Rather a true blue prediction of something that's going to come true in the future, this is more of a theory about me having a different opinion than most about a recent ambiguous subject, which I believe will be proven to be the case in future chapters. Most people's opinions (at least those I've personally come across) on haoshoku coating seem to follow along the lines of: "Luffy learnt haoshoku coating and thanks to its power up, he became capable of hurting Kaido without even touching him."
This is a fine opinion and I totally get why people would think like that. Hell, maybe it'll out to be the case and I'll be the one proven wrong instead, which would also be a fine and acceptable turn of events. But then again, maybe I won't be, and that's what this theory is all about. With that in mind, let's see what my opinion on the subject is. Before we actually get to the meat of the topic though, I'd like to set the groundwork by elaborating on 2 side topics (which I guess you don't have to read to get the theory but it'll help and add depth to your understanding): Advanced Haki and Haki Properties.
What eactly IS advanced haki? Well, simply put, it's the level of haki someone can use when they transcend the level of a simple haki user and enter the realm of haki masters. In other words, the mastery is what makes the difference, so let's talk a little about that. The most proper and also most relevant example to use is busoshoku haki.
So, to start off with, we have basic busoshoku. Basic busoshoku is represented by the blackening and is basically a "failed attempt" of using busoshoku haki in its true form, advanced busoshoku if you will. On a mastery scale, basic busoshoku would range from 0% to 99%, exactly (99.0%).
Then we have ryuo, the most important part. I don't even want to treat this as a type of haki at this point because I've come to believe that such a description doesn't truly represent it. However, I don't want to view it simply as a Wano-exclusive type of basic haki either, because I don't believe that does it justice either. The best way I can describe ryuo right now is by calling it a "concept", whose role as far as busoshoku is concerned is to act as "stairs" between basic haki and advanced haki. Ryuo seems to represent the concept of flow, a concept which can apparently allow a busoshoku user to make the transition from basic haki user to advanced haki user by advancing their haki if it's implemented on basic haki. HOWEVER, just like the term "stairs" would inherently imply, that transition is a gradual one and it's not as simple as hitting a switch. The level of transition depends on the mastery of the concept of flow, both theoretically and practically. In other words, not many people can climb all of the stairs and become masters. But some of them can climb part of the stairs and end up as "semi-masters" who are stronger than basic busoshoku users but still not at the same level as masters. Such semi-masters would be Hyogoro, Luffy ( !Before chapter 1010 where he stepped into the realm of masters) and the red scabbards, who have seemingly applied the concept of ryuo to their basic busoshoku to an extend but not to the level of a master. The strength of a semi-master is not equal to a master. And Kaido points that out too actually:
So it does make sense that someone at the master level, like Luffy AFTER (and including) chapter 1010, would do considerable more damage than anyone at the semi-master level.
For reference, ryuo acts as the stairs between haki levels and it would range from 99.01% to 99.09% (exactly) on the mastery scale.
Finally, we have advanced haki. The basic idea is that advanced busoshoku is available to those who have mastered the concept of ryuo and implemented it to their basic busoshoku, gaining the ability to extend their hardening further than their skin and exceed the level of blackening, along with stronger busoshoku in general. In addition, having mastered the concept of flow, they can use it for offensive purposes in the form of the "emission" technique, which allows the user to bypass their opponent's guard (imagine a boxer's punch phasing through another boxer's guard) and attack the opponent with their busoshoku from within. The most obvious implementation of this is the "invisible armor", as Rayleigh suggests the true form of busoshoku (form of advanced busoshoku) is:
but there's the chance that the range of use of advanced busoshoku increases along with its mastery. So in the future, where we'll be seeing masters of a higher calibre like Shanks or Xebecs, we may see more than just the invisible armor. On the mastery scale, master level haki would range from 99.1% to 100%.
I want to point out this particular view, which is pretty fundamental. In my opinion, albeit haki is something of mental nature in general, the applications of each type of haki are very accurately and carefully separated. Busoshoku, kenbunshoku and haoshoku can very well be likened to body, spirit and soul respectively. And even though all three are interconnected on some level, they can't just straight up be mixed up. Any connections between the three should be finite and subtle.
So, any effects of the advanced forms of haki should have similar properties to their basic counterparts:
The ability to sense another's presence.
The ability to strengthen one's self by coating one's body.
The ability to overpower another person's will with your own.
Said effects should ideally not step on each other's toes even in their advanced form.
Now that we've laid out the groundwork, it's time for the meat of the theory. I said above that most people seem to be attributing Luffy's most recent physical power up to haoshoku coating and making light of advanced busoshoku. Well, I beg to differ. I attribute Luffy's most recent physical power up to advanced busoshoku haki. Here's why:
1) In chapter 1010, after Luffy regained consciousness, he had a short flashback of his training with Hyogoro:
When I see a flashback about advanced busoshoku, I just assume what's coming next will be...surprise, surprise...advanced busoshoku.
