Sports are fun to watch and follow in general but they get more interesting when two equally matched rivals with animosity between them square off at the grand stage of their respective sports. The world of sports has given us some of the greatest team rivalries like Barcelona-Real Madrid in football, India & Pakistan in Cricket, Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics in the NBA, etc. However, there have also been some iconic individual rivalries of sport.
Individual rivalries in sports are more extreme and heated. As both players compete for the same goal. It doesn’t end on the field but also carries off the field. Some rivalries are fan and media-based while most of them are players’ behavior towards each other.
We have seen some Iconic individual rivalries and came up with a list of the best clashes we could think of.
Top 10 Iconic Individual Rivalries
- Top 10 Iconic Individual Rivalries
- 10). Michael Phelps vs Ryan Lochte | Swimming
- 9). Lin Dan vs Lee Chong Wei | Badminton
- 8). Bjorn Borg vs John McEnroe | Tennis
- 7). Magic Johnson vs Larry Bird – NBA
- 6). Chris Evert vs Martina Navratilova – Tennis
- 5). Peyton Manning vs Tom Brady – NFL
- 4). Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal – Tennis
- 3). Ayrton Senna vs Alain Prost – Formula One
- 2). Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier – Boxing
- 1). Lionel Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo – Football
Over the years, Sports have witnessed some legendary and titanic battles between Atheletes in a bid to be identified as the greatest in the field.
Most times, athletes performed on levels that were far above anyone else, just to prove that they were basically each other’s only competition. This then led to some of the greatest individual performances we have ever witnessed.
10). Michael Phelps vs Ryan Lochte | Swimming
“A battle in water is likely to take place” was always the phrase when these two swimmers get into the pool. They have been the two most talented swimmers in the world. Though Phelps has an unbelievable tally of 28 medals from five Olympics, Lochte is just second to him with 12 medals in total.
9). Lin Dan vs Lee Chong Wei | Badminton
The on-court rivalry of these two atheletes has been on for years. Both have a divided fan base. A warlike state always emerged between China and Malaysia when these two come together face to face. They have played each other in 31 finals with Lin Dan winning 22 of them.
Apart from that, they are the only 2 Badminton players who have contested each other in two Olympic finals. However, Lin Dan has won both times. Watching their matches always gets the crowd’s attention and is definitely a fan favorite.
8). Bjorn Borg vs John McEnroe | Tennis
It was one of the most fascinating head-to-head battles ever witnessed in sports. Both men were polar opposites in every sense of the term. They were labeled with the tag of “Fire and Ice” battle of Tennis.
Both Players met 14 times during their playing careers. They share a head-to-head record of 7-7. However, McEnroe had the slightest edge in the Grand Slams. As McEnroe won 1-3, having defeated Borg in the 1981 Wimbledon and US Open finals.
The rivalry ended on the field when Borg announced a shock retirement at the age of 26.
7). Magic Johnson vs Larry Bird – NBA
Indeed, the two most relevant NBA teams of the 1980s were the Lakers and Celtics, with Magic and Bird serving as the key to success for their respective teams. Additionally, both players helped usher in the most successful era in NBA history. The origin of the rivalry started in my College days and led straight to the professional surface.
The duo met countless times in their career during the regular season. Magic Johnson had edged over Larry Bird as he won five championships and Bird had only three. Bird won one title over Magic Johnson and the Lakers in 1984 but lost in their two other meetings in the NBA Finals.
Larry and Magic ended up becoming the best of friends and even wrote a book about it.
This is the Biggest Rivalry in the History of Women’s Tennis and there is no doubt about that. Spectacular Sheer’s dominance for 12 years. From 1975 to 1987, the duo won 21 out of 24 Grand Slam titles, starting with the 1981 Australian Open and ending with the 1987 US open.
Chris Evert won 18 grand slams and she holds the record of winning at least 1 grand slam title for straight 13 years. Furthermore, she achieved the record-breaking feat of getting to 34 Grand Slam finals and never lost in the first or second round of a Grand Slam for the entirety of her professional career.
However, Martina Navratilova also won 18 grand slam titles. She even broke Chris Evert’s record of 55 consecutive wins in the Open Era for a total of 74, while also setting a record for most singles (167) and doubles (177) title wins in the Open Era.
In 16 years span from 1973 to 1988, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova played each other 80 times. Navratilova had the slightest edge over her rival as she lead 43-37. One of the Iconic Individual Rivalries.
5). Peyton Manning vs Tom Brady – NFL
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are the two greatest names in the history of the NFL. It’s rare that NFL football, as a team-oriented sport, is able to produce two players who have enough of a storied history with each to be considered a top rivalry.
