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The Unfought

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"I'm touched that you remembered [me]! As a reward, I'll finish you off myself!"
(the game's boss theme starts up, but then quickly fades out)
"On second thought… physical labor isn't my style. I think I'll be going now. Bye!"
Fool to Waffle, Tail Concerto

You're just outside the lair of the Big Bad who has tormented you throughout the game. He's destroyed your home town, sent wave after wave of enemies to try and destroy you, and may even have called you a couple nasty names. This is the battle you've been waiting for. You enter the room and... he summons a giant three-headed dragon and runs away. Okay, no problem, you'll take it down, then deal with the Big Bad. You slay the dragon and... what? Why are the credits rolling? Why didn't you get an epic battle with your archnemesis? Unfortunately, that villain just isn't going to be fought.

The exact cause of why a major antagonist is not fought varies. He could, like above, just run away when you confront him. Perhaps he was the victim of a Bait-and-Switch Boss. In video game examples, he may have been fought in a cutscene, but killed without being fought in gameplay. Whatever the reason may be, this type of situation is a common source of frustration to the audience, especially if the victim was the Big Bad. In the cases where The Unfought is The Chessmaster or Mad Scientist, this can be somewhat justified, as they might not be capable of physical battle, preferring to work behind the scenes. But, if the character had already been established as a capable — even exceptional — fighter, this trope occurring can feel like a bit of a rip-off. And even if he is a weakling, you still want to kill him for all the Grinding he forced you through to get to him.

A particularly common combo leading to this is that The Unfought is such because he released the Sealed Evil in a Can, who promptly kills him.

This is mostly a video game trope. Though this can happen in other media, it is much harder to tell what counts as a "battle" in books or movies, while video games have a clear distinction between gameplay and FMVs. Contrast with Climax Boss, which these examples are hyped up to be. Not to be confused with Zero-Effort Boss or Anti-Climax Boss, where the villain in question is fought, but ends up being a wuss (deliberately or not, respectively). Compare to Karma Houdini, where the villain can get away with their crimes unpunished. Giant Space Flea from Nowhere is the logical inversion, which is about fighting a boss that has little to zero context or relevance in the plot.

