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Trying to pick the best fight in the entirety of One Piece, an anime that currently features over 1,000 episodes, is like trying to single out one’s favorite drop in an ocean, but there is one fight in One Piece that really elevated the anime and declared to its viewers how crazy things were going to get from here on out: Luffy vs. Crocodile. Now there’s no doubt that many readers will expect Luffy vs. Lucci or Luffy vs. Katakuri to take the top spot. And yes, while those are some excellent battles that made us fall in love with One Piece again and again, introducing us to Luffy’s new power-ups in the form of extra Gears, Luffy vs. Crocodile deserves special praise for the fact that it’s the first time Luffy faced a Logia user (without Haki!), the first Warlord Luffy fought, and the first big boss of the Grand Line all together. The Straw Hats may have steadily graduated to fight stronger foes (with Gear 5 allowing Luffy to extinguish freaking Kaido, the world’s “Strongest Creature”), but there’s something special when looking back at some of the more vintage battles, before Luffy became as overwhelmingly powerful as he is today, as a lack of power never stopped him from fighting beings who could literally reform entire landscapes.
Netflix’s live-action adaptation of One Piece is finally premiering — but with the series adapting the East Blue arc, running a mere eight episodes, it’s safe to say that we won’t be seeing much of Crocodile in Season 1. Should we hit the Grand Line, however, he’ll be one of the premiere foes. It’s important to note that up until this point throughout the series, Luffy’s adventures were never as threatening as this. Sure, his fights with Don Krieg, Arlong, and Wapol were intense, but these fights would last across the span of a few episodes max. The Alabasta Arc, where Crocodile makes his debut, is a whopping 39 episodes, allowing ample time for this battle and many others among the Straw Hats and their enemies to take place across dozens of episodes, one of the things that makes One Piece so fantastic. But while this fight between Crocodile and Luffy may have been outshone by some of the later actual wars that took place on-screen, it undoubtedly changed the course of the series forever.
Who Is Crocodile, and What Makes Him Such a Threat?
“Desert King” Sir Crocodile is an absolute powerhouse of a villain, always seen with a fat cigar burning between his teeth and his trademark scars running in a straight line across his face. He sports a hook for a hand and a menacing trench coat to become one of the scariest-looking villains of the series, like a cross between Captain Hook and Al Capone. His master plan was to covertly conquer the desert island of Alabasta through the power of his Sand-Sand Fruit and his army of bounty hunters known as Baroque Works (whose Mr. 1 was a Sword-Sword Human that gave Zoro one of the best fights of his pirating career, forcing him to learn to cut steel). Crocodile was the first Logia user that Luffy ever fought, meaning he was in a power class that dwarfed that of any adversary before him. He was also the first of the Seven Warlords he did battle with, a group of pirates who are deemed powerful enough to forge an alliance with the World Government, meaning that they are untouched by the Marines and allowed to build their armies in the shadows.
Only a handful of Logia fruits exist in the One Piece universe, renowned for their ability to transform the body of the user into a specific natural element. This means that they cannot be physically harmed unless Haki (a method of fortifying one’s physical attacks with the strength of their spirit) is in play, but that wouldn’t come to be introduced until halfway through the series. However, there are other methods of getting around specific elements. Crocodile is a Sand-Sand Human, meaning he can transform his entire body and manipulate the element of sand. Think Sandman from the original Spider-Man series but cross that with One Piece manga writer Eiichiro Oda’s wildly inventive use of applications for the superpowers he gives his characters. Crocodile can fashion his sand into razor-sharp blades and whirlwinds to tear through any opponent that comes his way, but his greatest ability is likely that of dehydration, able to absorb moisture from the air to reduce his enemies to waterless husks of skin and bone. Haki or not, this man is the real deal, and his ruthlessness makes him all the more fearsome, unless you’re Monkey D. Luffy of course.
How Does Luffy Defeat Crocodile?
As mentioned above, Logia users can’t be harmed unless Haki is used, something unavailable to Luffy at this point in the series. While Oda has granted Luffy a number of incredibly creative ways through which he can use the abilities of his Gum-Gum Fruit (such as pumping water throughout his veins to increase his physical attributes tenfold), it should come as no surprise that Luffy initially lost to Crocodile not once, but twice. The first time saw him impaled on the end of Crocodile’s hook in a darkly iconic frame. Crocodile left Luffy for dead, burying him in quicksand, but Luffy, ever the tactician, realized at that moment that water could temporarily allow him to harden and therefore grab the Desert King to do him harm.
Round 2 thus saw Luffy adopting a new form: Water Luffy, taking place after realizing that he couldn’t fight Crocodile with a barrel of water alone. He thus drank the barrel, resulting in a comically overinflated but remarkably effective appearance (anime is known for marrying ridiculousness and badassery particularly well). After drinking so much water, Luffy could coat his limbs in the liquid and spit water bullets at his newfound greatest foe in an attempt to render him tangible. The attempt, while valiant, was short-lived, as Crocodile still managed to dehydrate Luffy in his entirety, leaving him a parched shell of what he once was. Left for dead a second time, Luffy was saved by a giant drop of water falling onto his body from above (a trademark strength of Luffy has always been his impregnable luck).
It’s One of Luffy’s Greatest Skills That Takes Down Crocodile
Let’s be honest, our favorite future Pirate King is far from the sharpest tool in the box. He is known for his childlike excitement, his hasty thinking, and his lack of consideration for things like safety or danger. However, on the battlefield, particularly when things get real, the Straw Hats see a different version of their captain; one who utilizes an incredibly underused skill of his: his remarkable cunning that any Game of Thrones character would envy. Luffy’s tactical intuition and battle prowess are insane, and if the character were truly an idiot there is no way he would have made it as far as he has in his quest to become the Pirate King. When things heat up and Luffy returns against Crocodile for Round 3, the Desert King sees nothing threatening about him, particularly as he’s turned up without the barrel of water that garnered him his prior advantage.
Luffy, however, has a plan, and Crocodile is shocked to see that Luffy has managed to strike a blow on him without any water coating his elongated punches. This leads to one of the most badass lines that Luffy has ever uttered (and believe me, there are MANY): “Blood can be hardened by sand too, can it?” That’s right, Luffy figured out that instead of water, there’s another liquid that he can coat his limbs with that would affect Crocodile: his own blood. Not only is this indicative of Luffy’s immense strategic intellect (which he only allows to shine when he takes his enemies seriously), but it’s a textbook example of how the characters of One Piece obtain victories over one another through pain and sacrifice. Oda has never been afraid to go dark when it comes to his characters, and Luffy’s use of his own blood in this epic battle showcases why beyond first glance, One Piece is far from just another anime for kids.
What makes Luffy such an amazing character is the fact that his Devil Fruit, the Gum-Gum Fruit, shouldn’t allow him to compete with such heavy hitters. You’d never imagine Mr. Fantastic to hold his own against Thanos with his powers alone, but Luffy would find a way to compete, even with his relatively unthreatening stretchy skill set. Of course, Gear 5 shook things up a bit with the reveal that Luffy’s fruit is in fact an Ancient Zoan that emulates the powers of a Sun God (things are getting pretty crazy in the latest episodes), but the fact remains that prior to his Fruit’s awakening, Luffy deserved his victory over every battle that he tirelessly fought in the face of incomprehensible odds. The Straw Hats after all don’t follow him simply because he’s strong, but because through sweat, blood, and tears (and runny noses), he always finds a way to save his nakama. While it may be a while before we get to see this fight adapted into live-action, Luffy vs. Crocodile is one of the most timeless examples of Luffy’s indomitable will.