When it comes to hero stats, there’s one that’s just undeniably cooler than all the others. It’s not stamina or mental powers or energy projection, although excelling in any one of those areas has its perks. No, the coolest stat when it comes to measuring the worth of a super person has to be fighting ability — the measure of how deadly a hero or villain is when it comes to a knockdown, drag-out slugfest.
The Marvel trading cards of the ’90s were packed with all of the stats mentioned above, making them essential for fans determined to back up their “who would win” playground arguments with cold, hard facts. We’ve already run through a few of those trading card sets in our nostalgic look back at ’90s Marvel. This time around, though, we’re focusing on the best fighters in the Marvel Universe, as dictated by the five trading card sets that included fighting ability rankings: “Marvel Universe III-V,” “X-Men Series I” and 1995’s “Marvel Metal” set.
Just to give you a heads up before we get into this incredibly official countdown, only characters with cards in at least three of the five sets listed above were considered for this list. That means these guys are the most prominent fighters out there, as opposed to one-card-wonders like Roma, Maverick, Black Axe and Ego the Living Planet (who, yes, somehow got a 7/7 in fighting). Without further ado, here are the best fighters in the Marvel Universe according to those unimpeachable ’90s trading cards.
This freedom fighter from the Mojoverse turned X-Man of Australia is, surprisingly, one of the best fighters in the Marvel Universe. Longshot got his start by causing headaches for the mass media-obsessed warlord, Mojo, in an alternate dimension, using his throwing knives and expert agility to attack and evade all that tried to stop him. Once he landed in the main Marvel U, he hooked up with the X-Men just in time for them to relocate to the Australian Outback. There, Longshot trained and fought alongside the mutant team, proving capable in battles against aliens, Sentinels, cyborg criminals and more.
Unlike many of the other characters on this list, though, Longshot’s fighting ability stayed at a steady 5 for every single one of his trading cards appearances. He never got up into the heights of 6 or 7, but he’s still better at hand-to-hand combat than almost every other hero or villain around. Seriously, almost everyone rocks a 4 when it comes to fighting ability.
Whereas Longshot’s happy-go-lucky demeanor makes his fighting prowess a bit of a surprise, Psylocke’s placement on this list is a real “no duh” moment. Psylocke started out her comic book career as your standard telepathic superhero, albeit one with a cool butterfly-shaped energy signature that appeared over her face whenever she used her powers. After taking a step through the reality-reshaping Siege Perilous artifact, however, transported her to Japan where her body, life and ultimate fate became intertwined with the ninja assassin known as Kwannon. This storyline is way too complicated to breakdown in detail right here, so we’ll just say that Psylocke’s brain was put in Kwannon’s body — and she got all of the assassin’s fancy fighting abilities too.
That development was relatively new at the time, but the trading cards still gave Betsy Braddock a consistent 5 in fighting. Since then, Psylocke’s become one of the X-Men’s deadliest members as newer stories have pushed her closer and closer to the edge of her own morality and abilities.
Considering that Frank Castle is just a normal guy with a massive vengeance streak going on, you’d think he’d have been given a better-than-average fighting ability right off the bat. But his “Marvel Universe III” trading card declared the Punisher to be soundly average when it came to fighting by giving him a 4. Maybe the brains behind that trading card set figured that Punisher basically just let his extensive arsenal do all the fighting?
That ranking changed for the rest of Punisher’s trading card appearances, though, as he was bumped up to a 6 in subsequent sets. That makes sense. Really, you don’t want to come across the Punisher in any setting. Whether he’s holding a firearm or not doesn’t really matter; no matter what he’s packing, if you’re a criminal, you’re gonna get taken down. Basically, the Punisher’s the kind of guy who could use a stapler as a deadly weapon. That’s a level of fighting ability you don’t really question.
Unlike Punisher, Deathlok never sank below a 5 on the fighting scale. As a human computer programmer, Michael Collins wasn’t what you would consider a force to be reckoned with. As soon as he got his cyborg body upgrade, however, he became — quite literally — a fighting machine. Too bad all of these upgrades happened to Collins against his will.
Like the Punisher, Deathlok’s another hero that tends to rely more on weaponry than fisticuffs. He rarely gets his artificial hands dirty, but that doesn’t mean those hands aren’t also deadly. Even if he puts down his plasma rifle and grenade launcher, this killing machine will give nearly every hero in the Marvel U a run for their money. On top of being a top notch fighter, Deathlok’s also incredibly resilient to harm and has plenty of superhuman abilities; this guy also scores well in the stamina, agility and speed departments.
Ever since the ’90s ended, no one really thinks about Stryfe anymore. That might be because he’s the physically healthy but mentally unstable clone of the hero known as Cable, an origin just confusing enough to make writers question using him knowing that they’d have to unpack all of that again for new readers. It’s a shame, though, because Stryfe’s a solid fighter. Just like his counterpart, Cable, Stryfe also grew up in an apocalyptic hellscape future wherein he apparently learned how to thrown down.
Stryfe’s high fighting ability is also worth pondering because he rarely puts it to use. This guy’s more of a master manipulator kind of villain; he’s much more comfortable letting his less-capable lackeys do everything for him rather than getting into the thick of things himself. Stryfe’s telekinetic and telepathic powers also allow him to do this with ease. He’d rather conduct a battle from afar than get up close and personal. Maybe that’s why he wears such restrictive armor; he knows he can fight, and he also knows he doesn’t need to.
10. Black Widow
If you’ve seen the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, then you know Black Widow is one of the best (if not the best) fighters on the planet, so her cracking the top 10 on an Ultimate Fighters list isn’t a surprise. What is a surprise is that she’s only at the #10 spot. That’s partly due to the fact that while she consistently scored a 6 in fighting ability, she didn’t appear in as many sets as other characters. You can blame that on the sidelining of pretty much every non-mutant Marvel character during the ’90s.
Black Widow’s a KGB and Red Room-trained assassin and hand-to-hand combatant. Ever since she was a child, she has literally been trained to kill people using whatever’s within arm’s reach. Despite having limited to zero superpowers (depending on your canon of choice), Natasha Romanoff’s expert fighting skills and deadly efficient quick-thinking have propelled her all the way to leading the Avengers.
You know we’re pulling from ’90s trading cards because X-Force’s Shatterstar is on this list. You also know we’re pulling from the ’90s because Shatterstar got a card in four out of five of the sets we analyzed for this countdown. Shatterstar wasn’t the only ponytail-sporting, sword-swinging hero of the era, but he was definitely the most popular one.
Like Longshot, Shatterstar was also bred for battle in the entertainment arenas of the Mojoverse. Unlike Longshot, ‘Star took his profession seriously and rarely smiled. “Happy go lucky” is not a phrase you would associate with this guy. Shatterstar fit right in with the hard-edged X-Force, the X-Men’s paramilitary fighting force. While Shatterstar’s origin and motives initially remained a bit of a mystery to his teammates, they didn’t really mind it because he kicked so much ass — and looked good while doing it. No one works a top ponytail and side braids like this guy. No one.
8. Night Thrasher
Speaking of the ’90s, here’s Night Thrasher — the skateboard-riding, armor-wearing leader of the New Warriors. When “New Warriors” launched in 1990, Dwayne Taylor was basically Marvel’s answer to Batman. He was a rich kid with a mentor figure who used his excessive cash to fund his crimefighting, a life he took on after seeing his parents murdered in front of him. Just like Batman, Night Thrasher also mastered plenty of forms of fighting, especially any kind that utilized nightsticks.
Like Shatterstar, Night Thrasher also appeared on a ton of trading cards. That makes sense, as both were new characters in the early ’90s and Marvel was working hard to make them stick. Considering just how popular the “X-Force” and “New Warriors” books were, they succeeded. Night Thrasher wasn’t the only deadly fighter on the Warriors, either. Dwayne’s girlfriend and teammate, Silhouette, also scored a 6 fighting ability (although she only ever got one trading card).
Bishop’s one of the many new-in-the-’90s characters on this list that Marvel worked hard to make happen; he got a trading card pretty much immediately after his debut in 1991’s “Uncanny X-Men” #282. The time-traveling X-cop then became a mainstay, appearing in all five of this post’s analyzed sets. He also scored a 6 in every one of them.
That’s not surprising considering, like Cable and Stryfe, Bishop was also raised in a dystopian future. You have to be tough to survive the kind of bleak futures cooked up in Marvel Comics. Still, it is worth pointing out that — like Punisher and Stryfe — Bishop doesn’t always have to let his fists fight all his battles. This guy has a few futuristic firearms on him at all times and, just in case he runs out of ammo, his ability to absorb and redirect energy attacks comes in handy against his opponents.
Be honest: as soon as you read this list’s headline, the “Merc with a Mouth” is likely one of the few characters who immediately sprang to mind. Well, here he is: Deadpool comes in just shy of the top five at #6. If you think that’s a little low for the character often written as an unstoppable and indefatigable punching machine, keep in mind that all of these trading cards were released years before Wade Wilson scored his first ongoing series. At this time, this guy was just a supporting character.
You can also see Marvel trying to figure out just how to categorize this fast-talking assassin’s abilities though his trading cards. His first card, which came hot on the heels of his comic debut in “New Mutants” #98, gave him a 7 for fighting. That was changed for every card after that, which kept him steady with a respectable, but not invincible, 6.
5. Captain America
Now that we’re in the top five, we’re firmly amongst the 7s. Captain America is an expertly trained soldier with decades of fighting experience under his belt. He also has the super-soldier serum coursing through his veins, which makes him way more resilient than pretty much everyone he fights. Captain America wins because he just won’t stop until what’s right gets done. Because of all that, Cap earned one of the rare 7 fighting ability rankings in the “Marvel Universe III” set and held onto it. That is, until 1995’s “Marvel Metal” set, which curiously knocked him down to a 4, thus ruining his average.
The reason for that drop, though, comes straight out of the comics. At the time the “Marvel Metal” series was being released, Captain America was operating without the effects of the super-soldier serum. Losing his powers didn’t keep Cap out of the fray, though. Instead, he outfitted himself in star-spangled armor and kept the fight going. He earned a 4 in fighting, sure, but he would have gotten a 7 in courage.
4. Omega Red
With his hulking frame, two life-sucking tentacles and a few 7s in fighting ability to his name, Omega Red came from out of nowhere in the early ’90s to become one of the deadliest villains in the Marvel Universe. The result of Russia’s own take on the Super-Soldier Program, Omega Red was a homicidal schemer with delusions of grandeur and mutant death spores that can make anyone close to him keel over. As if that wasn’t enough, the Soviet Union also implanted two nearly indestructible carbonadium tentacles in each of his forearms, ensuring that he always had a weapon literally in hand. Basically, Omega Red has plenty of different ways to kill you.
Omega Red earned a trading card almost immediately after his debut in Jim Lee’s “X-Men” series, and that card gave him a 7 in fighting. He managed to hold onto that number for his next card appearance, but the “Marvel Metal” set knocked him down a peg to 6. Now that we’re near the top, those little things matter.
We kick off the top three ultimate fighters of the Marvel Universe with Wolverine’s archenemy, Sabretooth. Sabretooth quickly earned a name for himself as a great fighter in his debut appearance in “Iron Fist.” His killer reign continued into the ’80s when he joined up with Mister Sinister and his Marauders. Together, they raided the Morlock’s tunnels and killed almost all of the mutants that lived underneath Manhattan in the classic “Mutant Massacre” storyline. Sabretooth’s appetite for destruction knew no limits.
His bloodlust continued into the ’90s, although the comics started to get more psychological about it. Professor X even took Sabretooth into the X-Mansion to try to cure him of his bloodlust and calm his savage ways. It didn’t work, of course, and Sabretooth nearly killed Psylocke during his escape. Appropriately, Sabretooth held on to a 7 fighting for every set except for “Marvel Metal,” where he earned a 6. That one set has now robbed two characters of perfect 7s!
We’ve already mentioned him a few times on this list, so without futher ado, here he is: Cable. Raised in a far-flung future ravaged by the tyranny of Apocalypse, Cable was bred to be the champion of his people. That meant turning him into a military mastermind and the greatest combatant on Earth. His clan, the Askani, succeeded in their goal. Even when he traveled back in time to present day, Cable’s commitment to battle perfection paid off time and time again. This is apparent when you look at Stryfe, Cable’s genetic clone that never got a 7 in fighting. Come on, Stryfe, practice makes perfect!
Unlike other ’90s characters, Cable earned his 7 and also kept it. While Omega Red and Deadpool had their fighting abilities questioned along the way, Marvel decided that Cable was a top-notch fighter and then stood by that decision. The stories bear that out as well, as Cable has won battle after battle without it ever feeling like a stretch. Cable’s the real deal, and there’s only one character that’s better than him.
Right? Of course the top spot goes to Wolverine. From his debut in the pages of “Incredible Hulk” back in the ’70s, Logan has always been depicted as an intensely capable, sometimes uncontrollable, and pretty much unbeatable fighter. Wolverine’s actually fought most of the characters on this list and come out on top (or at least managed a stalemate).
You don’t get tougher than Wolverine, which is why the Weapon X program chose him to undergo their highly dangerous adamantium-bonding process. Wolverine emerged from that potentially deadly procedure with unbreakable bones, with the adamantium also coating his razor-sharp claws. On top of that, his healing factor ensures that he’ll never back down from any fight. When you can heal from any injury, you’re perfectly fine with taking all the hits necessary to ensure a victory. All that’s why Wolverine has a perfect score when it comes to fighting, and why he’s the best fighter of the ’90s.
Who do you think is Marvel’s ultimate fighter? Let us know in the comments!
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