As it so happens, two of the greatest QBs of all time entered the league around the same time and dominated the sport for the next 15 years. Brady against Manning is one of the best rivalries in sports during the last 20 years.
Tom Brady holds the all-time record between the two. The two NFL legends played each other 17 times, with Brady leading the head-to-head series 11-6 but Manning holds the advantage in playoff victories 3-2.
However, Tom Brady wins the rivalry as he has the most Super Bowl MVP awards (4), joint-most Pro Bowls (14), and is the oldest player in NFL history to win both the Super Bowl and League MVP awards.
4). Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal – Tennis
Two Absolute Legends of Tennis, their rivalry is nothing more than a Fairy-tale. Famously known as “Federal”, nicknamed by the passionate Tennis fans, they have contested against each other in 34 finals with Nadal leading by 23-11.
Federer and Nadal played their first match in March 2004 at the third round of the Miami Masters. Nadal Shocked the world by defeating the Champion.
Their contests have always been a live wire, one such was the 2008 Wimbledon Final, which is regarded as one of the greatest matches in Tennis History.
The duo shares 41 Grand slam titles between them. Roger Federer became the first-ever tennis player to win 20 Grand slam titles. However, Rafal Nadal join him in his tally, and this year he won his 21st Grand slam title and set the record for most Grand Slam Titles.
3). Ayrton Senna vs Alain Prost – Formula One
The greatest rivalry in Formula one competition features four-time World Champion Alain Prost (L) and three-time winner Ayrton Senna. Their careers peaked between 1988 and 1991 when both raced for the McLaren team. They took potshots at each other in press conferences, the most famous being the Brazilian’s rant at the Frenchman in 1993 when he called Prost a coward.
Alain Prost is a four-time Formula One champion and previously held the record for most Grand Prix victories from 1987 to 2001 when his total of 51 victories was finally surpassed by Michael Schumacher.
Senna was renowned for his performance in wet conditions, as well as qualifying speed over one lap. From 1989 until 2006 he held the record for most pole positions.
The most controversial incident in their rivalry occurred at the final clash of the 1989 season when the winner of the world title was to be decided at the Japanese Grand Prix.
The two teammates once again collided, with Prost walking away from the track while Senna stayed on to win the race. However, his victory was overruled by the Formula One governing body meaning that Prost was named the winner of the 1989 World title. One of The Iconic Individual Rivalries
2). Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier – Boxing
Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier both are the two greatest boxers that ever stepped inside the ring. Their career number speaks for themselves. In total, Ali’s professional record was 61-56-5, with 37 of his 56 victories coming via knockouts. Joe Frazier’s record reads 32 wins from 37 matches, with one match ending in a draw and 27 victories coming via knockout.
In total, they met three times in their career. The first meeting between them is titled ‘Fight of the Century’ and their last meeting was called ‘Thrilla in Manila’. The first fight was for the world title.
Joe Frazier won the first of their three fights in 1971 to win his first world title. Ali won the last two, winning the second by unanimous decision in controversial circumstances in 1974 as well as the ‘Thrilla in Manila’ in 1975.
They have fought three times. They have come closer to death more than ever, every single time they boxed each other. Nobody would ever forget the degree of a rivalry these Legends had. The greatest Iconic Individual Rivalries of Sports.
1). Lionel Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo – Football
The two greatest of the game, Dominating the world of football for the last 16 years won almost every individual football award.
The Messi–Ronaldo rivalry is a football rivalry between fans of Argentinian forward Lionel Messi and Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo and supposedly between the athletes themselves.
This rivalry is different than others because the duo not only competes on the pitch but also there is massive off-the-field stuff going on about marketing value, financial deals.
Lionel Messi has edged over Cristiano Ronaldo in individual awards as the He won 7 ballon d’Or compare to his 5. He also won 6 European Golden boot (Top scorer) compared to his 4.
Both players came head to head in 35 games. In 35 games, Lionel Messi won 16 matches and Ronaldo won 11. Head to Head, Messi scored 22 goals and gives 12 assists. Meanwhile, Cristiano Ronaldo scores 19 goals and gives a single assist in 35 games.
For a detailed analysis of this rivalry read Lionel Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo.
Sports is one such area where rivalries are bound to form. Every sport has some sort of rivalry or the other, whether it is individuals or teams. These sports’ greatest rivalries have kept fans at the edge of their seats.
- Lionel Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo
- Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier
- Ayrton Senna vs Alain Prost
- Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal
- Peyton Manning vs Tom Brady
- Chris Evert vs Martina Navratilova
- Magic Johnson vs Larry Bird
- Bjorn Borg vs John McEnroe
- Lin Dan vs Lee Chong Wei
- Michael Phelps vs Ryan Lochte
If you think we have missed out on any such colossal clashes from our list, do let us know in the comments section.