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The Perils of Being the Best

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"It got so that every pissant prairie punk who thought he could shoot a gun would ride into town to try out the Waco Kid. I must have killed more men than Cecil B. DeMille. It got pretty gritty. I started to hear the word "draw" in my sleep. Then one day, I was just walking down the street when I heard a voice behind me say, "Reach for it, mister!" I spun around... and there I was, face to face with a six-year-old kid. Well, I just threw my guns down and walked away. Little bastard shot me in the ass. So I limped to the nearest saloon, crawled inside a whiskey bottle... and I've been there ever since."
The Waco Kid, Blazing Saddles

This is a supertrope to all the tropes that expound upon the bad effects that come from being really, really good. The basic idea is that if you're the best at something — often (though not always) at something bad (stealing/fighting/killing/infiltrating/assassinating) — this status of excellence by itself exposes you to a range of perils. For example:

A mediocre assassin or other wetworker who never "makes a name for themself" is simply unlikely to be somebody's target for extortion to carry out the impossible job, or for targeting as a means of the villain proving himself superior. A middling baker is not so apt to be kidnapped and forced to bake the world's greatest cake.

Some examples of the Mentor Archetype (and thus having the risk of the Mentor Occupational Hazard) are explicitly told in-universe to be the best at whatever they will teach the protagonist. Also, The World's Expert (on Getting Killed) (who, well, will get killed) is also said to be very good at his job, if not flat-out the best (obviously, if not, The Worf Effect that they're subject to wouldn't work as well). From a Watsonian vs. Doylist point of view, this happens in order to make things interesting somehow — like the page of The World's Expert (on Getting Killed) says, if you're supposed to be the top dog in the matters regarding the threat at hand, and the threat curb-stomps you, then what chance does anyone else have?

