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The Worf Effect

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"He's the guy who's here to act tough so new characters can wreck him when they're introduced thus proving to the rest of us how amazing they are! Like Wolverine or Worf."
Red Mage, 8-Bit Theater

Want a quick way to show how dangerous one of your unknown characters is? Simple, make them do well or win in a fight with a character that the audience already knows is tough. This establishes them as willing to fight and marks them as sufficiently dangerous.

For new villains, it's common for them to pick up the toughest character among the heroes (usually The Big Guy) and hurl them across the room or otherwise take them out in one blow, thus showing that they are the real deal. It's even a genuinely good strategy — take out the biggest and toughest in a group, and the rest will accept how tough you are instead of having to prove it over and over. When used sparingly and appropriately, this is a powerful way to establish said villain as a serious and credible threat, leaving the audience thinking, "Wow, they just beat up Worf! They must be bad news!" But if the same character is repeatedly used as the target of displays like these, then the character begins to look weak, and if abused, their reputation as the "biggest, toughest" etc. begins to look more like an Informed Ability than anything else.

Worf Had the Flu is sometimes used to justify Worf's poor showing. The Worf Barrage is when an "ultimate" attack or technique is defeated this way instead of a character. If a new villain introduces themselves by beating the previous villain, that's Make Way for the New Villains (a subtrope). If this happens to a major villain following a Heel–Face Turn on their part, that's a Redemption Demotion. When Worf gets beaten emotionally rather than physically, that's Break the Badass. Applied to an entire military? You may get a Red Shirt Army. If the defeated badass is a Professional Killer, that's Assassin Outclassin'. If the defeated badass is a tank or similar armored vehicle, that'll be Tanks for Nothing.

Compare Badass in Distress and The World's Expert (on Getting Killed), both of which can overlap. Killing off a Red Shirt or two is a slightly different method for achieving a similar effect. If the character beats up a whole army, Conservation of Ninjutsu is probably at work. Hopeless Boss Fight, when the Worf Effect is shown in a form of Boss Battle. Big Guy Fatality Syndrome is a similar trope, considering this trope and that use The Big Guy to be put through the wringer (or in Big Guy Fatality Syndrome's case, to be killed off). Contrast Fight Dracula, in which a writer has a pre-established character (as opposed to a new one) demonstrate their awesomeness by fighting Dracula (but not necessarily winning). See also the analysis page for some side analysis of this trope. Also see Horrifying the Horror when a monster is scared by an even worse monster.

Named for the tendency in Star Trek: The Next Generation for hostile creatures to do that very thing to Worf. Also known in Professional Wrestling as "jobbing".

Note: Please don't add an example of this trope whenever someone loses a fight. It only applies if it serves the purpose described above.


Example subpages:

Other examples:

    open/close all folders 

  • One of the cause-and-effect-chain DirecTV commercials goes thusly, with lines 5-7 exemplifying this:
    When your cable TV company keeps you on hold, you get angry …
    When you get angry, you go blow off steam …
    When you go blow off steam, accidents happen …
    When accidents happen, you get an eye patch …
    When you get an eye patch, people think you’re tough …
    When people think you’re tough, they want to see how tough…
    And when they want to see how tough, you wake up in a roadside ditch …
    Don’t wake up in a roadside ditch

  • Ravages of Time: The best way establish you are somebody within the Three Kingdoms era? Beat up one of these guys.
    • Xiahou Dun and Xiahou Yuan (and their squad) have been thrashed rather consistently to establish how badass Cao Cao's various enemies are, though Dun at least would recover somewhat as a "tunnel rat" during the Battle of Guandu.
    • Lampshaded when Zhang Fei and Guan Yu 'cheated' to help Liu Bei win in a duel against Lü Bu. Liu Bei's fame immediately skyrocketed — just as Zhang Fei and Guan Yu had intended..
    • If a named character who hadn't appeared is the Romance of the Three Kingdoms is presented as smart or powerful, you can be fairly certain, that he will be used by one of the original/historical characters as a stepping stone. Handicapped Warriors seem to be a major exception to that, until we learn that Liaoyuan Huo actually is Zhao Yun.
    • On the advisor front, you know that the shit has gotten real when your Water-Mirror Geniuses get outwitted routinely by a single guy... though at least that single guy is the first Water-Mirror Genius, Yuan Fang.

  • Unbalance × Unbalance: Yang Hee-Chul is able to literally break Young-Gi. Young-Gi was shown to be a competent fighter and Jin-Ho was beaten by Young-Gi. Guess who beats Yang Hee-Chul.
  • Veritas: Anichella was supposed to be a genius, and Vera's rival, yet she was killed in a fight with Guhoo, who isn't really all that impressive, and seems to be one of the weakest peaple in the student council. Rud even lampshades, how unbelievable that is. Averted with chapter 75. Turns out, Guhoo had some help and Anichella was just as tough as everyone thought she was.
  • Witch Hunter: A staple of this series, which is used to show the fact of the matter is that none of the main characters, or even supporting characters are anywhere close to being the best of the best and that there are countless threats out there way more powerful then them.


