For the last three years Goku and his friends have been in intensive training. Krillin and Yamcha spent their time with a wise master of martial arts, the Turtle Hermit Master Roshi. Goku, having grown stronger than his teacher, was instructed to venture off by himself into the world, seeking new experiences and developing his own potential.
When the time of the tournament arrives, Yamcha and Krillin arrive to sign up for the tournament with Bulma, Launch, Oolong, Puar, Turtle and Master Roshi there to watch and cheer them on; unknown to the gang, Master Roshi secretly signs up using the alias which he used to win the 21st World Martial Arts Tournament during the Tournament Saga, Jackie Chun.
While they are waiting for Goku to arrive they are confronted by Master Roshi's arch-rival, the Master Shen. Master Shen is entering his two students, Tien Shinhan and Chiaotzu, in response to Goku making the finals in the previous tournament. Master Shen is determined to show up Master Roshi and prove the superiority of his school. The conversation quickly degrades to a trading of insults between the two hermits before Master Shen abruptly leaves.
Goku arrives shortly after and the group enjoys a brief reunion. Goku, Yamcha and Krillin then change into their Turtle-style uniforms and meet up with Jackie Chun, whom Goku promises to defeat this time around.
Yamcha and Krillin are among the first combatants, easily defeating their opponents. They are then approached by Tien who chides them for feeling any satisfaction by defeating such weak fighters. This leads to a trading of insults between Tien and Yamcha until Tien is called to his first bout; he proves to be up to his boasts as he defeats his opponent with a speed that shocks all onlookers.
Goku then fights next, his opponent is King Chappa, a fighter who won an earlier tournament without even being touched. Goku starts off the match right away, staggering King Chappa with a fast punch to the jaw. Realizing that Goku is a powerful opponent, King Chappa uses his most potent technique, the 8-handed attack, a technique which blends speed and optical illusion to make it appear as if he is fighting with eight separate arms. King Chappa then launches a flurry of attacks against Goku, all of which Goku parries; Goku then retaliates with a sweeping kick, knocking King Chappa off of his feet. Enraged, King Chappa charges at Goku and strikes at him, but Goku evades the attack with the After Image Technique, appearing high above King Chappa near the roof of the arena. Goku kicks himself off of the roof directly at King Chappa, who is confident that the small warrior will not be able to dodge him while in mid-air. As King Chappa lunges at Goku, Goku lets out a mighty yell, halting himself in mid-air and dodging the attack; with a quick follow up kick, he then sends King Chappa out of the ring, winning the match.
The remaining fights are of no difficulty to any of the fighters, from either school, and they all make the finals. All finalists meet in order to determine, by drawing lots, who will be fighting who in the quarter-finals; it does not take long for insults to be traded between both Yamcha and Tien and Krillin and Chiaotzu. When the lots are being drawn Tien has Chiaotzu manipulate the numbers; he selects to fight Yamcha in order to settle their conflict and Chiaotzu chooses to go against Krillin. Finding that Man-Wolf (a werewolf who turns into a man by the full moon) has a grudge against Jackie Chun, he also fixes them to fight.
Yamcha vs. Tien
The match starts of quickly with Yamcha quickly lunging at Tien; they spar for a bit with Tien landing the first blow and Yamcha retaliating with one of his own. Yamcha then uses his New Wolf Hurricane Attack and launches a flurry of strikes against Tien; Tien resists though, matching every blow and then counters the attack with a strong punch to Yamcha's stomach, knocking him down.
Yamcha decides to go all out in the battle and uses the Kamehameha, surprising both Krillin and Roshi. Tien sees the move coming and prepares a defense against it, reflecting the attack back at Yamcha when it gets close to him. Bewildered, Yamcha leaps in the air to avoid his own attack and, in his distraction, does not notice Tien get right behind him. Tien hits Yamcha with a strong kick and sends him crashing back to arena floor, knocking him out. Not quite satisfied with just winning the match, Tien does a knee dive as he falls to the ground, breaking Yamcha's leg.
Goku, Krillin and Puar enter the ring to check on their friend, Puar quickly changing into a magic carpet to ferry Yamcha to the hospital; Bulma and Launch also leave to go with him. Goku then promises revenge on Tien for the unneeded brutality, but Tien simply shrugs it off.
