Nothing in the glorious sports world can quite set the spectators’ pulses racing like a good old-fashioned rivalry. Irrespective of the event in hand, nothing represents the commitment and admirable passion wrapped up in sports better than an occasion in which two rivals go head-to-head. Sports history is chock-full of rivalries spanning generations of teams and players, pitting father against son, neighbor against neighbor, fist against face. These rivalries are the very reason players become legends and their names are written in books of sports lore.
It is also sometimes frightening and disturbing how seemingly rational and ordinary people can turn into bile-spewing hatemongers who take pleasure in anything bad that happens to their rivals. Here are just some of the greatest sport rivalries of all time; some are classic rivalries, while others are a bit more modern.
Greatest Rivals in Sports Of course, investigating all of the greatest sport rivalries is a really difficult task and with so many rivalries having different values to different people, many will definitely be missed here. We have tried to include rivalries pertaining to a variety of sports, so read ahead to get started and view our selections.
Greatest Rivals in Sports
Boxing: Muhammad Ali v Joe Frazier
While many rivalries stem from lofty standing and pure talent, the enmity between Ali and Frazier seem to be rooted in a mutual dislike both warriors felt for each other. Ali’s egotistic temperament didn’t allow him to view Frazier as a worthy contender and would insult him during fights, while Frazier could never be convinced to retreat. They fought a total of three times. Frazier won the first time they met in 1971, giving Ali his first career loss.
They met again at the same venue three years later, where Ali emerge victorious. Their most famous match is perhaps their third fight “Thrilla in Manila” in 1975. It was the only fight that didn’t go till the last as Frazier’s corner didn’t let him come out during the 15th round. The two were exact opposites of each other, but when they stepped in the ring, they created a magic that older boxing fans can never forget.
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Golf: Arnold Palmer v Jack Nicklaus
The 60s can be called the decade of golf rivalries, the most famous of which was the one between Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. No Sunday was complete without Arnie and Jack competing on the links. The rivalry between The King and The Golden Bear lasted over three decades and single handedly made golf a bonanza for television. They played 25 majors together and their playoff duel in the 1962 US Open is truly unforgettable. Palmer and Nicklaus were the exact opposites of each other and attracted a contrasting fan base. Nicklaus grew up playing on private country clubs, while Palmer was the everyman that spectators flocked to. Regardless of their differences, they will always be one of golf’s enduring rivalries.
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IndyCar Rivalry: Mario Andretti v AJ Foyt
Andretti and Foyt naturally became rivals with both dominating auto racing. While their rivalry spanned two decades, they had nothing but respect and admiration for each other. Both of them are notable for playing fairly, and they faced each other numerous times in the Indy 500 and the Champ car circuit. Both of them have won the Indy 500, the 24 Hours of Daytona, and the Daytona 500. They even retired at about the same time – Foyt in 1993 and Andretti in 1994.
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NFL: Peyton Manning v Tom Brady
Since the turn of the century, NFL hasn’t seen a bigger rivalry with regard to quarterback vs. quarterback than Peyton Manning v Tom Brady. The two most-gifted quarterbacks are now heading towards the latter stages of their careers, but their rivalry has undoubtedly been one of the highlights of NFL in recent years. Manning and Brady have faced each other a total of 14 times, with Brady’s team coming out on top 10 times.
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Tennis: Rafael Nadal v Roger Federer
Two of tennis’s greatest players are currently involved in one of the greatest tennis rivalries. Federer and Nadal are the only two players in tennis history who have finished first and second in the ATP rankings for six successive years. Both of them used to captivate fans around the world with some of their epic grand slam battles. Although Federer’s inevitable decline has seen a decline in the intensity of their rivalry, no one will ever forget some of their heated encounters. Perhaps their most memorable encounter was their incredibly entertaining 2008 Wimbledon final, which is even considered one of the best tennis matches ever.
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Soccer: Lionel Messi v Cristiano Ronaldo
No list featuring modern sport rivalries can be complete without mentioning Barcelona’s Messi and Real Madrid’s Ronaldo. The two stars are amongst the greatest footballers in the world currently and are also amongst the best the sport has ever seen. The rivalry between the two truly polarizes opinion and is a debate that any true football fan can’t abstain from. While the duo insists there is no rivalry between them, they have admitted that the other’s excellence drives them into improving themselves.
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Cricket: Pakistan v India
The rivalry between Pakistan and India has its roots in history and controversial events that have no relevance to the sport. Since the partition of British India in 1947, cricket games between the two not-so-friendly neighbors has been filled with tensions and an awesome rivalry. The rivalry between the two countries is so great that even a qualifying match becomes a final for the spectators. In fact, a regular match attracts about 300 million viewers. With the ability to bring both nations to a standstill, it is probably the most heated rivalry in the history of the sport.
Perhaps, the most dramatic match was in 1999 when India was on the brink of defeat, and the 65,000 crowd at the stadium stormed onto the pitch and caused the match to be delayed by three hours. The match was eventually won by Pakistan and finished in complete silence in an empty stadium. So far, Pakistan has been the dominating side and lead by 4-2 and 9-5 in matches.