With Kaidou demolishing Luffy, it seems like Luffy has an insurmountable mountain to climb but this is just great writing by Oda. Oda only has a few categories that contribute to power levels so breaking it down makes it easy to see what area Luffy can make up the difference. Here’s my take on this from a previous thread on the major factors that contribute to a characters "combat capabilities" (in a spoiler tag to minimize the mass of text; I've got a freakin index with this thing so long...): Prefix (spoiler tag): What makes up power-levels? Part 1: Why an awakening? Why not haki? Part 2: Awakening Coach Part 3: The True Climax Fight Prefix: Spoiler Advanced technology: this category is the most severely limited in terms of the number of people that use it (may become more prevalent since Oda decided to make a whole group of them upon introducing Germa 66 and all of Judge's research buddies). This part is self-explanatory and since so few people use it, it is literally only if they posses it or not. Haki: Oda loves misdirection and level 2 haki is another perfect example of this. With all of Luffy's recent training he is repeatedly trying to point fans down the road of level 2 halo being the solution to Luffy beating Kaidou. This is a dead end because it has already been called a “basic technique” (weaklings like the Gorgon Sisters can do it, so hard to imagine the strongest person in the world doesn’t know how to do it too). Devil fruit abilities: another pretty black and white category where either you have it or you don't. The level of mastery is key since we have mastery of the basic fruit abilities (Luffy is the best example of exploiting the unique traits to create the various Gears; this goes back to Croc's comments on how little mastery Luffy has when they fought), as well as the super-mode of awakening. Awakenings: clearly this allows for astronomical power-ups. Potential weakling guards become probably second in all of Impel Down to only Magellan, Doffy gains a perfect defense/offense combination, and something most fans might have overlooked: the MASSIVE destructive power of Aokiji/Akainu to seemingly permanently change the environment of Punk Hazard. With this last example in mind, there is no other option for Luffy's final major power-up. The last (per my bias) is physical capabilities. Ultimately, this is primarily driven by muscles. Muscles will determine every factor to movement/performance => thus all physical factors related to "combat capabilities" (power/physical strength, destructive power [sometimes different from brute strength and I can expand if necessary], endurance, speed, agility/evasiveness, etc.). From my line of work, this category is a rating of how "athletic" a person is. Elite of the elite athletes are born with the "proprioceptive" capabilities in that their body just has astronomically greater sensory input (and thus astronomically greater coordination/control). This can be trained with the right exercising, but the level of "natural talent" makes a huge difference on the starting point (Luffy/Zoro/Sanji all started with natural talent compared to the rest of the crew). Oda does an excellent job of making things to scale with "oversized humans". They literally have more muscle mass, and thus they literally have more "combat capabilities" than all others. Luffy literally has the same destructive power as a giant in Gear Third because his "muscle mass" is being increased to a giant level (incorrect physics of course, but that's the "manga logic"). Of course we have technique related powers (like regional specialties: Electro, Ninjutsu, Gyojin Karate, etc.). But that all comes down to "fighting styles". That's completely unique to the person and only comes up in individual match-ups (the fighting cliche of "styles makes fights" is true since Luffy 100% is at a disadvantage against anyone with a blade). I would also lump experience and talent (Luffy is a prodigy at instinctual combat tactics. To go on a separate tangent, Luffy magically gains this skill after Ace leaves. It is also necessary since the underdog has to have some special skill to repeatedly pull off upsets. Luffy's ability to figure out an opponent's weakness throughout the series has and will continue to be key. Unfortunately, Kaidou will be the most complex puzzle to figure out which is exactly why Oda made multiple comments on not knowing how to handle the Luffy vs. Kaidou fight. _________________________________________________________________________________________ Part 1 I do want to continue on one aspect from the above in the theory. Luffy already is very close to "Yonkou level" for physical capabilities in my mind. The residual kinetic energy of Doffy destroying a huge chunk of Dressrossa (aided by level 2 haki, which matches Hyou-jiji seeing Luffy only taps into his true potential in critical moments). The destructive power of King Kong Gun matches Aokiji/Akainu's final attack. Luffy is getting a power-up to his physical capabilities (buffer in the most recent chapter) With Luffy already having adequate strength/destructive power (it previously couldn't penetrate Kaidou’s mastery of defensive busoushoku). Just in case anyone overlooked this minuscule detail, Kaidou has complete mastery of defensive busoushoku: It is not shading. Every single attack Luffy throws has the minimal amount of defensive busoushoku used and this is the main thing that stops Kaidou from taking any damage. This mastery in conjunction with implied foresight level kenbunshoku negates all non-level 2 haki attacks. In theory, maybe there is a "level 2 defensive busoushoku" technique. The "haki barrier" technique is implied to be this but we don't see two evenly matched opponents square off. In