Naturally, the following examples all contain MAJOR SPOILERS.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Black Lagoon: Mafiya queen Balalaika and most of her subordinates are former Soviet paratroopers, veterans of the war in Afghanistan who were collectively kicked to the curb when the USSR broke up. During the "Roberta's Blood Trail" arc, she sends her Vysotniki to help cover the escape of an American special forces unit from the rampaging Roberta. She views the Americans as Worthy Opponents she never had the opportunity to actually fight, so giving them a helping hand is the least she can do.
  • While the entire "genome digimon" plot line was scrapped from Digimon V-Tamer 01, five of them do manage to appear on panel. Of these, only NeoDevimon and Callismon are fought, Lycamon, Hermmon, and Panimon only getting a fearsome reveal in front of the protagonists at their most vulnerable but never appearing again after departing with The Dragon's army with the promise to slaughter all their friends, aside from a Super-Deformed intro where the mangaka apologize for their absence and ask the fans to come up with their own story to make up for it.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • Of all the Big Bads in the series, Commander Red is the only one in the original era that neither Goku, nor any of the heroes, faces; right as Goku is fighting his way towards him, he's killed by Staff Officer Black once he rants about how he wanted to use the Dragon Balls not to Take Over the World, but to make himself taller.
    • Dr. Gero, who is introduced in Z but had done evil actions behind the scenes of the original series, is killed by Androids 17 and 18 when he awakes them, as they rebel against him. Thus, none of the Z fighters get to fight him, or even find him alive (and it becomes moot when those Androids join the good guys' side after the Cell saga, so retroactively they already did a favor to Goku et al.)
  • In the Dragon Quest V animated adaptation Dragon Quest: Your Story, Nimzo doesn't actually appear, but rather a virus in the virtual reality game injected into his code takes his stead. The virus is still referred to as "Nimzo" by Luca and in the credits.
  • In The Movie version of Fist of the North Star, Kenshiro never gets to settle his old rivalry with Shin like he does in the manga and TV series. When he eventually arrives at the city of Southern Cross to fight Shin, he finds the place in ruins, and while he does briefly face Shin, Shin ends up dying instead from previously inflicted wounds he suffered from a prior off-screen battle he had with Raoh.
  • GTO: The Early Years: From his introduction in the Midnight Angel arc to the end of the manga, Kunito Nakajo was built up as a dangerous enemy, so much that the Onibaku took steps to avoid fighting him. In the end, he demands a one-on-one fight with Eikichi, but Ryuji interrupts it and stages a fight before they both fake their deaths.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
    • Stardust Crusaders: The Oingo Boingo brothers don't confront the heroes; since their Stands aren't meant for combat, they attempt to deal with them in various other ways, such as poisoning them or using a bomb. They both end up hospitalized after getting beaten up by a group of angry civilians, one of whom had his wallet stolen by Oingo earlier.
    • Golden Wind:
      • While Risotto Nero fights Doppio, he never fights the protagonists directly and Narancia killing him was both an accident and a coincidence at the same time.
      • Doppio himself doesn't really fight the protagonists, only really having a coincidental run-in with Bucciarati. His Split Personality, Diavolo, does the actual fighting.
    • Stone Ocean: Ungalo never actually meets the heroes; he only sends his Stand to deal with them while he's onboard an airplane, glutting himself on fine food and drink while Bohemian Rhapsody's creations run roughshod over the world.
    • JoJolion: Jobin, despite being built up as a major opponent, he is never fought once (at least not physically) by Josuke.
  • Kengan Ashura deliberately introduce numerous rivals for Ohma to fight, only for them to be defeated by other characters.
    • Kanoh Agito from is built-up as the World's Best Warrior that Ohma must fight to truly claim the title of the strongest fighter, and Okubo even calls him a Final Boss. Halfway through the story, it's hinted that he has some sort of grudge against Niko Tokita—Ohma's late master—thus giving them a more personal connection and all the more reason to fight. However, Kanoh ends up being defeated by Gensai in the semi-finals, and since both Ohma and Kanoh have gotten over their personal issues by that point, they never end up fighting.
    • Subverted with Setsuna Kiryu, Ohma's self-proclaimed nemesis who was responsible for the death of Ohma's master, Tokita Niko. Of all the Kengan fighters, he has the strongest personal ties to Ohma, and one of the reasons he became a Kengan Association fighter in the first place is to have a chance to fight Ohma. He lost to Gensai before he can meet Ohma in the tournament, but he goes on a murderous rampage afterwards, and Ohma does fight him off-stage to stop him from killing more people.
    • Happens again in the sequel, Kengan Omega, with Fei Wangfang, AKA the Tiger Vessel. Being the last surviving student of the "Other" Tokita Niko, he is possibly the key for Ohma to finally avenge his master's death and get to the bottom of the Worm's plot. Instead, during the Kengan Association vs. Purgatory Tournament, he ends up fighting Wakatsuki, as his mentor had specifically told him not to fight Ohma.
  • Despite being the Big Bad of Lyrical Nanoha's first season, Precia never battles either one of the main heroines since she fell to her apparent death before this could happen. This is why many fans wish Precia survived, so she could get her butt properly kicked.
  • The Emperor of Darkness was the Greater-Scope Villain of Mazinger Z and Big Bad of Great Mazinger. The second series ended up with the heroes killing his Co-Dragons and annihilating a large part of his army, but they never fought him. Outside of an episode of one of the manga versions of UFO Robo Grendizer and the Super Robot Wars Alpha games he has never been fought (and in Mazinkaiser he is not even mentioned). He was going to be finally defeated in the sequel series, God Mazinger, but that series was never made.
  • In the G-8 Filler arc of the One Piece anime, while the Straw Hats do meet the arc's main antagonist, Vice-Admiral Jonathan, a few times, at no point do they trade blows with him, only his subordinates. Sanji is instantly able to recognize that if they tried, it would not end well for them.
  • Pokémon: The Series:
  • Variable Geo: Miranda Jahana's spirit is contained within the cyber drive, which allowed her to gradually superimpose her consciousness over Satomi's. After Yuka frees her from Miranda's control, her spirit remained trapped in the cyber drive, preventing Yuka and Satomi from attacking her directly. But it also left her utterly defenseless. So when they unleashed their combined fury on it, Miranda and the cyber drive went up in flames together.
  • In Vinland Saga, Thorfinn's entire reason for living is killing Askeladd, who dies at the hand of Canute in front of his eyes. Played with in the sense that Thorfinn actually fought under Askeladd's command for years and dueled him several times, just never getting the result he was after (which was defeating and killing him in a fair duel). He didn't take it well.
  • Dante, Big Bad of the 2003 version of Fullmetal Alchemist (2003), despite being a highly powerful alchemist in their own right, flees from a direct confrontation with the Elric brothers at the end and ends up devoured offscreen by Gluttony after she had erased his mind.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!:
    • Marik Ishtar from Yu-Gi-Oh!. While set up as the Big Bad of Battle City he never fights Yugi directly (unless you count Strings, which was a henchman controlled by him) and only speaks to him through his brainwashed minions. By the time Yugi finds out who he is, Marik is taken over by Dark Marik who is far more evil than Marik ever was. By the time Dark Marik is defeated the real Marik has gone over a Heel–Face Turn meaning he will never have to answer for his crimes.
    • In the Fortune Cup arc of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds, Godwin hires a duelist assassin named Shira to duel Yusei; Shira has a reputation as being so intimidating that some pro duelists are known to give up the game out of fear after facing him. However, Jack Atlas' rival Mukuro Enjo crashes the event hoping to win it in order to get a rematch with Jack, mugs Shira, steals his costume, and takes his place when the duel with Yusei is about to start. Neither Yusei nor Godwin have a problem with Enjo taking Shira's place, so the fight card is quickly changed.
    • Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V:
      • The Doktor. He is responsible for creating Parasite Monsters and placing them within Yuzu and her counterparts to control them. He is even shown caressing Yuzu's face just to piss off Yuya. When it looks like he is about to duel Yuya, Leo Akaba proceeds to card him after expressing his disgust for what he has done and being reminded of his own actions in the past.
      • Arc-V is Zarc. Unless one counts the duel between Yuya and Yuri, Zarc is the first main antagonist of a Yu-Gi-Oh series not to duel the main protagonist (Yuya eventually retaking control and fighting against him comes the closest to this). Justified, as Zarc cannot have physical form without fusing with Yuya and the other Dragon boys, making it impossible for Yuya and Zarc to meet prior to Zarc's spirit being sealed within Reira.

