Our heroes have arrived in Sootopolis at last, and Ash is ready to earn his eighth badge—but first it's time to watch the Sootopolis Gym Leader, Juan, put on an impressive water show! Team Rocket tries to snatch Juan's Water Pokémon with an electrified net, but his Pokémon work together to free themselves from Team Rocket's net and foil the plan.
Ash challenges Juan to a battle, and of course Juan accepts. As a former champion Pokémon Coordinator, he intends to fight an elegant match. First Ash will face him in a 2-on-2 battle, followed by a second round of 1-on-1 battles. It's Snorunt and Pikachu against Sealeo and Seaking in the first round, and Ash is surprised by the speed with which Juan's Pokémon battle. Even Sealeo's Ice Ball attack is much faster than expected. Snorunt is knocked out and replaced by Corphish, and together Corphish and Pikachu manage to triumph over Sealeo and Seaking for a first round victory.
In the second round, Ash sends out Grovyle to face Juan's Luvdisc. Luvdisc is an agile opponent, but more than that, it surprises Ash and Grovyle with Sweet Kiss. Grovyle is confused, and it might not be the only one—elsewhere in Sootopolis, Team Rocket has disguised James as Juan in preparation for another money-making scheme. What's Team Rocket up to, and how can Ash counter Juan's Luvdisc? These questions will be answered in the next episode!
Ash stands expectantly on the prow of a small motorboat as he and his friends arrive in Sootopolis City, the site of the eighth and final Hoenn League Gym. After planting his feet on dry land, Ash immediately and enthusiastically declares that it's time to challenge the Sootopolis Gym. Unfortunately for Ash, May and Max spot a nearby fireworks display and run off to watch it, with Brock close in tow. Though Ash is disappointed, he reluctantly follows them. Max and May trace the fireworks to Sootopolis City's brand new water-themed theatre, where the city's mayor and the Sootopolis Gym Leader, Juan, are busy commemorating the building. In honor of the occasion, Juan calls out his Pokémon, including among many others Milotic, Sealeo, Seaking, and Luvdisc to put on a performance for the crowd. May admires the artistry as his Pokémon take the stage, and comments that Juan could have been a great Coordinator.
Unfortunately, before the show can continue, the distinct ring of a Chimecho interrupts Juan's speech. He looks up for the source, and it is revealed to be Team Rocket, who have arrived on the scene. Though Juan mistakenly assumes that they must be artists given the beautiful voice of James's Chimecho, Ash and his friends soon clarify the situation for the Sootopolis Gym Leader. Team Rocket drops an electrified net from their balloon to ensnare and steal Juan's Pokémon. Ash offers to help Juan out of this sticky situation, but the Gym Leader refuses the aid, instead allowing his Gorebyss to use Safeguard, Barboach to use Mud Sport, and Tentacruel to use Mirror Coat, effectively countering the net's electric shock. Juan has Milotic break the net with Iron Tail and send Team Rocket blasting off with Twister, cutting the would-be theft short. When Juan thanks Ash and company for warning him, Ash challenges Juan to a Gym Battle on the spot. Juan accepts the challenge without hesitation.
After the performance and on the way to the Gym in Juan's personal boat, Ash and his friends sit down with Juan for a cup of tea. May comments that in watching Juan's performance she felt like she was watching a Pokémon Contest. Juan is humbled to hear that and says that May's comment takes him back. He explains that he was a Pokémon Coordinator before he became a Gym Leader and reveals that he even won himself the Ribbon Cup and the title of Top Coordinator, awards given to the winner of the Grand Festival. Everyone present is extremely impressed, and Ash realizes he is facing a formidable opponent with experience from many different fields. Meanwhile, Juan reveals that his style of battling focuses on artistry and that he actually enjoys the Water-type Pokémon weakness against Electric-type attacks. Max is surprised to hear that someone could like a Pokémon for its weakness and Juan informs him that, throughout his years participating in Contest Battles, he has learned that battling at a disadvantage has its own appeal. He further explains that he has learned to be defensive against attacks that might be tricky to his Pokémon, usually waiting for each attack and then making his move. When Max comments that Juan will be tough to beat, Ash says he has some ideas up his sleeve.
Ash and his friends arrive at the Sootopolis Gym and meet the butler and judge, Sebastian who reveals the Sootopolis battlefield to be a large swimming pool. Sebastian further explains the complicated rules of the Gym—each participant will use five Pokémon, with the first round being a Double Battle and the second round being a Single Battle. Brock explains that this Gym is probably designed to test the challenger's ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Juan chooses Sealeo and Seaking to start the first round, while Ash begins his battle with Pikachu and Snorunt. Pikachu begins the round with a Thunderbolt against Sealeo. Juan uses Seaking's Horn Drill to deflect the Thunderbolt back against Snorunt, which takes the Thunderbolt directly. Ash directs a Thunder attack from Pikachu, which Seaking again deflects with its Horn Drill. Pikachu is ready for it this time, shielding Snorunt and taking the brunt of the deflected Thunder attack. Juan orders a Blizzard attack from Sealeo.
Ash has Snorunt retaliate with Icy Wind, somehow freezing the Blizzard into a boulder of ice. Juan's Pokémon destroy the frozen ball with Sealeo's Aurora Beam and Seaking's Hyper Beam, but Ash takes advantage of the situation by ordering his Pokémon to leap across the trail of ice fragments. Pikachu closes with Iron Tail while Snorunt attacks with Headbutt. Juan counters with the much more powerful Aurora Beam and Hyper Beam. While Pikachu is able to break off his attack in time to dodge Aurora Beam, Snorunt is hit by the Hyper Beam and faints. Ash recalls Snorunt and sends out Corphish to take its place. Corphish opens with a Bubble Beam, which Sealeo and Seaking dodge by diving. Juan uses this opportunity to mount an underwater attack against Ash's Pokémon by using Aurora Beam and Horn Attack. Pikachu jumps out of the way and Corphish is able to grab Seaking by the horn before it can attack, but Juan orders Seaking to use Horn Drill, which sends Corphish flying. Pikachu successfully uses Iron Tail on Seaking and narrowly dodges an Aurora Beam from Sealeo. Pikachu's attack leaves Seaking unable to battle.
Pikachu reappears a moment later "surfing" on Corphish. Juan orders several Ice Balls, which Ash initially deflects with Corphish's Harden and Vise Grip while Pikachu uses Iron Tail. Ash knows that Ice Ball becomes more powerful and takes longer to launch every time so plans to move in the gap after the third Ice Ball. However, Sealeo launches the third ball extremely quickly and hits both Pikachu and Corphish. Juan orders a fifth Ice Ball as a coup de grace but is surprised when Pikachu is able to destroy it with Thunder. As the shards of ice rain down on the distracted Sealeo, Corphish moves in with Crabhammer, which leaves Sealeo unable to battle. The Gym match advances to the second round, with the field changing to a lake with several towers and more land. Meanwhile, elsewhere, Team Rocket is planning to disguise James as Juan.
Ash calls out his Grovyle and Juan chooses his Luvdisc. Grovyle immediately uses Bullet Seed, which Luvdisc dodges and counters with Water Pulse. Grovyle dodges and moves in with Leaf Blade, which Luvdisc dodges and counters with Sweet Kiss. Grovyle is hit, and the effects of the Sweet Kiss are left in question, and Ash's eighth and final Hoenn Gym battle hinging on its effects.