Studio Minuit Sporting Rivalries - True Stories
May the best win ! Some athletes attract more attention than others, in particular thanks to their exploits and performances. Only they are not the only ones to be gifted in their field. Rivalries between athletes sometimes take on a great deal of importance in order to prove who is the best. And there's no denying it, these clashes grab our attention. Discover the 20 sporting rivalries that have marked history. Narrated by Brad Carty.
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When Djokovic claims that his record of confrontations with Nadal makes theirs the de facto greatest rivalry in tennis, former player Christine Evert is quick to remind him that this only applies to men's matches: in fact, she faced her rival, Martina Navratilova, over 80 times, far surpassing any other historical duel in tennis...
Between the Lauda-Hunt duel and the more recent Lewis-Verstappen, Formula 1 racing witnessed an unprecedented rivalry with two of the greatest drivers in its history, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. The peculiarity of this opposition is that the two men evolved together on the same team. The technological domination of McLaren-Honda led Prost and Senna to compete for the championship title in the late 1980s...
If the NBA had a real boom in the 80s, it was particularly driven by the rivalry between Larry Bird and Earvin "Magic" Johnson. First opposed at the university, the two players landed in the NBA for the 1979-80 season. Bird joined the Boston Celtics while Eavin was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers. Both would make the entirety of their career in a single franchise, and their personal rivalry would extend to that of the two teams. The West Coast versus the East Coast.
Two of the greatest players in history have fought a battle of statistics, collective titles and individual awards relegating other players to second place for many years as their dominance of soccer has been exceptional. The best period of this competition within soccer took place from 2009 to 2018 when Cristiano Ronaldo played for Real Madrid, in the same league as Lionel Messi, the idol of Barcelona.
If Novak Djokovic is going to beat many records in tennis and will be for some years the best player in the world, the greatest rivalry of tennis in the 21st century does not concern him. Yes, it is the matches between him and Rafael Nadal that have taken place most often in men's tennis, but the greatest rival of the Spaniard Nadal is the Swiss Roger Federer, whom he has faced nine times in the final of Grand Slam, as much as the Serbian. Both have dazzled the tennis world since the beginning of the 2000s, while Djokovic revealed himself a little later and really asserted himself at the highest level from 2011.
Athletics will never know such a rivalry. In the 1980's, the two fastest men in the world were fighting for the domination of the 100 meter race, in a poisonous atmosphere. With the American Carl Lewis, a world star, facing the Canadian Ben Johnson, it was a confrontation on and off the track that has fascinated athletics for many years.
Of this heated rivalry, we remember most Mike Tyson's bite on Evander Holyfield's ear. However, this is only a symbol of their immense rivalry ; and if the two men reconciled a few years ago, knowing who is the best of the two remains a heated debate among fans of boxing.
It's no coincidence that this famous rivalry has given rise to a Hollywood film, as the characters and the scenario of this page of Formula 1 history are so unusual. On the one hand, the Englishman James Hunt, who does not hesitate to party the night before the races, wanders around the paddock with a cigarette on his lips and women on his arms, a virtuoso of the circuits. On the other hand, the Austrian Niki Lauda, nicknamed "the computer", much more reserved, from the Viennese bourgeoisie and presented as more rigorous than talented. In 1975, Niki Lauda signed with Ferrari and won the World Championship. The following season, James Hunt, who had revealed himself in the Hesketh team, was recruited by McLaren. This year was one of the most impressive in the history of Formula 1. Lauda, the reigning champion, was the logical favorite, and Hunt, despite some good performances, fell behind in the standings...
Johann Cruyff, who passed away on March 24th 2016, is probably the most influential person in modern soccer. Through his immense career as a player and then as a coach, from Ajax Amsterdam to Barcelona to the Dutch national team, the Dutch striker had a profound impact on the game. As a player, he was a legend of the 1970s, winning numerous titles, including three times the Champions Cup, the forerunner of the current Champions League.
John McEnroe had several great rivalries in his immense career. We could have talked about the tension that opposed him to Jimmy Connors, the other big mouth of the circuit, or of course Bjorn Borg, the world star of modern tennis who made the discipline pass a milestone. But the rivalry between McEnroe and Ivan Lendl was really the most striking, because of its intensity and longevity...
