Introducing 25 of the most heated sports rivalries in recent memory. Sports breeds competition. When you have two highly competitive athletes going head to head, you better believe they’ll take it a little personally.
Throw politics into the mix and you get a recipe for some serious bad blood. And, be honest, you love it. You eat it up and savor every moment. Rivalries make things more exciting, right? Of course, as we’ll soon see, sometimes these rivals can go a bit too far. These heated sports rivalries have created some of the most controversial and talked-about moments in sports history.
Evander Holyfield vs. Mike Tyson II
While everyone was hyped during a rematch of long time rivals Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield on June 28, 1997, nobody was prepared for the match’s intensity. Tensions rose to unprecedented levels when Tyson unexpectedly bit off a portion of Holyfield’s ear, which cemented the match as one of the strangest in boxing history. Tyson was sanctioned with permanent suspension from boxing and his license was indefinitely cancelled following the fight.
Yankees vs Red Sox
More than just another case of baseball competition, the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry has gone on for nearly a century and featured such accounts of on-field violence as Pedro Martinez’s beating of the 72 year old Yankee’s coach, Don Zimmer. It doesn’t make things easier that the Yankees have amassed 27 championships since 1923, while the Red Sox struggled to gain a title until finally making their comeback in 2004.
New Jersey Devils vs. New York Rangers
Starting after the Devils’ move from Colorado to the Metro area in the 1980s, these two clubs have been at each other’s throats over territory ever since. The rivalry reached new heights when the Rangers won the Stanley cup in 1994, and made headlines once again when the Devils took it home just one year later.
Brazil vs Argentina
Loosely referred to as “The Battle of the South Americans,” the worst manifestation of this rivalry occurred in 1946, when a riot broke out during a match and fans rushed the field. Although recent matches are usually much less chaotic, the rivalry is still very strong and the games are always intense.
Real Madrid vs Barcelona
Barcelona is an immensely independent Spanish region, so it makes sense that FC Barcelona has become a sort of poster child for the nation’s aspiration. It’s also the reason behind the fierce rivalry between them and the other Spanish team, Real Madrid. Real Madrid has always been the bastion of superiority in both Spain and world soccer, however, with FC Barcelona looking to expand its ever-growing trophy case, the rivalry between these two teams is expected to become even stronger.
Rajon Rondo vs Chris Paul
Tensions between basketball players Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul have always been high. Both players have been caught making snide remarks behind each others backs in the past, and a controversial video from 2018 showed Rondo spitting in Paul’s face during a match, sparking a fight between the two.
Canadiens vs. Bruins
This rivalry goes all the way back to 1955 when a fight broke out between Montreal’s Maurice Richard and Bruin Hal Laycoe, which resulted in Richard’s arrest by Boston police officers as well as his suspension from the NHL. Since then the Canadiens and Bruins have played against each other more than any other teams in the NHL. In 2011, the rivalry reached supreme heights when a total of six fights broke out between the teams following the end of the game.
Houston Astros vs. Texas Rangers
Things were alright between the Astros and the Rangers until a deal with the MLB and a change in ownership moved the Houston-based team from the National League to the American League. Astros fans were livid, not wanting their team to leave the National League. Equally, Rangers fans weren’t happy, feeling the team was encroaching on their turf. Tensions have been high between the teams ever since.
Manny Pacquiao vs Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Although they only fought for the first time in 2015, the Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. feud dates back quite a while, with a match between the two champion boxers being teased as far back as 2009 when Mayweather returned from his retirement. Their 2015 match ended up being one of the most popular as well as most expensive boxing matches ever put on, with each athlete netting over $100 million, leading critics to decry the fight as a ploy to get some money.
Marvin Hagler vs. Thomas Hearns
On April 15, 1985, the world witnessed the undisputed champion boxer, Marvin Hagler, compete with challenger and world junior middleweight champion, Thomas Hearns. The fight has long been considered one of the most epic boxing matches in history, and is dubbed “The War” by boxing fans worldwide.
Ohio State vs. Michigan
Beginning all the way back to the year-long “Toledo War” in which Ohio and Michigan skirmished over a border dispute, these two states have maintained a fierce rivalry that comes to a head once a year when the NCAA Michigan Wolverines play off against the Ohio State Buckeyes. More than a couple times this rivalry has resulted in wild partying and riots in the streets following the end of the game.
Navratilova vs. Evert
Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert owned the world of women’s tennis from 1973 to 1988, facing off against each other 80 times during the span and making every match an event to remember. Together, the two helped to bring women’s tennis into the mainstream and prove without a shadow of a doubt that women had just as much a place in athletics as men.
NASCAR: Yarborough vs. Allison
Nobody could forget the on-track brawl between Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough in 1979. Although it was common knowledge that the two racers were competitive with each other before the race, the feelings of bitterness became all too apparent after the two wrecked, stepped out of their cars, and started screaming at each other on the last lap of the Daytona 500.
NBA: Celtics vs. Lakers
When the Boston Celtics and the LA Lakers playing against each other during the NBA Finals everybody can expect nothing less than an epic battle between these old rivals. Cue in Kevin McHale clotheslining Kurt Rambis, Magic and Larry, The Balloon Game, and so many more classic Celtics-Lakers moments.
Surfing: Slater vs. Irons
The rise of Andy Irons to become one of surfing’s elite was arguably the reason why Kelly Slater changed his retirement plans in 2003 to continue surfing.
Irons easily contested Slater and his 6 world championships, and both surfing legends became bitter yet remarkable rivals who always pushed each other to improve. After Irons’ untimely death in 2010 Slater expressed sadness in the younger surfer’s passing, calling him a intense competitor and good friend.
Horse racing: Affirmed vs. Alydar
One of the most spectacular rivalries in the history of horse-racing, Affirmed and Alydar were two racing horses that met on the track ten times from the spring of 1977 to the summer of 1978. Despite Affirmed coming out ahead in seven of their meetups, the two horses are almost always remembered as a pair for their competitiveness and the close races.
Ian Thorpe Vs. Michael Phelps
The world witnessed what many called the “Race of the Century” during the 2004 Athens Olympics when Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe went against USA’s Michael Phelps in the 200-meter freestyle. The race was close, but in the end Thorpe beat out Phelps by 0.61 seconds and received his fifth Olympic gold medal.
Ali vs. Frazier
Muhammad Ali was handed his first career loss by Joe Frazier when Frazier won their fight in 1971. Muhammad came back with a vengeance during their 1974 rematch and the two fought again the following year in Thrilla in Manila.
The fight was so intense that Frazier’s corner forced him to call it after the 14th round, while Ali later went on to state that the match had been the closest he had ever been to dying in the ring.
Pete Sampras vs. Andre Agassi
Agassi and Sampras were the tennis giants of the ’90s, both passing the world’s #1 spot back and forth between them for a couple of years with Agassi holding the top for 101 weeks while Sampras managing to stay up there for 286 weeks. Any tennis fan who watched one or more of the 34 matches they played against each other will describe the battles as nothing short of epic.
USA vs Mexico
When two super powers battle for dominance at the CONCACAF, bad blood will inevitably ensue. That’s exactly what happened during a match between Meixco who scored 23-0-1 on their home field while the U.S. took home 7-13-9 on theirs.
Rugby: Australia vs. New Zealand
Fueled by cultural similarities and one-two rankings in the International Rugby Board, Australia and New Zealand have shared a mutual athletic contempt that manifested in a fierce rivalry. NZ has won 99 of the nations’ 146 rugby union matches and Australia has taken 93 of 125 in the rugby league.
Packers Vs Bears
This NFL rivalry is the oldest in the history of American football, dating all the way back to 1921. The Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears have played each other over 200 times since the founding of the NFL, and they both hold the first and second spots for the most championships in the league with the Packers holding 12 and the Bears with 9.
Cricket: India vs Pakistan
India-Pakistan matches are some of the most widely viewed sports events in the world, with approximately a billion people tuning in to watch each one. It shouldn’t be too surprising, however, because seeing as these two countries have waged three major wars against each other it’s to be expected that the heat translates well into the field of sports. This rivalry is especially apparent during the eight matches when these two teams met each other in the Cricket World Cup.
Korea vs Japan
A number of sporting rivalries are outlets for political conflict, and the Japanese vs South Korea rivalry fits that description to a T. It’s very likely Koreans may still be a bit bitter over Japan’s 35-year occupation of their country, so it’s no surprise when the matches between these countries bring with them a good amount of sports heat and drama.
Manchester United F.C. vs. Liverpool F.C.
These two teams are widely considered to be the summit of English Football. Referred to by the fans as the Northwest Derby, there is no denying that the rivalry between these teams can get very intense.