Open your mind to the world of Pokémon. While the main character is still a child, he or she embarks on a wondrous adventure toward becoming a Pokémon Master. One of the main backbones of gameplay in the main entries of the series involves journeying to all of the various towns and cities in the region and taking down the leader of every Pokémon Gym to qualify for the Championship League.
In order to prepare the player for the rigorous journey and the Elite Four, Pokémon trainers challenge the gym leaders and earn their badges in order to move forward. Pokémon Sun and Moon deviate from this with Island Kahunas, but this was notably easier than in previous games. They are powerful in that they train their Pokémon to legendary levels (above 70), they're also too weak to be on the strong list as they have some of the least trainer battling experience (and huge weaknesses to their team setups).
A lot of the gyms challenges are set up as linear, ordered learning experiences, despite the gym leaders themselves have stronger Pokémon available that they don't use all around the same level. And while many gym leaders enter serious tournaments, all participating Pokémon are balanced and deflated down to level 50. With this in mind, the strongest and weakest Gym Leaders won't be ranked mainly on their trials within their gyms, but taking their skills and other teams into account as well. Read on for my list of the strongest and weakest gym leaders of all time (in no particular order).
15 Powerful: Sabrina
Sabrina is the gym leader of the Saffron Gym of the Kanto region. She is a renowned specialist in psychic Pokémon with a cold exterior. Canonically, she only finds the players to be strong challengers. But after her emo phase ends, she opens up; dressing less conservatively and having an acting career as a villain in the Pokéstar Studios movies.
Sabrina always brings her Alakazam. She also regularly uses a Mr. Mime and/or an Espeon. In the World Tournaments in Pokémon Black 2 and White 2, she uses a bevy of strategic moves; such as Calm Mind, barriers, and sleep-inducing moves. She is too reliant on special sweepers (attackers), and her lineup's typings could use more variety, but at least the moves she brings are an array of different types.
14 Weak: Cheren
Cheren is the player's rival in Pokémon Black and White. Out of the weaklings, he's on the stronger side. When he is last fought on Victory Road, he's become fairly powerful; boasting a team of level 65 Pokémon. Though they are varied in types (both Pokémon and move set), they're all only attackers with barely any strategic moves.
In Pokémon Black 2 and White 2, he leads the unimposing normal-type Aspertia Gym for trainers that are just beginning their journey. In the Pokémon World Tournament, he still doesn't bust out his beloved team from the first game, instead he sticks to all Normal-type Pokémon without any subtypes. Though he does have a variety of moves to hit different weaknesses, he has almost nothing in strategic attacks.
13 Powerful: Iris
In Pokémon White (but not in Black version), Iris is the leader of Opelucid City's gym. She is the eighth that the player faces, and is another user of dragon-types. In Pokémon White 2 and Black 2, it is revealed that Iris has since moved on to become the League Champion.
Iris' signature Pokémon is her outrageous physical sweeper, Haxorus with Dragon Dance. Iris' lineup and moves have a good variety against most enemies. And, all of her Pokémon are high in stats, particularly her Hydreigon and Archeops, though her Aggron and Lapras aren't slouches. Although she originally favors a Druddigon against players, she also replaces it with her killer Salamence during rematches.
12 Weak: Striaton Trio
The triplets share the leadership of the Striaton Gym. Which of these three the player faces is dependent on the weakness of the starter Pokémon the player picked. Despite this, as gym leaders, all three only have one Pokémon, with one move of their typing. In Pokémon Black 2 and White 2, they've since retired as gym leaders to train.
Though their development is admittedly impressive during a two-year absence, their setups in the Pokémon World Tournament aren't great. None of Cress's Water-type Pokémon have a sub-type that help their grass weakness, none of Chili's safe to water, and none of Cilan's survive fire. In addition to this, they all have poor variety in their attacks, particularly having little to harm their weaknesses (though Cress is a noticeably smarter about this).
11 Powerful: Morty
The Ecutreak Gym is run by the Ghost-trainer Morty in the Johto region. He brings multiple Gengar (or Haunter) to battle. Although he relies too heavily on Hypnosis and Curse in his earlier appearances, a rematch with Morty in the Fighting Dojo gives him the opportunity to use his aggravating Destiny Bond, Perish Song, and Substitute.
In the Pokémon World Tournament, his move sets might be just as annoying (though at least he doesn't bring Substitute anymore). His Pokémon are generally mightiy quick and powerful special attackers. Yet, he has little in the way of dealing with Dark-types other than an inaccurate Focus Blast on his signature Gengar, and a heavy reliance on Will-O-Wisp to weaken physical attacks.
10 Weak: Erika
Erika is the elegant, wallflower gym leader of Celadon City. In Kanto-based games, she actually relies too heavily on status moves. She is notably more balanced and daunting in Johto-based games, but by the time the player reaches her there is no way they don't have Pokémon to exploit the many weaknesses of her Grass-typing.
This continues to be true in her reappearance in the Pokémon World Tournament. She has lots of status moves and too many grass weaknesses. She becomes a big threat if the player is dodging around the status effects long enough for Erika to set up Swords Dance. Erika is strongest in the Kanto Leaders matches as she seems to be making the grave mistake of forgetting to bring her much-needed Sunny Day in the other tourneys.
9 Powerful: Wallace
Wallace is the Sootopolis City's gym leader. He is a Water-type trainer as well as a Pokémon coordinator. In Pokémon Emerald, Wallace becomes the League Champion. Though not the most impressive of champions, he does carry some strategic moves. Still, he may be the weakest of the strong gym leaders.
In the Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire remakes, his move sets are more straightforward with sweeping attack moves. This is also true in his appearance in the Pokémon World Tournament, but at least he has a better assortment of attacks to target different weaknesses.