    Comic Books 
  • Mega Man (Dreamwave): Heat Man causes an airplane crash and kidnaps Dr. Light. Mega Man never even sees him.
  • Kaijumax: Zonn. As Mechazon and Electrogor prepare to use the Cryps riot as cover to kill Zonn, they get to him only to find Dr. Zhang has killed him already.
  • Kid Colt (2009): Colt and the Big Bad of the series, Sheriff McGreeley, never directly meet or interact, and certainly don't fight. At the end of it all, the sheriff's been tricked into paying out a bounty, in the belief that Colt is dead, but is a Karma Houdini apart from the loss of that money.
  • Superman:
    • In The Unknown Supergirl, Lesla-Lar depowers, brainwashes and tries to replace Supergirl as part of a gambit to take over the world after disposing of both Superman and Lex Luthor... and Supergirl never gets to fight her. Lesla gets arrested by Kandor's police before her plans completely come to fruition, and Kara does not even learn about her existence. It would be a while before Kara discovered the cause of her faulty powers, strange nightmares and memory lapses.
    • In The Immortal Superman, the Time Trapper prevents Superman from time-travelling back to his own time. Superman eventually makes his way back from the far-flung future, but he never fights the Time Trapper; in fact, he does not even find out who puts him through that ordeal.
  • Swamp Thing: Nukeface from Moore's run. A mutated vagrant who's addicted to nuclear waste, Nukeface is an amicable guy who's too crazed to realize that people die just by being near him. In the space of two issues, he unintentionally kills a man, destroys the Swamp Thing's body, irradiates a pregnant woman who was trying to help him — and then simply leaves to find his next "fix."
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: After a great deal of build up, fighting many of his underlings, and developing the Saturnian Emperor as someone whose court values ones ability to fight in order for advancement Diana crashes through the window of his throne room ready to fight him as he is about to have a defiant Steve Trevor and Etta Candy executed before him. The Emperor immediately proposes a truce without even getting out of his chair and Di doesn't get to lay a finger on him. His agents then continue to be a menace using loopholes in the text of the truce while making sure their actions cannot be conclusively traced back to him.