    Mythology & Folklore 
  • Tigers in East Asian fables tend to get sacrificed to show the badassery of various characters.
    • Oni are almost always depicted as wearing a tiger skin on some part of their body, or at least tiger-teeth jewelry.
    • The first thing Sun Wukong does when released from his imprisonment is beat a tiger to death and fashion a kilt out of his skin. Before that, he beat up the entire army of the Celestial Court. The really powerful beings that finally subdued him weren't in the mood to interfere until personally insulted or their IOUs were tapped.
  • Similarly to the above example, it's common in Sub-Saharan folklore for monsters to kill pachyderms (elephants, rhinoceroses, etc.) to show how dangerous they are. This also occurs in European folklore, with the death-dealer being dragons or unicorns.
  • Greek Mythology:
    • Ares is recognized as the god of war and embodiment of physical power, but tends to lose or get humiliated in nearly every story about him. He gets trapped and humiliated by Hephaestus when Ares and Aphrodite (Hephaestus' consort) are caught in an illicit love affair, is terrified into retreating from the monster Typhon, loses a boxing match to Apollo, ends up wounded by the hero Diomedes with the aid of Athena forcing him to flee the battle, gets defeated by Hercules twice and stripped of his armor in one instance, is locked in a bronze jar by the Aloadae requiring Hermes to free him, and is defeated in battle with Athena by a rock to the head. Athena had a habit of humiliating him and Zeus generally said he was worthless. His humiliations are usually attributed to the fact that the best preserved and recorded myths came from Athens, the city of the other major deity of war. This extends to the other good recordkeeping Greeks preferring the more intellectual Athena and Ares being hated for embodying the chaotic and destructive nature of warfare. Oh, and Nike (Victory) usually sided against him—in fact, the only gods who liked him were probably Eris, Aphrodite, and maybe Hades, seeing as deaths caused by war gave him more subjects. He had a much better track record in Roman myth as Mars, whom the Romans venerated as a paternal figure second only to Jupiter.
    • Aphrodite was the goddess of beauty and love, and the most beautiful goddess of them all, yet a lot of really beautiful women or demigoddesses were frequently compared to her and proclaimed to either be equal to her or even surpass her. For instance, there is Psyche who charmed Eros, Aphrodite's son, or Helen, Zeus's illegitimate daughter, whose beauty exacerbated, if not caused, the Trojan war.
    • Centaurs are well-known in Classical Mythology for ripping up hills and trees with their bare-hands, so readers of the The Achilleid know Achilles isn't the helpless child Thetis remembers when Chiron tells her about how he's single-handedly robbed and routed centaurs all over the countryside.
  • Indra from Hindu Mythology started off as the supreme god, lord of heaven, and ultimate warrior. He rose to power by saving the world from an endless drought through slaying the demon snake Vrtra after breaking through the demons 99 fortresses with his Vajra or thunderbolt. Nowadays it's hard to find a story where he does not lose his throne, is completely ineffective in battle, or in some way humiliated. Even his one claim to fame has been retold with either Vishnu having to save him or practically handing him his victory.
  • In Russian Mythology and Tales, the Firebird is a magical creature that is supposedly nigh-impossible to catch. Some stories about hunting the Firebird do portray the hunt as just such an impressive quest, but almost as often the hero catches the avian almost as an afterthought.
  • This happens in virtually every text in Arthurian Legend. Every time a new knight is introduced, they prove how great he is by having him defeat a line-up of more established knights. Gawain gets this a lot, as does Percival.
  • Nearly every Robin Hood Child Ballad is a variation on the plot of a stranger defeating Robin in combat and thus earning his respect and being invited to join his merry band of outlaws. Read or listened to all at once, they become one long catalog of failure, the great Hood getting his ass handed to him over and over and over. He even loses to Maid Marian.
  • Throughout the early Bible stories (those also in the Torah) the big, powerful empire around is Egypt. Several times the Israelites prove the superiority of their God over this greatest early empire, either by saving it from future famine (Joseph) or freeing a subjugated ethnicity despite all of Egypt's might (Moses).