Man-Wolf vs. Jackie Chun
When Man-Wolf enters the ring he states his desire for revenge on Jackie Chun is because Jackie Chun destroyed the moon during the last World Martial Arts Tournament; without the moon, Man-Wolf can not turn back into a human and therefore can not get any dates.
Man-Wolf furiously attacks Jackie Chun, but Jackie Chun is easily able to evade him and counter-attack; so different is their level of skill that Jackie Chun does not even pay much attention to Man-Wolf, preferring instead to ogle the women in the audience. After Man-Wolf is kicked to the side of the arena, he then pulls out a knife and lunges at Jackie Chun, but Jackie Chun easily catches the knife and again throws Man-Wolf across the arena.
Feeling pity for his opponent, Jackie Chun decides to turn him back into a human. Before he does though, he has some fun by giving Man-Wolf a series of orders, such as "beg", that one would give to a dog. Man-Wolf instinctively obeys at first, but quickly snaps out of it, even more infuriated. Jackie Chun then ends the match by tossing a bone outside the arena, which Man-Wolf promptly fetches and disqualifies himself. Though the match is officially over, Man-Wolf gets back in the ring and charges at Jackie Chun, but is stopped when Jackie Chun uses a paralyzing attack to halt him in his tracks.
Jackie Chun then calls Krillin in the ring and has him stand in front of Man-Wolf with his back to him, exposing his bald head; Jackie Chun then hypnotizes Man-Wolf into thinking that Krillin's head is actually the moon. Man-Wolf then promptly turns back into a human and, overjoyed, thanks Jackie Chun before running off in glee.
Krillin vs. Chiaotzu
When the match begins, Chiaotzu surprises Krillin with his unnatural movements, moving across the ring without moving his actual body. Chiaotzu gets the first kick in, launching Krillin into the air; when he moves in for a follow-up strike, Krillin dodges with a flip and, on landing launches his own attack, which Chiaotzu is able to avoid due to his ability to control himself while in the air.
Krillin then lunges at Chiaotzu and, at the last second, uses the After Image Technique to seemingly vanish, startling Chiaotzu. Tien then warns Chiaotzu that Krillin is on his left, but Chiaotzu is unable to determine which way is left until it is too late and Krillin scores a powerful hit on him. They then spar for a bit until Chiaotzu takes to the air. Krillin does not jump after him as, since he cannot fly, he risks being knocked out of the ring.
While safe in the air, Chiaotzu then starts firing off multiple Dodon Rays at Krillin, which he avoids. Goku recognizes the technique as that of Mercenary Tao, and surprises Tien when he states it; when Tien asks Goku how he knows that name, Goku tells him that he killed Tao earlier. Tien leaves in a rage to inform his master and Jackie Chun, also surprised that Goku was able to kill Mercenary Tao, informs Goku that Tao was the Crane Hermit's younger brother.
Back in the ring, Krillin is still evading Chiaotzu's assault; he realizes that the only chance he has is to retaliate and attempts to use the Kamehameha. On his first attempt, Krillin only manages to create a small energy burst that travels less than a foot; he's still excited as he now believes that he can pull it off. In the stadium, the Crane Hermit is enraged that his brother is dead, believing that the only way Goku could have killed him was with some sort of trickery; he then orders Chiaotzu to kill Krillin in retribution.
Chiaotzu prepares a full strength Dodon Wave while Krillin prepares a Kamehameha. Jackie Chun shouts from where he watching the match that the Kamehameha cannot stand up to the Dodon Ray. Chiaotzu lets loose his blast and Krillin, instead of trying to counter it, leaps in the air to avoid it and then fires, hitting Chiaotzu at point-blank range. Being that it was the first true Kamehameha that Krillin has used though, it was not very potent and Chiaotzu managed to recover before falling out of the ring.
Krillin launches a new attack against Chiaotzu and strikes him with a fierce kick. As he moves for a second attack, Krillin finds himself paralyzed and intense pain from Chiaotzu's Telekinesis technique; while Krillin is paralyzed, Chiaotzu starts to kick him around. Watching Chiaotzu, Krillin realizes that he needs his hands to keep up the attack and asks him a simple math question ("What's 3 + 4?"). Chiaotzu, needing his fingers to count, breaks off the attack, allowing Krillin the opportunity to strike him. Chiaotzu quickly resumes the technique and asks Krillin a math question of his own, which, to Chiaotzu's surprise, Krillin answers correctly. Krillin then asks him another simple math question and again Chiaotzu has to break off the attack; Krillin once again lands a powerful hit, this time knocking Chiaotzu out and sending him out of bounds.