8 Weak: Viola
Viola is the first gym leader of the Kalos region. She stands at the head of the Santalune Gym, using bug Pokémon. Pokémon X and Y differ from other games with the Writ of Challenge system. With this, every gym leader eventually has powerful level 70 Pokémon in their arsenal. But in all matches and rematches with Viola, she only uses the same two Pokémon; a Vivillon and a Masquerain (at first, it's a Surskit).
Levels can only go so far to cover up her team's narrow focus. Viola relies on the Quiver Dance buff for her special sweepers. As Vivillon and Masquerain are both bug and flying types, any Rock-type move will do quadruple the damage against them. Her damaging attacks are also pretty much exclusively Flying and Bug-type. This makes Viola extremely easy to counter and demolish, even with walls.
7 Powerful: Clair
Clair is the Blackthorn gym leader in the Johto region. She specializes in using dragon-type Pokémon. She's a bit petty, and even after defeating her she won't reward the player with the Rising Badge until you venture through the Dragon's Den. Canonically, she rarely loses to anyone other than the player, and her cousin Lance.
She is a skilled contender in the Pokémon World Tournament. Clair always starts with her signature Kingdra; either as a physical sweeper with the Dragon Dance buff and Rest to heal (immediately waking due to a Chesto Berry), or as a special sweeper that Yawns to force enemies to switch out lest they fall asleep. She buffs her (already heavy-hitting) Dragonite or Garchomp with Hone Claws and Swords Dance respectively. She also uses her Altaria as a wall (for tanking damage), with Cotton Guard and sometimes Double Team, while letting an enemy die of Toxic or Perish Song.
6 Weak: Falkner
Meet Falkner, the Flying-type gym leader of Violet City. In the Johto region, his is the first gym to be challenged. He has his own fanbase, but sadly, he isn't as cool as his demeanor or themes, using the saddest team of all gym leaders (a level 9 Pidgey, and a level 13 Pidgeotto).
For rematches in the Fighting Dojo, none of Falkner's bird Pokémon have any resistance to Electric or Rock attacks, and only one that survives ice attacks. In the Pokémon World Tournament, he has no resistance to Electricity or Ice, and only one that survives rock attacks.Falkner has two special sweepers in his Xatu and Honchkrow, and the rest of his different bird setups depend on which tournament he is fighting in (like a Noctowl with Hypnosis, or Swellow with Protect). It isn't clear why he sticks with his signature Pidgeot though.
5 Powerful: Norman
Norman is the player's father in Pokémon Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald (as well as the Generation VI remakes). He is faced in the Petalburg Gym of the Hoenn region. Like Johto's Whitney (and her infamous Miltank), Norman is proof that Normal-type trainers are capable of being just as much of a frightening contender as any other.
In the Pokémon World Tournament, he mixes up his team with a litany of varied Pokémon and moves. What he does keep constant, is his signature Slaking. Although it can only move half the time, it's a powerful physical sweeper. He also employs an Exploud as his special sweeper.
4 Weak: Lenora
On the opposite side, Lenora is a Normal-type trainer that is as basic as her Basic Badge. In Nacrene City of the Unova region, she is both a gym leader as well as the director of the museum. By the second gym, the player might not have Fighting-type moves for her Normal-type Pokémon, but she really doesn't have much to show.
In the Pokémon World Tournament, she brings a Sawsbuck and Kangaskhan as physical sweepers. She also uses her typical Watchog with Hypnosis, but now it's more versatile with Super Fang and Confuse Ray. Sometimes her healing abilities are annoying, but she really has too few buffs on powerful Pokémon to properly take down the player.
3 Powerful: Blue
Blue is the progenitor for rivals in the Pokémon series. As the first champion you face, Blue boasts a powerful team of assorted types. In the Johto-based games, Blue becomes the gym leader in Viridian City. Rather than stick to being a Ground-type gym, he continues to use some of his signature assortment; like Arcanine, Gyarados, and Pidgeot. He also uses the same Pokémon for the World Tournament.
Blue may be a jerk, but he has a Pokémon for pretty much any kind of enemy. His teams are mostly composed of physical attackers, with the exceptions of Alakazam and Exeggutor. At the very least, his strategy is straightforward in that he'll mostly use sweepers (some with buffing moves) without many walls or many status moves.
2 Weak: Burgh
Burgh is the gym leader in Castelia City, and the third that the player faces in the Unova region. Perhaps his unimpressive line-up is the result of splitting his attention between Pokémon and art. It's as though he didn't take much time coordinating his Pokémon's move sets.
Burgh is a Bug-type trainer and is easy to suppress with his many weaknesses. Even at his best, in the World Tournament, he brings an Escavalier, Durant, and Leavanny that take four times the damage from Fire-type attacks. If left alive, his sweepers can become a threat with Swords Dance. Without a Rock-type move, Burgh's Vespiquen is a hassle to kill with its Defend Order and Roost, as it wipes out enemies slowly with Toxic. But his beloved Crustle with Shell Smash is the biggest nuisance.
1 Powerful: Fantina
The Ghost-type gym leader of the Hearthome Gym goes by the name Fantina. The player obtains his or her fifth badge of the Sinnoh League after her defeat in Pokémon Pearl and Diamond (though she is fought earlier in Pokémon Platinum). She employs fast, ghost sweepers like her signature Mismagius and Gengar.
In the Pokémon World Tournament, she also typically uses a Spiritomb and Dusknoir. Her move sets don't rely as heavily on sweepers. Instead, she utilizes attacks like Pain Split and Will-O-Wisp. But Fantina's beloved Drifblim is monstrous; using a combo of a Flying Gem, Acrobatics, and often having Unburden.