First off- I’m not making any claims as to where he stands. Anything that I might say is just going to be opinion/innuendo. Secondly, I’m talking about his power as an individual- particularly in the context of a dual.
The reason I’ve been wondering about this is because many people really seem to rely on either titles, bounties, or frankly just frequency of mention dependent on whatever given arc is being written- but for me I just don’t think it’s so one dimensional.
Mihawk’s case doesn’t seem to work with these assumed measurements. Sure, we have the “Greatest Swordsman in the World” title- but outside of that you have to look for unorthodox perspectives in order to really understand how powerful Mihawk might be. Here’s some brainstormed examples:
-Why was Shanks crew afraid when we first saw Mihawk approach him over news of Luffy? Obviously Shank’s close crewmembers stayed stoic, but it has to make you wonder why a Yonko bound crew within two years would even worry.
-Mihawk seems to love pitting his strength against others; but lost interest in Shanks once his arm was gone. Sure you could say Mihawk was only interested in his swordplay and not the full Shanks package, and there’s an argument there. But you know who that didn’t apply with? Whitebeard. (No sword). Attributing it to Marine obligations would be laughable obviously. Mihawk wanted a go at him because he was considered the world’s best. Choosing not to bother with Shanks, despite almost certainly being familiar with the breadth of his abilities, says a lot about a guy who seems to only care about sword measuring contests.
-Ok so what about Yonkos? There’s only four of them and there’s seven warlords. Warlords are picked out by the World Government, whereas Yonkos have to prove their mettle in the most dangerous part of the world. So a Yonko is stronger right? See I don’t think it’s that simple. Just like the Straw Hats have a range of dreams, not everyone in One Piece wants lord over the New World and become Pirate King. In the end Whitebeard (the only man capable post Gold D. Roger) chose not to.
-On the subject of Walords, what sort of factors result in them being picked? Crocodile pursued it to hide his side aspirations. Jinbe was selected to keep the fish men in check. Doflamingo blackmailed his way in, and it allowed the World Government to keep their foot in the underworld’s door, Blackbeard as a price paid by the World Government in order to confront Whitebeard on their terms. I mean it’s clearly about keeping piracy on a leash, and it’s about influence.
What influence do they gain by making Mihawk a warlord? A single swordsman, who travels around a coffin sized ship, who certainly seems to be the most agreeable/predictable of the bunch- No crew. No influence. But let’s make him a warlord.
So anyway I’m not saying Mihawk is the most powerful person in One Piece or anything- I mean he’s not. Mihawk himself notices (dude is perceptive if Oda’s constant eyeball shots are any indication) that Luffy’s true power lies in his ability to turn everyone around him into allies. That’ll always be more powerful in a world of pirate crews, or in the New World full on fleets.
But again. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about individual strengths. And I don’t think Mihawk’s strengths gets enough credit around here- given that (none) of his motivations seem to be about empire building, just individual ability.