The Top 15 Individual Rivalries in Sports

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The Top 15 Individual Rivalries in Sports

Presse Sports-USA TODAY Sports

The highly anticipated matchup between the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots didn’t disappoint on Sunday Night Football. Quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady were all business as the two future Hall of Famers led their teams to overtime in a heated contest that had a playoff atmosphere. Brady led the Patriots to victory thanks to an untimely Denver turnover, but I doubt it will be the last time he sees Manning this season.

There is no question that the Manning vs. Brady rivalry is one of the greatest in sports history. With that being said, where exactly does it rank all time? Is it even considered to be the top rivalry in football?

I believe the reason Manning and Brady make up such a great rivalry is not only the fact that the two are such incredible signal callers, but also that they want to win so badly when they face each other. On top of that, the media likes to blow it way up, rightfully so, which just adds to the hype of how great it truly is. Even more so, the Patriots and the teams that Manning has been on over the years have put together talented rosters that ensure the contests between the two franchises will never disappoint.

Make sure to click through the slideshow to see the top 15 individual rivalries in sports. Also, make sure to comment below if there is anything not on the slideshow that you think belongs on the list, or if you agree the slideshow does the top rivalries in sports justice.

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15. Tiger Woods vs. Phil Mickelson

Jason O. Watson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not as if there is a huge feud between golfers Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, but there is no denying that a rivalry exists. They are considered to be the two greatest golfers of their time and they rarely disappoint when paired together. The 2009 Masters is the highlight of their rivalry, even if neither walked away with the win.

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14. Shaquille O’Neal vs. Kobe Bryant

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It could have been one of the greatest pairings in NBA history if only Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant could find a way to get along. The two managed to win three consecutive NBA championships together. However, it probably should have been so much more if they could have just put their differences aside. The feud became too much as Shaq and Kobe exchanged barbs through the media prior to and during the 2003-04 NBA season. After the loss in the NBA Finals, Shaq demanded a trade while Kobe received a seven-year, $136 million contract.

Exchanges continued to be made by the two players for several years until they finally decided to call it quits. At this point, Shaq and Kobe appear to be on good terms.

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13. Serena Williams vs. Venus Williams

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Sisters Serena Williams and Venus Williams have dominated women’s tennis for a very long time. Obviously, the two are very fond of each other. With that being said, their on-court battles and pairings are legendary. Serena owns Venus in singles (14-10) with one of the matches for the Grand Slam Cup back in 1999. Serena also owns all finals with an 8-3 record, including two U.S. Open wins.

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12. Ayrton Senna vs. Alain Prost


Formula 1 racecar drivers Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost had one of the more bitter rivalries on this countdown. The feud started in 1988 while the two drove for the same team. At the Portuguese Grand Prix, Senna made a very dangerous maneuver that almost sent Prost into the wall. In 1989, the two collided at the Japanese Grand Prix, which was a race to determine if Senna or Prost would come away with the driver’s title. Prost came away with the victory after the collision.

It’s said that when Prost switched teams in 1992 he made sure there was a clause in his contract that ensured Senna couldn’t sign with the same team.

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11. Roberto Duran vs. Sugar Ray Leonard

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Sugar Ray Leonard suffered his first career loss to Roberto Duran in a 15-round battle in the World Welterweight Championship in 1980. The famous “no mas” fight in November of the same year saw Duran lose his belt to Leonard. In fact, in the eighth round he turned around, walked to his corner, uttered the words “no mas” and quit. He claimed stomach cramps were the reason but everyone, including his manager, knew that he gave up due to embarrassment.

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10. Chris Evert vs. Martina Navratilova


The greatest women’s tennis rivalry belongs to Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. The two met 80 times over a 15-year span during their career in which Navratilova came out ahead in 43 of the matchups, including a 10-4 record in Grand Slam finals. Even more astonishing is that they both have 18 Grand Slam singles titles.

