The acclaimed author of “Little Women”, Louisa May Alcott, once wrote, “Rivalry adds so much to the charms of one’s conquests.” And it’s true; there’s nothing like a bitter rivalry to build excitement and intensity in sport. Sure, some athletes claim that their approach to their endeavors involves the attempt to best no one but their own selves. But the reality is that it usually takes a rival to spur an athlete to higher and greater levels of achievement, spectators being the primary beneficiaries of such passion-filled competition.
The history of sport has featured many such unforgettable rivalries that have titillated sports fans around the world. Some of these include baseball’s Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, the NBA’s Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, and boxing’s Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, among others. Fortunately, we still have many exciting sports rivalries today that can stand at the level of the best from years past.
Here are ten of today’s most valuable and compelling individual sports rivalries:
10. Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate / Mixed Martial Arts / Combined Net Worth: $1.5 Million
While most of today’s sports rivalries are purely professional ones, here’s one for the
good nasty old times: UFC Women’s Division fighters Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey genuinely and absolutely hate each other. Before the animosity between the two started, however, they were actually fine with one another.
When they met on the set of “The Ultimate Fighter”, Ronda came up to Miesha and said, “Hey, it was a really good fight,” in reference to Tate’s loss to Cat Zingano. Miesha responded by saying, “Thank you.” But once the cameras started rolling, for some reason, the hate-filled relationship began.
The bitterness was in full display last December 23, 2013 in a rematch after Tate had lost the previous fight between the two rivals. Rousey was again the victor, defending her title and submitting Miesha with an armbar for the second time. However, the drama didn’t stop when the bell rang. When Tate came up to Rousey to shake her hand, Ronda declined, cementing her status as the heel of Women’s MMA.
In her defense, Rousey explained, “Hey, women fighters weren’t getting anywhere acting like Miss America. I can’t go around living my life like there’s always a five-year-old in the room.”
9. Mao Asada vs. Kim Yuna / Women’s Figure Skating / Combined Net Worth: $20 Million
South Korean Kim Yuna is the most accomplished female figure skater in the world today. She won the gold during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games and also won the World Championships in 2009 and 2013. Furthermore, she is the current record holder for ladies in the short program, the free skating, and the combined total under the ISU Judging system. All in all, she has broken world record scores eleven times and has never finished off the podium in her entire career.
Kim’s closest rival is Japan’s Mao Asada who won silver in the 2010 Winter Olympics and the 2008 and 2010 World Championships. She is also the first woman to land three triple axel jumps in the same competition, doing so during the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Tara Lipinski, 1998 Olympic champion, recognizes the rivalry between the two:
Yuna has become a megastar. She has that Olympic title and that puts them [Kim and Asada] in a slightly different category than they were before. Now, Mao is a bit of an underdog, pushing to grab that medal.
The two are facing off once again in the 2014 Winter Olympics.
8. Sidney Crosby vs. Alexander Ovechkin / Hockey / Combined Net Worth: $50 Million
The rivalry between Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins seems to have been fated. Both players were drafted first overall, Alex in 2004 and Sidney in 2005. However, at the start of the 2011 season, the rivalry seemed to die down as Crosby suffered a concussion after hits to the head in back-to-back games. That caused him to be sidelined for ten and a half months. Worse, when Sidney returned, his concussion-like symptoms came back in December of 2011, sidelining him once again until March of 2012. Ovechkin, meanwhile suffered from dipping numbers in 2011 and 2012.
Today, however, the rivalry is alive and well with Sidney and Alex being among the statistics leaders of the current season: Crosby is way ahead for the NHL lead in points and has a small lead in assists, while Ovechkin has pulled away for the league lead in goals. Even better, the two are competing in the 2014 Winter Olympics as the stars of countries that are co-favorites to take gold: Sidney plays for Canada, while Alex will play at home for Russia.
7. Maria Sharapova vs. Serena Williams / Women’s Tennis / Combined Net Worth: $190 Million
If only tennis statistics were to be considered in comparing American Serena Williams and Russian Maria Sharapova, there wouldn’t seem to be much of a rivalry to speak of. Yes, both have won the career Grand Slam (titles in all four tennis majors), and the two have been the highest-earning tennis stars for a couple of years. However, Serena has seventeen Grand Slam singles titles compared to four for Maria. Furthermore, Williams has been #1 for 175 weeks and counting, while Sharapova has been on top for only 21 weeks and is currently ranked only #5. Even more telling is the head-to-head record between the two: Serena leads Maria, 15-2.
Nevertheless, the rivalry between the two cannot be denied. Despite Williams dominating the courts, Sharapova is still the world’s highest-paid female athlete; Serena is second. And of course, there’s the personal tension that exists between them, which caught the public’s attention before the 2013 Wimbledon Championships. Serena referred to Sharapova’s boyfriend, Grigor Dimitrov, as “the guy with a black heart”, while Maria retaliated by mentioning that Serena’s rumored boyfriend, Patrick Mouratoglou, is getting a divorce and has kids. They’ve since put that exchange behind them, but it’s hard to say there isn’t an exciting rivalry between the two.
6. Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James / Basketball / Combined Net Worth: $245 Million
For a while, it seemed like the competition between Miami Heat’s LeBron James and OKC Thunder’s Kevin Durant was growing too lopsided to be called a rivalry. LeBron had won four NBA MVP Awards (2009, 2010, 2012, 2013) and back-to-back NBA championships (2012-2013). Durant still has none of those honors.
However, things are currently looking up for Kevin. The Thunder are atop the NBA standings overall, with Miami not in the top three. And Kevin is also leading the league in average points scored per game with over 30 ppg, while LeBron is at just at a little over 26. If Kevin and his team can keep up their quality of play, the Durant-James rivalry is sure to grow much more intriguing.
5. Lionel Messi vs. Cristiano Ronaldo / Football / Combined Net Worth: $245 Million
Whenever Barcelona and Real Madrid face each other, all eyes are on Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo — two players involved in what is widely regarded as the most watched individual rivalry in sports today. Messi seemed to have the edge when he won the FIFA/Ballon d’Or from 2009 to 2012. However, Ronaldo won the award in 2008 and again in 2013. In terms of La Liga team performances, Messi’s Barcelona has won six times, including three straight from 2008-09 to 2010-11, while Ronaldo’s Real Madrid won in 2011-12. This season, their teams are atop the team standings once again.
What makes the rivalry between the two so exciting is that they’re simultaneously playing in their prime, both of them routinely battling for league titles, European championships, and international acclaim. And while the two duke it out, it’s football fans who win the most.
4. Rafael Nadal vs. Roger Federer / Men’s Tennis / Combined Net Worth: $260 Million
Sure, right now it’s Nadal and Djokovic, ranked #1 and #2 in the world respectively, who are playing the best tennis. However, it’s still the matches between Switzerland’s Roger Federer and Spain’s Rafael Nadal that never fail to attract the most attention. There’s just something about the two that makes their rivalry so riveting. Perhaps, it’s the contrast in styles, Federer being so classy and graceful and Nadal seeming so powerful and aggressive. Or maybe it’s how two players who are squarely in the middle of the “greatest of all time” (GOAT) debate are playing in the same era.
There are compelling GOAT arguments for both players. Federer’s seventeen majors is a record in the open era. Rafa has just thirteen right now but holds a stunning 23-10 winning record against Roger.
As the two proceed with their careers, the debate is certain to rage on.
3. Floyd Mayweather, Jr. vs. Manny Pacquiao / Boxing / Combined Net Worth: $270 Million
The rivalry between American Floyd Mayweather, Jr. (45-0-0) and Filipino Manny Pacquiao (55-5-2) may be the strangest in sports today as the two have never squared off in the ring, and possibly never will. Various issues including drug testing, disagreements between their camps, and fight purse amounts have gotten in the way of the blockbuster fight being finalized. However, outside the ring, the two have been slugging it out with Floyd poking fun at Pacquiao’s recent tax woes and Manny daring Mayweather to fight him for charity so that the fight earnings division won’t be an issue.
Hopefully, the two, along with their camps, can set aside all differences so that fans can witness the biggest fight that the boxing world has seen in many years.
2. Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning / American Football / Combined Net Worth: $285 Million
One reason why the rivalry between New England Patriot Tom Brady and Denver Bronco Peyton Manning has garnered so much attention is that they’re arguably two of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. Head to head, Brady has a definitive edge over Manning, 10-5. However, it was Peyton who scored the most recent victory between the two by winning the AFC title game. That brought Manning to his third Super Bowl appearance, and he had previously won Super Bowl XLI. Tom, on the other hand, has played in five Super Bowls, winning three (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX).
In terms of individual achievement, however, it’s Manning who has the edge with his 5 AP NFL MVPs (2003, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2013) compared to Brady’s two (2007, 2010).
1. Tiger Woods vs. Phil Mickelson / Golf / Combined Net Worth: $680 Million
The rivalry between the two is made much more interesting by the testiness of their relationship. When the media was making a big deal of Phil playing without a driver in his bag, Woods shrugged off the oddity as not being worth mentioning. “It’s not a driver, but it’s a very strong 3-wood,” Tiger dismissively said. Mickelson, meanwhile once referred to Woods’s Nike clubs as “inferior equipment” and said that “Tiger is the only one who could overcome the equipment he is stuck with”; an awkward compliment to say the least.
With Woods logging 670 weeks at #1 and counting, and with Mickelson having never made it to the top, Phil has a lot of catching up to do to make the rivalry more even in terms of its numbers. At 43 years of age, however, Mickelson doesn’t look like he has a lot of prime playing years left to do so.
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