    Fan Works 
  • In Clash of the Elements: The inner guardians of the Terra Cave, Frozen Palace, and Ignitor Cave count for this trope. Though their powers are given to the people who merge the Elemental Stones with themselves. This also counts as an example of The Unseen.
  • In Corrin in Peril, King Garon appears to be the Big Bad of the fic, as he was of the Birthright route of Fire Emblem Fates, but while he appears at the beginning when Corrin is captured, he is never actually fought, even when Corrin's Hoshidan siblings and their retainers and allies stage a rescue mission.
  • In the Dark World timeline of the Pony POV Series:
  • In Discord's Decision, a What If? scenario of the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic season four finale in which Discord rejected Tirek's offer to go bad again, Tirek ends up being this to the Mane Six, with Rainbow Dash grousing about it, as they always take on the main threats to Equestria.
  • Pokémon Story: Sinnoh Journey: Dawn never battles either Aaron or Ian despite the build-up to a potential one.
  • The climactic battle between Harry Potter and Voldemort never even happened in Harry Tano, at least directly. While there was a Battle in the Center of the Mind between the fragment in Harrys head that was dealt with by Harry, Lily, and Ahsoka Tano, Most all of Voldemorts' other Horcruxes were either destroyed or cleansed of their taint due to the efforts of the Order of The Phoenix and Ahsoka Tano tracking them down. It was actually another person that managed to kill Voldemort; who was himself a subordinate of Lucius Malfoy.
  • In Dreaming of Sunshine, Shikako has managed to sidestep Kabuto several times, at least so far.
  • Shadows Awakening: Tarakudo is Sealed Evil in a Can for the whole story, only able to act through his ally the Queen who ends up betraying him and cutting him off, and thus is the only member of the Big Bad Ensemble who never faces off with the heroes.
  • Pokémon: Equestrian Champions: When Flash Sentry is trying to decide what city to go to for his last Gym Battle, he is told by Cadance that Dragonia City has the "toughest Gym" in Equestria, even saying how it took Shining Armor, the current champion of Equestria, three attempts to finally beat its Gym Leader. Shortly after Flash and his friends finally arrive there though, the Gym Leader Torch announces he is retiring, and his daughter Ember replaces him as the new Gym Leader. Though Flash is upset he missed his chance to face the strongest Gym Leader in Equestria, he is more than happy to face Ember in her premiere battle as a Gym Leader.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Denial: Deborah Lipstadt is sued by holocaust denier David Irving because she called him a holocaust denier in print; this is closely Based on a True Story. Much of the movie's drama hinges on the fact that her legal team must convince her to be this; yes, Irving is despicable, and yes, it would be so satisfying to stand up, look the devil in the eye, and give him what-for. But if she engages with him, even in the setting of a trial, it legitimizes the idea that there is a debate to be had on this topic. Her Barrister gently lectures her that if she fires back, she risks losing; "Not just for yourself, for the others. For everyone. Forever. Or...Stay seated. Button your lip. Win. An act of self-denial."
  • The Fifth Element: Korben Dallas and Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg never fight or even communicate directly in any way across the film. The closest they come to one another is being mere meters apart as Korben and the heroes step on to one elevator, and Zorg steps off another elevator, catching the briefest of glances at him as the doors close and then continuing on his way. Zorg does encounter the Action Girl, Leeloo, but at this point she's outgunned and has to retreat. Instead, Zorg meets his end thanks to his own underlings.
  • Jarhead: The main character is a sniper who never gets an order to fire a single shot. At the movie's climax he is finally ordered to target an enemy officer, and has him in his sights... when Command decides to just bomb the place instead. His spotter partner is extremely upset and begs for them to have the chance, as they can only do so with approved clearance from Command and it doesn't really make a difference if the target is shot immediately before the site is bombed, but is refused regardless.
  • In The Final Countdown, a strike group of U.S. Navy fighters from the carrier Nimitz are within sight of stopping the Japanese task force from attacking Pearl Harbor, but are ordered to abort the mission at the last moment.
  • In The Hunger Games. Katniss never harms President Snow directly. Instead she kills President Coin, leaving Snow at the mercy of the people, who rush in and beat him to death themselves in the chaos of Coin's death. Sure, he died anyway but many people wanted it to be at her hands.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Xu Wenwu, the real Mandarin, who is Iron Man's ArchEnemy in the comics, serves as this in the context of the latter's Character Arc in the MCU. While Tony Stark did combat terrorists affiliated with the Mandarin's organization the Ten Rings (as they were the ones who kidnapped him and forced him to build the first Iron Man suit) in Iron Man and fought Aldrich Killian, who claimed to be the Mandarin in Iron Man 3, little did Stark know that there was a real Mandarin by the name of Xu Wenwu, whose existence was established in All Hail the King. However, Stark never fought Xu, as the former died in Avengers: Endgame sincerely believing that Trevor Slattery - Killian's scapegoat - to be the Mandarin. Assuming a Watsonian versus Doylist perspective, the Watsonian rationale for Iron Man was that he spent the remainder of his Character Arc following Iron Man 3 handling Ultron, the Sokovia Accords, mentoring Spider-Man, and Thanos and the Infinity Stones, leaving him little time to fight or even learn about Xu. On Xu's end, the Watsonian reason, as per Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, was that he was reeling from the death of his wife and the defection of their children, Shang-Chi and Xialing, from the Ten Rings. The Doylist reason is that the filmmakers of Marvel Studios felt that the optics of an American White Male Lead (Iron Man) versus a Chinese villain such as Xu Wenwu / Mandarin were not apropos for the times. As a result of this, Xu ends up fighting instead his son Shang-Chi in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
    • Captain America: Civil War:
      • The HYDRA Winter Soldier team are shot and killed by Helmut Zemo while in cryogenic sleep. For all the talk of them and how dangerous they are, they are taken out of play in a very anti-climactic manner.
      • Zemo himself, despite being a Spec Ops Colonel is never actually fought. Unlike other examples, that makes him more dangerous as he acknowledges he can't ever match or defeat the heroes choosing to turn the Avengers against each other instead. He reappears in a more heroic capacity in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
  • In The Running Man, Damon Killian, the Smarmy Host of the lethal gladiatorial show the film takes its name from, is never seen without his imposing bodyguard Sven. It looks like the final confrontation between him and the hero Richards will be one hell of a Final Battle... Except Sven, incensed by Killian's past insults at him and finally driven over the edge by Killian's lies, simply walks away and leaves his Sissy Villain employer to meet his end at Richards' hands.
  • Despite being the apparent protagonist of the film, Max Rockatansky in Mad Max: Fury Road never engages the villain, Immortan Joe, in a direct confrontation. The film has a blink-and-you-miss-it moment where Joe fires several rounds at Max, who has just commandered the People Eater's vehicle and is using him as a Human Shield as he drives by, but otherwise, the two characters never exchange a word at each other. The chase and battle is between Joe and Furiosa, who climbs onto his vehicle to engage him. Max only arrives to help after she's used her mechanical arm and a rope to rip off Joe's face, having been distracted due to a fight with Rictus the whole time.
  • The Matrix ends with Neo's promise to take the fight to the Machines, and it is implied that the titular Matrix itself is his enemy. This changes in The Matrix Reloaded as Neo, with subdued fanfare, comes face-to-face with The Architect, who is responsible for the Matrix. At this point, Rogue AI Agent Smith has asserted himself as the Big Bad; compared to him, The Architect seems a combination of Greater-Scope Villain, Reasonable Authority Figure and God. Neo has not met a single foe he cannot out-punch — but he does not lay a finger on The Architect. In the intense conversation that ensues, Neo does not take a step forward and The Architect does not rise from his chair. The closest thing to a threat is uttered as Neo leaves. A wider view of the Machine world in The Matrix Revolutions makes it clear that a fight with The Architect would be pointless at best and impossible at worst. As powerful as Neo is, The Architect is on another level. Neo never fights him but eventually opts for the only winning strategy: make a deal with him.
    Neo: If I were you, I'd hope that we don't meet again.
    The Architect: [dismissively] We won't.
  • Humperdinck in The Princess Bride. Not only is he subdued with a bluff, but in fact none of Westley's fight scenes are with true Villains, but with Anti Villains who join his cause.
  • Star Wars:
    • In A New Hope, Luke Skywalker never directly fights this film's Big Bad, Grand Moff Tarkin (Darth Vader is The Heavy in this film); though Luke does fire the shot that indirectly kills him. If Tarkin had decided to evacuate the Death Star he probably would have survived, but he assumed that no one could actually pull off the kill shot. He never quite fights Darth Vader in this movie, either, despite Vader being the major villain of the series. He and Vader see each other briefly on the Death Star, but Luke is too busy escaping and Vader is too far away to do much. They do confront each other in star fighters, but Luke is focused on making his trench run and doesn't actively fight back. Han Solo is the one who defeats Vader, and he does it indirectly - by scaring one of Vader's wingmen into colliding with him. A more direct confrontation would occur in The Empire Strikes Back and again in Return of the Jedi.
    • In Rogue One, neither Vader nor Tarkin are ever in the same vicinity as any members of the titular Rogue One crew. Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor briefly confront and defeat the film's Big Bad, Orson Krennic, during the climax, but both sides are killed indirectly when Tarkin uses the Death Star to obliterate Scarif Base from orbit.
  • Happens in Street Fighter. Blanka is barely fought, Cammy only takes down a mook or two and Dhalsim never does anything violent. Subverted with Ryu/Vega: It definitely builds up to it, and just as it's about to happen, Guile knocks down the wall with a tank and arrests everybody. Then, near the end of the film, Ryu+Ken/Sagat+Vega, complete with a hadouken reference.