2) After said flashback, Luffy went on ahead and attacked Kaido. That attack had a certian visual effect, different from his attacks from the past and I'm not talking about the lightning visuals. What I'm talking about is the visual effects of the impact of his attack, which was THE SAME as Rayleigh's in the past:
If it walks like advanced busoshoku and quacks like advanced busoshoku, I'm of the mind that it is advanced busoshoku.
3) The effects line up with the properties. Like I've said above, busoshoku haki is the ability to strengthen one's self, and strengthened himself Luffy did. Plus, in the first place, like the Whole Cake Island arc was the precursor for advanced kenbunshoku haki, the Wano arc has been the precursor of advanced busoshoku haki. It is supposed to be the star of the show, haoshoku coating is just a guest star.
Okay, so, assuming Luffy's physical power up can indeed be attributed to advanced busoshoku, just what can be attributed to haoshoku coating? : I mean, it's supposed to be a guest star so it must have a purpose, right? I doubt the purpose of introducing haoshoku coating just an excuse to paint lightning visual effects on Luffy's attacks like painting flames on the sides of a car.
Well, let's look back on the properties of haoshoku haki: "The ability to overpower another person's will with your own."
The "will" part is extremely important since it implies that haoshoku haki affects the opponent's will itself and not their physical state. Okay, so, going by that description, was there ever an instance when someone's will was affected? Absolutely! One Billion per cent! : ( Marco Polo Can I petition for a Senku "billion per cent" emoji? ). Let's take a look at them one at a time:
1) The first time is when Luffy was knocked unconscious by Kaido after confronting him:
This instance was the absolutely MOST IMPORTANT for 2 reasons:
1A) Luffy being knocked unconscious during this first instance was later attributed to haoshoku coating:
Please note that Kaido's subordinate is surprised Luffy's still alive and Kaido's reply is "Ofc he is". Why would he say that? Well, it's because it's not the physical damage that caused Luffy to faint, it was the haoshoku coating's properties of overpowering the opponent's will.
1B) Albeit Luffy fainting was due to the mental properties of haoshoku haki, some might argue that Luffy fainted due to physical damage because there was obviously some of that as well. To answer that, please check the first picture above once more, where Kaido's subordinate comments that Luffy was taken out in ONE HIT. Who? Luffy... : ... Yeah, NO : : . Luffy's trademark is his absolutely monstrous resilience. Not in the context of One Piece, mind you, but on the context of every single manga / anime out there. Uzumaki Naruto and Sakata Gintoki who are resilient in their own right could take resilience lessons from Luffy. We're talking about the same Luffy who has been getting beaten black and blue in every of his major fights and he still manages to keep fighting. We're talking about the Luffy who managed to beat Lucci and literally couldn't even move afterwards. We're talking about the Luffy who takes enough damage to leave Zoro as a bloody mess (Thriller Bark) and still manages to beat his opponent. You're telling me THAT ^^^^ Luffy fainted after a single hit and didn't get back up due to his physical injuries? : ... : : That is most "anti-Luffy" scenario as far as anti-Luffy scenarios go.
2) Luffy fainting after Kaido's attack on the rooftop of Onigashima:
Very similar scenario to the above and equally hard to believe.
3) The most recent instance of Luffy having fainted and seen falling off / being thrown off Onigashima's rooftop:
This instance is worthy of special note as well, because it's the instance where Luffy actually contended against Kaido before fainting. What was different for this instance for Luffy to manage to accomplish that? He had come across his most recently acquired skill, haoshoku coating. Right after he come to the realization that haoshoku haki could be coated onto one's self, he immediately started to try it out himself and become able to contend with Kaido for a time without fainting. However, still being inexperienced in using said skill and lacking enough mastery to contend more with Kaido, he was knocked unsconscious after a good while. Kaido even refers to Luffy's haoshoku coating and Luffy getting cocky over learning how to use it, thus leading to Luffy fainting in the end. I do believe that in their next bout, Luffy will have gotten a better hang of haoshoku coating and will be able to avoid fainting due to Kaido's haoshoku coated attack.
In conclusion, the answer to the question "what is haoshoku coating really about?", the answer, in my opinion, is that its fighting application is the ability to amplify its ability to make people faint by focusing all the haoshoku haki, which would have otherwise been spread out in the form of a wave, into a single point. Does it allow for a physical power up? No, I don't think it does at all.
Side note: I do believe it has other story related applications such as allowing a person to leave part of their consciousness into an object / location / something but that's completely irrelevant to this theory. But if you're interested, I do talk about it in my other theory about the 3 ancient weapons in this forum and will also mention it in the other theory I'm working on right now. Thank you all for reading, I hope you enjoyed it. Special thanks to seiryu and Marco Polo cause it was another discussion with them that acted as the trigger to me researching all this and their opinions during our discussion were very inspirational.
This was a theory made by yours truly, Yuuzume. :