Sports stars are naturally some of the most competitive people in the world. As a result, they form rivalries with opposition athletes and teams. These create compelling storylines because fans are excited to see how these rivalries blossom and develop.
Today, we’re going to take a look at different sports stars and their own personal experiences with rival athletes. Some of these rivalries were iconic and intense but always respectful at the end of the day. However, others produced toxic emotions and resulted in darker outcomes. Check out the list below via Brittanica.
30. Ali and Frazier
Two of the greatest boxers of all time fought a ferocious and historic trilogy. Ali and Frazier also maintained the tensest of rivalries. A significant part of this was because Ali relentlessly trash-talked Frazier. He called him an ‘Uncle Tom’ and made fun of his appearances. “You’ll also see why I say he’s a gorilla,” Ali said. “You’ll see how ugly he is, and how pretty I am.”
Frazier won the first fight while Ali took the second. Finally, came the Thrilla in Manila. Ali won that too but absorbed an incredible amount of punishment. He said via NPR, “It was the closest to death that I could feel. This is too painful. It’s too much work. I might have a heart attack or something. I wanna get out while I’m on top.” Of course, his body paid the price in the long term.
In 2020, Lillard hit a winner over George and ignited one of the NBA’s most recent rivalries. “That’s a bad, bad shot,” George told ESPN. “I don’t care what anybody says. That’s a bad shot. But hey, he made it. That story won’t be told that it was a bad shot. We live with that.” The point is that Lillard scored, regardless of what George thinks. Overall, he didn’t handle himself gracefully.
The two men are very different. George bounces around from franchise to franchise as he looks for mega-money contracts. Meanwhile, Lillard remains with the Portland Trail Blazers and shows no signs of wanting to move to a bigger market. Neither approach deserves more respect than the other because careers are short. But these two men are nevertheless the anthesis of one another.
Gerrard was the personification of Liverpool throughout the 2000s. He stayed with the soccer club through thick and thin. During his career with the club, he saw many terrible players pass through its doors. One of those was the Senegalese star Diouf. The forward had a terrible attitude and a nasty personality as he became embroiled in many unsavory incidents.
“It seemed to me that Diouf had no real interest in football and that he cared nothing about Liverpool,’ Gerrard told the Liverpool Echo. “For example, the way he spat a huge globule of gunky phlegm at a Celtic fan in a UEFA Cup match at Parkhead in March 2003 summed up his contemptuous and spiteful demeanor.” Since his departure, the pair maintained the unhealthiest of rivalries.
Bonds is a controversial character because everything he achieved comes with an asterisk. But at the same time, it was unbelievable to watch him break records in his heyday. However, he had a terrible relationship with Pittsburgh Pirates manager Leyland. This boiled over and resulted in an astonishing rant from Leyland about his player. It’s rare that rivalries like this emerge between players and coaches.
Leyland told the New York Times,“I don’t give a damn what his problems are, he’s not going to run this camp. He can just go home. One player’s not going to run this club. If you don’t want to be here, get the hell out of here. Let’s get the show over with or go home. If guys don’t want to be here, if guys aren’t happy with their money, don’t take it out on everybody else.”
Mourinho was never a great soccer player but he became one of the world’s most high-profile managers. Meanwhile, Guardiola was excellent for Barcelona and then developed into a tactical genius. This blossomed into one of the great managerial rivalries of the twenty-first century. In 2010, Mourinho secured a massive win after defeating Barcelona in the Champion’s League.
In an interview with Italian soccer magazine Gazzetta, Mourinho revealed what he whispered to Guardiola on that faithful night in 2010. “Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the Barcelona bench celebrating as if they had already won. ‘Guardiola called Ibra to talk tactics – tactics in 11 against 10! I just told him: “Don’t start the party yet, this game is not over.”’
UFC President White has had more fights, feuds, and rivalries than any other person in the history of the world. One of his most famous rivalries was with former champion Ortiz. The latter exacerbated their negative relationship by wearing a t-shirt with the slogan, “Dana is a B**ch.” They patched things up but when Ortiz left the UFC for Bellator, it all kicked off again.