  • In The Adventures of Strong Vanya, Grand Duke Dimitri gets killed by his own wild bears without the hero Vanya even coming face to face with him.
  • The Age of Fire series has King Gan, the leader of the snake colony in the cavern where the Copper first meets his bat companions. While he appears as though he's being set up as the Big Bad of the hatchling portion of the Copper's story, they only have two brief encounters (neither of which really counts as a fight), followed by the Copper fleeing further into the Lower World, after which Gan never shows up again.
  • In Iain M. Banks's The Algebraist the hero and the big bad are never even in the same star system for entirety of the book.
  • The Council of Thirteen are the ultimate heads of the Yeerk Empire in Animorphs, but they're a mostly off-page Greater-Scope Villain, with Visser Three (and to a lesser extent, Visser One) being the actual main enemies the Animorphs have to contend with. The Thirteen themselves only appear in one book, where they're more concerned with investigating potential treason on the Vissers' parts than actually confronting the protagonists.
  • In the Hercule Poirot novel The Big Four, the titular international criminal organization has four leaders addressed by numbers. Although Poirot and Hastings come face to face with Number Two, Number Three, and Number Four, who are all European or American, they never see Number One, who is implied to be the directing force behind all of the organization's activities, yet never leaves his homeland of China. Coupled with other portrayals of Chinese people in the book, this has some Unfortunate Implications of Yellow Peril.
  • In The Dark Tower, Roland and his ka-tet never get the final confrontation with The Dragon and King's Big Bad Flagg (Roland meets him at the end of the first book, and they have a brief encounter with him in the beginning of the fourth book). He's killed off by Roland/Crimson King's son Morded in the seventh book. Additionally, Roland doesn't really physically interact with the Crimson King at the end either, he's erased out of existence by Patrick.
  • In Dragon Bones, the heroes never fight the main villain. When they find out who he is, they are already his captives, and vastly outnumbered. They manage to escape, but are still outnumbered, so they have to employ a non-fighting method of winning.
  • In The Dresden Files book Changes, the Eebs (Esmerelda and Esteban) are two ancient vampire hitmen built up through about 3/4 of the book. Finally, when it comes down to a Combat by Champion between Harry and Susan vs. the vampires' side, they fight...the Eebs' pet monster, and a random mook who gets pounded into dust in the first few seconds of the fight. And when those lose, the Eebs are killed by goblins. Given that they knew this would happen, they might have taken it a bit more seriously.
  • In the climax of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, one of the challenges to get to the Philosopher's Stone was supposed to be defeating a troll. However, the troll has already been knocked out before the heroes get there, so they just walk past it. They had already fought a troll earlier in the book, though.
  • Heralds of Valdemar:
    • At the end of the first trilogy, Ancar of Hardorn reveals himself as the Big Bad and a much keener threat than felt in the first two books. The bloody coup that had him take the throne of Hardorn also involved the death of Kris and Talia being captured; he tortured her, and was a source of alarming Outside Context Magic both in himself and in the armies he sent to the border. Talia is spirited to safety by her friends, and Valdemar's forces meets the Hardornen armies then and in By the Sword several novels later - but Ancar himself isn't seen again in person, let alone fought, until even after that, in Winds of Fury, and not by Talia.
    • The Vows and Honor books have Bard Leslac, who seemingly makes his living through following Tarma and Kethry around writing inaccurate songs about them. On top of that he decides he's Tarma's Self-Proclaimed Love Interest. The two women complain about him at length, both in prose and in the Filk Songs that the author wrote for them, and he appears in person a few times including in one of the short stories, where he even has POV. After they depose a bad king and install a better one grateful new allies get rid of Leslac by means of arranging a Shotgun Wedding. In all this, they're never actually shown confronting Leslac, talking to him, or indeed interacting with him in any way.
  • In the main action of Lord of the Rings (both the books and the Peter Jackson movie trilogy), Sauron himself never has a direct confrontation with the heroes, although his Dragon the Witch-King of Angmar does. Justified by Denethor, who tells Pippin (who fears the imminent arrival of Sauron) that all great lords use others as their weapons, if they are wise. Sauron was also subject to multiple humiliating defeats whenever he fought personally, which is probably how he learned this wisdom. The characters who comes closest to directly encountering Sauron are Pippin and Aragorn, who both converse briefly with him through Saruman's Palantír. Pippin gets a minor Mind Rape out of the experience. Sauron doesn't say a word to Aragorn while he tries to convince Sauron that he has the Ring without saying it outright. In the movie trilogy, it was planned to have Sauron appear in the Battle of the Black Gate and fight Aragorn one-on-one. This idea was dropped for not fitting with the tone of the films or Tolkien's vision. He was replaced with the armoured troll Aragorn fights there instead.
  • In His Dark Materials, the Authority is set up as the ultimate source of the problems of society and the plot. But late in the series, it becomes apparent that Metatron is really calling the shots, while the Authority is the victim of a stiff breeze and his own old age.
  • In Mistborn, Lord Tevidian is High Priest of the Corrupt Church, one of the chief lieutenants of the Lord Ruler, and the father of heroine Vin. He is, in other words, exactly the kind of character you'd expect a dramatic confrontation against, but when he does show up it's only for his political rivals to frame him for treason, at which point the Lord Ruler gives them permission to kill him off messily. He never even speaks to his daughter, much less has any sort of confrontation with her.
  • In First Test, Page, and Squire, the first three books of the Protector of the Small quartet, the closest Kel has to an enduring enemy is Joren, a beautiful boy three years her senior who wants devoutly for her to Stay in the Kitchen. Joren's not interested in seeking her out to beat up, but Kel is a Bully Hunter who challenges him when she sees him aggressively hazing younger pages, which leads to fights. Since Joren's always got one to three friends on hand, Kel usually comes off the worse for that, but this is only a regular element in her first year as a page, and only until True Companions start backing her up. In her second year, when she's eleven, she only fights Joren and his friends once before he starts finding other ways to make trouble for her. After their first encounter, Joren never fights her one-on-one or challenges her to combat, and Kel gives up her noble privilege to challenge him herself in order to advance the cause of commoners' rights. According to Word of God:
    If he challenges her, he admits she is entitled to equal treatment as a warrior and as a noble. He tells the world "I accept her on her terms." That he would never, ever do – and that rigidity is why he dies in the Chamber of the Ordeal. He’s so rigid in his beliefs that he can’t bend, and the Chamber breaks him.
  • Quantum Devil Saga: Avatar Tuner: Unlike the game it's an adaptation of, Serph never meets Angel in the Junkyard, only sees them through a screen twice, and they are replaced by Shin Minase, AKA the man Serph was based on. And even he's never fought by Serph, instead dragging him directly into Nirvana while the rest of the Junkyard is being devoured by a mass of Karma. Canis Volk, the Wolves leader, is also an example even though he does ask Serph for a Mercy Kill when being consumed by Karma. It also has a Non-Action Big Bad in Margot Cuvier, who is murdered by Angel. In this case the trope is inverted: they're unfought in the arc adapting the first game (where she is the Final Boss) but (as Lucifer) are the final opponent Serph faces before going to talk to God in the final book, whereas they're unfought in the second game.
  • The second book in Watchers of the Throne sets up Asterion Moloc as The Heavy. Valerian and Aleya fight his underlings throughout the latter half of the book. In the finale, they're a few steps from coming to blows with the man himself when the new Master of the Administratum arrives and makes Moloc stand down, averting the fight.
  • In The Wheel of Time, Shaidar Haran is a recurring villain in the later half of the series of unknown but tremendous powers. Many fans anticipated a showdown between him and Rand at some point. But when Rand arrives at Shayol Ghul in the last book, he finds Haran already dead. It turns out that Haran was less a person in his own right and more a vessel for the Dark One's will, and at this point the Dark One's prison had been weakened enough that such a tool was no longer necessary, and Haran was discarded. Furthermore, Word of God indicates that Shaidar Haran's ability to harm those not sworn to the Dark One was always extremely limited, to the point that he might not even be able to physically touch those not so sworn, and therefore a physical confrontation with him was never really in the cards anyway.