    Professional Wrestling 
  • This is a very common way of establishing a new star in wrestling. Have him or her beat an older wrestler that fans know is tough. It doesn't always work, and it can backfire if fans are unwilling to accept the new wrestler as an equal of the older one. Back in the days when matches against "enhancement talent" (that is, jobbers) was the norm, wrestlers stuck in this role would win against jobbers, but almost always lose against other established wrestlers.
  • Bobo Brazil said this when the Body Press magazine was interviewing the opponents of Pampero Firpo, saying you had to beat him to have any kind of future.
  • WWE has always had a "Big Man Who Loses" for new people to demonstrate their ability. In the 80s, they used jobbers Dave Barbie and Rusty Brooks. In the 2000s Kane played this role. Sometimes Kane gets pushed and The Big Show or Mark Henry filled in for him. The Great Khali as well after his initial two pushes.
  • WCW also had a few big jobbers-to-the-stars (to name a few, Roadblock, Rick Fuller, and Kevin Northcutt) who sometimes squashed people on WCW Saturday Night and the syndicated shows but only appeared on Nitro to worf. Ron Studd seemed to exist solely to set up The Giant.
  • The Undertaker is often the victim of this (as opposed to more conventional jobbing), which causes most viewers who have been watching WWE SmackDown! for more than a few months to conclude that Michael Cole has a very short memory.
    • The Undertaker is so good in this role, he doesn't even have to get beat to prove the new guy is credible. From Yokozuna to "Stone Cold" Steve Austin to Jeff Hardy, the easy way to establish a WWE wrestler as a legit main-eventer has been to have him stare into the Dead Man's eyes and refuse to flinch. (And when Mankind proved himself Taker's equal in psychological warfare, it made him an instant star.)
  • "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan practically made a career out of setting up the Big Invincible Monster for Hulk Hogan.
  • When Brock Lesnar debuted, within a week he was throwing the 350lb Rikishi around like a ragdoll. Within a month he was doing the same to the near-400lb Mark Henry. Within a year he was throwing the 500lb Big Show around with suplexes.
    • Lesnar also got to Worf Effect for The Big Show. Show went from being the Big Man Who Loses to the man who broke Lesnar's — the man who slaughtered Hulk Hogan — winning streak (with a little outside interference) overnight. That was partly because the tag line for the angle was "don't wake the sleeping giant" — a particularly unconvincing version of Worf Had the Flu.
    • The reason behind the Beast finally breaking Undertaker's Wrestlemaina streak was to set him up as this for Roman Reigns the following year - which only made the controversial Reigns even more unpopular with fans and necessitating a run in from Seth Rollins. It wasn't until three years later that Reigns finally got a clean win over Lesner.
  • Speaking of Mark Henry, that may actually be the best pro-wrestling example of this trope. Henry's been with the company for longer than anybody but DX, Kane, and The Undertaker, yet has been in the 'monster jobber' role for a long time even while being simultaneously pushed as legitimately the world's strongest man. In 2008 he even got his hands on the ECW Championship, and still lost a greater number of matches than any single person on that brand. Then in 2009, they suddenly bring him over to the A-show Raw, switch him to a good-guy role and have him cleanly pin the then-WWE-Champion Randy Orton...only to quickly drop him back down to the losing end of over half of his matches, even while he's a supposed "powerhouse" and the fans couldn't be cheering for him more.
    • Henry might have finally become an aversion. Since the 2011 Draft, he has been tear-assing through Smackdown, booked like the Juggernaut, culminating in his dethroning the aforementioned Randy Orton for the World Heavyweight Title at Night of Champions. The promos have made heavy mention that it's his first title reign in his 15 year (on and off) WWE career, so we may get a decent run with Henry as champ.
  • When Kane debuted, WWF had several wrestlers Worf Effect for him, most notably Ahmed Johnson and Vader. Using Vader for this was very controversial at the time, as Vader had built up years of monster credibility, and a lot of fans just plain didn't buy Vader being dominated in the ring at all.
  • In a very unusual setup, WCW had Goldberg and Meng Worf Effect for each other. Meng (Haku in WWF/E) would batter Goldberg all over the ring for roughly three-quarters of the match, when Goldberg usually tossed opponents around effortlessly. Then at the point where Meng would usually apply the Tongan Death Grip and win the match, Goldberg would rally back, spear, jackhammer, pinfall. The two of them had surprisingly good chemistry in the ring together, and despite Goldberg winning every single battle between them, the fights were popular enough that Little Caesars shot a commercial with Goldberg and Meng putting aside their differences over a pizza.
    • When Goldberg first joined WWE, one of his first matches was against Rodney Mack. Mack had been on a fairly significant undefeated streak. Goldberg still beat him in the usual 30-second squash.
  • The reason Havok&Hatred assaulted Big Van Missy after she squashed Sean Hanson in a loser leaves WSU match.
  • Going into 2010, Beth Phoenix had been de-emphasized as the dominant monster heel due to her angle with "Santina" Marella as well as losing cleanly to other divas on the roster. In order to elevate her to the top of the women's division, WWE had two Worf Effect moments for her:
    • She entered the Royal Rumble and eliminated the Great Khali.
    • Delivered an almighty Glam Slam to the Women's Champion Michelle McCool and became the first person to pin her cleanly in over five months. To this day Michelle still hasn't beaten Beth cleanly.
  • Again, Wade Barrett said this was the reason he had The Core attack The Big Show when they debuted on Smackdown.
  • Chavo Guerrero, Carlito, John Morrison, the over Seven Foot Dementus and Mil Mascaras all fell to the first WWL World Heavyweight Champion Monster Pain, to set him up for a feud with Blue Demon Jr. Downplayed in that Morrison had a victory over Pain prior and Dementus put up a very good fight.
  • It's a pretty standard formula for starting up a feud over the title. The champion is in a tag team match (sometimes it's a singles match) and the wrestler they want to push will get a surprise win with the champion taking the pin. Usually another tag match will follow with the same thing happening again. Next there will be some kind of #1 contender's match and the wrestler will get his/her official title shot (sometimes they don't even use a #1 contender's match if the wrestler beats the champion in a non-title singles match). However it can go either way whether or not the wrestler actually wins the title.
  • Tamina Snuka often fills this role in WWE's women's division. She's quite limited in the ring but benefits from Muscles Are Meaningful — so she can be presented as The Dreaded in order to make others look better by beating her. She has often found herself being used as a bodyguard for other title contenders.
  • Ric Flair played this role when Umaga debuted on WWE Raw.
  • This was pretty much the go-to for establishing a new villain in Hulk Hogan's 80s and 90s runs. A villain would appear and beat the tar out of the Hulkster outside of a match. But naturally, once the official match to settle the score happens, it goes pretty much the way they always do, with Hulk mopping the floor with the guy.

  • Yu-Gi-Oh! East Academy: Skull Knight seems to have been introduced solely for Sigmund to get his official badass license.
    • Marcus has been subjected to this no less than three times, being curbstomped by Peter, Yikzhekel and Haine.
    • And Denero gets his ass handed to him by David in the latters first duel in the show.