In a combat sport as violent as MMA, and in an organization as spectacular as the UFC, it is obvious that many rivalries are born. Especially, unlike boxing and its multiple organizations, in the UFC is more powerful than agents and the best end up competing for the title. Even though their first fight took place in 2015, Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier have known each other for a few years, and it's an understatement to say that they don't like each other in the least. Daniel Cormier is above all a great wrestler. Bronze medalist at the 2004 Olympic Games, he then pursued a career in mixed martial arts. Despite his modest size (1.78m) he is a formidable fighter, alternating between heavyweight and light heavyweight. In 2014, he decided to focus on the light heavyweight category in the UFC, which is very tough and where the young Jones reigns. The latter, nicknamed Bones younger by his brothers because of his thinness compared to them (they will become American soccer players), is slender, with a great extension. Although he also comes from wrestling, he is a very complete fighter. In 2011, at only 23 years old, Jones became UFC middleweight champion, a record of precocity still valid today. His only loss was a disqualification for an illegal elbow in a fight he was easily dominating. By the time Cormier won a title fight, with a record of 15 wins and 0 losses, Jones had already successfully defended his belt seven times, making him one of the best fighters in history...
In the debates about whether Michael Jordan or Lebron James is the best player in the history of the NBA, one of the recurring arguments is the intensity and aggressiveness of the league in MJ's time. In the 80's and 90's, games were much rougher, and basketball was played much more in the paint, and most importantly, n o one was afraid to express their dislike for opponents. If everyone knows Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, it is however essential to put them in the context of the NBA of the time to measure the rivalry that opposed them to the Detroit Pistons and Isiah Thomas. The Lakers are schematically presented as the great team of the 80s and the Bulls as the one of the 90s, but between the two are the Pistons. Led by Isiah Thomas, a very talented point guard drafted in 81, the Pistons had good seasons but came up against the Celtics and especially the Lakers in the playoffs, especially in the 88 final. But the following season, Thomas is at the head of a team of Bad Boys, including the fantastic Dennis Rodman, future teammate of Jordan, and the vicious Bill Laimbeer. They beat the Bulls in the conference finals and then the Lakers in the championship finals, thanks to a physical and dominant style. The following season, the Pistons achieved the double, confirming their status as a collective steamroller.
At the beginning of the 90-91 season, Jordan's message to his Bulls teammates was clear: after three consecutive losses to the Pistons in the last three seasons, enough was enough. With the new coach Phil Jackson arrived in 89 their time had come. In the conference finals, the two rival teams faced each other again; this time, the Bulls opted for a more collective game, less dependent on Jordan who always had two Pistons players on him. The victory is acquired, and Thomas and his teammates leave the court at the end of the game without shaking hands with the Chicago players, which is extremely badly perceived by the Bulls but by NBA fans as a whole. Jordan gloats. In the championship finals, they beat the Lakers and won their first NBA title. The next two seasons, the Bulls will again win the national title, while the Pistons return to the row, weakened by an injured Thomas who will retire in 94. The Bulls will then know a stop, related to the first retirement of Michael Jordan. With his return in '95, the Chicago franchise will return to the top, achieving a new triple crown from 96 to 98. Although Jordan has undoubtedly had a better career, Thomas has 36 wins against 29 in their clashes, and he is also in the Hall of Fame.
Few sports rivalries have ever gotten this out of hand. Figure skating may be an aesthetically benign spectacle, but it is still an arena of competition between male and female competitors. Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding are nothing alike; Kerrigan is elegant and well liked by her peers, while Harding is an outlier in the skating ecosystem. When Kerrigan seduces with her grace and her designer outfits, Harding imposes herself with her power, her athletic jumps, and this in spite of the judges' mockery of her outfits made with little means. Despite a difficult childhood with her violent and alcoholic mother, Tonya managed to become one of the best skaters in the United States. In 1991, she won the National Championships by being the first American to perform the triple axel, an exceptional figure. The same year she finished second at the World Championships, again landing the triple axel. She even attempted it at the 1992 Winter Olympics where she finished 4th. But the rest of her 92 season is below her expectations, as well as the following year. At the same time, Nancy Kerrigan emerged at the top, second at the US Championships and the World Championships in 1992, and became US champion the following year.
Field hockey and the NHL, the American league, had a great rivalry with Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky during the 80's and 90's, but these last ones are not as much confronted as the Russian Alex Ovechkin and the Canadian Sidney Crosby. The latter were drafted respectively in 2004 and 2005, each as first choice; the first by the Pittsburgs Penguins and the second by the Washington Capitals. But the 2004-05 season having been cancelled, they officially started in the league the same season, and it is the Russian who will be named Rookie of the year, that is to say the best player making his debut in the NHL. The two players were rivals both individually and collectively from the beginning and were the face of their team. Today, they are still among the best players in the league, showing a longevity equal to their talent. Since they play in the same division and have therefore played against each other a lot in the regular season as well as in the play-offs, the finals of American sports, this rivalry has only been fueled. The Canadian is a methodical and cerebral playmaker, an admirable passer but also a fine scorer. The Russian is a goal machine, flying on the ice, aggressive in everything he does. Those who have worked with them speak of two great professionals, tireless in training and in games. Both of them concede the greatness of the other, but there is no friendship between them. At most a cordial respect, on the ice there is no room for feelings, especially with so many games against each other.