Goku vs. Pamput
The last round of the quarter-finals is Goku against Pamput, an arrogant kickboxer who already has two other major fighting tournament victories under his belt. Before the match begins, Pamput attempts to intimidate Goku by throwing a punch which intentionally misses by a very small amount. When Goku is unimpressed, Pamput then gives a demonstration of his fighting prowess, throwing many rapid punches and kicks then destroying part of the arena wall with an elbow strike. He then boasts that all he needs to defeat Goku is three seconds. When the match begins Pamput rushes directly at Goku, but his attack is parried and Goku gives him a quick elbow to the chest, defeating him with seemingly one hit. Tien notes that it was not one single blow, but three in rapid succession and is impressed with Goku's speed.
Jackie Chun vs. Tien
Tien and Chun start off the fight with a series of strikes and throws with neither opponent getting a solid hit on the other. Jackie Chun then attempts the After Image Technique, creating eight images of himself around Tien, but the triclops sees right through it and lands a strong kick on Jackie, sending him crashing into one of the walls.
Jackie Chun determines that he can not fool around with Tien and takes off his jacket, prepared to go all out. Tien then lunges at him, but Jackie Chun catches Tien's hands and knees him in the gut before punting Tien away. Tien charges again, this time striking Jackie Chun with his knee and punching him to the ground. Jackie Chun gets up and strikes him back. Both fighters at this point take a small breather, reassessing each other; Tien realizing that Jackie Chun is even stronger than the Master Shen himself.
Jackie Chun asks Tien why he is serving a wicked master and Tien responds by telling Jackie Chun to shut up. He then uses one of his secret techniques, the Solar Flare and blinds Jackie Chun long enough to strike him with a powerful knee-dive to the back of the head. Tien thinks that he has put Jackie Chun into a coma with that attack, but Jackie Chun gets back up after five seconds. Jackie Chun continues to lecture Tien, saying that it is better to live and fight for the cause of good than evil and encourages Tien to abandon Master Shen. Master Shen overhears these comments and quickly pieces together that Jackie Chun is actually Master Roshi in disguise and he informs Tien of this telepathically. Tien decides to surprise the Turtle Hermit and launches a Kamehameha at him, having learned the attack by observing Yamcha perform it. Master Roshi deflects the attack in order to save the crowd behind him and, with one final urge not to follow the path of evil, Master Roshi jumps out of the ring, ending the match with Tien as victor.
Tien is dissatisfied with the results and confronts Master Roshi after the fight. His first question is why Master Roshi needs to disguise himself, to which Master Roshi answers that should one of his students win the tournament, he does not want them to get a swelled head by thinking that they are better than their master and therefore the best in the world. Tien then states that Master Roshi forfeited because he believes that one of the Turtle School students is strong enough to beat him, and states that he will defeat them all in the end regardless. Master Roshi counters by saying that none of his students think their victory is guaranteed and he believes Tien thinks so as well. Master Roshi also admits that if they had continued to fight, Tien would have won in the end.
Goku vs. Krillin
The first real battle between the two, Goku and Krillin both agree not to hold anything back and charge into the fight. Though Goku seems to have the advantage in power, Krillin has several tricks up his sleeve.
Early in the fight Goku leaps in the air and Krillin follows him; in an imitation of Tien, Krillin uses the sunlight reflecting off of his bald head to temporarily blind Goku and lands a kick on him, sending Goku back to the arena floor. Goku recovers and lunges at the still airborne Krillin, but Krillin evades the attack by filling his body up with air like a balloon, causing Goku to strike only the air beneath him. Goku decides to show Krillin a trick of his own and charges at him while preparing a Kamehameha; he leaps at the last second, turns his back to Krillin and fires the blast, propelling him directly into Krillin, striking him with a strong punch followed by a powerful knee dive to Krillin's stomach. Krillin recovers from the attack and charges at Goku, but Goku evades it and strikes him in the back of the head.