    Live-Action TV 
  • This happens on 24 on its first season. After the first hitman hired to kill Palmer fails, a lot of build-up is given to the new hitman tasked to do the job, Alexis Drazen, he's both given a climactic entrance at the end of an episode, and is given a lot of build-up as to how well trained he is in the special forces. He's taken out by his girlfriend via a stab wound in the stomach, and spends the rest of the show either unconscious or in a hospital bed. Eventually he dies without having fought anyone really.
  • Bones: After Pelant's death early in season 9, the only recurring villain becomes The Ghost Killer. She reappears by the end of the season, in which she is the victim of the week, never being convicted of anything, since they only realize The Ghost Killer is Stephanie McNamara after she is already dead.
  • In Breaking Bad, the Salamanca twins are introduced in Season 3, coming after protagonist Walter White in revenge for the death of their cousin Tuco. Thanks to some manipulation by Walter's boss Gustavo, they end up being diverted to Walter's brother in law Hank, who actually pulled the trigger on Tuco. He kills one twin and cripples the other. Walter only encounters either of them when he sees the legless surviving twin in his hospital bed. This remaining twin is soon dispatched by Gustavo as well.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • The Anointed One was killed by Spike due to the actor aging out of the character (The Annoying Anointed One was a kid vampire). Buffy never fought him and he never had any real plot importance.
    • Drusilla is one of the big bads of season 2 and kills Kendra but she and Buffy never actually fight. Drusilla does eventually fight Buffy during her return in "Crush", but it's incredibly short, and by that time she is no longer a Big Bad anyway.
    • Sweet in "Once More, With Feeling". By the end the Scoobies are united against him, and a threat from Willow seems to give him a moment of Sensing You Are Outmatched. But more importantly, his only goal in coming to Sunnydale was to sow chaos For the Evulz. By the time the heroes are ready to face him, he has done everything he wanted and had fun doing it. After a smug reprise of his Villain Song the show's over, so (like the performer he is) he decides to bow out. He applauds them for "winning" this Pyrrhic Victory and is never seen again.
      Demon: Congratulations! [sarcastically] You beat the bad guy!
  • This happens many times on Merlin, most notably between Arthur and Cenred, the antagonistic king of a neighbouring kingdom. After being set up as a Worthy Opponent throughout the course of series three, Cenred is killed off by one of his own allies in a case of You Have Outlived Your Usefulness. They do have a brief scuffle in a Deleted Scene, but it still feels a bit of a waste. Arthur never gets to confront his uncle Agravaine either after he realizes that he was in cahoots with Morgana. Instead, Merlin dispatches him in a tunnel, and it's unclear whether Arthur is even told whether he's alive or dead.
  • Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers:
  • Narutaki, technically speaking the main enemy of Kamen Rider Decade note , never directly fights Decade or any of the KR allies he has made. Even in the Final Chapter movie, where Narutaki basically reforms The Remnant of Decade's old Dai-Shocker army into Super Shocker, with the help of a brainwashed Dr. Shinigami. Basically, as its top officer, Narutaki turns into what is presumably his true persona, Colonel Zol. Even in that guise, Narutaki remains in the sidelines, only ordering his troops around instead of fighting Decade. And then he apparently gets killed when the Neo-Organism Doras is released. Which he still manages to blame on Decade. This is finally subverted in Super Hero Taisen, where Narutaki takes the form of Destron commander Doktor G, revealing that this and his previous Colonel Zol form are mere disguises rather than true identities. While Narutaki did not assume the Werewolf form of the original Colonel Zol in The Last Story, he does here assume Doktor G's Kani Lazer form, which is actually a whole new costume and much more powerful than the original. In this form, he is seen being easily able to hold off around a dozen Kamen Riders via, you guessed it, lasers. He is only defeated when the Tensou Sentai Goseiger lend their new reflect cards to Decade with Blade and Ryuki, allowing them to deflect Doktor G's lasers allowing them to finish him off with their respective finishers.
  • Super Sentai has usually major antagonists who never get to truly fight the heroes.
    • Choushinsei Flashman: Great Doctor Lee Kopflen got killed when the heroes caused a chain reaction that destroyed his base, with himself never facing them head-on.
    • Choujuu Sentai Liveman: Because he's not a fighter, Great Professor Bias never confronts the Liveman on his own, always aided by either his monsters or his bodyguard, Gash. He dies in the finale due to aging to death after his source of eternal youth is destroyed.
    • Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger: In the final episode the Zyurangers meet Bandora face to face, but they don't fight her, as she has lost powers after crying over the death of her son(again). She and her minions are then trapped in bottle and sent hurling into space.
    • Gosei Sentai Dairanger: Emperor Gorma XV never fights the Dairangers, being too occupied playing games in his temple. Shadam does get to use his powers once he reveals that the Emperor is nothing but a clay doll substitute he created, to demonstrate how a fight would've gone down.
    • Denji Sentai Megaranger: Electro King Javious takes the trope to its logical extreme: He doesn't even meet the Megarangers at all, nor they even learn he exists. He also does absolutely nothing of worth throughout the series, not even barking orders. Unlike most Sentai villains, his minions get tired of his uselessness and dispose of him as soon as they can.
    • Mirai Sentai Timeranger: Captain Ryuya is the series' overall true villain, manipulating everything and everyone from the start to further his goal of preventing his death in the future, no matter who dies to get that outcome undone. He never fights the rangers despite being formerly TimeFire due to retiring long ago from his on-field duties.
  • The Walking Dead: Despite Alpha being Carol's Evil Counterpart and killing her son Henry, the two never actually face-off in a physical fight. Aside from a few Death Glares throughout Season 10, they only directly interact once. Carol does play a part in Alpha's eventual death, though it's at Negan's hands, not hers.