  • In combat sports such as boxing and Mixed Martial Arts, contenders on the rise are often matched up with "gatekeepers," who are veterans of the sport who can be described as "good" but will not be challenging for the title any time soon. Defeating a gatekeeper gives fighters experience and allows them to ascend the championship ladder without sacrificing the careers of fellow contenders. In boxing, gatekeepers will usually swim around the bottom of the top ten ranking or just below, and may even get a title shot, but they'll almost never win and mainly serve as reasonably good names on someone else's resume. Prime examples of boxing gatekeepers include Earnie Shavers, Chris Arreola, and Dereck Chisora.
  • Journeymen serve largely the same role, except less so. Journeymen are supposed to be reasonably tough and experienced, above local fighters and 'bums', but not high enough to be ranked. Beating up a few decent journeymen generally gets you into contender status, when your next challenge will be a gatekeeper. Career journeymen pride themselves on the ability to *lose* convincingly, so their opponent looks impressive instead of the journeyman just looking like a bum.
  • In boxing, aging former champions in their late 30s or to mid 40s (being too past their prime to win but still tough enough that beating them is beyond the ability of most) are often fed to a new contender on the rise in order to give them a credible name on their resume with relatively little risk. Former IBF heavyweight champion Tony Tucker was a perfect example, losing to John Ruiz, Herbie Hide, and Orlin Norris in rapid succession while aged 38-39 (he beat on journeymen in between these fights to prove he wasn't completely shot), each of whom later became a world champion. Or former WBA and IBF champion Tim Witherspoon, who aged 39-43 went on a losing spree against the likes of Ray Mercer, Larry Donald, Jimmy Thunder, Andrew Golota, and Monte Barrett (against, he racked up a bunch of victories in between these fights against journeymen). This doesn't happen as much in MMA due to old fighters being considered more viable there.
  • In NCAA Football, the University of Michigan Wolverines, the team with the most wins in college football history, has fallen into this role in recent times. The Wolverines have lost almost every game against a top-10 ranked opponent in the since 2012 (a current 1-14 record). Sportscasters will note the team’s storied history, but their opponents and rivals will use their eventual victory as proof of their program’s strength. This has increased with the hiring of Jim Harbaugh as head coach; a Michigan graduate and former quarterback who was brought in to bring the team back to its glory days and secure marquee wins.
  • In sports leagues with promotion and relegation systems any club that has spent a long time in one league without moving up or winning a championship is a good example of this, as they have been good enough to avoid relegation but not good enough to actually move on. Any team from a lower flight that wants to avoid being sent back will have to be able to contend with them and any team going for a championship will have to be able to consistently beat teams of this class. Everton in the English Premier League is a good example of this, having spent more time in the top flight than any other club but has yet to win the Premier League. Its less common in leagues with fixed membership where taking a couple losing seasons is considered to be far less of an issue and there is no real need to cling to a middle position in order to keep your spot in the league. This is considered either a bug or a feature depending on what side of the Relegation vs franchise debate you fall on.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In BattleTech, there was a time period during the early Clan invasion until just before the Fed-Com Civil War where new 'Mechs such as the Clan Omnis or advanced-tech Inner Sphere assault 'Mechs had to quickly make names for themselves. In these cases they were often shown destroying an Atlas, otherwise revered as one of the biggest, toughest, and most dangerous Battlemechs around. This is justified because while the Atlas is a famous mech with a fearsome reputation in-universe, it's not actually that great of a mech and therefore it's pretty easy to build something that's more powerful than it is (or at least designed to take advantage of the Atlas's weaknesses), especially if the new mech has more advanced weaponry and equipment. The original example of this is in the write up for the Grand Titan, a mech of equal size to the Atlas that was described as having in its debut in the Solaris VII gladiator games as having delivered a Curb-Stomp Battle to one. This was almost certainly the result of a rigged match, as the Grand Titan is actually a very inefficient machine that would have serious trouble against an Atlas at any range.
  • The eponymous Champions were shown lying beaten alarmingly often for the world's premier heroes in the game's 4th edition, in the interests of making whichever villain they were trying to promote look nastier. Nowadays the art usually shows the heroes putting up a fight rather than just having lost one.
  • Exalted: the Bull of the North is recommended for this in Compass: North, while Return of the Scarlet Empress sets up as much of the Fivescore Fellowship as the Storyteller wishes to take out, and especially Chejop Kejak.
  • The first book in the Immortal Handbook series (a modification of Dungeons & Dragons) shows two monsters battling on the cover. If you look, you can see the Tarrasque cowering on the background.
  • In Magic: The Gathering, a variation occurs, because of the metagame: If a card turns out to be a Game-Breaker, there will be instant answers to it next set, though (as per the rules) there are always answers to everything. Storyline-wise, Lin Sivvi was a Game-Breaker in the Masques block; she died at the very beginning of the Invasion block.
