The Best Individual Sporting Rivalries

The rivalry between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi has been one of the best in sport for over a decade now and fans rejoiced when their clubs were drawn to face each other in the Champions League Group Stage this year.

Unfortunately, a COVID test ruled out Ronaldo from the first leg, but that didn’t stop the club’s social media admins from offering their two cents into the biggest footballing debate of the 2000’s.

Both Ronaldo and Messi may be entering the twilight of their respective careers but there’s still plenty these two have to offer the game of football.

Cristiano Ronaldo v Lionel Messi

We really were spoiled for the nine seasons Ronaldo and Messi faced off in Spain.

It elevated El Clasico to an even higher level than with the two best footballers on the planet facing off at least twice per season and usually more often than that.

When they were going head to head Messi won five of his six Ballons D’Or while Ronaldo won four of his five, sparking repeated debate online about who is the better player.

Regardless on whichever side of the fence you land on, it’s inarguable that we have been damn lucky to see two of the most talented footballers ever at the same time.

They have faced off 33 times for club and twice in international friendlies with many hoping their likely international swansongs at the 2022 World Cup brings us that long awaited Portugal-Argentina clash between the two.

In those head to head club matches Messi holds the edge with 21 goals to 18, 15 wins for Messi, 9 for Ronaldo and 9 draws with the last one coming in May 2018 as Barcelona and Real Madrid drew 2-2 in La Liga with both legends finding the back of the net.

Sadly we’ll have to wait for a little bit longer to see them face off again by the sounds of it.

At least the two of them know what they are in the middle of.

Rafael Nadal v Roger Federer

The King of Clay against the King of Just About Everywhere Else has headlined the era of the big four in tennis.

Novak Djokovic is challenging both of these men for the “best of the era” status but whenever Nadal and Federer face off in the later stages of a Grand Slam, we know we are in for a classic.

It started in 2004 when a then upstart Nadal stunned Federer in the Miami Open and was headlined by one of the greatest Grand Slam Finals ever in the 2008 Wimbledon tournament won by Nadal with Federer’s best win coming in the 2017 Australian Open decider.

Overall Nadal has the edge in head to head meetings winning 24 of the 40 matches.

John McEnroe v Bjorn Borg

The brash American taking on the cool, calm and composed Swede, it was like something out of a Disney movie.

The rivalry was defined by the 1980 Wimbledon Men’s Final where the two played out an epic five setter, with McEnroe both endearing himself to the crowd and earning their scorn for some heated confrontations.

It ended with Borg winning the title 8-6 in the deciding set only for McEnroe to get one back at the US Open a few months later.

McEnroe won both of those Grand Slam Final head to heads in 1981 to end the rivalry level at 7-7.

This was such a good rivalry, they even made it into a movie.

Pete Sampras v Andre Agassi

This rivalry may never have quite been the same as some of the other tennis ones but the battles between the two American legends were always special, right up until the last one.

Michael Voss v Nathan Buckley

The two midfield maestros began their careers as teammates with the Brisbane Bears in 1993 before Buckley was traded to Collingwood and Voss became captain of the merged Brisbane Lions.

It would have been a phenomenal midfield for the Lions had the two stayed with the same team however now we are just left to debate who was the better of the two.

Jason Dunstall v Tony Lockett

Two full forwards in full flight in an era of AFL that favoured scoring, how could you not enjoy these two going head to head.

Sunline v Northerly

Around the turn of the millennium, these two horses engaged in some classic battles as they tried to gain supremacy over the other.

The best race between the two came in the 2001 Feehan Stakes when Northerly storming home in one of the best finishes.

Tom Brady v Peyton Manning

Two quarterbacks who have been called the Greatest of All Time faced off 17 times throughout their careers (despite never being on the field at the same time).

The rivalry began in 2001 when Brady made his first career start against Manning’s Colts and over the next few years this rivalry would blossom into the showpiece of the NFL.

Over the 15 seasons these two were starters in the league at the same time Brady held the edge 11-6 but Manning had the two biggest wins in the latter stages, winning the 2013 and 2015 AFC Championships with the Broncos to advance to the Super Bowl.

Since that win Brady has gone on to three more Super Bowls, winning two and is now trying to match Manning by winning a title with a second team at age 43 in Tampa Bay.

Manning is now happily retired and working for ESPN whose joke writers are providing him with some zingers for his former nemesis.

Tiger Woods v Phil Mickelson

Some may say for a rivalry to exist, it needs to be kind of even and this is an exception to prove the rule.

Up until the 2004 Masters tournament, Mickelson was the bridesmaid of world golf with a number of near misses, usually behind Tiger in these featured tournaments.

He finally broke through in 2004 but by that stage Woods had won eight of his 15 majors and was clearly the best golfer in the world.

To be fair, most golfers would have been looking to knock Woods off his perch but were it not for his ridiculous ability, Mickelson would have probably won a lot more majors.

Since then the rivalry between the two has matured with the two squaring off in a pair of charity matches, the latest one featuring Brady and Manning during the COVID shutdown.

Chances are we will see these two go head to head a few more times.

Sidney Crosby v Alex Ovechkin

Admittedly this on-ice rivalry might have been somewhat manufactured over the years but the Penguins and Capitals were more than happy to play into it.

Two of the most talented NHL players of the modern era have endured very different careers with both rising up the all time points list.

Crosby is the flashy prodigy, born to be the star and the key figure in multiple Stanley Cup titles for Pittsburgh.

Ovechkin on the other hand came into the league a year earlier and was also the top pick in the draft but earned a reputation as a flat track bully, who accumulated stats and failed to deliver in the postseason.

Eventually though, “Ovi” broke through for his first title in 2018, including getting by Crosby’s Penguins in the second round.

There were a few heated moments between the two when their sides faced off.

When they did team up in the All Star Games, they produced an excellent combination.

Larry Bird v Magic Johnson

The battles between the Celtics and Lakers in the 1980’s were legendary and featured two of the best players in the game.

At the time they genuinely hated each other as they tried to gain the upper hand on the other guy and his team.

The Showtime Lakers struck first with the 1980 title before the Celtics got one back in 1981 before the teams would face off in 1984, 1985 and 1987 for the title.

Like a lot of these competitions, it was replaced by a friendship once their playing careers ended.

Sometimes you need a rivalry like these two had to really elevate to the top of your game.

Muhammad Ali v Joe Frazier

Boxing’s greatest rivalry was between Muhammad Ali and Smokin’ Joe Frazier with the three fights between the two being some of the most anticipated events of the time.

The first fight took place at Madison Square Garden with Frazier winning in a unanimous decision for the first loss in Ali’s career.

The second fight returned to New York City and featured a phenomenal build up with the two fighters getting into fights and arguments during the media tour in the week before the fight.

In the end Ali won by decision after 12 rounds with an eye on setting up a shot at then world champion George Foreman.

The third and final fight was won by Ali in the famous Thrilla in Manilla which is regarded as one of the best boxing matches in history.

Ali won by TKO after the 14th round giving him the head to head advantage 2-1.

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