  • BIONICLE examples:
    • The six Toa's fight against Makuta is neglected in some versions of the 2001 arc:
      • The comic series culminates in the Toa fighting animals and the forces of nature controlled by Makuta, but never meeting him because the rest of the plot was reserved for a video game... which got cancelled shortly before release. The Toa's fight with the Manas crabs and the Shadow Toa were thus also glossed over.
      • In the Mata Nui Online Game (and a brief story summary slideshow released in 2003), the fight against Makuta is finally seen, as is one version of the Manas scene, but the Toa's fight against their shadow-duplicates is neglected. The 2003 novel adaptation took a different route, ignoring MNOG and its depiction of Makuta, making the Shadow Toa fight the story's climax following the battle against the Manas.
      • After more news of the cancelled game had surfaced, it turned out it also would most likely have forgone showing off Makuta. In the game's unfinished beta, the Manas fight is compressed into a cutscene, and in place of the Shadow Toa, the player is faced with a series of platforming stages.
    • Vakama's Toa team in the 2005 arc don't technically fight the villains Roodaka and Sidorak. They ask Keetongu to do it, as he's more powerful and has a personal tie to them for having killed the rest of his kind. The Toa meanwhile fight the Visorak horde and Vakama, who has been brainwashed into joining the evil side. When left alone with Keetongu, Sidorak is too shocked to even think of fighting and is killed easily. And while the Toa, including the redeemed Vakama do confront and fire their Elemental Powers at Roodaka, she doesn't put up a fight since soaking up these powers was part of her secret plan to free her master Makuta. Makuta and the now unconscious Roodaka then teleport away rather than face the Toa and Keetongu for real.
    • Makuta never fights Jaller's Toa team during the 2006-07 arcs because both times he keeps his presence a secret, hiding his energy form first in a vat, then in the robot body Maxilos. In the latter story, only Matoro finds out Maxilos' identity but he's forced to let Makuta go after a short scuttle during which Matoro briefly encases him in ice. Instead, it's the misguided antagonist Hydraxon and the villains, the Barraki (plus their sea creature armies) who face off against Makuta, ultimately destroying the Maxilos body he inhabited but letting his essence escape.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Melina had two of these in her time:
    • Rosa Mendes debuted as an obsessed Beth Phoenix fan, attacking Melina from behind while she was chasing Beth's Women's Championship. Melina eventually won the title off Beth, but never had a match with Rosa at all.
    • In 2009, Maryse made her return and intended to challenge Melina for the Divas' Championship. Melina suddenly tore her ACL and had to vacate the title. By the time she returned from injury, Maryse was no longer wrestling and instead acting as a valet. So they never got their grudge match after all.
    • Also, when MNM split up, there was never a match between Johnny Nitro or Joey Mercury. The night the team split, both Nitro and Melina were immediately moved to Raw and Mercury remained on Smackdown. This was before any kind of grudge match could take place.
  • WWE in 2011 were building towards a program between Kharma and Beth Phoenix. Kharma suddenly got pregnant and thus went on maternity leave. After her baby didn't survive the birth, she was released from her contract and joined TNA under the name Awesome Kong. Beth herself retired the same year, making a match between them extremely unlikely.
  • While she was in WWE, Chyna never faced the two other big women employed at the time. Nicole Bass left WWE too soon, and Jacqueline simply never had a match with Chyna. A program with both was teased at some point, but they never fought.
  • Famously, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Brock Lesnar. Stone Cold walked out of WWE in 2002 when a match between him and Lesnar was scheduled for that night's Raw - feeling that such a match should not be given away on free TV. By the time he returned to WWE, he had his retirement match with The Rock because his body wasn't up to wrestling anymore. So he never fought Lesnar after all. The closest it ever was Austin delivering stunners to both Lensar and Goldberg after their match at WrestleMania XX, in which Austin had been the referee.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Arkham Horror: It's usually possible, if difficult, to win the game after the Ancient One awakens by defeating it. However, if the Ancient One is Azathoth, it instantly destroys the world instead. Azathoth even has the unique special ability that the game is lost when it awakens, specifically to deny the players any chance of game-saving shenanigans that they might manage if they could enter combat with it.