    • How did Khans of Tarkir establish that Surrak Dragonclaw was badass? Have him punch out a bear. On a Common card, no less, so it was likely that anyone who bought more than 1-2 boosters worth of KTK would see it. Then Sarkhan altered the timeline. In the new one, the people who had been the Khans were all over the place: Anafenza was a ghost, Zurgo little more than a living musical doorbell, Sidisi a zombie (albeit one that still had ambitions), Narset had actually done pretty well and awoken as a planeswalker, and Surrak...was still badass, as shown by art of him punching out a dragon.
    • The Gatewatch had a year-long introduction in which they took out two of the Eldrazi Titans and then bound the third (admittedly with its help), in order to 1) resolve that particular plot arc, which had been hovering in stasis for half a decade, and 2) establish how much the faces of the five colours of mana could achieve if they worked together; while all the characters were individually known qualities and most had been the viewpoint character for a block or two, this was the first time they had worked as a concerted unit rather than bounced around having their own adventures. Then they had the trope turned back on them by Nicol Bolas, a major contender for Magic's Big Bad and a character who hadn't appeared on a card in eight years, most of which had seen the player base expand and sales go up; to establish his credibility with the people who hadn't been playing in 2009 and remind people who had that he was a ridiculous powerhouse, Bolas took down the entire Gatewatch, making sure to hit each one in their own specialty for bonus showoff points.
  • In the Ravenloft product line, a remarkable number of adventures require the player characters to rescue Dr. Rudolph van Richten when he's kidnapped, mind-controlled, committed to an asylum, or otherwise much so, it mars his reputation as a shrewd and competent monster-hunter, to have gotten himself captured so many times. Probably a side effect of his being the most prominent non-evil NPC in the game setting, whom writers can't resist using in their scenarios, yet must hamstring to ensure he won't outshine the players' characters. This actually gets explained in Van Richten's Guide to the Vistani. He's under a Vistani curse that compels him to go into dangerous situations and fail horribly in ways that get all his friends killed, but allows him to survive.
  • While they did not fight, Antediluvians and Caine from Vampire: The Masquerade qualify. Antediluvians are one step from omnipotence, all of them have at least one 10-level discipline which allows them to do anything connected to it. Several were close to wiping out the whole population of Earth. Most lack any semblance of morality. Yet all of them become frightened from even a mention of their progenitor.
  • Used regularly in Warhammer 40,000 fluff and books. If the faction's in the pages of a Codex, but not on the cover, you'd better believe they'll be getting their asses kicked by whomever isnote . This can naturally lead to problems when the development cycle leaves factions Out of Focus for years to accumulate a long string of defeats, with no victories to counteract them.
    • Daemon Lord M'kar is a case that Depends on the Writer. Sometimes he's a terrifying threat, but when written by Matt Ward, he exists to show up and get pantsed by the latest new special character needing some badass cred.
    • The most consistently Worfed thing in 40k has to be the Avatar of Khaine. The Avatar is a fragment of Khaine, the Eldar god of war, placed into an enormous mech that burns with his divine power. Its might inspires fear and awe amongst the Eldar, and it is only summoned in the most dire of circumstances. So naturally an Avatar of Khaine is most commonly found as a pile of rubbish at the feet of whoever Games Workshop wanted to look badass that week.
    • Materials can be Worfs too: Adamantium and Terminator armor are pretty much only ever mentioned in terms of how a given weapon can effortlessly shoot or slice straight through it.
    • An odd example is Ollanius Pius, who dates back to the oldest fluff. This mere human Guardsman intervened during the God-Emperor's duel against his fallen son Horus, and though slain effortlessly, Pius' death showed the Emperor that his son was past redemption, inspiring him to defeat Horus once and for all. Later retcons tried to be true to this trope, and turned Pius from a human to a Space Marine Terminator to a Custodian Guard, but this is arguably missing the point: Pius' death was meaningful because he was no threat to Horus, yet he acted anyway and was killed for it. As of the Horus Heresy books, Pius is back to being a Guardsman, albeit an immortal warrior and peer of the Emperor instead of a normal human, perhaps as a weird compromise.
    • The hilarious amounts of worfs Kaldor Draigo plowed through is what contributed to his blandness, as his codex entry in 5th edition had him all but dance on Tzeentch's ass on how badly he stomped Daemon Champions (including carving a name into a Daemon Primarch's chest). The books later expanded on all of this providing context, while the later 7th edition codex omitted them completely.
    • Emperor-class Battle Titans are generally seen as some of the most powerful things the Imperium has, short of the God-Emperor in his prime. It's a war machine the size of the Statue of Liberty, it bristles with weapons, and its rules are essentially an exercise in excess because it'd be easier to make a Titan costume and stand on the table than actually make a scale miniature. Naturally, pretty much every time an Emperor Battle Titan has shown up, it's gotten destroyed.
    • All the Greater Daemons, Bloodthirsters in particular, have suffered from this quite a bit. While named Bloodthirsters generally escape the fate, killing one of the countless unnamed Bloodthirsters in a duel is a pretty popular way to make it clear how tough someone is.
  • This is actively subverted in White Wolf's Werewolf: The Forsaken. The Rahu Auspice are the designated tough guy in any pack. What inborn ability do they gain for being Rahu? The ability to tell at a glance whether or not they could take a given opponent in a fight.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!

