Rivalries are pretty much logical extension when it comes to any top level sport. The reason we watch/attend sports is loyalty to team or athlete. When it comes to elite sports almost every team has that one rival and when those two go head to head stakes are higher, stronger emotions are involved and adversaries come into play. When every fixture of a sport league or major tournament is announced it is taken to with both arms by fans but there is always that perticular game against the rival which gets the red circle. For example when Pakistan play India in any major tournament (mostly cricket) fans of both nations clearly say you can lose all other matches but win this one and thats what called a rivalry.
Today we take a look at some of the greatest rivalries in sport but on individual level. The likes of Nadal vs Federer, Ronaldo vs Messi and Frazier vs Ali etc. Most of the rivalries listed below are of players at the peak of their careers competing against each other often enough to give us a valid conclusion that one is better than the other.
Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier
Muhammad Ali is widely considered as the most iconic athlete in the world. He burst on to the heavyweight boxing scene in 1964 when he defeated Sonny Liston to become heavyweight champion. He would go on to dominate boxing until he hit a speed bump in Joe Frazier. Widely regarded as the greatest rivalry in combat sport, Ali vs Frazier trilogy set the tone for modern day sport and live broadcasting.
Ali fought Joe Frazier for the first time in 1971 and Frazier shocked the boxing world when he defeated Ali with a unanimous decision in a fight which Ring Magazine officially announced as the “Fight of the year”. Ali sought for a rematch by claiming first fight result as “White man’s decision”. He got his wish in 1974 when Frazier lost his belts against Foreman. Ali won the second fight which lead to the third named “Thrilla in Manila”. Ali also won the third fight to settle the score once it for all. Ali vs Frazier I & III are widely regarded as the greatest fights of last century and rightly so.
Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal
Federer vs Nadal rivalry is the greatest in tennis history but also one of the most storied and celebrated in sports. Unlike some of the other rivals, these two have major mutual respect but sheer competitiveness which has lasted over 13 years.
Just recently, Federer won his 18th grand slam title thats 4 more than any other player in history of men’s tennis. At the age of 35 when Federer qualifier for the final of Australian Open 2017 he was waiting for the opponent and it was Rafael Nadal. His old foe and the nemesis who haunted Federer (the greatest tennis player of all times) throughout his career. Nadal himself has 14 grand slam titles to his name.
This rivalry started when Nadal burst on to the tennis scene in 2003 and he quickly established himself as a real threat to Federer who at that time was entering his peak years. Federer had won Australian Open, US Open and Wimbledon titles already but French Open was missing and that quickly became Nadal’s territory who won French Open record 9 times. Apart from clay court Federer was dominating tennis but slowly Nadal improved his game and became a real competitor to Federer on hard and grass courts. Nadal defeated Federer in 2008 Wimbledon final which was the most watched single tennis match in history.
Nadal and Federer has meet 35 times where Nadal leads with 23 wins compared to Federer’s 12. Its a significant stat because Federer is widely regarded as the greatest tennis player of all times. Nadal with all his injury troubles had Federer in the corner for most part.
All in all there is something about these two which is special. Unlike other rivalries this one is unique in a sense that both sets of fans have respect for each other and how these two dominated men’s tennis for best part of 7-8 years being no.1 and 2 in ATP rankings.
Ronaldo vs Messi
Easily two of the greatest footballers of all times, Ronaldo and Messi have been dominating football for best part of last 10 years. There is not much between the two considering what they have achieved over their careers. Of the last 10 World Player of the year awards 9 have been won by these two (Messi 5, Ronaldo 4). Both play for the two biggest football clubs in the world and their impact on their respective clubs is so huge that when Real Madrid play Barcelona it is the most watched game every year by country mile.
This rivalry is different than others because not only these two compete on the pitch there is a massive off the field stuff going on about marketing value, financial deals and what not. Both of these burst on to world stage at around about same time when social media was starting shape up new era of sports. Every year when google release most searched keywords in different categories. Ronaldo and Messi usually top the charts for most searched athletes in the world and its been going on for a decade now.
If Messi signed a lucrative after-tax contract with Barcelona, Real Madrid had to offer even bigger contract to Ronaldo. Adidas pay $20 million a year to Messi to be face of their brand, Nike pay similar to have Ronaldo as their worldwide face of the brand.
Arnold Palmer vs Jack Nicklaus
This rivalry was born in 1960 when aged just 20, armature Jack Nichlaus burst on to the golf scene finishing runners-up to few year senior Arnold Palmer in US Open 1960. Two years later Nicklaus went a level up winning the US open golf and this time Palmer was runners-up and this would become the theme of golf for years to come. Palmer won 7 major titles and became the first golfer to reach $1m in match earnings. However Nicklaus ultimately turned the tables and overshadowed Palmer winning incredible 18 majors.
But it was the rivalry between the two which put Golf at the world stage. Arnie’s Army (Arnold Palmer fans) was highlight of 60’s golf majors while Nicklaus’s pure technique and talent paved the way for these two to win 25 majors between them.
Björn Borg vs John McEnroe
Another rivalry from tennis, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe were like fire and ice largely down to their incredible different style and temperament. Swedish Bjorn Borg was more of a emotionless personality while Jon McEnroe was famous for his on court tantrums. These two meet 14 times on tour and unlike Federer-Nadal there was no clear winner as both Borg and McEnroe won 7 times against each other.
They were so evenly matched that even on un-official (invitational) 8 matches they shared 4 wins a piece. However McEnroe was clear favourite when it comes to grand slam matches. Both meet in 4 grand slam finals where Borg could only register 1 win while McEnroe won 3.
Micky Ward vs Arturo Gatti
American Micky Ward was professional boxer whos career spanned from 1985 to 2003 but he came to fame during his triology fights against Italian born Canadian Arturo Gatti. The pair meet three times two of those fights were declared “Fight of the year” by ring magazine. A featured film was made on this rivalry named “The fighter” played by Mark Wahlberg.
Both meet for the first time in 2002 in what became one of the most exciting and competitive boxing fight in recent history. Ward managed to hold off Gatti assult and won a majority decision. A trip to hospital followed for both and soon after both agreed for a rematch. Gatti this time got the better of Ward resulting in invitable Trilogy where Gatti came from knockdown to win the fight in absolute surprising way to settle the score one it for all. Here is a short documentary on this incredible trilogy.
Kobe Bryant vs. Shaquille O’Neal
Known as Shaq-Kobe feud, it was one of a kind rivalry between two great basketball players who played for a same team. So good they were, could not stand each other taking the applauds in a same team. Both played for highly successful La Lakers from 1996 to 2004 winning three consecutive titles from 2000 to 2002. However Shaquille O’Neal was final MVP on each of the three winning seasons which lead to feud between Kobe and O’neal resulting in Shaq 6 year older traded to Miami Heat.
In the head to head meeting between Kobe and O’neal teams after 2004, Shaquille O’neal won 7 of the 11 meeting against Kobe’s teams.