In the number of Stanley Cups, that is, the NHL finals, Crosby is the winner with three titles, one more than the other legend of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Mario Lemieux. Ovechkin has only won once, and ten years after his rival's first victory, but in terms of individual trophies the Russian is clearly ahead. For the title of Best Player of the League, the Russian leads 3 trophies to 1 against his rival. In terms of individual statistics, the two players are neck and neck despite their different styles: the Russian winger is mostly a scorer while the Canadian center has a style closer to the great Gretzky. At the end of 2021, Ovechkin became the best power play scorer in NHL history, meaning the number of goals that give his team the lead in scoring, not the total number of goals scored, thus highlighting the decisive character of the player. Although they are the powerhouses of their sport, both stars have also had their share of critics. Early in his career Crosby was deemed too grouchy, too flashy in his accessories, and was even accused of dropping himself to get penalties. When he refuses a call-up from Canada, it creates a controversy, and yet he won two Olympic gold medals with his team, which the Russian never managed, even if he won more world championships with Russia. Ovechkin is not free of blame either, and his physical commitment sometimes excessive is also criticized. His ability to be a hard hitter without making mistakes has served his reputation: and Crosby has tasted some of them...
Of the rivalries that French sport has known, the one between Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor in the 1960s is one of the greatest, having transcended the world of cycling and gone beyond its borders. Everything opposes the two men: Anquetil, the bad winner, who only likes to win, and Poulidor, the good loser, happy to be already there and eternal second. The popular affection for the one nicknamed "Poupou" animated the "Trentes Glorieuses" and remains today one of the most beautiful stories of French sport.
The historian Michel Winock described this multi-factorial rivalry: "Behind these two stereotypes, the public feels confused that two universes are opposed, like modernity and archaism. Both riders come from a rural environment, but they do not evolve in the same agrarian civilization. Anquetil is representative of a modern agriculture (...) Poulidor is the figure of the "resigned peasant". This is also found in the style of each one: "Maître Jacques" is a rouleur, specialist of the time trial, which echoes his way of life with the attention of the detail. As for Poupou, he is a climber, comfortable in the mountains, at ease in the effort and force of nature. The division of the French has to do with these characters, because there is no real debate about who is the best, and this is what makes the admiration for Poulidor even more beautiful. In fact, Anquetil's record is far superior.
Although they were almost the same age, when Poulidor turned professional in 1960, at 24, Anquetil was already a cycling star. When Poupou first entered the Tour de France in 1962, his future rival had already won two. In fact, the two men were only competitors during the 1960s, which was not so long, and during this period "Maître Jacques" was clearly the better of the two. How to explain this rivalry, how to explain that Anquetil entered into a psychological confrontation with his compatriot? Maybe he needed a rival to surpass himself, but in any case the public needed it: to a champion who crushes the competition one prefers a duel with suspense, especially since the two men were so different that there were all the elements for a good drama. But if Poulidor had the legs, and the popular passion, he didn't have the mind of a champion. Nor the luck: punctures, falls, nothing will be spared to the destiny of Poupou.
The two quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning dominated the NFL for nearly twenty years, and embodied a rivalry that pushed them to surpass each other with a mutual respect that does them credit. Manning, #1 draft pick in 1998 for the Indiannapolis Colts, had a flourishing career until his retirement in 2015 with the Denver Broncos. An admirable longevity, during which Peyton won two Superbowls with each of his teams, winning one each time. Nicknamed the Sheriff, he was awarded the league's MVP five times, a record that still stands today, and named to the Pro Bowl for the best days of the season 14 times, which was a record until the 2021-2022 season when Brady earned his 15th nomination. The son of a former player, and older brother of another renowned quarterback, Eli Manning, also number one in his draft and a two-time Super Bowl winner, Peyton is the archetypal old school quarterback, a brilliant strategist, respected leader, exceptional passer and cold-blooded competitor.