    Visual Novels 
  • Case 03: True Cannibal Boy: Even with the Nazar, which helped Marty defeat the enemies of Case 02: Paranormal Evil, he is unable to keep the Cannibal Boy from eating Sally's body below the neck. The next time he faces the Cannibal Boy, the latter breaks the Nazar. This is to show that the Cannibal Boy is much stronger than the evil spirits and undead from the hospital.
  • Discussed in Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc. When the trapped students of Hope's Peak Academy hope that the police will save them, Monokuma mocks them by saying the cops exist just to get overwhelmed to show how dangerous the villains are.
  • Fate/stay night
    • Happens especially with Servant Berserker. His Master makes no secret of his true identity as Hercules. He's called The Strongest Servant, he's top-tier in all the main factors that determine a Servant's strength (age, fame, and mana stores of his Master), with his Class enhancing his already insane power, attacks below 'A'-rank barely scratch him, and he revives 12 times before he can be Killed Off for Real. You'd think he's a shoe-in to win the Grail War. However, he is always eliminated half-way through any scenario, all to show how impressive some other character is or has become. Taking from a modified text above..."If those things took down Berserker in less than two minutes, what chance do we have?" Isn't it sad, Bahsahkah? To be completely fair, in the Fate arc, he took out Archer and nearly killed Shirou and Rin and he went out in a blaze of glory in Unlimited Blade Works tanking Gate of Babylon after Gate of Babylon to shield Ilya cementing how badass he actually is.
      • Hercules is actually a strange case of Worf Had the Flu. The Berserker class is generally regarded as a trap option, as while it greatly strengthens servants summoned under it, it ALSO tends to remove their capacity for critical thought and disables most of their strongest abilities. The only real exceptions to this rule are people like Beowulf, who aren't truly insane but are "berserkers" in combat, people like Kiyohime, SF!Jack, and Spartacus, who are inherently insane and must be summoned under Berserker to show their strength, or those who have an ability that negates the SAN loss like Lancelot's Eternal Arms Mastership (allowing him to never lose his martial skill no matter what happens to his mind). Archer Hercules in Fate/strange Fake demonstrates perfectly how much more powerful he is when he's allowed thought.
    • Early in UBW, Servant Rider is hit by this trope. Although being regarded as one of the strongest Servant, she is killed off-screen with "Just one blow" by Caster's Master Kuzuki Souchirou, who is a mere human with his strength enhanced by Servant Caster's magic. A similar fate will almost fall upon Servant Saber, regarded as the strongest servant.
    • The true master of this trope is Lancer; he is established early on as being a badass while fighting Archer and almost kills Shiro and delivers a badass one-liner immediately following, but it's all downhill from there. In the Fate route he is killed by Gilgamesh to establish how powerful he is. In Unlimited Blade Works he is forced to kill himself by Kotomine ordering him to do so with a Command Spell, though he does have his chance to shine immediately following this. Finally in Heaven's Feel he dies to establish True Assassin's cred. Although, his death in Heaven's Feel is because Dark Sakura cornered him, meaning he would've died by either True Assassin or Dark Sakura. If Dark Sakura weren't there, True Assassin would've been gone as fast as he arrived.
    • Ultimate example: Even motherfucking GILGAMESH, the strongest day guy in the whole series, has suffered from this in Heaven’s Feel. Dark Sakura kills him while seriously wounded, confused, and scared. Then EATS him, taking his power.
  • Starting in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies, when there were multiple playable characters, Apollo becomes a downplayed version of this, being the first of the main lawyers to have to face the game's main prosecutor and demonstrate how good a prosecutor they are. Downplayed in that he does end up beating them in the end, but it is still a very close victory in both cases.

