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Top 15 of Ash’s Strongest Rivals/Opponents, Ranked!

There’s no protagonist without an antagonist.

While Red, the MC from the Pokemon core series games, had Blue as his arch nemesis, Ash too has had his fair share of rivals, including Gary, Blue’s anime counterpart. But Gary is not Ash’s strongest opponent.

My list includes a mix of Ash’s rivals as per canon, as well as general opponents he’s faced through the 8 regions. The ranking is based on a combination of strength/skill, rivalry, and their effect on Ash in terms of character development.

15. Ritchie

Generation 1 – Kanto

Pokemon – Pikachu, Charmeleon, Butterfree, Pupitar, Taillow, Spearow or Tentacool

Status – Won against Ash

Raise your hand if you remember Ritchie! Ritchie first appeared in Pokemon the Series: The Beginning, making him one of Ash’s oldest rivals – and the reason he’s on this list.

Top 15 of Ash’s Strongest Rivals/Opponents, Ranked!
Ritchie | Source: Fandom

He’s actually a lot like Ash, friendly, and loving towards his Pokemon; he makes for an immediately likable character. He defends a baby Lugia by fighting Butch and Cassidy of Team Rocket.

He is pitted against Ash, during the Indigo Plateau Conference, where Ash’s Charizard characteristically disobeys him and takes a snooze on the battlefield instead of facing Ritchie’s Pikachu, Sparky.

Speaking of Sparky, Ritchie is also the first Trainer to have pet-names for his ‘mons, showing his close relationship with them.

14. Cameron

Generation 5 – Unova

Pokemon – Riolu/Lucario, Ferrothorn, Samurott, Hydreigon, Swanna, Watchog

Status – Won against Ash

Cameron is also a lot like Ash, but a little bit worse. He’s restless, forgetful, and impulsive, but that doesn’t stop him from defeating Ash during the Unova League quarter-finals.

Top 15 of Ash’s Strongest Rivals/Opponents, Ranked!
Cameron | Source: Fandom

Cameron brings 5 Pokemon instead of 6 for his match with Ash, and yet manages to defeat him. His Riolu manages to defeat Ash’s Snivy and then evolves into Lucario to beat Pikachu, thus eliminating Ash from the League.

Cameron is later defeated by Virgil and his Flareon.

13. Morrison

Generation 3 – Hoenn

Pokemon – Beldum/Metang, Girafarig, Growlithe, Swampert, Steelix, Gligar

Status – Lost to Ash

Morrison is another sweet-natured chap who we first meet chasing a rice ball. He is captured with Ash and their Pokemon by Team Rocket and is successful in defeating them.

Top 15 of Ash’s Strongest Rivals/Opponents, Ranked!
Ash & Morrison | Source: IMDb

He comes back during the Ever Grande Conference to participate in the Hoenn Tournament. Morrison actually has some pretty strong Pokemon and defeats Gavin in a Double Battle and another Trainer in the preliminary round.

When it comes to battling Ash, he is reluctant at first since they’re both friends, but eventually agrees; the fight picks up towards the end, when his Steelix battles 2 of Ash’s Pokemon, and the final round when his Metang is slammed by Ash’s Glalie despite a type disadvantage.

12. Barry

Generation 4 – Sinnoh

Pokemon – Empoleon, Heracross, Starraptor, Skarmory, Roserade, Hitmonlee

Status – Lost to Ash

Barry in the Diamond and Pearl games was actually pretty challenging, but the anime Barry, not so much.

I’d rather have Fantina on the list, but Barry is one of Ash’s prominent minor rivals; he does in fact serve as kind of a starter for the audience, by giving us a glimpse of the training methods used by the infamous Paul.

Top 15 of Ash’s Strongest Rivals/Opponents, Ranked!
Barry | Source: Fandom

Despite having a good team, his excitable nature gets the better of him. He is one of the many Trainers who fall under Ash’s “friendly rivals” category.

He does manage to beat Ash once in the Battle Challenge during the Twinleaf Festival with his newly captured Gible, but loses all the matches after that during the Sinnoh League.

11. Kiawe

Generation 7 – Alola

Pokemon – Charizard, Turtonator, Marowak, Tauros, Wailmer, Stoutland, Mantine

Status – Lost to Ash

Now, Kiawe is an underrated character and makes for a solid rival to Ash.

