Korra v Kuvira: Dawn of Balance
It's standard protocol in Legend of Korra for the first fight between the Avatar and the season's antagonist to go poorly for Korra. Still, that doesn't prevent the first confrontation between Korra and Kuvira from being a fantastic fight sequence with a surprising conclusion.
First of all, this isn't Book One Korra. After Suyin's failed attempt to "take out" Kuvira during the truce between their forces, Korra is still committed to doing everything she can to find a peaceful solution. Second, this is the first time Korra has fought on this level since she took on Zaheer last season, and even then she was affected by that metal poison that was only recently fully removed.
"The only way you're going to stop me from marching into Zaofu is if you physically stop me," Kuvira says, goading Korra into a fight. After Korra reluctantly concedes this is the only way, the "Great Uniter" Kuvira chooses to take the Avatar on alone. Her confidence in her ability to take on Korra is persistent throughout the fight, even if Korra goes into the Avatar state.
See, even the Avatar, especially one that has been out of commission for three years, is going to have trouble standing up to someone who is a master of their own bending. Kuvira is surgical, precise and patient in combat, dodging Korra's attacks with ease and delivering careful counter-strikes that wear Korra down. It's a great sequence that features some amazing moves - Kuvira spinning the ground under Korra's feet to throw her off balance was just brilliant.
Seeing she's outmatched, Korra enters the Avatar state, and watching her wield that power is exciting, but it's presented in such a way that she's a little frightening. She easily overwhelms Kuvira and raises a boulder to crush her, and for a moment it's believable that Korra may kill her.
Three years earlier, when Korra was chained up by the Red Lotus and breathing fire, the resemblance to Azula was shocking. The ferocity she exhibited in her fight with Zaheer afterwards coupled with allusions to Azula told us one thing: Korra can be dangerous. And she likely saw the same in herself, and that dangerous side might be what manifested as the Shadow Korra earlier this season. The entity that terrified Korra and kept her from holding her own against simple thugs.
And Shadow Korra is exactly what she see's as she is about to drop a boulder on Kuvira.
It looks like Korra isn't fully recovered yet, as nearly killing Kuvira brought that vision back to her. Meanwhile, the shock of seeing the apparition takes Korra out of the fight, so the airbenders rescue her before Kuvira can kill her. Ultimately, Korra has lost and Zaofu has fallen to the Earth Empire.