  • As this strip explains, Black Mage of 8-Bit Theater functions as both the Worf and the Butt-Monkey. Probably from how he almost always uses one spell, that while powerful, can only be used once a day.
  • Generally, the first action of a villain during the Yearly Bob and George Villain Kills Everyone storyline is to take out Protoman, who could be loosely described as a sort of robot Batman. More often than not, the nigh-indestructible "Demon"-class robots, Nate and Chadling, would also be reduced to their goo state at this stage, meaning that unless they merged with another character, they wouldn't be contributing too much.
  • Elliot from El Goonish Shive suffers from this, even though the series isn't focused on combat. He built a reputation as a Bully Hunter and befriended two of the main characters through saving them from bullies and defeated the first antagonist of the strip. He then lost to Grace's brother Hedge, and embarrassingly so having been knocked out after one blownote . Elliot also suffered from this in Nanase's introduction, where her badass cred is established as being the only person able to defeat Elliot in combat.
    • Nanase herself also suffer the Worf Effect indirectly. Her Guardian Angel spell made her able to pretty much curb-stomp Abraham, but then when she assumes it against Not-Tengu Ellen is able to tell she's lying when she said she could take it on singlehandedly. In addition, Magus schemes to keep Nanase away from his plan, and when one character presumes this is because she'd be able to defeat him, he replies that it's actually because he's far more powerful and doesn't want to hurt her.
    • Elliot further suffered from this effect even after his Next Tier Power-Up through his Cheerleadra spell (which turns him into a busty Flying Brick). He is almost killed by a dragon and spends more or less his time "fighting" a griffin just flying away from it. Somewhat justified in that while Elliot is a skilled martial artist, he explains that all of his combat training simply doesn't translate well to having superpowers, in particular being able to fly.
  • Sara and the other Time Monks from Errant Story. The author directly invokes the trope in a commentary comic.
    • Sara's jobbing seems restricted to magic-using enemies. For example, she gets caught by an unexpected bind spell, but once Meji frees her she takes down three elves in a handful of seconds.
  • Subverted in Girl Genius where a Dreen is described as powerful and scary by Jagermonsters, immediately before being squashed by a mecha of the Knights of Jove. Except in the next panel the Dreen is entirely unharmed and explodes the mecha.
    • The Jagermonsters themselves tend to suffer from this a lot. They're a Proud Warrior Race whose three favorite pastimes are fighting enemies, fighting friends, and fighting each other, but they have a tendency in the series to encounter menaces that can lay them low, sometimes without even noticing them.
    • Warrior Princess Zeetha is often injured or defeated to show that she's up against something serious. The Monster Horse Beastie, Baron Klaus Wulfenbach, a drugged-up Zola and a Geister have all defeated her at some point.
    • Zulenna is shown to easily wipe the floor with Agatha in a fencing match, with Agatha only getting in a hit once Zulenna had already called off the fight. During the escape from Castle Wulfenbach, she stays behind to stall Von Pinn and fight off the heroes' pursuers. It works pretty well... until Captain Dupree shows up and casually kills her in less than a single page, establishing her credentials as one of the top Badass Normals in the entire comic.
  • In Grrl Power, Concretia makes an entrance, complete with stats, and immediately blows away Mr. Amorphous and Achillies to show how bad arsed she is. Then in the very next page she is taken down by Math to show just how bad-arsed normal he is.
  • Guilded Age: Byron is billed as "the Berserker" and generally treated as the most competent member of the group, but he's usually also the first to go down (one way or another) when things get sufficiently serious.
  • Homestuck:
    • Equius, the strongest of the trolls, (he punched the head off an ogre with his bare hands!) is easily strangled to death by Gamzee as his first victim. This is arguably both a straight play and a subversion, since Word of God says he could have easily broken the bowstring with his STRONG neck, but didn't because Gamzee is a highblood and therefore had the right to kill him, at least in Equius' mind.
    • The Hegemonic Brute is the biggest, toughest, meanest of the Derse agents, save Jack once he gets the ring. His Midnight Crew counterpart Hearts Boxcars devours the heads of his enemies whole and rips huge safes out of brick walls. Yet in the first iteration of the kids' game he's held in a headlock by Dad Egbert and later slain off-screen by the relatively harmless-looking and meek Parcel Mistress (using the sword his boss gave her, no less), and in the post-Scratch session he's decapitated in one sweep by Dirk Strider with only three panels' worth of screen time.
    • Dirk himself, one of the most capable combatants among any of the Sburb players in the entire story, becomes a Worf against some of the most dangerous threats just to show how bad things are, such as when a newly god-tiered Dirk is blindsided and warped away by a mind-controlled Jade Harley, by this point both a three-years ascended Witch of Space with the powers of a First Guardian. And in the fateful battle between the alternate versions of the kids and Caliborn, now Lord English, Dirk fought him one-on-one and ended up beaten down especially badly, having to be bailed out by Jake's Hope bomb.
    • Jack Noir. He's the main antagonist of the first five arcs and the reason why both the kids and the trolls' sessions turned to shit, and is shown to be able to take on people with godlike power as well as destroy two universes. He gets in a fight with John, who has had a great deal more time to learn his own powers as a god-tiered Heir of Breath and to process his vengeance and trauma regarding Noir since their last confrontation, while in a dream bubble. John manages to outmaneuver him and beat him back for most of the fight, even humiliating him with a silly hat, before PM comes back to chase him across the universe.
    • Jade Harley is the most powerful God-Tier kid in the series. She has abilities derived from the Green Sun, the power source of the First Guardians, in addition to the normal power increase granted by entering the God Tiers, and can effortlessly shrink planets down to pocket size. As it turns out, not even the Green Sun can match the unleashed power of a Page of Hope, aka Jake English.
  • In Kuro Shouri, this happens often to Hisaki. In the first chapter he is established as being competent in martial arts, but gets beaten easily by the first villain to show up. That being said, after a certain point he stops being the strongest character there and the trope no longer applies.
  • In one of the prequel books of The Order of the Stick, the Order is about to face a guard monster, only to have it hit Roy with a roll of 2. Upon realizing that it can nail the party member with the probable highest Armor Class with such a low roll, they flee.
    • Explicitly lampshaded in this strip.
    • Slight alteration by Redcloak, when he takes out a tribe's number 2, in front of the number one, and then turns to the chief and says something like, "Oh, he was your chief, wasn't he?". The real chief immediately surrenders to avoid death.
  • In Sluggy Freelance, Bun-Bun found himself used like this during "Dangerous Days Ahead". Getting his butt kicked by the monstrous CEO form of clone!Aylee was a major plot point because in the past, Aylee was not strong enough to win a fight with him.
    • Their first battle ended in a draw as they both collapsed from exhaustion, although Bun-Bun managed to slice off Aylee's arm before the end (it regenerated). The fact that "Aylee" was a clone whose evolution was controlled to make her stronger helps.
    • Oasis sometimes falls victim to this, as while she is a deadly assassin, she also loses against Clone!Aylee, and previously lost to Kusari and demon-possessed Gwynn.
      • Finally, in June 2009 Bun-Bun and Oasis faced each other in a full-out fight. Who would be the Worf this time? Bun-Bun. It was likely decided by the fact that the storyline at the time was all about Oasis and it would have been cut anticlimactically short if she'd been the one to lose. Bun-bun had taken the advantage when it was solely about conventional means of fighting, but when Oasis' pyrokinetic powers are shown, the fight goes the other way.
  • A minor example in The Story of Anima, but Pocket is the first heroic Animus to be identified as such. And despite being Jade's personal bodyguard, his opponent completely overpowers him.
  • Weak Hero:
    • Myles Joo is ranked as the fourth strongest fighter in the series, and proves it when he makes a surprise appearance and easily beats down a faction of the Yeongdeungpo Union. And yet, in a single chapter, he's effortlessly beaten down himself by the newly introduced Mok-Ha Duo; with all the other fighters in the webtoon already well-established, Myles was left as the sacrifice to establish the Mok-Ha as the newest and greatest threat.
    • For all his introduction paints him as a formidable fighter, Jaeryeong goes down easily to Jake's fists. The poor schmuck seems to have been introduced for the sole purpose of reminding the reader how strong Jake is even after his loss to Ben.