He doesn’t really like Ash all that much in the beginning (especially when Ash loses the Electrium Z Crystal) but gains respect for him seeing how Ash performs in battles.

Kiawe and his best friend Sophocles, keep Ash fired up throughout his Alolan adventures. They train and practice together, each becoming stronger and learning from each other.

Top 15 of Ash’s Strongest Rivals/Opponents, Ranked!
Kiawe & Brock | Source: Fandom

Kiawe, who specializes in Fire type Pokemon had no idea how to deal with Water types. But after his time with Ash, I feel like he is far more capable of handling a Popplio if he had to.

Kiawe is a great competitive force for Ash, and sets up his rivalry with Gladion as well.

10. Tie: Trip and Volkner

  • Trip

Generation 5 – Unova

Pokemon – Serperior, Lampent, Tranquill, Vanillite, Frillish, Conkeldurr

Status – Lost to Ash

  • Volkner

Generation 4 – Sinnoh

Pokemon – Pikachu/Raichu, Luxray, Jolteon, Rotom, Elekid, Electivire

Status – Lost to Ash

Volkner is a great character, Trainer, and rival to Ash. Volkner loses interest in being a Gym Leader because of his obsession with technology, but Ash is determined to battle him the good old-fashioned way.

Ash shakes Volkner out of his boredom and literally inspires him to become a proper Trainer once again. It was also very interesting to watch Volkner because he had a partner Pikachu, just like Ash.

Top 15 of Ash’s Strongest Rivals/Opponents, Ranked!
Trip and Volkner | Source: Fandom

Ash defeats Volkner with his Infernape and gains the Beacon Badge, allowing him to enter the Sinnoh League. Ash also defeats Volkner again, in Pokemon Journeys.

Trip, on the other hand, is arrogant and generally dislikable, much like Paul.  He’s Ash’s main rival in Unova. Ash was able to defeat him during the first prelim of the League, despite losing to him in every single match before that.

Given that it was Unova-Ash, it wasn’t surprising that Trip managed to get the better of him so often. In the end though, Pikachu manages to outsmart Trip’s Serperior. Thank God!

9. Tie: Whitney and Sabrina

  • Whitney

Generation 2 – Johto

Pokemon – Clefairy, Nidorina, Miltank

Status – Lost to Ash

  • Sabrina

Generation 1 – Kanto

Pokemon – Abra/Kadabra

Status – Lost to Ash

Although you’ll see “Lost to Ash” up there in their status, Ash only really manages to beat Whitney and Sabrina in rematches.

They are both definitely stronger than Ash, or at least Kanto/Johto-Ash; it would be really interesting to see Galar-Ash battle each of these powerful Trainers.

Ash actually loses to Sabrina in the Gym Battle – he forfeits the match because Pikachu was too gravely injured by Sabrina’s Kadabra, who had evolved during the match.

Top 15 of Ash’s Strongest Rivals/Opponents, Ranked!
Whitney and Sabrina | Source: Fandom

In a rematch, Ash’s Haunter manages to make both Sabrina and her Kadabra laugh for the first time in years. Although there is no real victory, she does give Ash the Marsh Badge.

Whitney is amazing – she cares for her Pokemon much like Ash, and is as generous as she is skilled in battle.

Ash is defeated in the Gym Battle, but inspired by his fight with Team Rocket, he comes up with a way of defeating Whitney’s Miltank and proposes a rematch.

Using Totodile, Cyndaquil, and Pikachu, Ash beats Whitney, albeit outside the Gym. Nevertheless, Whitney awards him with The Plain Badge.

8. Gladion

Generation 7 – Alola

Pokemon – Umbreon, Silvally, Lycanroc, Zoroark

Status – Lost to Ash

Ash was arguably his strongest in Alola, and lost to Gladion multiple times during the series before he finally doesn’t.

Gladion is Ash’s main rival in Alola. He’s one of the few characters who is better than his game counterpart.

Top 15 of Ash’s Strongest Rivals/Opponents, Ranked!
Gladion & Ash | Source: Fandom

Gladion is shown as a super edgy, emo kid in Sun and Moon, and in the anime, although he appears somewhat similar, is so much more.

The rivalry between Ash and Gladion’s two Lycanrocs adds to their dynamic. He is capable of Z-moves and owns a Legendary.

I’d say he and Ash are of equal strength, although Ash might be more skilled. Either way, I’d say without Gladion, Alola wouldn’t be the same.

7. Sawyer

Generation 6 – Kalos

Pokemon – Treecko/Grovyle/Sceptile, Bagon/Shelgon/Salamence, Slurpuff, Honedge/Doublade/Aegislash, Clawitzer, Slaking

Status – Lost to Ash

Sawyer really showed us how much Ash has grown as a Trainer. Some people even think Sawyer is better than Alain as a rival because of his relationship with Ash and his storyline.

He has a compelling arc. Sawyer already respects Ash from the beginning, and there was no antagonism at all. In fact, Sawyer idolizes Ash. He analyzes Ash’s battle strategies and comes up with ways to counter them.

Top 15 of Ash’s Strongest Rivals/Opponents, Ranked!
Ash & Sawyer | Source: Fandom

This makes Ash aware of his own battle techniques. Sawyer loses to Ash multiple times during training, but makes notes so he can better himself.

In the Kalos League, he puts up an amazing fight against Ash. He uses the Key Stone to Mega Evolve his Sceptile.

Although he loses again, we see that his admiration for Ash is warranted. Sawyer is one of the rare opponents that impacts the arc in a positive way despite being Ash’s rival.

6. Tie: Bea and Tobias

  • Bea

Generation 8 – Galar

Pokemon – Grapploct, Hawlucha, Hitmontop, Machamp, Pangoro, Falinks, Throh, Tyrogue, Scraggy, Machop, Machoke, Sawk

Status – Lost to Ash

  • Tobias

Generation 4 – Sinnoh

Pokemon – Darkrai, Latios

Status – Won against Ash

Tobias is the first Trainer to enter a Pokemon League Conference with a Legendary Pokemon – his Darkrai. He also owns the Mythical Pokemon, Latios, making him particularly formidable.

Top 15 of Ash’s Strongest Rivals/Opponents, Ranked!
Tobias | Source: Fandom

Ash is the only person to have ever defeated Tobias’s Darkrai; he does this using his Sceptile during the semi-finals of the League.

But when Tobias whips out his Latios, it’s game over for Ash. Bea, too, was amazing competition to Ash, totally smashing him in their first battle.

Being a Galar Gym Leader is equal to being an Elite 4 from other regions, and we see this in the way Bea performs during the Ultra Class with Ash. She defeats Korrina’s Mega Lucario, but not Ash’s, despite Gigantamaxing her Machamp.

Top 15 of Ash’s Strongest Rivals/Opponents, Ranked!
Bea | Source: Fandom

5. Gary

Generation 1 – Kanto

Pokemon – Blastoise, Krabby, Arcanine, Scizor, Alakazam, Kingdra, Umbreon, Nidoking, Dodrio, Golem, Houndoom, Skarmory, Electivire, Nidoqueen, Magmar, Pinsir, Fearow

Status – Lost to Ash

Gary is Ash’s OG rival. He’s iconic, not because of his strength but because of who he represents. He’s supposed to have views and opinions that are diametrically opposite from Ash, especially when it comes to raising Pokemon.

His constant flexing and bullyish behavior towards Ash made me want nothing more than to see him lose. And lose he did!

Top 15 of Ash’s Strongest Rivals/Opponents, Ranked!
Gary Oak | Source: Fandom

Gary was a jerk in the beginning, but basically mellows down once Ash slams him. He’s the one that actually inspires Ash to become the best Pokemon Trainer in the world.

Ash’s victory in the Johto League using Charizard is possibly one of the most satisfying wins ever. But Gary and Ash only battle maybe twice in the series.

Gary may be the Blue to our Red, but there are bigger pricks than him – and the biggest one is next on my list.

4. Paul

Generation 4 – Sinnoh

Pokemon – Electivire, Gastrodon, Ninjask, Drapion, Aggron, Froslass

Status – Lost to Ash

If there’s one person the entire fandom unanimously hates, it’s Paul. Someone who punishes his Pokemon for being weak is not worth any affection at all. He challenges Ash, not just on a physical level, but a philosophical one.