“I thought slavery was over a long time ago,” Ortiz told Sports Illustrated in 2013. “One of the biggest things now is bullying. And Dana is one of the biggest bullies, I’d say, in the business. He’s a big bully.” White has a terrible reputation for bullying but Ortiz is no angel himself. In sum, this is one of the dumbest rivalries in the history of sports. The pair even said that they would box each other.
Suggs loathes the NFL’s greatest quarterback of all time. In 2019, he downplayed Brady’s ability to play into his forties. He told Skip Bayless, “The rules ain’t the same. The game isn’t the same. They have more protection than anybody — quarterbacks in this league — so it’s not very shocking at all.” It’s not surprising that he doesn’t respect Brady’s achievement because he refused to say the QB’s name for many years.
This rivalry is one of the longest-running in the NFL. It went on for so long that it’s become a parody of itself. A journalist asked Brady if he would send Suggs a Christmas card. “No. Probably not this year,” Brady told the Boston Herald, with a sarcastic smile. “Maybe one of these years, we’ll get together for dinner or something.” That’s probably not worth betting on.
In 2008, Ward prematurely ended Rivers’ rookie season with a brutal tackle. It immediately instigated a rivalry between the two men because it was so savage. Rivers told IHeart.com, “It is what it is … You know. You reap what you sow. That’s what happens. What goes around, comes around. We’ll see what happens.” Rivers was on the injured list for the remainder of the year.
Ward expressed little remorse for the hit and his teammates also supported him. Linebacker Brandon Johnson explained, “It’s part of the game. It was a good block. If I was in Hines Ward’s shoes, I probably would have taken the same shot. You can’t really blame him.” However, it didn’t help Ward’s image as he became known as one of the NFL’s dirtiest players.
Benn and Hamed were British boxing superstars during the ’90s. Yet their personalities were dramatically different. Benn was a former soldier and the epitome of ruthless professionalism. Meanwhile, in contrast, Naseem was a showman and incredibly theatrical. This developed into one of the most open verbal rivalries of the era. Benn told a famous story of the time Hamed came to his gym in Spain.
“He came into my gym once in Tenerife, strutting around like he owned the place, and I had to tell him, ‘Out, mate!” Benn revealed. “Get out of my gym.’ He was giving it large, and I just thought, ‘Nah, mate, don’t come in here, giving it all large. Show me some proper respect.’ He might have all those Mickey Mouse guys around him, licking his a** – ‘Oh Nazeem, Nazeem!’ – but he’s not going to get that treatment from me.”
Rivalries between teammates make for some of the most compelling stories in the world of sports. Manning and Vanderjagt were teammates on the Indianapolis Colts roster, but the pair didn’t enjoy the best relationship. To be fair, this was less of a rivalry because Manning simply had no patience for his teammate. This was the result of numerous foolish statements and missed kicks.
In 2003, Manning was at the Pro Bowl when questions were asked about Vanderjagt. This didn’t impress the quarterback at all who responded in brutal fashion. “We’re talking about our idiot kicker who got liquored up and ran his mouth off,” he said.“The sad thing is, he’s a good kicker. He’s a good kicker. But he’s an idiot.” This didn’t improve the less-than-cheerful relationship between the two.
Owens was a brilliant wide receiver but a volatile character. He made almost everyone hate him, especially his quarterbacks. Why he decided it was a good idea to have rivalries with his own teammates, nobody knows. But that was the type of personality he was. One of his ugliest relationships or rivalries was with former Niners’ colleague Garcia.
In 2004, Playboy asked Owens if he believed that Jeff Garcia was gay. Ownes blurted out in response. “If it looks like a rat and smells like a rat, by golly, it is a rat.” First of all, there is obviously nothing wrong with being gay. But Owens clearly intended this as a dig at Garcia’s masculinity. Needless to say, this only exacerbated the bitterness between the two teammates.
Suh is one of the NFL’s most recognizable defensive ends. As a result, he established some great rivalries with the league’s best quarterbacks. But one man who doesn’t like him is Rodgers. This came after Suh stomped on the Green Bay star in 2014. The Detroit Lions’ star claimed that his feet were numb from the cold so he didn’t feel Rodgers’ leg.