    Web Original 
  • Every Memetic Badass is able mop the floor with God. Or, at least, engage in some sort of contest wherein the winner would be impossible to determine. (Or could not engage in the contest at all except as a form of solitaire.)
  • The Adventure Zone: Balance has Kravitz, aka The Grim Reaper, who spends the first half of the Crystal Kingdom-arc laying waste to our heroes. Legion knocks him out of the fight in a single hit, signifying just how strong they are. When the Hunger begins to make its attack on the planar system, the Astral Plane is one of the first planes affected. While pulling Magnus back from the brink of death, Taako spots Kravitz drowning in the corrupted Astral Sea, barely able to keep his head above the water until he's pulled back under.
  • In Episode 21 of Project Mouthwash's Bleach (S) Abridged, Urahara directly references the Worf Effect by explaining it to Chad as a reason for not training him. He subsequently agrees to help Chad train after being amused by Chad's comment that the Worf Effect applies perfectly to Renji. This turns into a Brick Joke much later when Chad — fresh off the biggest win he'll ever get in the series — runs into Nnoitra, an enemy way out of his league, who asks if he's heard of the Worf Effect. Chad's last thought before getting flattened is that this is what Urahara meant.
  • In Season 3 of Carmilla the Series, Vampire!Danny was always going to be bad news, but her managing to No-Sell a punch from Carmilla without breaking a sweat during her first real scene certainly helps establish her as a very real physical threat, on top of being a walking emotional assault on Laura's guilt.
  • In the David Blaine Street Magic parody videos, David Blaine starts out as a Reality Warper who keeps playing tricks on two L.A. idiots. Then, in the fourth video, Zaoza appears.
  • Retroactively done by Hercule/Mr Satan on the show DEATH BATTLE! regarding his series of origin. He actually is a very competent and accomplished fighter in his own series, even being declared the World's Strongest Man. His main problem, however, is that his home series happens to be Dragonball where, because he can't use Ki Manipulation, he is nowhere near the level of power of the series regulars such as Goku or Krillin. This helped him secure the win against Dan Hibiki because, unlike Dan, he has actual skill as a martial artist.
  • Parodied in this Forbes article speculating on the events of Avengers: Infinity War:
    Steve: Oh my god, Thanos has just murdered Iron Man, the central character to this entire Marvel Universe thus far! I would have thought Tony was untouchable, but Thanos just killed him!
    Scott: Wow, if he can do that, he really must be the great and powerful villain that we all suspected that he was!
    Thor: Right you are, tiny friend! This Thanos character is indeed beyond any mere foe we have ever faced!
  • Parodied in Girl-chan in Paradise with the character of Yusuke, ostensibly the main rival of the protagonist. Like a lot of tough, edgy, angsty rivals who strive to be the strongest, his main role in the show is to throw himself at any given threat and then lose badly. This has at one point included a flight of stairs.
  • In Team Four Star's "JJBA Stardust Crusaders [Part 1] in 6 minutes" Avdol's fight with Polnareff is prefaced with the latter asking the heroes which one wants to job him.
  • In the second season of Legion of Extraordinary Dancers, they introduce Organization X, a group of Evil Counterparts to the heroes set up as the main antagonists. When episode 16 rolls around, they haven't actually gotten a chance to show off their skills in a fight just yet (Except for Fangz, who isn't actually in the episode). Episode 16 has them facing off against The Umbras, a group of identically dressed Mooks working for the Dark Doctor who are only introduced a minute or two before OX shows up, just enough to show that they're actually pretty good. It's a perfect set-up for this trope, but The Umbras end up wiping the floor with them.
  • Noob:
    • Fantöm is famous for taking down the game's at-the-time Final Boss by himself, when the challenge was intended for a team of at least four players.
    • Want to show how difficult the new bosses in Horizon 1.1 are? Have one of them beat Fantöm's team.
    • Ystos, the healer from Fantöm's team, worked as that for a random Order player who quickly turned out to be Spectre (who hadn't even unlocked his new character's prestige class yet).
    • The third novel, that was Tabris' debut in the franchise, had him kill General Helkazard, the setting' most powerful human character, who's overshadowed only by the gods themselves.
  • This headline from The Onion: "Flu Takes Down Biggest Guy In Office As Warning To Rest Of Staff"
  • This would apply to the way Tex dominates Maine, Wyoming, and York in Season 9, Episode 10 of Red vs. Blue were it not for the fact that we're already well aware of Tex's badassery. To the other Freelancers, however, this is exactly what's going on. The show does a good job of averting this for the most part, however. Those that are skilled all appear completely competent even next to the absolute badasses, but the most badass of them still show clear superiority.
    • Earlier in the series, Season 8 to be exact, Tucker had taken a huge level in badass, to the point that many fans thought he might be able to give Tex a run for her money. When he finally meets up with her, even with the rest of the Reds helping him, it turns out he's not even close. He still manages to keep his dignity by being utterly defiant throughout the entire beatdown.
  • RWBY:
    • During the Volume 2 climax, Team RWBY has to split up to stop a train from breaching the kingdom's defensive walls. Neo's first fight in the show is against Yang, the team's power-fighter. However, Yang is barely able to land a solid hit on Neo, who is acrobatic and keeps dodging or deflecting Yang's attacks. Neo's taunting style of fighting also aggravates Yang's quick temper. When Neo defeats Yang and renders her unconscious, she doesn't suffer a single injury from Yang.
    • In Volume 1 Episode 8, the entirety of team RWBY and most of team JNPR spend most of the episode taking down a Nevermore, a giant bird monster, and a Death Stalker, a giant Scorpion monster. In the Volume 2 finale, Coco destroys several in a few seconds with her minigun. Coco is then effortlessly trashed in Volume 3 to show how tough Mercury and Emerald are compared to the students of the school they've infiltrated.
  • SCP Foundation:
    • Memetic Badass SCP-682 is a giant lizard proven via many in-page tests to be un-killable, to a degree that even supposedly "foolproof" methods just take longer for it to recover from, which it can get away with due to the Grandfather Clause. When the wildly-acclaimed SCP-2935 came along, the alternate reality it led to had a dead 682 just to show how dangerous the specter of death inhabiting it was. To this day, only it is confirmed to be able to kill 682 once and for all, and the Foundation only hasn't used it because it would kill everything else on Earth too.
    • Mobile Task Force Squads are touted as the elite, specially trained troops of the Foundation. When they do appear in wiki-based exploration logs, they frequently proceed to fire automatic weapons at an SCP and die.
  • In the fangame series, Sonic RPG, Sonic himself gets hit with this rather often. He's on the brink of losing to Chaos 0, only surviving thanks to Shadow's interference, is unable to defeat Eggman's latest mech without going Super, gets one-shotted by Ristar (unless he goes Super) is easily defeated by Reala, and is also easily defeated alongside Shadow in their first fight against Seelkadoom (both of the latter fights he was in his Super Form for).
  • This particular effect happens to Yellow in Super Mario Bros. Z. Supposedly the toughest of the Axem Rangers X, not only does he get his first strike turned into a dud, he's also the first one of the group to be killed off when Mecha Sonic comes calling, followed quickly by the other four. Also, this effect happens earlier with the Koopa Bros. A couple episodes earlier, their Chaos Emerald fueled special attack decimated the heroes. Mecha Sonic blew through them like they were wet rice paper.
  • Worm:
    • On her very first night out in action, the protagonist plays a critical role in defeating supervillain and gang warlord Lung, who usually can take on many heroes by himself. To make things better or worse, we later learn that Lung once dueled and drove off a Hero Killer Kaiju, a feat that normally needs the local Physical God's attention. Though it's somewhat justified by the nature of Lung's power: he gradually grows stronger over time, and against the aforementioned Kaiju he had enough time to equal its power.
    • The Interludes for arc 11 have the various members of the Slaughterhouse Nine kicking around both heroes and other villains, showing just why they're so feared and collectively given the same threat rating as the aforementioned Kaiju.
    • The protagonist herself plays Worf's role for the supervillain Contessa in Chapter 24.2.

Alternative Title(s): Worf Effect, Taking Down The Tough Guy


Alastor Vs Adam

During Alastor and Adam's fight, while Adam isn't shown to be a skilled fighter, he does have a lot of raw power that overpowers Alastor and makes him retreat.

How well does it match the trope?

4.95 (22 votes)

Example of:

Main / UnskilledButStrong

Media sources: