Rivalries. Professional sports lives off it, markets itself off of it. Rivalries play a major role in capturing a wider audience’s attention to the specific sport and there are many in professional sports that could indeed go on forever.
I have selected my top five best rivalries since 1970.
No 1. Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier
Ali and Frazier’s first fight was dubbed the “Fight of the Century”. As most fights back then it was scheduled for 15-rounds — eat your heart out Sonny Bill Williams, you only did 10 versus Francois Botha!
Joe Frazier won on points after 15 gruelling rounds. Before the match there was a lot of build up and tension and indeed the fight lived up to it. Brutal and compelling, all 15 rounds.
The next two fights were highly controversial too. Ali won the second fight on points, but debate rages on whether it was the right decision. And in “The thriller in Manila” the fight was called off in the 14th round, despite Joe Frazier’s protest, wanting the fight to continue.
Ali said after the fight it was the “Closest thing to dying that I know of.”
Gives you an idea how brutal and competitive their rivalry was.
No 2. Magic Johnson vs Larry Bird
These two also featured plenty of tension between each other as they were bitter rivals on and off the court. Whilst later they became friends in the early 80’s they were mortal enemies, both with a determination to win.
There were many great matches, stretching from the NCAA final in 1979, all the way to the last times they met in the NBA finals in 1987. It was both compelling and moving to see them became close friends during their career. That lives on today.
No 3. Alain Prost vs Ayrton Senna
What can one say about these two men, who went hard in F1 cars, always taking it to the edge? Their rivalry was dangerous, but also highly skilful.
A great rivalry that was as tense as it came, both men fuelled by controversy and with a fierce will to win.
Prost won four world titles, Senna won three. But Senna got his titles in seven years while Prost took nine.
No 4: Monica Seles vs Steffi Graf
There was something very compelling about these two ladies. Both attracted attention wherever they went, were highly talented, had a fierce will to win and both were in their prime of their careers when they locked horns. Seles was the first win a Grand Slam final when she was as 16 years old at the French Open, beating Graf 7-6, 6-4.
They then went on to have three more Grand Slam final duels over the next three years (1990-93). Perhaps most notably Graf beat Seles at Wimbledon in 1992 in a rain-affected match. A slam Seles craved. Seles never won Wimbledon, and sadly was never the same player after being stabbed in April 30th 1993.
But their rivalry in sports was as good as it gets.
No 5. New Zealand All Blacks vs France
The French don’t fear the All Blacks, a rare thing in rugby.
Four World cup matches past the group stage, head to head resulted in a 2-2 record.
All four matches were controversial, but compelling. None more so than the All Blacks’ one point win over the French at the Rugby World Cup in 2011 in New Zealand.
So there is my top 5 roarers. Tough choices all. Do you agree, disagree? I’d love to know. Over to you!