Greg, these last few days, I've had this idea that I know deep down is pretty ridiculous and that Oda almost certainly won't go there, but I still can't let go of it. And I'm hoping that you (or some other good poster) can logic it out of me. So here it goes. Does Luffy Have to beat Katakuri? For clarification, by "beat" I mean defeat in a standard 1-on-1 format, that ends with Katakuri decisively KO'd and Luffy exhausted at worst (ala vs. Lucci). Katakuri can still "lose" or "fail" in any other way, but not necessarily in such a straightforward manner. Even a double knockout would be okay, just any scenario that doesn't end with Luffy "clearly" beating him.
You and I both agree that one of the most important things to Oda is writing a story that's "interesting." The way I see it, Luffy beating Katakuri tells the audience going into Wano that he is strong enough to fight against more or less all of Kaidou's forces (though he'll still need help with Kaidou himself). And therefore, any encounter between Luffy and the Beast Pirates has us already assuming that he'll probably win.
On the other hand, If Luffy d_oesn't_ beat Katakuri, then we go into any fight between him and the high ranking members with much more uncertainty. And the way I see it a Luffy we're uncertain about, is much more interesting than one that we can immediately put our trust in.
Here are some preemptive counterargements:
"But Oda doesn't write fights like that!:" WCI is already a formula breaking arc, which is set to end with Big Mom undefeated and an agreement between them reached, and a main character besides Luffy (Sanji) being the center of it all. The only bit of "traditional Oda" that I don't think will change is his stance on character death.
"But Luffy is going to learn new technique this fight:" Yes I agree. By the end of this he'll either have learned or started to learn awakening or future haki. So? Learning a new skill doesn't automatically mean victory.
"But Sanji said otherwise in chapter 884:" I'm admittedly not sure what VIZ or the original Japanese said, but in Jaimini's scans at least Sanji said "It would be [Katakuri's] first loss." Not necessarily the same as Luffy beating him.
"But Luffy said that he would beat him in chapter 886:" He constantly said he'd save Ace, and look how that went. He also said that he would fight/take on/beat Big Mom, but that doesn't look like it's happening either. Just because the main character says something, doesn't mean it will come true.
Those are my thoughts. Hoping to hear back from someone.
I really like the point you've raised here. It's an important one.
Whether privately or publicly, Luffy needs to show that he has bested Katakuri. A few weeks back we didn't have a clear picture of Luffy's goal but now we know he wants to basically gain 'mantra' from this fight.
What Luffy MUST do before this fight is resolved:
-Show capability with mantra. (imma call it that for simplicity)
What Luffy could do before this fight is resolved to show superiority as related to mantra:
-Eek out a victory with a similar mantra ability.
-Show an equivalent level of mantra.
-Show a superior level of mantra.
The last one there would quite OP so it would need a HEFTY balance, but even as a one-time thing, it would also be incredibly badass to see Luffy predict something that Katakuri will do/say.
So there's one MUST with three potential outcomes.
Besides actually showing that he's better than Katakuri, and the stage he's able to prove that on
(i.e. Will Katakuri lose and submit to Luffy's whim to save face? Will someone witness the loss and hold reign over that information? Or will Katakuri be beaten in a way that reveals his weakness to all of the Big Mom Pirates?) there's not much we can say for certain.
Now, for that great point you raised about what this says about Luffy's power going into the next arc. First of all, awesome that you're thinking that far ahead and just like Oda! However, I urge you to go a bit deeper into the rabbit hole.
We only know Jack's bounty.
Of Jack, Queen and King, the lowest of those is, according to cards, Jack. Thus it makes perfect sense if Jack, who has a lower bounty than Katakuri is the lowest of the top three and still rests below Queen and King, meaning they could have crazy unheard of bounties which keep the stakes raised.
(yes we're all in agreement that 'bounties = power' is not true but 'bounties = prowess' usually holds up)
And just like in this arc, when Luffy was ganked by an INSANE mob which he was severely handicapped against b/c of his own declaration of staying in place and not eating, there are plenty of reasons that Luffy could have trouble with Kaidou mooks.
That said, reliance on a scanlation aside (ftr, Sanji could only have been referring to Katakuri losing to Luffy and it being his first loss ever)- I don't think the idea is crazy, it just depends how much of a spectacle it is or isn't. Luffy only need put Katakuri on his back in front of the family to actually win the emotional victory he needs and that doesn't mean pounding him into oblivion.
If things head to a happy end though, I can easily see Luffy felling Katakuri in Mirro World, that loss being witnessed, and Luffy shutting up about it to let the dude save face. That's IF things end nicely.
All of this is of course if Luffy doesn't plant Katakuri's cheekbones into the ground which, he's likely to do. Either way, the emotional victory that he must win over him must be equally crushing.