Dragonball as a franchise has had so many awesome battles over the years. While Super Saiyan 2 Gohan was emotional, Jiren Vs Mastered UI Goku was a spectical and Goku Vs Vegeta had many twists and turns it is Goku Vs Frieza that, for me, is the definitive fight in all of Dragonball history.
The fight literally has everything. So much so that it felt like a series ending when it first aired because Frieza came off as like the main villain of all time. You had suspense, emotion and pacing. It started off with the arrival of Goku as the saving grace for the team. We got an emotional backstory right off the bat and character development for Vegeta. It set the tone for what was to come. Goku wasn't just fighting any bad guy anymore he was fighting THE bad guy. The one responsible for ruining the lives of many. Goku came to learn about not only how Vegeta came to be how he is but also the death of every one on Planet Vegeta including his own parents. That's a heavy opening to a fight.
We start with typical beam deflection but we very quickly get a development in the fight that has consequences later on. Goku learns that Frieza can't not sense where Goku is. He's reliant on scouters. Eventually Goku uses this to his advantage to send two ki blasts in the air to distract Frieza. It seems like Goku is on par with Frieza but then we get the reveal that Frieza isn't using his full power yet. He goes up to 50% and makes a fool out of Goku. He even makes it a game where he can't uses his hands. So naturally Goku relies on his old instincts and bites Friezas tail to escape.
The pacing is great because there are slow down moments that give you a moment to properly process what is going on and wonder how Goku can amount a comeback before throwing an almighty high energy curve ball right at you. An example of this is when Goku is drowning and remembers Vegetas words and the importance of the battle. He then bursts out of the water with an amazing kaioken kamehameha. You are on the edge of your seat but Frieza is somehow still ok. Goku uses all that he has. It seems like that might be it.
The debut of the giant Spirit Bomb was a fun moment for me as a kid. I kept thinking that Gokus going to miss or something. Again it's all about pacing and while Goku charges it Piccolo tackles Frieza. I honestly thought that he may die again. The hype when that spirit bomb was completed and hurling towards the planet stood out for me as a child. I was like "omg he got him". You are on an emotional ride from start to finish. However part of you remembers the Toonami teasers teasing Super Saiyan and thinking "wait...It's not truly over is it?"
There's a brief moment of happiness and they allow it to settle in for a few moments before crushing everyone's happy ending. Frieza is alive and he shoots Piccolo and kills Krillin. That was the straw that broke the camel's back for us and for Goku. I don't need to explain how fantastic the original transformation into Super Saiyan was. You literally felt Gokus fury through the screen. When he became the super saiyan you jumped up and down in excitement. The legend was true. Another shift was about to happen.
Now we got to see Goku in control for a while and by this stage you have had so much of Frieza that seeing him get what's coming to him is so europhic. However as we have come to learn earlier in the battle due to story telling happiness is short lived in the world of Dragonball. It clicks in our memory banks and in Friezas that he is not 100% just yet. In the lead up to this however another curve ball is thrown. Frieza throws an energy ball through the planet's core. It now gives our battle a time limit on top of Friezas power up. Things look even more bleak than before.
However Goku and Frieza go toe to toe for several episodes as Friezas bulkier form sets the tone for the remainder of the series in showing us that that form in particular slows you down and drains you of your power far too quickly. Goku and Frieza are eventually on an equal playing field once again. While they battle everything is being solved all around them. Everyone is revived and sent to earth..except Goku and Frieza. It leaves them on their own. It was a major character shift for Goku at this point.
Goku wanted to die a hero and make sure that Frieza never harmed anyone again. However near the end he returns to being the old Goku after getting bored of fighting as the scales are clearly in his favour and he's just wasting his time. He lets Frieza live. He goes to leave and Frieza throws energy discs at him. It's here that Goku is upset enough to go super saiyan but is still being bored of the games that Frieza is playing. You remember the saying "live by the sword, die by the sword"? Well that's what happened here.
Frieza continued to use energy discs when he could have walked away and as a result he split himself into pieces by his own attack. While he lay there dying however in another beautiful peace of story telling Frieza played on Gokus emotions to give him energy in order to survive. Goku being a soft that he is gives him some energy and flies off. However he should know better from everything that was told to him at the start of the fight because Frieza used that energy to try and attack Goku.
"YOU FOOL!" Goku screams before firing a blast that sends Frieza straight to hell. Goku has had enough and the anger in his voice cements it. It's a standout moment. A beautiful touch at the end is the twitch in Gokus hand before he lowers it and makes a fist. The Super Saiyan anger within him at all that Frieza has done made Goku finish him off however the real Goku was still inside who has some sort of remorse for everyone he fights. He had to stay strong and get off the planet.
So as a whole this battle had it all. It had a hard hitting story. It had wonderful pacing. The action was full of its ups and downs. When it got to the Super Saiyan part it amazing to watch. It really felt like a final battle. Frieza punching Goku through the burning rubble of the planet and screaming "I HATE YOU!" and who can forget Sean Schemmels fantastic "Now you will know the horror Frieza" line? And for me that ending with Gokus hand was so subtle but perfect in just book ending what the entire fight meant to both characters.