Oh, is it Guzma meta day? Well, let me try my hand at it.
Don’t you think the interaction between him and Kukui at Malie Gardens is just so interesting? There’s a lot of things going unsaid, a lot more implied, and everything is just never elaborated on. The two obviously know each other on a personal level, although how close they were is never expounded upon.
Here we have Guzma, the boss of Team Skull. Unlike his tryhard minions, he’s legitimately someone dangerous in terms of Pokemon battles, as evidenced by his powerful team and the trophies in his house. Despite being such a powerful and talented trainer, he was passed over for Captaincy when he was younger, and that fueled his motivation to rebel against Alola’s traditions.
And then we have Kukui, the eccentric yet upbeat professor that aspires to create a Pokemon League of Alola’s own. He’s also a powerful trainer in his own right, having fought Kanto’s Gym Leaders and Elite Four (although it’s implied he ultimately lost to Lance), and he’s widely respected by everyone in Alola. He follows the traditions without fail, and he manages to get the Pokemon League running under his direction. His influence is immense, and it cannot be understated.
And yet, he too was never made a Captain when he was younger.
So, what happened? Two talented, powerful trainers who failed to make Captain in their youth, end up confronting the same problem from different ends: Alola’s traditions.
Look at their confrontation again. Guzma actually sympathizes with Kukui’s desire to do something different, to break the traditions that seem to stagnate everyone. He doesn’t actually agree with what he’s doing (because he thinks he’s the strongest trainer, of course), but it’s a clear sign that he and Kukui actually think similarly concerning that issue.
What’s even more surprising is that Kukui doesn’t even refute him. He doesn’t even disagree! What the professor takes issue with is Guzma identifying them both as people who failed to make Captain. Doesn’t it strike you as strange that, in a culture that worships tradition like Alola, that Kukui sees that as objectionable?
Additionally, Kukui sounds more defensive in the conversation than anything, and it’s the only moment in the game where you can see him – friendly and approachable Professor Kukui – act snide toward someone. Him saying that he could have made Captain but chose not to sounds more like him trying to justify not becoming one to himself. Obviously he made something out of himself while Guzma ran away to form a gang, but it’s strikingly odd that Kukui momentarily lowers himself to Guzma’s level.
Given the way Guzma wants to destroy everything Kukui cares about, there’s definitely some animosity on both their parts. What could have happened between them? Unfortunately, the game never gives us an answer, as whatever backstory is completely dropped right after the scene is over.
But it’s an interesting thing to think about. Both Guzma and Kukui were rejected as captains; the former let resentment take hold and began to openly rebel against tradition, while the latter used it to further himself and open himself up to work with tradition to ultimately change it. It probably wasn’t exactly their goal, but their motivations are the same in nature.