“It hasn’t been cordial over the years between me and Suh. We’ve had some battles over the years,” Rodgers told Pat McAfee. “I think I mentioned that he got “frozen feet” and stepped on my calf. He also stomped on one of my teammates at one point.” Suh is one of those types of players that opposition fans and players hate but is a great asset to any roster because of his dedication.
Askren arrived in the UFC with a massive reputation as a former two-promotion champion. His second UFC bout saw him face Masvidal and there was a lot of trash-talking between the two men. In the end, ‘Gamebred’ destroyed Askren with an awe-inspiring flying knee in just five seconds. Usually, the fighting ends rivalries but this one only became tenser as time went by.
In 2021, Askren agreed to box YouTube star Jake Paul. The YouTuber got Masvidal to mock Askren in a video call. This didn’t impress the former Bellator champion at all. Askren tweeted, “I’ve refrained for 2 years, but let’s be real Jorge. You landed the luckiest knee of your life and I made you famous. You’re welcome. You got 50-43’d by Usman and will likely again next month. Beat it loser.”
The Green Bay Packers have enjoyed some phenomenal quarterbacks throughout their history. The fact that they’ve had Rodgers and Favre back-to-back is something most franchises could only dream of. But the pair didn’t always have the best relationship because their competitiveness created one of the sport’s most interesting rivalries. Ultimately, Rodgers ousted Favre as the Packers released the latter.
In 2019, Rodgers described his rivalry with Favre to Fox News by proclaiming, “I love Brett, I always had a great appreciation for him but we were caught in the middle of a power struggle that unfortunately broke apart Brett and the Packers and Brett and myself,” he said. It was an unfortunate way for Favre’s career in Wisconsin to end, but it also must be remembered that he retired and returned.
Horton and Yang are two of the best swimmers of their generation. Hailing from Australia, Horton was an Olympic gold medallist, while Yang is the greatest Chinese swimmer of all time. However, Horton doesn’t respect his opponent because of his dubious doping history. This created one of the most interesting rivalries in amateur sports because of the antagonism between the pair.
In 2016, Horton attracted the ire of Chinese Netizens after he shredded Yang in a cold-blooded statement. He told assembled media, “I don’t know if it’s a rivalry between me and him, just a rivalry between me and athletes who have tested positive.” Afterward, Horton stood by his comments and the Australian Olympic Committee supported their athlete. But some fans criticized him for failing to comment on suspended Australian swimmers.
In 2019, Fury knocked out Deontay Wilder in their rematch. ‘The Gypsy King’ put on the performance of his life as he dominated the WBC heavyweight champion. It was a brilliant win but Wilder didn’t respond well to his first defeat. He proceeded to play the blame game and even accused Fury of hiding a golf weight in his glove. This was obviously nonsense and didn’t help his reputation.
“I think he has lost his marbles,” Fury told TalkSport. “First of all, it was the suit, then it was the bicep injury, then his trainer was on our team, then the referee was against him, then I had weights in my gloves. Now someone has spiked his water. It’s one of those things, isn’t it?” Wilder also dropped one of his coaches because he threw in the towel against Fury. This was a wild situation.
Yan fought Sterling in early 2021 as he defended his UFC bantamweight title for the first time. The Russian put a striking clinic on Sterling and it looked like it was only a matter of time before the end of the fight. Then, disaster struck. Sterling dropped to his knees with both hands on the ground. But Yan blasted him in the head with a ferocious knee. This was an illegal move and resulted in his disqualification.
As a result, Sterling became champion and created one of the sport’s newest rivalries. Yan wasn’t happy because he lost his title after dominating. Later, Sterling said that Yan didn’t deserve a rematch. However, the Russian replied emphatically. “And I don’t understand why you didn’t shut up yet idiot,”Yan tweeted. “You already turned down the rematch multiple times coward. Sooner or later your day will come #fakechamp.”
In 2011, England and Chelsea captain Terry racially abused Ferdinand on the field. The younger brother of Manchester United star Rio, and a Premier League defender in his own right, Ferdinand couldn’t believe what he heard. Terry received a suspension from soccer amongst other punishments. But it damaged his career and long-term perceptions of his character.