Tom Brady, a living legend in American sports, is considered the greatest American soccer player of all time. However, he did not have a brilliant college career like Manning and other NFL stars. He was only selected 199th in the 2000 draft and began his adventure with the New England Patriots as a backup. He will embody the greatest dynasty of the sport until the 2019 season when he will join the Tampa Bay Bucanneers. In terms of longevity, Brady is truly a special case! Three times MVP but above all man of the Superbowl: he holds the record of ten finals played, including seven wins - six with the Patriots and 1 with the Buccanneers in 2021 - and five times he was named MVP of the final. The two players have played each other 17 times during their careers, with Tom Brady winning 11 times. However, they have only met once in a Super Bowl, and it was Manning's Broncos who came out on top.
If the most important categories in boxing are historically the welterweights and the middleweights, for the combination of speed, technique and power, the most popular category and the one that gets the most media coverage is the heavyweights. Contemporary boxing is no exception, especially since in recent years the competition is real. Thus, the queen category of English boxing offered us a rivalry worthy of the golden age of the discipline with Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder.
The Englishman Tyson Fury is nicknamed The Gypsy King, a nickname he borrowed from one of his ancestors, who was a British champion in underground bare-knuckle fighting. His own father was also a professional boxer, but was sentenced to eleven years in prison for putting out a man's eye during a street fight. He owes his first name to Mike Tyson. In this context, it is not surprising to see that Fury went to boxing: despite a good amateur career, he did not compete in the Olympics and became a professional in 2008 at only 20 years. His first big feat is the victory in 2015 against the legend Wladimir Klitschko: for his first fight with belts at stake, he defeats the Ukrainian boxer then undefeated for 11 years! However, instead of exploding his career came to a halt as Fury had to retire due to medical problems. After two years of absence he returned to competition but the boxing world did not take him seriously due to a significant weight gain and this despite his invincibility. After two easy victories, he can fight one of the two other undefeated heavyweights with his compatriot Anthony Joshua: the American Deontay Wilder...
Wilder is an atypical boxer who started late, at 19, to support his newborn daughter who has a bone marrow disease. A real knockout machine, he is also a trash-talker always eager to provoke. US champion in 2007, Olympic bronze in 2008, he then started a professional career with quick wins thanks to his punch. Knockout machine, he declares he wants to kill someone in the ring. When he was supposed to fight Joshua, the match was postponed several times and it was Fury who replaced Joshua. We then witness the birth of a monster rivalry between two titans of the category, both experts in the pre-fight provocation and undefeated in the professionals. At the end of 2018, after a completely crazy scenario, Fury is sent twice to the mat while he controlled the fight and the duel ends in a draw. The rematch takes place in early 2020 and this time Fury wins easily in the 7th round. Wilder makes excuses, accuses the Englishman of cheating and immediately activates the clause of his contract for a trilogy under high tension.
During the Winter Olympics of Calgary in 1988, two major figures of figure skating confront each other. On one side, the East German Katarina Witt, on the other the American Debi Thomas. They are the two favorites, it is about their last Olympic Games and there scandal: the two athletes choose to carry out their long program on the opera Carmen of Bizet, thus giving for nickname to this duel "the battle of Carmens"
Best American skater, Debi Thomas was even World Champion in 1986. She was one of the first African-American skaters to express herself at the highest level, and at the Calgary Games became the first to wear a tight-fitting jumpsuit instead of a skirt. After the year 88, she will retire at 21 years in order to devote herself to her studies of medicine begun two years earlier. Katarina Witt is endowed with a much more extensive list of achievements: already Olympic champion in 1984 at only 18 years old, she has since won all the major competitions she has competed in, except for the 86 Worlds where she finished second behind Thomas. After her amateur career ended in 88 she became a professional skater for various shows and even made a few appearances in Hollywood films. She received an Emmy Award for her performance in the movie-show "Carmen on Ice". Nicknamed "the most beautiful face of socialism", as much an athlete as an artist, she is considered as the skater who brought her discipline into the modernity, by her performances and her media coverage.
The 2021 Formula 1 season saw Dutchman Max Verstappen win his first world championship title at the age of 24, at the end of a crazy season crowned by a last grand prix that is still controversial weeks after its conclusion. Indeed, during the race in Abu Dhabi, a controversial arbitration decision affecting the course of the race following an incident, has indirectly favored Verstappen who was able to dethrone the English Lewis Hamilton. The latter is probably the greatest driver in the history of F1, and he was so close to an 8th world title synonymous with an absolute record. The 36-year-old Mercedes driver already holds all the other major records possible, but it is the identity of his successor and the scenario that make it so special. For one thing is certain, Verstappen and Hamilton hate each other.
