Ash Ketchum was a mess during the early days of Pokémon, and for proof, look no further than his bizarre journey through the eight Gyms in Kanto. In a series of lucky breaks, acts of charity and brief flashes of genuine skill, Ash succeeded in collecting all eight Kanto Gym Badges. Let's take a closer look at how each of these Gym Battles went down and decide which Badges he earned, and which he didn't.
Ash Forfeits His Way to the Boulder Badge
Now a longstanding Pokémon tradition, Ash gets molly whopped in his first battle against a Gym Leader. In the rematch against Brock, Ash still stands no chance, but Pikachu's sparks inadvertently cause the sprinklers to go off, damaging Onix and giving Ash an opening. Before Ash delivers the final blow, Brock's siblings plead with him not to hurt Onix, apparently unfamiliar with how Pokémon battles work. Ash generously forfeits, but Brock insists that Ash take the Badge anyway because of the kindness he showed by needlessly forfeiting a match he was about to win.
Ash Gets the Cascade Badge for Being a Good Samaritan
When one of Misty's sisters offers Ash a free Gym Badge, he hilariously responds that he prefers to earn his badges, despite currently being 0 for 1 in the "earned his badges" department. After this ironic foreshadowing, Ash accepts a Gym Battle with Misty. The battle's interrupted when Team Rocket attacks the Gym, attempting to steal all the Water-type Pokémon. Once Ash and Pikachu defeat Team Rocket and rescue the Pokémon, Misty's sisters give Ash the Badge as thanks for protecting the Gym.
Ash Shocks the World by Winning the Thunder Badge
In Ash's first battle against Lt. Surge, the eight-foot-tall behemoth's Raichu nearly sends Ash's Pikachu to meet Arceus. Ash's subsequent rematch features one of the first examples of his trademark creativity in battle when Pikachu uses its tail as a ground to avoid damage from Raichu's Thunderbolt. In a sentence that only makes sense in Pokémon, Ash's fifth battle against a Gym Leader results in his first victory for his third badge.
Ash Proves Laughter is the Best Medicine for the Marsh Badge
The most infamous example of Ash's constant circumvention of Pokémon League regulations, Ash's "Gym Battle" against Sabrina is one for the ages. After his first obligatory loss, Ash befriends a wild Haunter to help him with his rematch. Haunter, ever the troll, abandons Ash at the start of the battle. It quickly reappears and begins making silly faces that cause the stoic and creepy Sabrina to laugh so hysterically that the battle just… ends. Her father insists that Ash take the Marsh Badge as thanks for making his daughter laugh.
Ash Literally Risked His Life for the Rainbow Badge
This time around, Ash didn't get a chance to lose his first match, even though he was about to. During the battle, Team Rocket drops into the building carrying a bomb that Meowth inexplicably detonates while still holding, causing them to get sent blasting off again as the building catches fire. When the Gym Leader's Gloom is trapped inside, Ash rushes back into the burning building and rescues it. As thanks, Erika awards Ash his fifth badge.
Ash Shows His Fighting Spirit to Win the Soul Badge
Impressively, it only took Ash until the sixth Gym to earn a Badge on his first try. After a prolonged interruption by Team Rocket, Ash's Charmander defeats Koga's Golbat, winning the Soul Badge. Although, Ash never would've won were it not for Misty's Psyduck, as it was the only Pokémon that was able to fight off Team Rocket so Ash could resume his match. Ash might be the only trainer in history to owe his victory in a Gym Battle to someone else's Pokémon.
Charizard Wins Ash the Volcano Badge Out of Spite
Ash was right to surrender his first match against Blaine to avoid Pikachu possibly meeting a fiery end. Blaine should probably be barred from being a Gym Leader for forcing Pokémon to fight above a pit of lava. This victory deserves an asterisk, though, because Ash's Charizard pretty much commanded itself in battle and emerged victorious while Ash happened to be standing nearby. Charizard does belong to Ash though and did heed two of his orders during the match, so Ash kind of earned the badge.
Ash Technically Stole the Earth Badge from a Crime Scene
Nothing will ever top the chaos of Ash's experience at the Viridian City Gym. With Team Rocket filling in as Gym Leaders, Jessie sent out three Pokémon at once while she and Ash stood on platforms that electrocute trainers while Gary Oak had a fistfight with Meowth. For the second time in Ash's Kanto Gym Challenge, Team Rocket blows up the gym that he's in. As Team Rockets hurtles off into the sky, the Earth Badge conveniently floats down into Ash's hand as the building collapses. Apparently, Badges still count if the trainer didn't defeat any Pokémon or even face the actual Gym Leader.
Ash Only 'Won' Three of His Eight Badges
It's unlikely that Ash would've been permitted to enter the Indigo League if they'd known how he acquired his Badges. As his swift exit from the tournament demonstrates, Ash didn't benefit from being gifted most of his Badges. While the aspiring Pokémon Master is clearly a good kid who tries his best, he was ultimately done in by the fact that five of his Badges were the equivalent of participation trophies.