It was many years before Ferdinand rewatched the incident because it hurt too much. “This is the first I am seeing it,” Ferdinand told the Daily Mail in 2020. “I am looking at the phone and rage just came over me. You know when you say your blood boils? It just hit me. I couldn’t believe what I was watching. I felt hurt but mainly anger towards him, I wanted to go and hurt him.”
The Chicago Bulls and the Detroit Pistons had one of the NBA’s strongest rivalries in the ’90s. Jordan and Thomas were their two best players but the former had no respect for the latter. In one episode of “The Last Dance,” Jordan refused to watch footage of his Pistons’ rival. “You can show me anything you want,” he said. “There’s no way you’re not going to convince me he wasn’t an a**hole.”
However, this came as a massive surprise to Thomas when the series emerged in 2021. “The competition that we all had on the floor, I truly just thought it was on the floor,” Thomas told CBS Sports. He explained that he liked Jordan and was disappointed with the portrayal of their relationship because their families had even had dinner together. Jordan even gifted Thomas’s son a pair of shoes.
The first of two Conor McGregor rivalries on this list, the Irishman knows how to make people dislike him. His relationship with Nate Diaz is one of the most interesting in the UFC because the pair should never have fought. However, after taking a fight against the Irishman as a late replacement, Diaz inflicted McGregor’s first UFC defeat. But the Irishman got revenge a year later. Since then, they maintained their rivalry and feud online.
In 2021, the pair went back and forth with a series of tweets. At one point McGregor tore into the fact that Diaz was a journeyman. “I forget nothing bro and you’ll see that soon enough,” he wrote. “And don’t talk to me about a little slap in a scuffle. I had them all trapped thinking they were dead. You’re the king of nothing. You couldn’t even win your own belt they made for you, let alone any other.”
In 2021, the Philadelphia Eagles rocked the NFL with a defeat against Washington. This meant that the latter went to the playoffs at the expense of the New York Giants. However, the drama came from the fact that the Eagles replaced QB Jalen Hurts with Nate Sudfield in the fourth quarter. A win would have damaged their prospects in the draft so Giants fans immediately pointed at this. In short, they accused the Eagles of throwing the game.
The Giants’ Golden Tate was particularly furious about this turn of events. He offered play-by-play of the entire game as it unfolded and also made it clear that he thought the Eagles’ tactics were disgraceful. “I think the eagles just hate us more than Washington,” he tweeted. “That’s the only thing that could make sense right?” The optics were not good at all but the Eagles definitely didn’t care about the Giants’ fortunes.
Two of the greatest players of their generation, Durant and James maintain a healthy rivalry. James holds the advantage when it comes to overall head-to-head results, but Durant has a better playoff record against his bitter foe. These two men don’t hate each other but they leave everything out there on the court. Furthermore, Durant says that King James is one of his favorite opponents.
In 2020, Durant explained why this rivalry means so much. “Just having somebody that’s been around since I took basketball seriously and we’re still playing against each other,” he told Barstool Sports. “That’s pretty special to me. The longevity. You can call it a rivalry or whatever, but to have somebody at the same position and guarding each other when we play is definitely special because he’s one of the best players ever that touched the floor.”
Jones and Cormier fought each other twice in the UFC. But this isn’t the full story of one of the nastiest rivalries in all of MMA. Jones was the volatile superstar whose wild lifestyle cost him inside the cage. The UFC stripped him on multiple occasions and made Cormier their champion. This fed into the pair’s rivalry and their relationship, or lack of one. In sum, they developed an intense hatred.
Prior to UFC 200 in 2016, Cormier opened up on his opinion of Jones’s character. He said, “Sobering truth is, his history dictates and determines that the same thing is going to happen. That is him at his core… He will not change. He’s the same guy. He’s rotten at his core and he will continue to f*** up.” Those are some harsh words, but the proof is in the pudding.
Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are two of the most successful and iconic quarterbacks in NFL history. Former Patriots star Brady went 11-6 against Manning’s Colts and Broncos. But he also played in a more settled team for a longer period of time. Meanwhile, Manning maintained an 87.2 passer rating against Brady’s 92.8. The two of them made their games very compelling.
The best players want to test themselves against the best. These two men were the greatest of their generation. Peyton Manning told NFL.com: “All I can say about Tom Brady is that he plays the position the way it’s supposed to be played. As the quarterback, it’s always a great honor and privilege to have competed against Brady over the course of the past 16, 17 years that he and I have been in the league together.”
Nurmagamedov and McGregor are two of the UFC’s most visible fighters. They also had one of the most toxic rivalries in the history of combat sports. McGregor even spent a night in jail after attacking a bus with Khabib on it. The pair finally fought in 2018 with Khabib winning by submission. However, the fight wasn’t over because a full-scale brawl broke out between both men’s camps afterward.
In 2019, Khabib told ESPN that this rivalry will never end. “It will never be finished, ever,” he said. “Even if we see each other somewhere, we’re going to fight, 100 percent. It doesn’t matter if someone go to jail or something like this. I’m not scared about this – they go to hospital and we go to police. That’s it.” However, in 2021, Khabib retired from MMA competition so it’s unlikely they meet again in the cage.
We’ve looked at Peyton Manning’s perspective of one of the NFL’s great rivalries. Yet now it’s time to see what Tom Brady said about his most vaunted opponent. While they were both successful, Brady’s rise was more unlikely than that of Manning. The latter was one of the most-hyped rookie quarterbacks in the history of the league. The same certainly can’t be said of Brady.
Nonetheless, Brady has nothing but respect for his old rival. He also shares a friendship with him since Manning retired. Brady once told ESPN, “Manning has “been one of the greatest players to ever play. I’ve been fortunate to share a field with one of the best players that have ever played the game. And every time we play a Peyton Manning-led team, it comes down to the wire. Everything is usually at stake.”
Rivalries come in different forms. Liverpool and Manchester United are two of the most successful clubs in English soccer. This created one of the most iconic rivalries in the Premier League. It also affects their players. Gary Neville was United’s right-back for over a decade and developed an intense hatred for his team’s main rivals. Overall, there was a lot of envy.
In 2010, Neville told The Guardian, “I suppose it came from jealousy through my childhood – jealousy, hatred, passion for your own club. You don’t want them [Liverpool] to win anything, and you don’t like the people who are winning, just like I’ve seen in the last 15 or 16 years, from a good side, everybody is now ‘we all hate Man United’ – and they hate Man United because we are winning.”
Keane is one of English soccer’s most notorious hardmen. The former Manchester United captain held a grudge for a long time, as his rival Alf-Inge Haaland discovered. In one game against his foe, Keane collapsed to the ground with an ACL tear. Haaland didn’t realize how serious the injury was and stood over the Irishman. Then, he mocked him and told him to get up.
Keane bided his time but didn’t forget about the encounter. He waited for four years before going through Haaland with a brutal tackle. In his autobiography, Keane explained the notorious incident. “I’d waited long enough. I f***ing hit him hard. The ball was there (I think). Take that you c***. And don’t ever stand over me sneering about fake injuries.” This is one of soccer’s darkest rivalries.
Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal were Lakers’ teammates for a number of seasons. However, they also maintained one of the most toxic rivalries in the NBA. O’Neal felt threatened by the younger Bryant and attempted to assert his dominance. As Bryant matured and developed, he proved to be unstoppable. Finally, O’Neal departed and Bryant was the last man standing.
In 2003, Bryant rocked the NBA after an interview with Jim Gray. He explained his frustration with Shaq. “There’s more to life than whose team this is,” he told Gray. “But this is his team. That means no more coming into camp fat and out of shape. No more blaming others for our team’s failure. ‘My team’ doesn’t mean only when we win; it means carrying the burden of defeat just as gracefully as you carry a championship trophy.”
We’ve already discussed one of boxing’s most intense rivalries from the perspective of Muhammad Ali. He developed a respect for Frazier, after branding him an Uncle Tom amongst other slurs. However, Frazier never forgave Ali and maintained a loathing for him all through his life. He also had no sympathy for Ali’s battle with Parkinson’s Disease and spoke openly about this.
In 1996, Frazier described his hatred for his rival. “Truth is, I’d like to rumble with that sucker again—beat him up piece by piece and mail him back to Jesus…Now people ask me if I feel bad for him, now that things aren’t going so well for him. Nope. I don’t. Fact is, I don’t give a damn. They want me to love him, but I’ll open up the graveyard and bury his a** when the Lord chooses to take him.”