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9. Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal

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One of the greatest rivalries in sports today, tennis greats Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal rarely disappoint when they go head-to-head. Nadal owns Federer in singles with a 22-10 record, including 14-6 in all finals. He also is 8-2 in Grand Slam matches, including 2-0 in the Australian Open and 5-0 in the French Open. Federer has a 2-1 edge over Nadal at Wimbledon.

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8. Andre Agassi vs. Pete Sampras

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras make up one of the greatest tennis rivalries of all time. The two played each other an incredible 34 times over a 13-year span with Sampras owning the 20-14 record, including 9-7 in all finals and 4-1 in Grand Slam finals. One of the reasons the rivalry was so great was because each player held the top ranking for a long duration. Sampras was ranked No. 1 in the world for 286 weeks while Agassi was the top spot for 101 weeks.

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7. Larry Bird vs. Michael Jordan

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When people think of a Larry Bird rivalry, the first one that comes to mind is Bird vs. Magic Johnson. However, Bird and the great Michael Jordan had a pretty good rivalry as well. Believe it or not, Bird owned Jordan in head-to-head competition with a 17-11 regular season record and 6-0 in the playoffs. Jordan actually put up more points per game in the matchup but Bird was always more efficient.

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6. Bjorn Borg vs. John McEnroe


One of the most famous rivalries in sports has to be Bjorn Borg vs. John McEnroe. The reason why fans ate it up was because how different the two men were. Borg was always cool tempered, while McEnroe would lose his mind at the drop of a hat. Borg owned the first half of the rivalry but McEnroe piled it on in the second half. What makes it even better is that they split the 14 times they met at seven a piece. Even though McEnroe lost to Borg in the 1980 Wimbledon, he won the following year along with two U.S Opens in ’80 and ’81. Apparently, it was too much for Borg, who retired in 1981 at the age of 25 years old.

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5. Arnold Palmer vs. Jack Nicklaus

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The greatest golf rivalry of all time has to be the one between legends Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. The two are responsible for golf becoming as televised as it is today and a big reason for that was because of their rivalry. In fact, their matchup at the U.S. Open at Oakmont in 1962 is what initially garnered the attention. Nicklaus beat Palmer by three strokes in an 18-hole playoff.

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4. Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady

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One of the most exciting rivalries in sports today is definitely the one between Manning and Brady. What makes the rivalry so great is that the two have met several times in the postseason where it was all on the line. The two have met 14 times in total, including three times in the playoffs with two of which occurring in the AFC Championship game. Brady owns the matchup with a 10-4 record, including five straight victories to start the rivalry.

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3. Wilt Chamberlain vs. Bill Russell

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

The reason why Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell’s rivalry was so great was because as good as Chamberlain was he could only beat Russell once to win a NBA championship in eight attempts. Russell was on a dominant Boston Celtics team that won 11 championships in 13 years so the fact that Chamberlain was able to do any damage at all is quite impressive.

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2. Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier


Muhammad Ali was a part of some epic rivalries during his boxing days. However, there was none bigger than that of Ali vs. Joe Frazier. The Thrilla in Manila is all that is needed to be said to sum up the greatest boxing rivalry of all time. The series was tied 1-1 prior to the final showdown between the two men. It was a historical matchup that saw ferocious barrages from both Ali and Frazier. It was Ali who eventually came out on top and won in the 14th round due to a TKO. Ali claimed the fight was the closest he had ever come to dying.

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1. Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird

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The top rivalry in sports is certainly up for debate. With that being said, I doubt few will disagree with me that Magic vs. Bird is No. 1 on the list. How often does a heated rivalry that began in college carry all the way to the NBA Finals? Johnson appeared to have Bird’s number as he defeated him in the 1979 NCAA Championship and two out of three times in the NBA Finals. Over a span of nine seasons, Bird and Johnson were responsible for eight of the nine NBA championships. They also combined for six MVP awards and five NBA Finals MVP awards.

The greatest part about the rivalry is that it was good for basketball. Many say Jordan is the reason the NBA was saved, but the reality is the Magic-Bird rivalry is the true reason for basketball being as popular as it is today. What’s even better is that the rivalry developed into a close relationship between the two men.