It really can’t be stressed more just how long Dragon Ball is. At 42 volumes, the completed manga spans over 500 chapters, covering ten full story arcs. A lot happens in a single arc too, especially after the Red Ribbon Army arc. Toriyama uses each arc wisely, transitioning in and out of major events.
Naturally, some moments are going to get lost in the fold and ultimately forgotten by fans. That’s just the nature of any long-running series. This unfortunately does mean that some of Dragon Ball’s earlier fights go ignored while some of the series’ later fights are overlooked either due to franchise fatigue or Toriyama placing his focus elsewhere. Either way, just because everyone forgets a fight doesn’t mean it’s not worth remembering.
10 Goku Versus Namu
In the grand scheme of the 21st Tenkaichi Budokai, this fight isn’t that important. After all, Namu doesn’t even go on to become a supporting character after this, instead solely existing in the background for the remainder of the series. At the same time, this is one of Toriyama’s best early Dragon Ball fights.
It’s well choreographed, as Namu and Goku showcase a bunch of unique moves, and Namu himself has a solid, dramatic motivation for joining the Tenkaichi Budokai. It becomes almost hard to root for Goku knowing that Namu is struggling. This fight is forgotten mainly because of how good Goku versus Jackie Chun is, but this is the tournament’s second best bout.
9 Goku Versus Sergeant Master Murasaki
Tonally, the Red Ribbon Army arc falls in an awkward place for Dragon Ball. The series is still very lighthearted at this point, but the 21st Tenkaichi Budokai upped the stakes while shifting the focus from adventure to action. The RRA arc dials things back to adventure, but with a focus on serious action.
This really doesn’t ramp up until Tao Pai Pai appears, but it has its moments leading up to his introduction. Goku’s fight with Sergeant Master Murasaki inside of Muscle Tower specifically, is one of Toriyama’s more creative fights in the franchise. It’s charming, has a nice flow, and features plenty of novel geography.
8 Goku & Kuririn Versus General Blue
A shorter fight, but an important one. General Blue marks a turning point in the Red Ribbon Army arc. Up to this point, Goku had more or less managed to get through any obstacle without much effort. He had lost the 21st Tenkaichi Budokai, but just barely. Blue, on the other hand, poses a serious threat and nearly takes Kuririn’s life.
Of course, being a trained martial artist, Kuririn fights Blue off well, but Blue’s psychic abilities lock Kuririn into place. While Blue is ultimately killed by Tao Pai Pai, he’s established as a legitimately threatening foe — one who Goku doesn’t necessarily defeat in a one on one fight either.
7 Yamcha Versus Mummy-kun
The third of Uranai Baba’s champions, Mummy-kun gives Yamcha the beating of a lifetime. After succeeding in defeating Suke-san, Yamcha struggles to get a single hit on Mummy-kun. Despite this, the choreography present in the fight is some of Yamcha’s best and he uses critical thinking to ring out Mummy-kun over brute force.
Of course, this fails and Mummy-kun propels himself back up, but Yamcha doesn’t give up. At least not here. He ultimately does forfeit to save his life, but the anime at least allows him to fight a bit more evenly. Regardless, it might be one of many Yamcha losses, but it’s a great fight nonetheless.
6 Goku Versus Akuman
A two time Tenkaichi Budokai winner, it’s only fitting that Akuman give Goku one hell of a fight. It’s worth noting that, at this point in the Red Ribbon Army arc, Goku is already far stronger than virtually every single named character in the manga, but Akuman offers Goku a decent challenge before Gohan gets his turn.
Better yet, like with Mummy-kun, there’s just some genuinely good action here. Akuman’s long lives play well off of Goku’s smaller body. His Devilmite ray is also a clever way of proving how pure-hearted Goku is. There’s something comforting about watching Goku beat up Universal Monsters.
5 Kuririn Versus Chaozu
The redheaded stepchild of the major 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai matches, Kuririn’s fight with Chaozu doesn’t get nearly enough credit as it deserves. It’s a fight that basically revolves entirely around strategy. Kuririn can’t just hit Chaozu. Instead, he needs to think on his feet and develop ways to catch him off guard.
Humorously, Kuririn chooses math, stumping Chaozu every time he asks the simplest of math questions. Better yet, Chaozu throws out a difficult problem that Kuririn catches and answers immediately, leaving Chaozu totally stumped. Funny enough, this is only one of three battles that Chaozu participates in, all three of which he loses.
4 Yajirobe Versus Cymbal
Once upon a time, Yajirobe was strong enough to stalemate Goku and kill one of Piccolo Daimao’s children with a katana. He’s far and away the strongest earthling in the series as far as untrained, natural talent goes, but he’s also the laziest. At this point in Dragon Ball, though, it seemed that Toriyama was setting Yajirobe up as the next Kuririn.
He very quickly exits the main story once Goku reunites with Karin, but Yajirobe’s fight with Cymbal stands out as one of his few, great moments. It’s amazing just how effortlessly he kills Cymbal. Keep in mind as well, that Goku nearly died fighting Tambourine just a few chapters earlier. That Yajirobe ends up eating Cymbal is the cherry on top.
3 Kuririn Versus Majunior
Piccolo enters the 23rd Tenkaichi Budokai rather confident. Under the guide of Majunior, Piccolo simply assumes that he’ll be able to get through most of the tournament with little to no effort, reserving his strength specifically for Goku. Unfortunately, Kuririn ends up giving him a run for his money.
After years of training, Kuririn pushes Piccolo surprisingly hard. This is arguably Kuririn’s best choreographed fight as well. It puts his cleverness on clear display. Although Piccolo obviously ends up winning the fight, he laments that taking over the Earth won’t be anywhere near as easy as he once anticipated — all because of Kuririn.
2 Nail Versus Freeza
This fight isn’t all that involved and mostly happens in the background while the Ginyu Force is being dealt with, but it’s important nonetheless. Nail is Namek’s last chance and the audience knows that there’s no realistic way he’ll be able to defeat Freeza. Worse yet, in confronting Freeza, Nail leaves Vegeta, Kuririn, and Gohan to suffer at the hands of the Ginyu Force.
What follows is borderline torture as Freeza beats Nail into submission. He only survives by pure luck; Freeza had beaten him bloody. Even then, the fact that Nail can withstand Freeza at all proves just how formidable Namek’s number one son really was.
1 Goten Versus Trunks
In general, the 25th Tenkaichi Budokai ends up overlooked by fans due to how the Boo arc shifts about halfway through. Everything before Boo's introduction ends up feeling like a distant dream once he formally enters the story. Which is a shame, considering how great some of these moments are.
Goten and Trunks’ fight at the end of the kid’s division is one of the best choreographed matches in the entire arc. It does re-use panels, but the whole fight flows seamlessly from beat to beat and it’s clear that Toriyama is having an incredible amount of fun drawing the match, which just makes reading it so much better.