  • Awful Hospital: The Revourer, possibly because its maze gets overrun by ravenous corpses.
  • Blood is Mine: You'd expect the Monster in the Ice to get released at some point for a climatic battle, but it never does, only serving as part of the backstory. Its plot arc focuses instead on resupplying the facility where it is contained.
  • In El Goonish Shive, Grace is set up as having to kill a giant mutant skunk as part of a quest to enter a town during the Fantasy Wasteland storyline but ends up just begging to be let in and succeeds due to having a lot of points in persuasion.
  • Tower of God:
    • At the climax of the storming of Jahad's castle by Phantaminum, Phantaminum faces off Jahad… and just leaves. Fan speculation has it that it had something to do with the fact that Jahad stopped climbing the Tower at some point.
    • The Chessmaster Yu Hansung from Season 1 is never fought. The characters just keep on climbing while he just stays on the second floor, he even bids them farewell, though there must be something with those rings he gave them.

    Web Original 
  • In Dragon Ball Z Abridged, Vegeta tries trash-talking Piccolo by saying that if they fought, they both know how it'd go down. Piccolo points out that they don't, because they two of them have never actually fought — Piccolo died at Nappa's hands during the Saiyan Saga. Vegeta is actually surprised when he realizes this, but it turns out that even Goku realized it.
  • The Captain Teneille imposter in Vaguely Recalling JoJo because he died when his ship was rammed by the plane sunk by Grey Fly.

    Western Animation 
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • Chrysalis in "The Mean 6". Despite her revenge against Starlight, the Mane Six and Starlight never get to face her, and they had no awareness of her presence throughout the episode, save for the cold open where she's disguised as a photographer.
    • The villain of the final season is Grogar, who assembles a Legion of Doom. Grogar turns out to be completely fake and never gets to fight the heroes, with the remaining three members of the Legion taking his spot in the finale.
  • Rahan: Despite being the show's Big Bad, the Shadow Queen is never fought by any of the heroes. Rather, in the series finale, she simply takes the soul of her earthly minion Drak and leaves.
  • Thundercats 1985: In "The Tower of Traps", after everything Lion-O and the Thunderkittens went through to reach Baron Karnor to make him stop causing trouble, they find out he's already dead.


Video Example(s):


Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg

The closest thing to an actual Big Bad in The Fifth Element, and both he and the protagonist Korben Dallas are never even aware of one-another in the movie.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / TheUnfought

Media sources: