Top 10 Greatest Rivalries Ever In Sports History

Sports Rivalries form an integral part of the spectacle that humanity calls Sports. There is just something about two rival teams or two rival competitors going head-on against each other with the whole world watching. With the world as their stage, two rival individuals, two contrasting philosophies, two prime specimens of the Human Body – heck, even two prime examples of the Human Psyche can clash against each other to give us a moment that goes down in history as one of the most beautiful ever.

Perhaps it is the determination to defeat an old foe, or perhaps it is the drive to gain bragging rights in the same city, Sporting Rivalries have the tendency to bring out the very best out of both competitors.

As rivals, sportsmen see in their opponent the only real challenge they’ve ever had and perhaps, the only one they will ever have. Surely Niki Lauda only ever saw James Hunt as an equal. A true opponent worth beating. A victory that would bring him such satisfaction as none other.

How about the legendary duel of minds between Gary Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov! These spectacles bring forth such emotions in us as viewers that superlative sports icons like Kasparov, Hunt and Ali, all end up becoming legends. Their battles against each other end up going down in history as some of it’s most iconic moments.

Keeping in mind the spirit of Sports, we bring you 10 of the greatest Sports Rivalries in History. These Sports Rivalries have entertained us, inspired us and even brought out a few tears – of joy and sorrow. So in no particular order, let us begin.

1. Argentina vs Brazil – Football

Argentina's Diego Maradona (r) is tracked by three Brazilian defenders
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The Sports rivalry between the two neighboring countries is always going to be somewhat exciting. But when the two neighbors are also two of the greatest Footballing nations in the world things get really lit up.

Such is the case of Brazil and Argentina. The two South American nations are the dominant football teams on the continent. They also have tasted success in several World Cups.

Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that both the countries boast of having the greatest footballer of all time. In fact, Argentina’s God of Football Diego Maradona and Brazil’s legendary Pele both claim themselves to be the greatest.

Strictly in football terms, both these teams never fail to put up a show when up against one another. This more than earns them a place on this list.

See Also; 10 Most Successful Football (Soccer) Clubs in the World

2. Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier – Boxing

greatest-rivalries-sports-history - Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier – Boxing rivalry
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The contest between Ali and Frazier is billed as the Fight of the Century. Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier faced off against each other 3 times over the course of their careers.

Both of these fine boxers were considered the greatest of their time. And the winner of the bout would surely be determined as the out and out best of all time.

Ali lost their first encounter. This was also Muhammad Ali’s first ever career defeat. The spurred him to come back stronger, which he did and claimed the rematch. Both these fights went the entire 15 rounds.

The third and final encounter between the two was to be held in the Philippines. Dubbed the ‘Thrilla in Manila’, this fight is widely considered as the greatest fight of all time. The fight was fiercely contested before Frazier’s corner threw in the towel and conceded defeat.

His victory in this matchup propelled Muhammad Ali to become the greatest boxer of all time. The Thrilla in Manila will certainly go down as one of the standout moments in Human history.

3. Chris Evert vs Martina Navratilova – Tennis

greatest-rivalries-sports-history - Chris Evert vs Martina Navratilova – Tennis rivalry
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You might think that Nadal – Federer s the greatest Tennis rivalry of all time. They have played 38 times against each other. Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, however, faced off one another 59 times.

Both these women are credited for lifting Women’s Tennis to great heights with their display of skill and determination. Like mentioned earlier, both these ladies faced off one another 59 times in tennis. Navratilova leads the head to head with 37 wins to Evert’s 22.

Throughout their career, Evert and Navratilova were head and shoulders above the competition which meant that they kept running into one another time and time again.

Where Martina shined at Serve and volley, Chris had excellent movement and pretty much owned the baseline. Martina was fierce whereas Evert was Ice cool. A true battle of the opposites if there ever was one.

4. James Hunt vs Niki Lauda – Formula 1

greatest-rivalries-sports-history - James Hunt vs Nikki Lauda - Formula 1 rivalry
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In the end, his rivalry with James Hunt almost cost Niki Lauda his life. In his drive to beat hunt, he pushed and pushed on that fateful day at the Nurburgring in 1976. He pushed till his tires finally gave out and he crashed.

In his own words, Niki says that “10 seconds more in that crash and I would have died”

The resultant crash led to his Ferrari getting engulfed in flames. He was eventually dragged out of the wreckage. But he sustained third-degree burns on his face and in his lungs. This incident would leave him scarred for life.

But even such an intense mishap did very little to stop him. Such was his desire to beat James Hunt that within 6 weeks of the incident he was out on the Racetrack. Having missed only two races in that time, Niki Lauda once again faced off against James hunt in what was one of the most dramatic seasons of Formula One.

James hunt did eventually win the Championship in 1976 but Niki Lauda went on to win it in the years 1975, 1977 and 1984.

It is rivalries such as the one shared between Niki Lauda and James Hunt that makes Sport the spectacle that it is.

5. India vs Pakistan – Cricket

India vs Pakistan – Cricket rivalry - greatest-rivalries-sports-historyYou would be hard pressed to find two countries that despise each other more than India and Pakistan. With constant Border disputes, religious disparity and the fact that there have been 3 major wars between the two countries, the common folk are always looking for means to one-up their arch rivals.

Enter Cricket. The prominent sport in both the countries, Cricket brings out a sense of rabid fanaticism in Indians and Pakistanis alike.

With both countries boasting of some of the greatest cricketers o grace the Gentlemen’s Game, you will find fans from both countries at loggerheads with each other.

Be it on TV or in the Stadiums, and India-Pakistan Cricket Match brings both countries to a standstill. Office workers are staring at TV Screens instead of Excel sheets. Mobs of individuals are lined outside Electronic outlets in both countries to get a glimpse of the match.