Compare It Sucks to Be the Chosen One (though the Chosen One may not actually be "the best" at anything, and the one who is "the best" may not be the one chosen), Prestige Peril (where gaining a prominent position, not necessarily being good at something, has lethal drawbacks), and Deliberate Under-Performance (where a character purposefully avoids being the best, for a variety of reasons). Subtrope of Sour Grapes.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Afro Samurai curiously inverts this and has instead "The Perils of Being Second Best" being the issue, as In a World… of assassins/bandits/hunters etc., whoever wears the #2 headband is fair dues to any Blood Knight to try and take him/her out for the right to challenge the #1 greatest warrior. There are other, lower-ranked headbands but most people don't care about them.
  • Discussed in Black Cat, particularly when Train (former member of Chronos as their pistol specialist, thus considered one of, if not the, best gunman in the world) encounters a man by the name of Woodney who claims to be the legendary "Black Cat" of Chronos, trading on Train's old reputation to take down bounties from people being too afraid to mess with such a formidable foe. When another gunman comes out of the woodwork not afraid to take on "the best gunman," Woodney finds out one of the reasons why Train (who he didn't even realize was the real Black Cat, despite all of the obvious clues that Train didn't even bother hiding) doesn't trade on his reputation more often - it's very dangerous and disruptive to regularly run into people who want to try Defeating the Undefeatable.
  • A Certain Magical Index/A Certain Scientific Railgun has Accelerator, the most powerful Esper in Academy City. Such a position leads to people constantly attempting to take him down to prove themselves. He has gotten so sick of it that he responds by brutally murdering them, but there are always more challengers. He initially plans to grow beyond known power levels in the hopes that he can reach a tier so powerful that people will stop thinking that defeating him is even a possibility and finally leave him alone.
  • In Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, Yoriichi being the strongest demon slayer to ever exist in the story has brought him nothing but constant misery and loss; all he ever wanted to do was to live a happy life without ever relying on his immense strength to get by, as his hidden strength unintentionally caused a succession dispute between his older twin during their childhood. To note, the happiest moments of his life was just living quietly with his wife for a few years, where his strength wasn't needed at all, but tragedy struck with his wife and unborn child being killed by a demon when he was away from home. From that point on, Yoriichi set himself on a path to eradicate demons so others wouldn't suffer like him, however, he never found happiness again, as more tragedies kept happening in his life.
  • In Fate/stay night Saber chose to become the perfect king when she took up Caliburn. She ruled without hesitation and always made the correct choice, regardless of the costs involved. This eventually alienated her from her people due to her seeming lack of humanity. On top of that, her belief that a "perfect king" would rule eternally resulted in her spurning Mordred when she asked to be accepted as heir of Camelot, triggering the war that ended the kingdom.
  • Joichiro Saiba/Yukihira in Food Wars! was considered a genius chef in his generation, and people constantly pushed him to reach new heights, thinking that he had it easy because of his talent. The pressure everyone put in him reached such a point that he hit a burnout, since nobody seemed to see nor care that he worked hard to polish his dishes, and the only way he could escape from it was to drop out of Tootsuki and disappear from public view for a while.
  • GTO: The Early Years: Onizuka is Famed In-Story as the strongest fighter in Shonan, so naturally everyone wants to fight him to prove how badass they are. The manga begins with him and his best friend trying to leave their delinquent lives behind, but they Can't Stay Normal.
  • In My Hero Academia, All Might, the #1 ranked hero in the world, had cultivated his image as a symbol of peace and justice, inspiring other people to help others and protect them from harm. Because of the standard he set, he requires a flawless track record of foiling villains and has to be very, very careful with what he says and does in public. When he finally retires after a Pyrrhic Victory that also gave him a Career-Ending Injury, his fears were absolutely correct: Without that symbol of peace and justice, the world goes into disarray while budding villains come out of hiding and commit crimes more openly with All Might no longer being around, and crime-fighting heroes rapidly diminish in cultural relevance. In other words, All Might was more or less holding society together via his reputation, one that became increasingly difficult to hold as the years went on.
