Near the end of Dressrosa, Oda famously said that he “didn’t know how Luffy would defeat Kaido”.
Many fans at the time, including myself, interpreted this as Oda saying that Kaido is so insanely strong that even he doesn’t know how Luffy would realistically beat him. But, now that we’re in the midst of the Wano arc, it’s looking more and more likely that Kaido’s defeat will be brought forth by an alliance between the Worst Generation or, at the very least, a partnership between Luffy, Law, and Kid.
If you believe this, the problem is that it throws a wrench in our interpretation of Oda’s statement because Oda started planting the elements of this partnership all the way back Punk Hazard – the arc when Kid first allies with Hawkins and Apoo – long before his statement made in Dressrosa. If Oda’s goal back in Punk Hazard was to ultimately have Kid, Hawkins, and Apoo play a part in Wano, than it means he already knew how Luffy would come out victorious. What I’m ready to argue is that Oda intentionally mislead us because while he knew how Luffy would defeat Kaido physically, the statement referred to the fact that he didn’t know how Luffy would defeat him narratively.
Let’s analyze how Oda writes every one of Luffy’s climactic fight sequences. Any good writer/movie director will tell you that action for the sake of action doesn’t make for a good fight scene. Chapters like 895 make for fantastic climaxes to any fight but they only work because the rest of the fight builds up to it. Had we gotten ~20 chapters of content similar to it, the fight vs Katakuri would have been poorly paced, repetitive, and lacking depth. This is because a good action sequence needs to provide more than just action. It has to have emotion, character depth, consequence, growth, etc; all things that make up a solid narrative.
I bring this up because Oda, a master storyteller in his own right, uses these tools when constructing the narrative of Luffy’s showdown against any given arc’s main antagonists in order to make them as impactful as possible. Looking back throughout the series from a writer’s perspective, we can see that each of Luffy’s big fights fall into one of the two categories.
The first category are fights where the climax ends once the big bad is defeated. This includes Arlong Park, Alabasta, Skypiea, and Dressrosa. Simply put, these are climaxes where the arc is essentially over once Luffy lands the final punch.
However, being the masterful storyteller Oda is, he takes it a step further: defeating the antagonist doesn’t only bring the climax to a close, it does so by defeating the villain in such a way that it resolves the personal conflict of the arc’s side characters. Luffy just doesn’t defeat Arlong, he defeats him by collapsing Arlong Park, symbolizing the end of the Fishmen Pirate’s rule over Cocoyashi and ending Nami’s conflict; Luffy doesn’t just defeat Crocodile, his defeat literally brings back the rain, ending the civil war and resolving Vivi’s objective; Luffy doesn’t just defeat Enel, he punches him into the golden bell, simultaneously resolving Cricket, Wiper, and Gan Fall’s personal character struggles that had driven them; and he doesn’t just defeat Doflamingo, his fall brings forth the removal of the bird cage that was both literally and symbolically placed over Dressrosa, bringing in end to his rule and resolving the personal struggles of the Tontattas, Rebecca, Kyros, and everyone else involved in the island’s countless tragedies. Oda is a master at this and uses this narrative style for Luffy’s final battles whenever the arc’s climax is driven by an antagonistic character to give the final punch more weight and much more satisfying.
The second category are arcs where the main villain’s defeat doesn’t resolve the arc’s main conflict. This includes Enies Lobby, Fishmen Island, and Whole Cake Island.
What’s special about these arcs is that their climaxes continue after Luffy’s main opponent was defeated. Enies Lobby doesn’t end once Rob Lucci goes down, it ends when the Strawhats escape with Robin in tow; defeating Hody wasn’t the point of Fishmen Island, it was to bridge the gap caused by the racial tensions between humans and fishmen, and so the climax only ends when Jimbe gives blood to Luffy as the symbolic first step towards ending that racism; defeating Katakuri didn’t resolve Whole Cake Island’s climax, that only happened when the Strawhats successfully escaped Totland. In these arcs, Luffy doesn’t fight the main antagonistic force (The World Government, racism, and Big Mom respectively), so the climax persist even after Luffy’s major fight. Oda is so consistent with these two patterns that when we look at future fights, mainly the once versus Kaido or even Blackbeard, we have to ask ourselves: which category will those fights fall into?
For Kaido, we already we know the answer – the purpose of Wano is to defeat Kaido. Luffy isn’t here to rescue anyone, or retrieve anything, or bridge any racial divides, he’s here solely to defeat Kaido. This means that the fight falls into the first category. Because of this, we can conclude that when Luffy lands the final punch on Kaido, it’ll be in such a way that will literally resolve the personal struggles of the arc’s side characters. In Wano’s case, this is Momonosuke and Kin’emon’s group. While I’m sure we’ll get more and more allies who’ll be invested in Kaido’s eventual downfall as the arc progresses, this group is at the forefront because we already know their motivations. They want to defeat Kaido, yes, but their ultimate goal is to open Wano’s borders.
What this means is that the narrative of the fight against Kaido will ultimately conclude with Luffy punching Kaido in such a way that it will literally open Wano’s borders. Because the arc is still in its early stages, we don’t know what this entails. Maybe Kaido’s crew will form a blockade around Wano and Luffy will punch Kaido through it, shattering both a literal and symbolic representation of the border. Whatever it is, it will be something specific to Wano alone and that’s what I believe Oda meant when he said he didn’t know how Luffy will defeat Kaido. He knew how Luffy would overcome him in strength – with the help of the other members of his generation – but he didn’t know the narrative context of the fight.
In Conclusion: When Oda said that he didn’t know “how Luffy would defeat Kaido”, he didn’t mean in terms of strength, but in terms of narrative.
*Theory by Therrester