all other instances, offensive haki has major advantages over defensive haki, so until we get real evidence, this is up to debate and I can argue either side. Even if this does not exist, there's still an easy negation: Kaidou throwing his own level 2 haki attack. Kaidou will have greater physical capabilities than Luffy, so Luffy takes damage in every exchange. Kaidou has been recently been shown to not be a complete meathead, so he will figure out such a simplistic strategy that has a 100% success rate. Thus, the only other empty category (legit plot wise too) is an awakening and this has to be the answer because it is the only thing that allows for the necessary astronomical power-up. All of this should perfectly fit, so now into the meat of the theory. What is necessary to unlock an awakening? We’ve only seen a handful of awakenings, but people like Doffy, Aokiji, and Akainu do have one thing in common. They’ve all had their fruit abilities for years and years (potentially decades). I’m thinking there is a year/duration limitation in that the DNA mutations from the akuma has to reach a necessary threshold. Maybe this prevents SMILE from having awakenings but that’s a separate discussion. So from a scientific standpoint, maybe every single cell in a fruit users body has to be genetically altered and this is just a slow process. This is the opposite of the science of cell proliferation but...manga logic. We’ve got a guy that can stretch any body part 100 gomu gomu so Oda gets to make up whatever he wants. Oda will probably have a list of requirements based on his thorough planning, but I’m betting on some sort of training stimulant. For fans of HxH, the water ritual for unlocking nen comes to mind. Luffy’s haki training is similar in that he will need guidance from someone. Knowing Oda, he’ll have some crazy idea so I won’t even bother guessing at what the other variables will be. I can take a guess at who it will be though: Lucci. _______________________________________________________________________________________ Part 2 The biggest support for this is Lucci making multiple cameos. Only characters that have future roles stick around. If Lucci is getting screen time in Stampede, he’s got a HUGE role to play. Tag teaming with Luffy to take down Kaidou fits this (more on this later). Obviously, an old enemy suddenly being an ally is a huge deal considering Luffy completely ruined Lucci's impeccable reputation. How/why would Lucci side with Luffy. Kaidou/Big Mom's alliance is THE biggest threat to the world. CP0 operates on country changing level threats. Big Mom and Kaidou alone are CP0 level threats. The alliance immediately becomes CP0's top priority to weaken. Thus, even though they hate each other, the mutual greater enemy forces the alliance. If that isn't enough, I've got more: When Law escaped, someone with a cape let him out. Someone wants as much chaos/pro-Luffy situations. Yes, this could be Denjirou or Drake. However, there is one other key panel in all of this. When Orochi meets with CP0, there is an additional spy watching them from the next room. They are obviously upset at Orochi since the text bubbles overlap their angry eye. Context implies a CP0 agent was assigned to be a spy and monitor the already huge threat of Kaidou/Orochi's alliance. Lucci is the only person that fits all of the breadcrumbs (don't forget about the Stampede/cameo aspect). _______________________________________________________________________________________ Part 3 Now for the juiciest part. I am in 100% agreement with the others (mainly @Admiral Ryokugyu) that the third act of the Wano Kuni arc being a "tragedy" fully fits kabuki plots. With only level 2 haki, Luffy is 100% guaranteed to still get his butt handed to him...easily too. Bomb time! I'm thinking the combination of an awakened Luffy (Gear Fifth; future theory hype: I think Oda gave us a major hint on the mechanics of Gear Fifth already, but that has to be a separate theory...how's that for product placement!) AND an awakened Lucci will be the tag team that fights Kaidou in the real climax of the arc. To go back to Oda's comments on how he couldn't figure out a fitting way for Luffy to defeat Kaidou, this is probably WITH the combination of an awakened Luffy AND an awakened Lucci (Lucci had already made two manga cameos at that point). Kaidou is literally such a beast that two legit powerhouses in the New World were still struggling to take down Kaidou in Oda's mind. And this is with them having pretty good chemistry. Not only have they fought each other (they know each other's strengths and weaknesses and are both strategic enough to fight to set up the other for what they excel at), but the time spent training together for Luffy to get his awakening will be key bonding. Luffy is a dunce. He will struggle at picking up whatever "training" aspect is necessary. Lucci will have to beat his own head with all the frustration. But like every other Luffy relationship, that's just how it goes. I personally see absolutely no way for the alliance to take on both Kaidou and Big Mom at the same time. Unless the top RA or Shanks come, there is no other pro-Luffy character strong enough to negate a Yonkou. Contextually, Big Mom has to be neutralized somehow. Her deciding to trust the alliance and go back to WCI makes sense. Plus, I have to think Big Mom is part of Kaidou's 19+ defeats so she knows firsthand that she needs support from at least one other fighter to defeat Kaidou. The RA do have a reason to be there with Koala's research on the mysterious alloy. Reverie almost excludes them since it's hard to believe they escaped unscathed in their Kuma rescue mission. If you got through all of this...damn, hats off to ya! Any thoughts?