    • This is also something that UA High School students tend to face. As the most prestigious Superhero School in Japan, its annual Sports Festival is nationally televised and more popular than the Olympics. But since Provisional Hero License Exams always take place sometime after the UA Sports Festival, that means every other school has already had the opportunity to scout out the UA students' abilities, while their own will almost always be less known, and everybody tends to target the UA students for the glory of having taken down "the best". As such, UA has a lower pass rate than would be expected out of the top hero school.
  • Holyland is about Yuu Kamishiro, a severely bullied high school student who teaches himself some basic boxing moves and tries to become a Bully Hunter in the streets.
    • In spite of his inexperience and fear, his latent physical gifts and sponge-like learning of techniques from every martial artist he meets sends him on a meteoric rise to the status of a badass street fighter and urban legend. The problem is his reputation as "The Thug Hunter" keeps growing one step ahead of his actual combat ability: as soon as he defeats his latest powerful opponent—usually by a desperately narrow margin—this victory causes another even more powerful opponent to hear about him and come after him. He wasn’t trying to become famous in the first place, but now that everyone knows who he is it's too late to just disappear into obscurity.
    • Yuu never backs down from a challenge because he's convinced that giving up will only send him back to being a powerless victim, and always hopes that this time he'll have proved himself so strong that all the punks will finally just leave him alone. Alas, the fighting never stops. Yuu constantly comes out of fights wounded, he misses a lot of school, and even people he cares about are put in danger of becoming hostages or victims of Revenge by Proxy.
    • Yuu's talent also causes a rift between him and his new friend Shougo, a proud and highly competitive karate user. Shougo pressures Yuu into fighting him because he wants to find out who's better, but when he loses to Yuu he becomes resentful and envious. He’s so unable to take the hit to his self-worth that he rejects Yuu and falls in with the wrong crowd, only reconciling with Yuu after a long and painful character arc.
    • The manga ends with Yuu becoming for all means and purposes the king of the underground fighting circuit, only to get stabbed in the gut by a desperate kid with a switchblade — someone way too similar to where he was at the beginning.
  • It happens to the five members of the Generation of Miracles in Kuroko's Basketball. They're acknowledged as geniuses and were pressured to never lose. They became so good that winning matches becomes trivial, they no longer enjoy playing basketball and that leads to them being jerkasses, doing things like competing between themselves to see who scores most points in a match. Specially Aomine. As the team's ace, he was the one who enjoyed basketball the most, and liked to play with strong rivals and encouraged his teammates to become better, but he was left Lonely at the Top, as no friend or rival could match him, and he eventually dropped practices.
  • In One Piece, Dracule Mihawk, known as being the strongest swordsman in the world, is disillusioned with the world and always looks bored. His first appearance is coming after a pirate fleet that disturbed his nap because one ship survived. He desires someone to be a Worthy Opponent of his and found it in the form of Zoro. When he later finds Zoro marooned on his home island, he accepts Zoro's plea to train him for two years, not for Zoro's quest to beat Mihawk but to be able to protect his crew.
  • Played for laughs in the Lina & Naga portion of Slayers; Naga initially tracked Lina down in hopes of besting Lina in a duel to enhance her own reputation. They ended up adventuring together largely because Naga was too incompetent to actually do this, but tough enough to survive Lina's annoyed retaliations and too stubborn (or stupid) to give up.
  • Spy X Family: Twilight is considered a legendary spy in his own right, and at one point, a large gathering of fellow spies watch him with awe. And all he's doing is playing with his daughter. It's given a small Deconstruction as a Running Gag in the series is how Loid is often overworked and exhausted by his spywork, with his Ace status requiring him to take on more missions than the average agent due to WISE being understaffed.
  • The seinen manga Vagabond features this as a recurring theme, as swordsmen are constantly looking to challenge whoever has succeeded in becoming famous in order to make a name for themselves.

    Comic Books 

    Comic Strips 
  • Satirized in The Far Side. In an Old West setting with two cowboys engaged in a game of ping-pong, one a doughy-faced newcomer and the other a yearslong veteran, the greenhorn manages to win. However, his opponent leaves him with these words:
    "Well, kid, ya beat me — and now every punk packin' a paddle and tryin' to make a name for himself will come lookin' for you! ... Welcome to hell, kid."

    Fan Works 
  • Denial (Nara'la): Due to a series of truly unlikely coincidences and a heaping helping of confirmation bias, virtually everyone believes that Taylor Hebert is a ridiculously powerful cape who has effortlessly punched out several of the most powerful capes in the U.S. and Rune. Which means that not only will powerful villains looking to make a name for themselves come looking for her, but that anyone going after her will pull out all the stops and focus their attacks against her. She ends up joining (and staying in) the Wards because she realizes early on that until she figures out how to prove she doesn't have any powers, the protection afforded by being a Ward is all that's keeping her alive.
  • Experienced by the four early in The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World after a trio of baddies scan them and discover how outrageously powerful they are. This leads one of the baddies, the super-strong but quite stupid Lieyla, to immediately stalk after Paul and hit him since she'd been spoiling for a fight and didn't think he could take her punch. (Boy, is she surprised when he bounces back up and asks why she did that.) Anyway, from then on, the four worry that they're going to be targeted by “every prat with something to prove.” It turns out that most individuals are far wiser than that... but the Power Groups aren't, and cause quite a few problems for the four.
  • Mastermind: Strategist for Hire:
    • When Hawks becomes the number one ranked hero, rather than be happy or envious, most instead feel sorry for him as the deaths of the previous two makes the position more of a target on one's back. The fact he got the position by elimination rather than surpassing the previous two means that he's even more vulnerable than the previous two were.
    • "Daylight Heroes" will stop being a thing thanks to Mastermind. Being a well-known hero means Mastermind can easily find info on them, and any villains the hero stopped know exactly who they want to target.
  • Mastermind: Rise of Anarchy: The effects of Mastermind's reign of terror in Strategist for Hire leads to UA's focus on producing popular heroes turning from a factor in them being given the title of top hero school to being something which actively drove away would-be enrollees, forcing Aizawa to essentially rebuild the school's curriculum from scratch.
  • The Master's Burden: Thanks to drinking some divine mead she recieved as a commission from an elk god, Berry Punch is the greatest brewer in the world of Ungula, capable of fermenting absolutely anything into booze: Ghost peppers, durian, even a typewriter. However, as with the Discworld example below, the price of this blessing is that she cannot decline a commission: she must ferment anything she is challenged to ferment. Which is how she ended up fermenting a typewriter.
  • In My Iron Giant, Izuku becomes the new target of the League of Villains because of his power.
    • The example from the Sports Festival is subverted: Izuku is so obviously powerful that everyone is scrambling to be on his team as they are sure his strength is enough to win even when having to face everyone else.

    Films — Animation 
  • Beowulf (2007). King Beowulf has become so Famed In-Story that raiding parties constantly attack his lands in the hope of becoming famous as his slayer. A death-seeking Beowulf rips off his armor and throws away his sword, daring the Sole Survivor of a Frisian raid to plant his axe in him. The Frisian isn't going down in history as the slayer of an unarmed Beowulf, so he can't do it. Beowulf then tells his men to let the Frisian return to his own land to further add to his legend.
  • The Distant Prologue to Disney's Treasure Planet mentions that, among space pirates, the most feared of all was Captain Nathaniel Flint, whose lifetime of ruthless raiding amassed "the loot of a thousand worlds." When the principal characters arrive at Treasure Planet, they find Captain Flint's skeleton inside, surrounded by acres of gold and jewels, unable to spend a penny of it anywhere safely.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Alita: Battle Angel Motoball player Kinuba is a rising player able to destroy his enemies with his newest weapon: the grind cutters. These turn his fingers into chainsaw-like whips. He isn't champion yet but he is on his way up the ladder far quicker than anyone else. Because he is screwing with the odds and his weapon would be a fine enhancement to one of his mooks, Vector has the man kidnapped, his arms stolen from him, and then Vector personally kills him.
  • Retired Gunfighter Gelt from Battle Beyond the Stars is found by The Hero Shad living alone in an abandoned arcade on a Ghost Planet. Shad is seeking mercenaries to defend his homeworld, and Gelt is a legendary assassin. However, Gelt has killed so many prominent leaders that he's welcome nowhere in the civilized galaxy. Surrounded by wealth he can't spend, he sleeps with his back to the wall and eats rats every day. "Your offer of a hot meal and a soft bed sounds very attractive to me."
  • The backstory of the "Waco Kid" in Blazing Saddles involves an example of this Played for Laughs: as one of the best gunfighters ever, he had to deal with every Gunfighter Wannabe that came his way looking for a fight to make a name for himself (and killed them all) up until a literal Young Gun (that is, a six-year-old with a gun) challenged him to a duel and exploited the Kid's decision to not hurt a child (and his belief that the situation had gone too ridiculously far) to shoot him in the ass. The humiliation drove the "Waco Kid" to drink, and he starts the movie as The Alcoholic.
  • In Captain America: Civil War, Vision cites this and the Superhero Paradox, pointing out that ever since Tony Stark became Iron Man, the number of potential world-ending events has shot up, and that while it isn't their fault, there is a connection. Considering how ridiculously powerful the Avengers are, even without absent big guns Thor and the Hulk, you can see his point - even if you don't necessarily agree with it.
    "Our very strength invites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict... breeds catastrophe."
  • Discussed in the Hong Kong kung fu film Duel to the Death. In the film, every ten years China and Japan have a contest where they send a single representative to fight to the death in a sort of Combat by Champion. The Chinese representative for the latest duel, Genius Bruiser Ching Wan, sadly muses that whoever wins the competition will probably spend the rest of their life fighting off warriors looking to defeat the winner in order to make a name of themselves. He clearly dreads the prospect of being caught in such a life.
  • In Hot Fuzz, Sergeant Nicholas Angel is spoken extensively as one of the best officers in the London Metropolitan Police Service on the Opening Narration... and it turns out that he has no social skills, no life outside of the job, and he's so good that not one single officer of the Service protests him being Reassigned to Antarctica, because he makes them feel so inadequate in comparison. Before him, there was Sergeant Popwell, who was assigned to Sandford because he was too good an investigator... and so he was Killed to Uphold the Masquerade when he started digging too deep into the NWA's conspiracy.
  • Lee from The Magnificent Seven is a deconstruction of the archetypal badass western gunslinger. He's a deadly gunman who has become completely paranoid due to frequent attacks on him, no civilian wants him around because of the inevitable violence that will happen when someone tries to kill Lee to take his fame and it spirals out of control, (he needs to pay a lot of money for just a filthy storeroom and a plate of beans, because "things do get high when they find out you're on the run") and his nerves are completely shot from his experiences.
  • Rambo has volumes of this. Had John Rambo not been a natural hunter/killer, he wouldn't have ended up on Colonel Trautman's special forces team in Vietnam, where he got sent into the most dangerous situation possible, captured, and tortured; and then after escaping, he returned to the US, found out that You Can't Go Home Again, and ended up in a military prison camp. Then because he is still the best that he gets sent back to Vietnam to search for POWs, and again gets captured and tortured. He escapes again, but because he's still the best, Trautman seeks him out for a mission to Afghanistan (to fight Russians alongside the locals who would incidentally eventually become the Taliban), and much later still, his quiet life in Thailand is interrupted and he is compelled to go to Burma to rescue some missionaries (because, again, he's the only one who can).
  • Undisputed: Heavyweight boxing champion George "Iceman" Chambers is convicted of rape and sent to Sweetwater Prison, where he's soon getting into fights with other inmates over respect and dominance. The prison officials summon him to answer for his behavior, leading to this exchange.
    Darlene Early: I don't think there are too many inmates here who could challenge you physically, Mr. Chambers.
    George Chambers: You really don't understand. When you're the champ, everybody wants a piece of you. Everybody's testing you. My whole life, I got a problem, I take care of it with these. [shows his fists]

  • According to legend, Tsar Ivan IV of Russia (aka "Ivan the Terrible"), asked the architect of St. Basil's Cathedral if he might ever be able to produce anything greater. The architect, mistaking the question for a possible future commission, said he might, and the Tsar had the architect's eyes spooned out to prevent that from ever happening.

  • In Ender's Game, it is because Ender is the best that he is targeted by enemies for attack, isolated by being singled out by the Battle School trainers, and ultimately tricked into committing xenocide against an entire alien race. Had Ender been an average strategist, none of these fates would have befallen him.
  • Harry Potter has a variation where having the best wand in existence, the Elder Wand, comes with great danger for the current holder, who'll be at constant risk of assassination by power-hungry wizards and witches wishing to defeat - usually kill - them to gain the wand's allegiance, making it relatively easy to trace the bloody trail of the wand's owners.
  • In Discworld this is frequently brought up. The cost of being the best is having to be the best.
    • Granny Weatherwax has to deal with every magic challenge simply because she is the best witch, even if she doesn't want to. In her early appearances, she's bitter that it means she has to be good by default and doesn't get to be the Wicked Witch of the story.
    • Jason Ogg, the blacksmith of Lancre is the best blacksmith and farrier on the Disc, but the cost is he must take up every challenge- from the stupid (having to shoe an ant - he made an anvil from a pinhead) to the exceptional (re-shoeing Death's horse, or forging silver shoes for a unicorn and shoeing the beast). He simply is not allowed to refuse a commission.
    • Vimes is the best policeman on the Disc, which means if there is a crime, even outside his jurisdiction, if he hears about it he must investigate. He also has to live up to his reputation of being the police version of The Paragon even when he would much prefer (and it would be a hell of a lot easier and safer for him) to use underhanded and ruthless methods to get the job done.
    • Goldeye Silverhand Daktylos, one of the finest metalwork artisans on the Disc, is frequently mutilated or imprisoned by his employers after completing a commission for them since they are so in awe of the art he creates that they end up not wanting him to create anything for anyone else (his name is a reference to the fact that his first two employers respectively gouged out his eyes and cut off one of his hands, forcing him to craft prosthetics and learn to identify metals by taste and sound). His final job in The Colour of Magic is constructing a space-faring vessel for the Grand Astronomer of Krull... who promptly has him executed with a crossbow bolt through the chest.
  • Halo: Evolutions: Admiral Preston Cole is reputed as the greatest admiral the UNSC has ever had. Because of it he (1.) can't surrender in battle because no one would believe it's anything but a ploy (especially since his first act as captain was to pull an I Surrender, Suckers), (2.) is the target of many Insurrectionists (including one who turned out to be his wife), (3.) is under constant stress from PTSD (leading to four divorces and several replaced organs), and (4.) is constantly pulled out of retirement to battle the virtually unstoppable Covenant. Eventually, he goes "Screw it" and executes his own Dying Moment of Awesome during his biggest battle yet during which he fakes his death and flees with his old wife to places unknown.
  • The Princess Bride: Inigo Montoya is the greatest swordfighter in Europe of his generation, reckoned beyond the level of mastery. However, as he wins prize fights to fund his search for the man who killed his father, he starts to realise that not only is he too good at fighting to be beaten, but he's too good for the fight to even be enjoyable anymore. In the end, he turns to wine to help him get through the emptiness of no meaningful challenge and would have remained so if Vizzini hadn't found and recruited him.
  • The Unexplored Summon://Blood-Sign shows off various ways having a status like this screwed with the main character, Kyousuke. 1) being skilled enough to succeed even if he did things the wrong way meant he never learned the importance of the right way, resulting in several very damaging mistakes; 2) it took him being unwillingly put through Training from Hell from a very young age to get so strong in the first place, and 3) his brain is more-or-less wired to solve summoning problems by using summoning before anything else. For example, he can't solve high-school-level physics questions because he instinctively assumes they're using the parameters of the Material Realm, the world he's familiar with, rather than those of Earth.
  • In Redwall, a "Taggerung" (combat prodigy) is kidnapped while he's still a baby and conditioned to fight for the bandit clan who did it. All the swordsmanship in the world doesn't matter if you're pointing that sword at the wrong people. Also, folklore says that the only way to become a Taggerung (they're usually born) is to kill one, so the Taggerung we see often has to fight Glory Hounds seeking the prestige of the title.
  • Wulfrik is a Chaos warrior once drunkenly boasted of being the best warrior in the world. When he woke up, he'd discovered his tongue had become sharp and pointed like a bird's, he ws able to speak and understand every language including animals, and he kept getting dreams of exotic locations and enemies, along with visions of his death. He soon discovered that the Chaos gods had decided to make him prove his words by sending him to fight said enemies all over the world, or his soul would be forever tortured by daemons if he faltered. As never staying in one place put a hamper on his plans of being king of his tribe, Wulfrik fought against it for a while, but eventually came realize and accept that he'd been Cursed with Awesome instead (after a number of betrayals from his fellow men and having to sacrifice his girlfriend): He now has a worldwide reputation, men flock to his banner for a chance at glory, a teleporting longship that can spare him months of sailing, the insults he yells at people always affect them, and should he be killed by magic, the curse will transfer to the killer.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Americans:
    • Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings are two of the KGB's best undercover spies...which means they've both done a shitload of sleeping with and murdering people for no other reason than because the Centre told them to. They're both constantly dealing with the emotional toll of that kind of work.
    • Averted with William, a colleague of theirs who is spying on the Americans' biological warfare program. He's been deliberately dragging his feet on advancing through the ranks at the lab because operating at clearance level three is already ruining his physical and mental health.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959):
    • In the episode "A Game of Pool," the main character is a pool champ that laments he can't challenge the legendary Fats Brown. Then Fats' ghost walks in to take him up on it. The original version ends with the champ winning, and being cursed to spend his afterlife accepting challenges. A remade version for the 1980s series (which actually stuck to the original script) has him losing, and Fats denouncing him a second-rater who will die in obscurity. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.
    • Another episode called "Mr. Denton on Doomsday" features a Wild West quick-draw gunman who turned into a town drunk due to the psychological weight of all the people he killed, including some challengers who were quite young and wanted to prove themselves against him. (Fun trivia: The Waco Kid's monologue from Blazing Saddles is, in fact, a spoof of a speech that Al Denton gives in this episode, but the parody became far better known and remembered.)
  • In The Lazarus Man episode "Panorama", Lazarus discovers that a legend has developed around him as "the man who can't be killed," and now people are coming after him to try their hands at killing him. It's all this one storyteller's fault, so Lazarus goes to him to ask that he stop. He can't stop in the "middle" of a story, so he ends the story by saying that he killed Lazarus. In the final scene of the episode, some random greenhorn gunfighter comes up and shoots the storyteller from behind, killing him. "I killed the man who killed the man who can't be killed!"
  • Similar to the above, an episode of Maverick has Bret being chased by a Carnival of Killers hired by a penny-novel writer that has made a living out of fictionalizing Maverick's adventures and believes that Bret's life (and thus the novel series) deserves a more action-packed ending than what Bret really wishes (which is, obviously, to become rich and live large someplace safe).
  • Old and famous Immortals in the Highlander TV series tended to learn how to keep a low profile in order to avoid this, otherwise every ambitious Immortal out there would try to take their Quickening. The most on-point example is a former friend of Duncan's named Brian who once had a reputation as the greatest swordsman in Europe, only to constantly have to fend off challenges by Immortals and mortals alike looking to take that title for themselves. Brian eventually fled Europe to get away from his reputation, then became a drug-addled, paranoid, nervous wreck living in seclusion when the challengers just wouldn't stop coming.

  • The Magnus Archives features an interesting twist on this. The episode "Cheating Death" details how some people on the edge of death may encounter a grim reaper, and if desperate enough they may challenge said reaper to Chess with Death. The twist comes with the fact that being the greatest doesn't really factor in to "winning"; a chess grandmaster would never beat a reaper because the reapers are all endlessly proficient in every game ever made. The people who have any chance to win are talented cheaters and those who pick purely luck based games. The trope kicks in after one of them "wins"; the old reaper returns to the form they had while alive, while the winner rapidly decays and becomes a new reaper, bound to repeat the cycle. Forced to endlessly patrol the world in search of the dead and dying, the only hope of escape is that someone challenges them to a game of pure chance...and most people pick chess. For added peril, those reapers who do escape are trapped in a deeply unpleasant immortality, unable to eat, drink or sleep and driven by a desire they can't pin down or feed.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Paranoia: While High Programmers with Ultraviolet-clearance have a ton of power and leisure time, they still have to contend with each other, plus all the second-tier executives gunning for their job (either directly or by tampering with communications), plus all the traitors trying to find a way through their defenses and ambush them, plus the Computer periodically making them actually deal with a crisis (and when that happens, oh boy is it a big crisis). The absolute best outcome is that they stay where they are; there's nowhere else for them to go but down. (Rumors of Gamma-clearance are treason. Report all rumors.) Also, while they have access to a ton of information, they still don't have all of it (Friend Computer may not have it either, or It may not be sharing it with anyone regardless of clearance), and what they do have is full of errors (especially because few people want to give High Programmers bad news).

    Video Games 
  • Arcanum has William Thorndop, former bandit and the continent's finest marksman, but he left his old life behind him after shooting a man in cold blood and having a My God, What Have I Done? realization. He's the only character who can provide Master-level Firearms training, but asking him to train you will cause him a severe moral quandary since he's adopted an Actual Pacifist philosophy and sees aiding another in causing bloodshed as a violation of his vows.
  • In Armored Core 4, the player character, Anatolia's Raven, gets hit with this at the end of the game. By the end of the game the Raven and Joshua O'Brien are pretty much the top LYNX in the world, as everyone above them has fallen in combat. The Raven is also personally responsible for decimating not just one but two MegaCorp headquarters (and Joshua takes a third down off-screen). His reward for basically single-handedly winning the Lynx War? The remaining corporations who hired him for this decide he's gone from #1 asset to #1 threat. Omer orders Joshua to destroy Anatolia using a prototype NEXT that will kill him even if he defeats the Raven when he goes after him, threatening to destroy Joshua's colony if he doesn't comply. And on Hard Mode they even send another LYNX just to finish off whoever survived. When the Raven and his operator survive all this, they leave the corporate system completely and co-found Line Ark in the sequel, but even then he doesn't last long before another upstart comes along to either finish him off or take up his mantle.
  • Mass Effect: During the whole saga, Shepard is emblematic of this trope, and sometimes this is explicitly said by characters. Their first task is also a test to evaluate their skills, since they are a distinguished soldier and a possible candidate to become a special agent for the Citadel Council. But in the process, they stumble into the pathway of a Reaper and unwillingly enter into a galactic war that threatens to erase all space-faring civilizations. After defeating it, Shepard attracts the attention of another Reaper who wants to destroy them (and a secret organization who believes they is the right person to solve the whole mess), and defeating it too makes them a target for the remaining fleet of Reapers coming to wreak havoc in the galaxy (and also the leader of the human resistance, trying to unite the galaxy against the common threat). Many people met during the three games will openly admit that they are after Shepard because Shepard is simply the best - whether to ask for their help in challenges of increasing difficulty, or because Shepard is an obstacle to their increasingly dangerous business.
  • Metal Gear Solid is one long aesop that War takes the best of the best, organizes them as disposable parts into killing machines, and then drives those machines across third-world countries into each other until everyone is sick of themselves:
    • Solid Snake is one of the best heavy-infiltrators in the world and has prevented nuclear war thrice. He's also a miserable wreck who would rather stay in retirement in Alaska because most of his "greatest" missions involve discovering the horrible war-crimes of his screwed-up super-villain family and then murdering them. The brass keeps finding ways to pull him back into their wetwork operations, and the Government Conspiracy seeking to turn the entire planet into a police state means he can't rest until they're dealt with. And since the government was afraid his super-soldier genes augmented at birth would let him turn rogue and form a third-world empire-dynasty in his old age, they gave him genetic defects so he would age rapidly past 40.
    • Big Boss, Snake's father, was also a great infiltrator and a charismatic mercenary captain who also saved the world thrice. For his efforts, he has been forced to murder his mentor, watched one of his kid sidekicks turn into a killing machine, was cloned against his will, discovered that his other kid sidekick was a complete psycho threatening to bomb the Atlantic coast, and watched his mercenary unit get slaughtered as he fell into a coma. All because the world kept depending on him... as a scapegoat. The stress drove him insane and he started slaughtering civilians so he could raise their children as TykeBombs.
    • The Boss was the greatest heroine of WWII, became the Jeanne d'Archétype of the Cold War, and practically a princess to boot. Except she gained so much international power and influence that her own country stabbed itself in the back, practically crippling itself from winning the war, just to ensure that she would never create a new world order that didn't involve using war as a pretext for control. Then one day, she "fucked up" and didn't assassinate an innocent man, whose inventions inadvertently created the Crapsack World of Metal Gear. She let her self-righteous guilt torment her until she finally allowed herself to be killed in a duel against her best student instigated by the CIA.
  • This is part of Travis Touchdown's motivation to kill the other assassins in No More Heroes: after becoming the tenth best assassin in the world, Sylvia tells Travis he has no choice but to go up the list because every other two-bit idiot is going to come at him for a chance at getting the rank. Even after he became the number one, he was attacked by a newcomer (while he was at the bathroom, no less!) and almost killed. The consequences of this even keep biting Travis up the rear in the sequel.
  • A recurring problem faced by Kazuma Kiryu of the Yakuza series is that, being one of the most infamous figures of the Japanese underworld (aside from the fact that this makes him a target for ruthlessly ambitious upstarts), it paints a huge target on his adopted daughter Haruka since it's known that threatening her life is the best way to get to him. This eventually leads to him deciding to fake his own death in order to ensure that Haruka and the orphans he's raised are no longer threatened by criminals.


    Western Animation 
  • Vin Moosk from Codename: Kids Next Door was a respected accountant who ditched his job once he found how much he hated wearing ties and became a "tie hunter". His employers are on his trail in hopes of getting him back because their stock prices plummeted the second he left.
  • A variation shows up in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "The Man Who Killed Batman". Sid the Squid, who had apparently killed Batman, experiences all sorts of trouble resulting from his new notoriety, including bar toughs challenging him to a fight on the theory that beating up the (supposed) "toughest guy in town" will establish them as the real toughest guy in town and a very pissed off Joker.
  • The titular character from Archer is the greatest spy in the world (or "the world's most dangerous spy", to be more precise), but has made more than a few enemies, who all want him dead because he's humiliated or annoyed them in the past. In a slight twist, this has just as much to do with Archer's reputation as it does the fact that he's a massive asshole who's just as dangerous to his friends as his enemies.

    Real Life 
  • While every athletic champion has to deal with this to some extent, by far one of the worst examples is John L. Sullivan, the very first officially recognized world champion of boxing. Sullivan had the misfortune of being recognized right when boxing was caught between being a chaotic mess and an officially recognized sport, meaning that he had every lunatic imaginable coming out of the woodwork to challenge him. His successor, "Gentleman" James Corbett, had it even worse, as he was known as "the man who beat the great John Sullivan" and constantly had to fend off pretenders to the point that he only had one official title defense.
  • Bruce Lee had to deal with challengers constantly, not just by wannabees who wanted to show how badass they were, but also by traditional martial artists who were pissed that Lee was breaking traditional rules with his adaptational techniques. One particularly ridiculous example was a man who broke into Lee's home in the middle of the night to challenge him, which scared Lee's two children. Bruce put him in the hospital. With one kick.
  • Pretty much any popular sportsman or woman of their respected sport who is known to be the best at it, has to deal with critics who will nitpick their accomplishments and finds reasons to cast doubt or reject them completely. And when those criticisms are silenced by the athlete in question, they find something else to complain about, instead of giving credit where it's due.
  • In the 1970s, the Dallas Cowboys got dubbed "America's Team", but Tom Landry, the Cowboys' head coach, didn't particularly like it, thinking it would give opposing teams extra incentive to play harder. However, he came to accept the nickname.