There is tension. There is anticipation. There are tears and there are smiles. India vs Pakistan is the definite showstopper when it comes to Cricket.

6. Real Madrid vs Barcelona – Football

greatest-rivalries-sports-history - Real Madrid vs Barcelona – Football Rivalry
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The ‘El Classico’, as it is called, is one of the most tightly contested and eagerly anticipated matches of Football Spain. The name literally translates to ‘The Classic’

When Real Madrid face off against Barcelona, tempers flare. This contest brings out the best and the worst in both teams. Players like Barcelona’s Atomic Flea Lionel Messi and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo have dished out some of the best performances of their careers in these contests.

Similarly, there have been more fights amongst the player’s in these matches than any other in Spanish Club Football.

See Also; Top 10 Best Football Players of All Time

With Madrid and Barcelona, it is not just contest of skill. It is more of an ideological battle. The Catalonians consider that they have been given a raw deal by the Spanish Dictator Franco during his reign where he was greatly supportive of his capital team Madrid. Similarly, the Madristas resent the Catalunians because of their constant assertion for Catalunian Independence.

This leads to one of the most mouth-watering encounters the sport of Football has to offer. Its a true testimony to the fame of the El Classico that tourists from all over the world come to Spain to get a glimpse as the action unfolds.


7. Garry Kasparov vs Anatoly Karpov – Chess

greatest-rivalries-sports-history Garry Kasparov vs Anatoly Karpov – Chess rivalryAt their peak, Kasparov and Karpov played a total of 144 games against each other. Kasparov won 21 while Karpov won 19. Is it actually possible to be any more evenly matched?

Kasparov and Karpov are considered to be two of the greatest players of Chess. Many would claim that Kasparov was more dominant in most of their battles, the truth is far from it.

Karpov was always in control during all of their games no matter how dominating Kasparov was. Both Russians shred a fierce rivalry with one another. Kasparov, however, was just a shade better amongst the two.

Simply the fact that these two individuals have played each other 144 times shows the class and skill of the pair. Kasparov and Karpov put out some of the all-time greatest strategies when playing one another. A scintillating rivalry if there ever was one!

8. Nadal vs Federer – Tennis

greatest-rivalries-sports-history - Nadal vs Federer – Tennis rivalry
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Nadal vs Federer is a tennis classic. Federer was deemed unbeatable by many.  He was head and shoulders above all competition for the longest period of time.

This was until he met his nemesis in Rafael Nadal. The two first met at the Miami Masters where Nadal beat the then world No. 1 Federer in straight sets.

This was an ominous beginning to what would turn out to be the most endearing rivalry in the Men’s game. The two most successful Men’s Tennis players would go on to meet another 37 times.

Nadal leads the head to head battle with 23 wins to Federer’s 15. But numbers hold little allure when it comes to Nadal vs Federer.

In the Clay of the French Open, Nadal is nigh untouchable. In the grass of Wimbledon, Federer is King.

This is, along with Borg-Mcenroe, one of the greatest Tennis rivalries the world has ever seen. As both gentlemen near the twilight of their respective careers, the world yearns to see the Swiss Ace take on the Fiery Spaniard one last time.

See Also; Top 10 Greatest Male Tennis Players of All Time

9. All Blacks vs Springboks – Rugby

greatest-rivalries-sports-history - All Blacks vs Springboks – Rugby RivalryOne of the greatest Springbok player Boy Luow once said “when South Africa play New Zealand, consider your country at war”

The New Zealand national Rugby team is called the All blacks whereas their South African counterparts are called the Springboks. This rivalry is fuelled by pure hatred as both teams desperately want to beat the opposition.

From complaints about referee favouritism to heated on-field conflicts, New Zealand and South African Rugby rivalry is storied and intense.

A rugby player from both countries are ever eager to face off against their arch nemesis and beat them. Such is the desire of both sides to defeat the other.

Both teams have met each other numerous times in World series and World Championships throughout their history and put up quite the show for the entire world to see.

Perhaps this hatred and rivalry against for each other are why there is an extra intensity to the ‘Haka’ when New Zealand face off against South Africa.

10. Tonya Harding vs Nancy Kerrigan – Women’s Figure Skating

greatest-rivalries-sports-history-Tonya Harding vs Nancy Kerrigan – Women’s Figure Skating
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Throughout the early 90s, figure Skating was the battleground to two of the most prolific exponents of this art. In the US, Nancy Kerrigan had only one equal in Tonya Harding. The same was the case for Tonya Harding.

Both these ladies would face off against one another on several occasions in various competitions. But their rivalry reached a boiling point during the Lillehammer Winter Olympics in Norway.

Such was their rivalry that six weeks prior to the Inaugural Olympic Women’s Figure Skating Event, Tonya Harding’s ex-husband Jeff Gillooly, her bodyguard Shawn Eckhardt, and two others attacked Nancy Kerrigan after her practice session.

This attack would leave Kerrigan with a nasty Knee injury. Harding would claim to have not been part of this incident and denied any involvement from her end.

This incident led to a Media frenzy. Eventually, both ladies participated at the Lillehammer Winter Olympics where Kerrigan won the Silver medal whilst Harding finished eighth in a less than average performance.

This particular incident marks the time when a sporting rivalry turned ugly. But this doesn’t take anything away from the fact that both these women were the best Figure Skaters in their country at the time and would prove their merit over time through amazing displays of skill and grace.

Harding was eventually barred from participating in any competitive Figure Skating due to her alleged involvement in the Kerrigan fiasco.

Do you think we missed out on any of your picks for the Greatest Sports Rivalries in History? If you think so, then do tell us in the comment section below. Of course, it is difficult to go over every rivalry from the hundreds of sports that we play. But we can’t wait to hear more from you about what we may have missed.

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