For several years, the young Dutch prodigy of the Red Bull team and the British champion have been clashing on and off the track. Since 2018, the two drivers' rivalry has become a legendary duel like Senna vs Prost or Hunt vs Lauda, and it is in 2021 that it will reach its climax. During the British GP of Silverstone, the 10th of the season, the two men clashed in the race, which led to Verstappen's withdrawal and hospital stay, while Hamilton won and climbed back up in the standings. The Red Bull team was offended to see the frank celebration of the Englishman while his competitor was in hospital. A few races later, at Monza in Italy, a circuit renowned for its speed, the two drivers clashed again; this time both were forced to retire and this time it was Hamilton who was indignant, believing that Verstappen had knowingly caused the accident. As the end of the championship approached, Hamilton was demoted to the end of the grid at the start of the Sao Paulo GP because of a spoiler that was not in conformity with the regulations: at the end of a crazy race, the Englishman caught up with everyone else and even managed to overtake his rival to win the race. The conquest of the title is relaunched, and Hamilton will win the next grand prix in Qatar after Verstappen was in turn penalized before the race. Toto Wolff, the Mercedes boss, compared this duel to a combat sport, and the tension grew. During the penultimate race, in Saudi Arabia, the tension is maximum and it is Hamilton who signs again a victory in a chaotic GP having seen several incidents having in particular damaged the Dutchman.
For the first time since 1974, two drivers are tied in the standings before the last GP of the season! Some analysts are predicting another clash between the two, since in the event of joint retirements, the Red Bull driver would be the champion because he has won one more GP. We are in Abu Dhabi, and Hamilton leads the race until the 53rd lap. However, an accident led to the introduction of a safety car, temporarily freezing the race, but allowing the Red Bull driver to change his tires. Hamilton, stuck behind the other Red Bull driver, was unable to make a pit stop to change his tires, while Verstappen easily recovered from his own pit stop as the race was slowed by the accident. Some late cars were allowed to overtake the safety car that had returned to the track, but others were not, including Hamilton, which led to confusion and then anger among the Mercedes clan, but also among other drivers. Some teams questioned the timing of the decisions, but the race director seemed overwhelmed. The usual procedure would have been for everyone to be able to take their places before a normal restart, and this would have led to the race ending in groups. Finally, when the race resumed, there was one lap to go, and Hamilton was easily overtaken by his rival on new tires, with Toto Wolff shouting indignantly at the race director on the general radio. Hamilton even spoke of manipulation.
Almost 50 years ago, on March 8, 1971, two of the greatest boxers in history faced each other at the mythical Madison Square Garden, marking the beginning of a legendary trilogy in the history of sport. Of the rivalry between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, we know mostly the third round, nicknamed "Thrilla in Manilla", which took place in 1975, disputed one year after the "Rumble in the Jungle" of 1974 against George Foreman in Zaire. However, the relationship between Ali and Frazier was first of all a frank friendship.
Even though Frazier was only two years younger, he completely admired Ali who had shone very early. After a successful amateur career in which he won Olympic gold in the light-heavyweight class in 1960, his professional career got off to a flying start. In 1963, despite a record of 19 victories, including 15 before the limit, and no defeat, Ali - who was still called Cassius Clay at the time - faced the heavyweight champion Sonny Liston, considered invincible. The young Cassius surprisingly defeated the biggest puncher of the 1960s, and confirmed his superiority in a rematch the following year. In 1967, at 30-0, Muhammad Ali's career was to come to a halt: as a conscientious objector criticizing the war in Vietnam, he refused to be drafted, which earned him a heavy fine and a conviction. He escaped prison, but was stripped of his world championship title and his boxing license. As for his image, it becomes controversial after his support to the Nation of Islam and its leader Malcolm X.
Joe Frazier took advantage of Ali's years of absence to become the new king of boxing, while supporting his friend and going so far as to plead with the White House for his return to competition. In 1971, after only one fight since his return to the ring, Muhammad Ali finally challenged Joe Frazier. And to the surprise of the latter, Ali begins the confrontation in the media, with statements and provocations. It was the first time in history that two undefeated heavyweights in more than 25 fights faced each other. Nicknamed at the time "the fight of the century", it was a clash of styles inside and outside the ring. Frazier, a discreet puncher, versus Ali, a virtuoso of fists and words. In this high tension fight, Frazier wins the decision after 15 rounds. However, it was not until 1974 that the rematch took place: Ali fought again, picking up the pace and level, but lost in 1973 to Ken Norton; while Frazier greatly reduced the pace after the war against Ali, and was stripped of his title in 1973 by the young rising star George Foreman. Thus, in 1974, Ali took his revenge on Frazier in a fight that was disappointing on all levels but was preceded by a fight on a TV set during the promotion of the fight. It became clear that the two men would have to fight a third time.