Retrospective Look at Zoro’s Journey as a Swordsman
Zoro’s journey to become World’s Strongest Swordsman starts with Baratie and his fight with Mihawk. Well, in reality it starts way earlier than that, ever since Zoro was a little child, but when it really starts in the eyes of the readers is with his defeat by the hands of Mihawk. This arc dwells deep into Zoro’s past as we learn of the reason he wishes to become the strongest swordsman. We get his flashback with Kuina, learning what the driving force behind his goal is, ending it all with an absolute defeat. Zoro learns just how far from achieving his dream he is and swears to never lose again.
To truly reach your goal you must first be humbled and this is when his quest for the title truly began.
First big step he makes is in his fight with Mr.1. In in, Zoro learns one of the most important lessons a swordsman must learn – an ability to cut whatever one wishes to cut and not cut whatever one wishes not to a.k.a. he learns to cut steel. There is a debate if this ability is Haki or not, considering he wasn’t able to cut Enel I’d say it’s not, but in the end it doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, it’s an important part of swordsmanship. Later during Skypiea he learns to use it at will in his fight with Ohm.
During Enies Lobby Zoro showcases his now iconic technique, with which he manifests 2 extra sets of arms and 2 heads. Ashura, to this day is still unexplained ability but Kaku’s response to it might give us a clue that it is Haki related as he mentions Willpower.
In Thriller Bark, Zoro gets to fight and defeat the corpse of the legendary Samurai Ryuma and earn the powerful black blade Shusui from him. Considering there is a high chance Ryuma is Zoro’s ancestor, one might ask if this encounter was fated to happen and it finishes off Zoro’s pre time-skip achievements. The next time we see him, he would have spent 2 years training under the World’s Strongest Swordsman himself.
After time-skip, Zoro has a completely different atmosphere around him. A combination of confidence and arrogance oozes out of him and he immediately shows us why he is this way when he easily defeats number 1 swordsman of Fishman Island. Throughout the post time-skip, Zoro is not really challenged by anyone and shows no signs of improvement. In his fight with Pica he showcases “Armament Hardening” for the first time and shows us a glimpse of his training with Mihawk. This moment is played as a rather triumphant one and shows Zoro being able to coat all of his swords as something to be proud off.
Then comes Wano… the land of Samurai, the land of great swordsmen and the land of Oden! Zoro is immediately in his element, showcasing impressive feats left and right but his journey to the World’s Strongest Swordsman title starts with Enma. To become stronger, he must first tame the Blade and learn to wield it; and he does just that.
Through his fight with Kaido he unlocks his Conqueror’s Haki and through his fight with King he learns to coat it, becoming one of the handful of people who can do so. We finally get to see the glimpse of Zoro as the World’s Strongest Swordsman.
So what is there left for him to do?
What the Future Holds
There is a clear road set for Zoro on his way to the World’s Strongest Swordsman title. I believe that there are 3 big opponents that Zoro are set to fight and eventually defeat. I believe these 3 opponents have meticulously been built up ever since their introductions in Chapter 49, Chapter 538 and Chapter 701. First one in his way is none other than…
Shiryu of the Rain
The Straw Hat Pirates vs Blackbeard Pirates confrontation has been long time coming and with recent confirmation of Shiryu being the second strongest in his crew (something I thought was obvious but apparently not) it’s all but confirmed that he will be fighting Zoro.
So what will Zoro bring back from this fight? He already learned to coat his Conqueror’s so what is there left for him to learn. What can Shiryu bring to the table for Zoro to overcome? Well, it’s rather obvious. Shiryu ate the Suke Suke no Mi, making him an Invisible Man, this fight might focus on two things:
- First and the more obvious would be Zoro improving his Observation Haki by fighting an invisible opponent. I know this is a bit cliché but we are yet to see this trope played out. Sanji fought two invisible opponents yet it was never used, so Oda might be saving it for Zoro.