Knowing that he can not beat Goku in a straight-up fight, Krillin fires a Kamehameha at him. Goku easily blocks the attack, but it was intentionally a distraction and Krillin used it to get behind Goku and grab his tail. Goku goes down until the referee reaches the nine count when he springs back up and tosses Krillin to the ground; over the course of his training, Goku's tail is no longer a weak spot. Krillin then pretends to see something and strikes Goku when he looks in the same direction, Goku decides that if all is fair to use a trick of his own and seemingly vanishes. From where he is watching the fight, Tien can see that Goku is actually moving extremely fast to appear invisible. Goku reappears directly in front of Krillin and knocks him out of the ring with what looks like a single hit, though Tien can see it was actually eight and a kick.
Final Match: Goku vs. Tien
The fight between Tien and Goku starts off fast. Tien takes an early advantage, nailing Goku with a Dodon Ray, seeing through his After Image Technique technique, hammering him with the Machine Gun Tsuki (a sequence of very rapid punches), and then knocking down him with the Haikyuken.
Goku seems little worse for the attacks however, and declares that he will now fight Tien with all his strength. He starts off with a quick series of attacks, nearly finishing with a Kamehameha, but changes his mind at the last second, knowing that Tien would simply deflect it.
The fight continues with a short After Image Technique duel, each fighter using the technique to dodge an attack and try one themselves, with Goku getting the final kick in. Tien then attempts his Solar Flare again, but is floored by Goku, who was wearing shades after learning of the technique from Tien's previous match. As Goku goes to return the shades to Roshi, he is hit from a behind by a recovered Tien, smashing him into the wall.
When the combatants next charge at each other, Goku becomes frozen in place, allowing Tien to land a punch. This happens twice more, and Tien pummels Goku in the process, but, realizing that he is winning too easily, discovers that Chiaotzu is using his powers to paralyze Goku. Tien telepathically tells Chiaotzu to stop interfering in his match, as he wants to beat Goku in a fair fight. This angers Master Shen, who then orders Tien to kill Goku. Tien defiantly states he will not kill Goku, both because he does not want to be disqualified, and that he no longer wants to be an assassin like Mercenary Tao. The now infuriated Master Shen orders Chiaotzu to kill both Tien and Goku. When Chiaotzu refuses, Master Shen then threatens to kill him instead. Master Roshi puts an end to this by blasting Master Shen out of the stadium with a Kamehameha, allowing Tien and Goku to concentrate on their match.
Tien then attempts one of his "aces-up-sleeve" techniques, and uses his Four Witches Technique ability to grow an extra set of arms. Goku counters by using a pseudo-eight arms technique he learned from his battle with King Chappa, which Tien is hard pressed to defend against.
Tien soon loses the additional arms and decides to use his final attack, the Tri-Beam. He warns Goku to dodge the blast, forcing him out of the arena, as there is no way to survive being hit by it. Tien then floats high in the air and uses the attack, destroying the entire arena. Goku did dodge the blast though, leaping incredibly high in the air. Tien is convinced he will win at this point, as he can levitate and Goku can not. Goku readies one final Kamehameha and, at the last moment, turns around, using the attack to send him rocketing into Tien. Both fighters fall to the ground, Goku slightly ahead. He tries to use another, smaller Kamehameha wave to slow himself down, but is hit by a truck and lands first. Tien lands an instant later, thus winning the tournament.
After the match, Yamcha and the others return from the hospital and meet up with Goku and Tien. Because Goku's outfit is in tatters, Krillin gives Goku his uniform (as he has changed back into the suit he originally arrived in).
Tien offers Goku half of the prize money, as he recognizes that it was mere luck that he won, but Goku declines as money has no interest to him; Tien then insists on at least paying for dinner. At this point, Goku realizes that he has nearly left his Power Pole (a magical extending staff) and his Dragon Ball behind and Krillin volunteers to retrieve them for him. Tien next apologizes to Yamcha for using such excessive force during their fight and Yamcha grants him forgiveness. Roshi then offers to let Tien stay at the Kame House, which Launch encourages him to do, but Tien declines, stating that he can not follow the teachings of another, even if he has betrayed his master.
The group goes to celebrate the Turtle House's stellar tournament performance at a restaurant, but uncharacteristically, Goku has little appetite. Krillin has been gone too long. Hit with a vision of dread concerning his friend, Goku races from the restaurant, leaving behind his shocked teammates and friends. When he reaches the tournament grounds, Krillin is already dead, his monstrous killer has already left, and both the Dragon Ball and the World Tournament Announcer's list of competitors have been stolen by the creature.