Now that that fight between Zoro and King is over, I would like to point out a few things that I haven’t seen anyone point out yet. Everyone already knows the many similar parallels between Zoro and Ryuma, both of them being one eyed swordsmen.
However the parallels run much deeper than that and actually show what Zoro needs to do to become the greatest swordsman.
At the very start of the fight, we see King use trickery to take away Zoro’s swords.
Notice how he states he never quite understood why one would stick to traditional forms of fighting in combat. Keep this in mind as this will be important.
Zoro in response states he’s willing to bite through King’s throat to win. In other words, Zoro’s current mentality is to win no matter what. I initially found it odd that the fight would open with a talk about traditional form of fighting vs ruthless efficiency, but turns out this is a reference to Oda’s earlier work Monsters.
You should have a read yourself, but here’s a quick summary: the main character Ryuma wanders into a village and is saved from starvation by a little girl. After eating, his sword sheath touches another swordsman’s sheath and Ryuma challenges him to a duel. Touching of sheathes is considered a challenge for a duel but Ryuma is reprimanded for sticking to a traditional code so fiercely. A bunch of stuff happens, turns out that swordsman was a fraud, Ryuma kills a dragon and the story ends with this panel.
The greatest “warrior’s soul” referring to Ryuma’s insistence on sticking to the swordsman’s code. Ryuma was considered the “strongest swordsman” precisely because he stuck to traditional forms and techniques during combat.
Returning to Zoro vs King, King clearly doesn’t value the warrior’s soul, but what’s interesting is that Zoro is also willing to give up his fighting style to win. Fast forward to a few chapters later, and Zoro is clearly struggling against King, even losing control of Enma.
Zoro wasn’t matching up to Enma’s standards; he was willing to throw away his swordsman identity to win, he let King steal his swords away, he wasn’t pumping enough Haki out, etc. He isn’t able to deal any meaningful damage to King until he gets a flashback to where he remembers the true nature of swords and begins to accept what it means to be a swordsman once more.
Zoro only regains control of Enma when he returns to “being a swordsman.” His mentality going into the fight used to be win no matter what, but now it has shifted to win no matter what with his swords. Only after accepting this fact he fully unlocks his Conqueror’s spirit and begins to gain ground in the fight (figuring out how King’s abilities work in the process). Wano has obviously given Zoro a lot of spotlight, specifically focusing on his own ambitions and not just being in Luffy’s shadow. So naturally Zoro would unlock Conqueror’s Haki in his Wano fight to match his kingly ambitions.
Looking at King side for a moment, the parallels between him and Zoro are clear.
Kaido freed King from imprisonment just like how Luffy did to Zoro. Kaido states King will be his right-hand man just like Luffy did. However, one key difference is that King doesn’t have any ambitions of his own. Despite literally being called King and a part of the race once known as gods, he doesn’t seem to have any kingly desires. He even lets Kaido rename him.
When Zoro says to make room for them, King only thinks about Kaido’s ambitions to be Pirate King, never about himself. Zoro specifically says “us” referring to the Straw Hat crew including himself. King’s lack of ambition is the reason why he lacks Conqueror’s Haki (at least at this moment he doesn’t seem to have it) despite most first commanders having it.
Returning to Zoro again, at this point in the fight he has fully embraced his traditional fighting style, this allowing him to keep his swords when King tried to trick him once more.
Zoro is in full control of the fight and he is able to finish off King with a new technique.
This technique is a reference to Ryuma’s attack which killed the dragon. This attack slices King’s fire dragon attack and him with it. Something to note is that this attack is an upgrade to Flying Dragon’s Blaze, which used to be the Ryuma reference. However, this new technique uses all three swords, making it Zoro’s own technique. This could symbolize Zoro stepping out of Ryuma/Shusui’s shadow and becoming his own great swordsman. This would match his journey of becoming a “conqueror” throughout the Wano arc.