- The second one is more out there but also way more interesting and it involves Shiryu awakening of his fruit. He is going to become nothing. Like, nothingness. Instead of being visually invisible, the dude won’t exist. You punch him as soon as he goes invisible, the attack won’t land. Like that dude went into a different dimension like Tobi in Naruto. You just cannot hit him.
Where Luffy fought and defeated two Commanders, one without and one with an Awakening, Zoro so far only defeated King who isn’t awakened. With that in mind I believe Zoro’s next big opponent will be Shiryu, a Commander with an Awakened Devil Fruit. What will the awakening do? It will not only make Shiryu invisible but also intangible – it will make him disappear from existence. Zoro will then have to learn to cut “nothing” just like he described the technique back in Alabasta.
Either way the fight goes, after defeating him Zoro will and must come out of the fight with something new that he learned.
Second one in his way will be…
Now, the debate of which Admiral he will face is irrelevant. Admirals represent the pinnacle of Marine’s fighting force and either one of them will present an equal threat. I personally would love for Zoro to face off against Fujitora simply because they are both swordsmen and I would love for them to finish the fight they started in Dressrosa but I wouldn’t be surprised if he also got to fight Kizaru or Green Bull. Additionally, as they represent the pinnacle of Marines it would only be appropriate for them to also have Conqueror’s Coating. After all, Zoro already has it and there has to be someone with it that goes up against him. There is no better choice for it than an Admiral.
While we are on the topic of Conqueror’s Coating, it’s rather interesting how early Zoro learned to utilize it since it’s said only a handful of strongest are capable of doing so yet Zoro isn’t one of them. Why is that? It’s because pinnacle of strength for a swordsman is not Conqueror’s Coating but rather a Black Blade. With only 2 known black blades, both of which belong to two strongest swordsmen, they are rarer than any other ability. Not even Oden was said to be able to turn Enma into a black blade.
Zoro turning Enma into a Black Blade will not only represent him reaching the pinnacle of Swordsmanship but will also signal that he has surpassed Oden as he has done something he couldn’t.
Zoro specializes in Armament Haki and I think that’s what makes a blade black. I believe Armament Haki is the Haki every swordsman harmonizes with. This is the most obvious in the country of Samurai, Wano, where Ryuo is the concept of flow and has multiple levels to it. As the swordsman continuously pours copious amounts of Armament Haki into their blade it will eventually turn black. After all, the primarily visualization used to show Armament Haki usage is black color. So, in his inevitable clash with an Admiral, as their Conqueror’s and Armament Haki clash, Zoro will reach that pinnacle of Swordsmanship, turn his blades black (either 1 or all 3) and triumph over the Admiral in question.
And The Final opponent Zoro will face is of course going to be…
The World’s Strongest Swordsman, Dracule Mihawk
There is some debate online when and where the two will face off but there is no “debate” in my mind. Mihawk is definitely going to be Zoro’s final opponent and when the two of them meet, Zoro will already have achieved the pinnacle of swordsmanship. With his Black Blades, Conqueror’s Coating and ability to cut whatever he wishes to the two of them will finally meet for their duel. Echoing the words Brook said back in Thriller Bark, when the two swordsman of equal skill meet their duel will be swiftly resolved.
I believe this will take place after Luffy has already become The Pirate King (kind of). When Zoro asked Mihawk to train him, he put his own pride and ambition aside for Luffy. He begged Mihawk to train him not to be able to beat him but to be able to help Luffy become The Pirate King. It’s only appropriate that Zoro achieves his own goal after fulfilling Luffy’s. And besides, Mihawk has no reason to fight Zoro as an antagonist in the “Final War”. Zoro and Him are now Pupil and the Master and since 7 Warlords are no more, there is no way Navy forces Mihawk to fight for them.
The fight between the two will not last too long but the display of their overwhelming skills will be front and center. The two of them will clash with Conqueror’s Haki, splitting the sky (and reaching the Heaven) and the fight will be decided in one swift clash. They will recreate their clash from Baratie except this time it is Zoro who will come out victorious. With this, Zoro would not only achieve his goal but also fulfill the promise he made to Kuina.