating Goku senseless. Even an old man, Piccolo is a force to be reckoned with and nearly kills Goku, causing him to seek out Karin.

Once restored to full power, Goku challenges Piccolo Daimao again– now in his prime. Actually able to keep up this time, Goku’s rematch with Piccolo is an intense fight that wears both fighters down. It’s almost like a precursor to the battle against Vegeta, complete with Piccolo getting revenge on Goku by breaking his limbs.

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