Learn the History of Sports Rivalries

Rivalries are in every sport. Here are some of the the most famous!
Learn the History of Sports Rivalries

Last update: 08 January, 2020

Ever since people have competed for a medal or a title, there have been sports rivalries. Even more intense, some are outside of the playing field or race track as well.

As a matter of fact, there are hundreds of anecdotes about athletes and their arch enemies, inside and outside of sports.

What are some of the major sports rivalries?

There are rivalries in soccer, boxing, tennis, and basketball.  Likewise, there have been sports rivalries for decades. In fact, many of them continue and are intense. So, check out the interesting history of rivalry below!

1. Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras

These two ex-tennis players from the US had one of the most fierce rivalries in the history of tennis. According to Agassi, his career would have been worse without Sampras. Moreover, the rivalry wasn’t only in the game during the 90s, but also between their two personalities.

Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, photo supporting the text about their rivalry
                                         Image: Tennis World USA

Agassi was the quintessential rebel, with long blond locks. At the same time, Sampras’s appearance was impeccably neat with tailored sports jackets and he drove stylish cars. This aggressiveness of Andre versus the elegance of Pete will always be remembered.

2. Muhammad Alí and George Foreman: one of the most famous sports rivalries

Many years may have passed since these two boxers met each other in the ring, but the story still lives on. After all, people consider Ali and Foreman to be two of the best boxers in the world. However, since 1974 the legacy of the two is connected.

Ali and Foreman in a match to support the text about them.
                                Image: Youtube Jeff Jackson

This rivalry was due to one of the most memorable fights, “The Rumble in the Jungle”. It was in the Republic of the Congo. This wasn’t just about the competition for the heavyweight title in Africa. At the same time, it was the beginning of a story of rivalry in boxing. We’ve all seen the image of Ali knocking out Foreman in the 8th round!

3. Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo

Sports rivalries aren’t limited to the past! Nowadays, we’re seeing it more frequently and furthermore, they’ve been exaggerated by the press. Particularly the eternal dispute between Barca and Madrid. Today soccer fans are in two groups; those who follow “Lio” and those who follow CR7.

Messi and Ronaldo illustrating the sports rivalries discussed in the text
                                Image: bleacherreport.com

Maybe this is due to the fact that we’ve never been able to admire the two excellent players confronting each other on so many occasions. Or perhaps because, up until now, they’re the ones who have the most golden trophies, goals and titles.

4. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson: two sports rivalries

Next, we’ll go on to talk about the rivalry in the 80s at the heart of the NBA, the most important basketball league in the world. Bird played for the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference and Johnson was with the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference. Their conflicts were witnessed by fans of this great sport.

Magic Johnson and Larry Bird support the text about sports rivalries
                               Image: CNN International

         This rivalry was seen in two finals: Magic won two (1985 and 1987). There was one for Bird (1984). However, only the spectators saw the conflicts. Off the court, these two were good friends. 

5. Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez

Maybe Marc never imagined that he’d become a rival for one of his great idols. But, motorsport is so amazing that it offers us all kinds of stories. And best of all, he’s still active in the world of motorsports.

This is about two of the best drivers of MotoGP, who won a total of 17 championships, (nine for the Italian and eight for the Spaniard). And Marc attacks every turn as if it were his last!

Rossi and Marquez of motorsports to support the text
                          Image: autosport

6. Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer

Concluding this list of sports rivalries, we can’t dismiss the tennis rivalry between the Spanish player and Swiss players. Without a doubt, these two are the best in the world. Coincidentally, both of them share Grand Slams. Federer has 20 and Nadal has 19, seen in the featured photo of this article. They’re always the ultimate winners in every tournament.

        Their first match was in 2004 when the young Rafael beat the experienced Roger. From that moment on, they had 33 matches, 23 of which Nadal won.

Other sports rivalries that stand out are:

  • Arnold Palmer and Jack Niklaus – golf
  • John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg – tennis
  • Anatoli Karpov and Garri Kasparov – chess
  • Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna – racing
  • Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert – tennis
  • Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali – cycling
  • Niki Lauda and James Hunt – racing
  • Mike Tyson and Evan Holyfield – boxing
  • Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg – racing

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.