Shao Kahn: Mortal Kombat's Emperor, Explained

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The long-running Mortal Kombat franchise launches its latest installment this month with the eagerly anticipated Mortal Kombat 11. As fans prepare to pit their favorite fighters against each other in new deliriously gory battles, one figure that has loomed especially large in the promotional campaign leading up the video game's release is Shao Kahn.

The imposing villain has been the principal antagonist for many of the franchise's entries and is poised to return in a major way for the upcoming sequel. With that in mind, here's an overview of the bloody Konqueror, including his origins in the franchise, his special abilities and what role he may play in Mortal Kombat 11.

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Shao Kahn made his debut in 1993's Mortal Kombat II as the fight announcer and primary antagonist, a role he has reprised several times across the franchise's history. After starting out as the former protector of the alternate dimension Outworld and advisor to its emperor, Onaga, Kahn killed his leader and took over the empire. Under his rule, Outworld begins to aggressively conquer other realms and he forcibly takes Sindel and Kitana from the realm of Edenia to be his wife and surrogate daughter, respectively.

After the failure of his subordinates Shang Tsung and Goro to take over Earth during the original Mortal Kombat, a cunning Shao Kahn enacts a clause to stage a rematch tournament between the two worlds. This time luring Earth's best fighters to Outworld, Kahn is ultimately defeated by Liu Kang. Desperate, Kahn invades Earth and merges it with Outworld in Mortal Kombat III only to be again drive back by Liu Kang.


Even before taking the throne of Outworld, Shao Kahn possessed immense, godly strength that rival and possibly surpassed that of Raiden, God of Thunder. As he has spread his reign to other realms, Kahn has continued to gather strength and build his armies while gaining more and more extensive knowledge about black magic to further empower himself.

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Armed with his massive Wrath Hammer, Kahn's use of black and blood magic makes him one of the deadliest opponents in all of Mortal Kombat. Kahn is capable of flinging powerful energy blasts and fireballs at his opponents as well as generating a force field to protect himself from attacks. With both his towering strength and magical abilities, Shao Kahn has gained a notoriety for his unrelenting power in combat.


The 2011 Mortal Kombat reboot had an older version of Kahn finally succeeding in killing Raiden and conquering Earth. Before his death, Raiden sends a message to himself back in time to warn him of the apocalyptic future. Using this knowledge, the younger Raiden alters the timeline to change history and avert Kahn's victory. In this new timeline, Raiden tricks Kahn into pummeling him in violation of the Mortal Kombat tournament's rules. This angers the gods overseeing the tournament who then empower Raiden enough to kill Kahn.

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Following Kahn's defeat in the new timeline, the clone of Kitana, Mileena takes the throne of Outworld. In Mortal Kombat X, Kotal Kahn takes the throne from Mileena, echoing Shao Kahn's own rise to power. Despite his death, with Mortal Kombat 11 involving time travel across the history of the franchise, it has been revealed that Shao Kahn will play a role in the upcoming game and will likely harbor a grudge against both Raiden and Kotal.

Mortal Kombat 11 is developed by NetherRealm Studios and published by Warner Bros. Interactive. It will be released on April 23 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC.

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