Top 15 of Ash’s Strongest Rivals/Opponents, Ranked!
Paul | Source: IMDb

Paul is everything Ash is not, and that possibly makes him Ash’s best rival. He mocks Ash for his battling style and his morals, and has little respect for anyone or anything.

The best battle in the whole of Pokemon, is the final face-off between Gary and Ash in the Sinnoh League, where Ash’s Infernape, who, as a Chimchar, was mistreated and abandoned by Gary, defeats his Electivire.

Although Paul gains respect for Ash and they part on good terms, Paul remains a true villain in my eyes.

3. Alain

Generation 6 – Kalos

Pokemon – Charizard, Weavile, Metagross, Bisharp, Tyranitar, Unfezant

Status – Won against Ash

Some people might be surprised seeing Alain above Paul. If this were just a list of Ash’s rivals, Paul would probably be #1, but when it comes to strongest opponents, Alain definitely deserves #3.

Alain’s character-arc has a life of its own that only intersects with Ash’s story as a matter of fact. This gives him more credibility as a serious Trainer with goals of his own, rather than just existing as a counterpart to the protagonist.

Top 15 of Ash’s Strongest Rivals/Opponents, Ranked!
Alain | Source: Fandom

The final battle between Alain’s Mega Charizard X and Ash’s Greninja in Ash-Greninja form is awesome, although everyone is still pissed that Ash lost.

Alain is great as a rival because he is someone Ash can look up to and aspire to defeat.

He is currently undefeated and is the Champion of Kalos. But if he returns in Pokemon Journeys, I wouldn’t be too sure that he’d win against our boy Ash.

2. Cynthia

Generation 4 – Sinnoh

Pokemon – Garchomp, Gastrodon, Glaceon, Kommo-o

Status – Not battled Ash yet

Yes, I know Cynthia isn’t Ash’s rival, nor is she technically his opponent. She’s actually kind of been Ash’s mentor, giving him advise on technique and how to win.

But ever since Volkner hinted that Cynthia would be Ash’s future opponent in the Journeys Master Class, I thought I’d pre-give her the rank she deserves.

Top 15 of Ash’s Strongest Rivals/Opponents, Ranked!
Cynthia | Source: Fandom

We all know Cynthia to be the toughest Champion in the series, games included. She’s the Champion of the Sinnoh region, and her Garchomp is damn near invincible.

It’s possible that since Sinnoh, she has learned to Dynamax/Gigantamax, or she acquired a key stone and Mega Evolved her Garchomp.

I mean it’s already revealed that she has the Pseudo Legendary Kommo-o, so anything is possible. I can’t wait to see if and how Ash defeats her.

1. Leon

Generation 8 – Galar

Pokemon – Charmander/Charmeleon/Charizard, Dragapult

Status – Undefeated

Leon is Ash’s strongest opponent till date. He is the Winner of the Pokemon World Coronation, making him the strongest Trainer in the world.

Top 15 of Ash’s Strongest Rivals/Opponents, Ranked!
Leon | Source: Fandom

He has never lost a single battle that we know of thanks to his G-max Charizard who is an absolutely unbeatable beast.

Leon gave Ash his own Dynamax Band during the battle to try and Gigantamax his Pikachu. G-max Pika does land some blows on Leon’s Charizard, but is quickly defeated.

In the final face-off, Ash will have had more practice with Gigantamaxing his ‘mons, and will be able to – fingers crossed – defeat Leon.

Honorary Mention

Team Rocket! Jessie, James, and Meowth have been almost as omnipresent on the show as Ash and Pikachu. When we talk of opponents, it wouldn’t really be fair if I concluded this list without at least giving these guys a shout out.

About Pokémon

Pokémon was first released in 1996 and is set up in a world where humans catch monsters and store them in pocket-sized poke-balls.

They are creatures with an affinity to certain elements and some superhuman abilities related to that element.

Revolving around a teenage boy Ash Ketchum, Pokémon takes us through his journey to becoming the most accomplished Pokémon trainer the world has ever seen.

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Vansh Gulati

Vansh Gulati

Meet our very own Hinata Shoyo! - There is no anime or manga that he’s not aware of. Also the go-to guy for all things Epic at EML. He’s on a journey to discover life one bottle of sake at a time!
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