While most people make friends through school or change the world with their words, Son Goku left his impact on the world through martial arts.
From an early age, fighting has been the one constant in Goku’s life and has led him from smacking around simple bandits with his power pole to saving the world in a showdown against a multiversal deity.
However, throughout Goku’s lifetime of fighting, some fights are better remembered than others, whether for their story implications or for simply being cool.
Here are Goku’s top 10 fights throughout the Dragon Ball series:
10. Goku vs Mercenary Tao (Dragon Ball)
Following their respective climbs up Korin Tower, Mercenary Tao attempts to exact revenge upon Goku for defeating him in an earlier battle, only to end up dying from his own deceitful attempt to kill the young Saiyan with a grenade.
This fight is important for not only being an important instance of Goku gaining immense strength from an intensive training period, but also for showing the first occurrence of Goku’s compassion in his willingness to grant Tao mercy, despite the villain’s attempt to take advantage of this kindness. The final showdown with Tao also marks the first time Goku, albeit out of self-defense, kills a villain (at least, to his knowledge).
9. Goku vs Jackie Chun (Dragon Ball)
As his pupil enters the 21st World Tournament, Master Roshi dons the guise of martial arts expert ‘Jackie Chun,’ leading to a close match featuring an appearance of Goku’s Great Ape Oozaru form. The match is ultimately decided by the length of Roshi’s legs compared to Goku’s.
Upon his victory, Roshi explains that he entered the tournament to teach Goku that he should never consider himself the best, as there will always be stronger opponents in the world. This lesson is so important to Goku that he essentially crafts his entire worldview around it, engaging in constant training regimens and continually seeking out newer and stronger opponents, even if it means putting the Earth itself at risk.
8. Goku vs Beerus (Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods/Dragon Ball Super)
After awakening from his long slumber and setting his sights on Earth, Beerus threatens to destroy the planet after Majin Buu refuses to share his pudding with the God of Destruction, leading to a showdown with Goku that sees the Saiyan warrior achieve the fabled Super Saiyan God form and earn Beerus’ begrudging respect. Goku’s red-haired transformation, while exciting to see as the first official Toriyama-designed form since the end of Dragon Ball Z, is not the reason this fight is so important.
This fight is notable for introducing Beerus and Whis, without whom Dragon Ball Super’s entire story would not exist, as their presence in the series would eventually lead to the introduction of the Lord Zeno, the tournament of power, and the entire concept of a Dragon Ball multiverse.
7. Goku vs Majin Vegeta (Dragon Ball Z)
His mind overtaken by Babidi’s magic, Vegeta’s jealousy of Goku culminates in the Saiyan Prince accepting the magical power-up and attempting to use its power to prove his superiority in an all-out fight. This final showdown between the last two full-blooded Saiyans has become one of the most iconic scenes in Dragon Ball, marking the first and last time Goku and Vegeta would fight in earnest with their full strength since Vegeta turned over a new leaf.
The only reason for it’s low ranking is it’s unsatisfying ending, which sees Goku knocked out by an underhanded sneak attack rather than a proper conclusion to the competition of strength and pride.
6. Goku vs Cooler (Dragon Ball Z: Cooler’s Revenge)
Following a brutal beating at the hands of Cooler and his henchmen, Goku’s rage at the pain of his friends pushes him to turn Super Saiyan, becoming so strong that Cooler’s punches no longer phase him. This scene is one of the few, following it’s first appearance, that shows how truly terrifying and powerful the Super Saiyan form is, as after he transforms Goku proceeds to viciously smack Cooler around and kill the villain by pushing back a planet-destroying energy attack with a powered-up Kamehameha.
Plus, for viewers of the original English dub of the film, you get the full feeling of the early 2000s as Deftones’ officially licensed ‘Change (In the House of Flies)’ blares over the transformation.
5. Goku vs Demon King Piccolo (Dragon Ball)
Attacking West City as an excuse to display his power, the Demon King Piccolo’s rampage is only halted by the appearance of Goku, which leads to a brutal fight that ends in King Piccolo’s death at the hands of the badly injured young fighter.
Goku’s desperate Kamehameha-fueled punch is emblematic of a simpler time in Dragon Ball, where fights could be decided through creativity and strategy rather than outright tests of strength. At the end of the fight, Piccolo Jr. is birthed into the world, a development which led to one of the most popular characters in the series.
4. Goku vs Jiren (Dragon Ball Super)
In the thrilling climax of the Tournament of Power, Goku surpasses his limits and achieves the Ultra Instinct form, allowing the Saiyan to fight with Jiren on equal terms in a knock-down, drag-out fight for the fate of their respective universes. While Goku achieving yet another new, colorful transformation came as little surprise to fans, the ensuing fight featured genuine moments of planet-shattering excitement, including a heated exchange of blows and a surprise team-up with Frieza.
The finale to this fight was also livestreamed publicly to roaring crowds across Mexico, and if that doesn’t qualify a fight for a high ranking on this list, it’s doubtful that anything would.
3. Goku vs Piccolo (Dragon Ball)
Facing off in the finals of the 23rd World Martial Arts tournament, Piccolo and Goku pull out all the stops against each other before Goku succeeds in knocking the Demon King’s offspring out of the ring and securing his own victory.
Surprisingly, this is the only true fight between the two rivals throughout the entire series, but features a full on display of their abilities, with the two using a wide variety of exciting techniques such as an Antenna Beam, the Super Kamehameha, and the rarely-seen Giant Form.
The tournament finals also deliver a thrilling conclusion to the original Dragon Ball story, leaving readers enticed and excited to see where the future would take Goku, Piccolo, and the rest of the cast in ‘Z’.
2. Goku vs Vegeta (Dragon Ball Z)
Goku and Vegeta, defending Earth from destruction and his pride from suffering a crushing humiliation respectively, meet in a barren wasteland in order to go all out against each other in their first meeting.
During this fight, the two Saiyans strategically pull out every technique in their arsenals, from Spirit Bombs, to Galick Guns, to Vegeta’s Oozaru form, and spiraling into desperation as the fight progresses.
This first meeting of the diametrically opposed warriors results in a beautiful clash of skill and power, while also giving Yajirobe his last relevant moment and opening the door for Vegeta to return as a main character.
1. Goku vs Frieza (Dragon Ball Z)
As the planet breaks down around them, the newly awakened Super Saiyan faces off against the evil Emperor in a clash of titans that saw a lowly Saiyan ‘monkey’ rise up and defeat the genocidal murderer of his people and friends.
At the time, Goku’s transformation was truly legendary, and as Frieza’s fear grew in the face of his opponent, audiences grew continually more hyped. Though this fight marked a turning point in the Dragon Ball series, as the concept of a Super Saiyan would become a central focus of the series going forward, the violent clash between pure good and pure evil remains hands down the best and most iconic fight of the series.