Flooded with world-class athletic talents, high-flying personalities and ruthless competitors, the sports world naturally features plenty of personal and team competitions amid the search for greatness.
Rivalries have always exhilarated fans and sent journalists into frenzies, but never cease to create worldwide disdain. Ah, the sweetness of sports—the truth behind fanbase passion.
Whether two teams are scratching for that extra bit of respect, two nations are clawing for supremacy or two legends are fighting for a deeper carving in sports lore, these illustrious rivalries shadow our sports passion with their memorable matches.
The 30 Most Heated Rivalries in Sports
30. Missouri Tigers vs. Kansas Jayhawks
Stemming from the Civil War era, when Missouri’s pro-slavery society attempted to influence Kansas’ entrance into the union, this collision isn’t only the oldest college sports rivalry west of the Mississippi River, but features plenty of bad blood between fans.
But now that Missouri will leave the Big 12 for the SEC, it seems the future of this rivalry is quietly dwindling. We’ll never forget the famed Border War.
29. AC Milan vs. Inter Milan
The Chiasso Cup of 1908 was the first derby meeting between these two Italian clubs, and the Derby della Madonnina has continued to excite worldwide diehards at least twice every year.
Inter Milan was once known for its bourgeoisie-esque support, while AC Milan was backed by the working class. But with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi now owning AC and businessman Massimo Moratti owning Inter, the differences have seemingly dissipated…however, the hate still flourishes.
28. Army Black Knights vs. Navy Midshipmen
There’s no game more significant to the survival of the American people than the Army-Navy battle that commenced in 1890. While Navy leads the all-time matchup with a record of 56-49-7, it was the first appearance of the instant replay in 1963 that makes this fierce competition even more historic.
This interservice rivalry is perhaps the most bruising in all of college football.
27. Michael Jordan vs. Detroit Pistons
This renowned, albeit short-lived rivalry began in 1988, when Air Jordan was MVP, Defensive Player of the Year and had just led his feisty Bulls past the Cavs in the first round of the playoffs. But then came the mighty bad-boy Pistons, ever eager to destroy their prolific opponent.
They beat the Bulls in five games, and met them again during the following year’s Conference Finals, using the supposed “Jordan Rule” (guarding only MJ) which they stated was a ploy to get into their opponents’ heads. A brutal battle every time.
26. Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens
Considering these two historic franchises have played each other more times (regular season and the playoffs combined) than any other two teams in NHL history, their pure disdain for each other is quite understandable.
In postseason play, they’ve met for a total of 170 games and faced off eight times in Game 7 situations. It all began on April 8, 1952, when Maurice “The Rocket” Richard scored a blood-dripping, 1952 Stanley Cup Semifinals-winning goal against Sugar Jim Henry after returning to the bench following a concussion.
25. Florida State Seminoles vs. Miami Hurricanes
Any two teams in the same vicinity are bound to have a fist-clenching battle for respect every time they meet, and this battle for Floridian supremacy is no different.
To put the annual matchup into perspective, the 2006 Miami–Florida State game was the most watched college football game in ESPN history, and the 2009 and 1994 meetings were the second and fifth-most watched regular season games, respectively.
This nail-biting clash has featured plenty of wide-right, wide-left kicks to break hearts across the state of Florida. It doesn’t get any better.
24. England vs. Australia
Known as The Ashes, the biennial series between England and Australia cricket teams includes five Test matches with two innings per match. Having played since 1882, the teams have been involved in 66 series, with Australia winning 31 and England winning 30. This thorough rivalry has found itself in pop culture as well.
23. Ayrton Senna vs. Alain Prost
This teammate rivalry began in 1988, when Alain Prost joined Senna on the McLaren team. The heat picked up at the Portuguese Grand Prix, where Senna (R.I.P.) tried to prevent his teammate from taking the lead by forcing him towards the pitwall.
It only got steamier at the 1989 San Marino Grand Prix, where the two had agreed not to get in each other’s way. Didn’t quite work out that way, as these two would collide and battle for years to come.
22. New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Having played in the rough NFC East together since 1933, these teams hold plenty of anger towards each other. Amid the bevy of notable moments, including Larry Csonka’s fumble in 1978 and Matt Dodge’s ludicrous punt to DeSean Jackson in 2010, was Chuck Bednarik’s clean blindsided hit on Giants running back Frank Gifford that sent the tailback into an 18-month retirement due to a severe concussion. Plenty of bad blood between these blue and green enemies.
21. St. Louis Cardinals vs. Chicago Cubs
Once referred to as the Route 66 series, but now better known as the I-55 Series, the Cubs-Cards rivalry is an intriguing, closely matched battle that began in the late 1800s. While the Cubs may lead the all-time series with a record of 1,092–1,049 through 2011, they pale in comparison to their soaring enemies in World Series wins (Cards have 11, Cubs have two). The 1989 and 2003 pennant races were for the ages.
20. Chris Evert vs. Martina Navratilova
Perhaps the greatest collision in sports history, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova faced off 80 times during their fifteen-year rivalry from 1973 to 1988. With Navratilova leading the series by a slim margin, 43–37, these two left quite symmetrical legacies, almost simultaneously, on the tennis court. Don’t be fooled by their eloquent smiles, these two were bitter enemies.
19. Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics
While we’d love to feature Bird and Magic, this rivalry began long before their arrivals, starting in 1959. They would end up facing each other six times in the ’60s and three times in the ’80s, while their 33 championships are more than half of the 65 in history (they met a record twelve times in the NBA Finals).
Two of the most storied, historic franchises in history have never shied from memorable performances.
18. Jack Johnson vs. Society
While he’s remembered as the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion (1908–1915), during the pinnacle of the Jim Crow era, Jack Johnson was perhaps the most important boxer in history.
After becoming a champion, Johnson became the first person ever to knock down James J. Jeffries in a professional bout after the white population searched for someone who could defeat the new star.
Racism and Johnson’s affinity for white women certainly left his country fuming, and missing out on some of the greatest performances ever.
17. Green Bay Packers vs. Chicago Bears
Among the two most prestigious clubs in NFL history, daaa Bears and Packers have won a combined 22 NFL championships (including 5 Super Bowls) and have 48 members in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But this historic engagement began in 1921 and has since become the league’s longest rivalry, with 184 regular season and postseason games. With Chicago leading the all-time series 92–86–6, the Cheeseheads are naturally thirsting for blood every time they see their NFC North enemies.
16. New York Knicks vs. Miami Heat
Before the fiery battle for Eastern conference respect, the NBA had never seen two teams meet in the playoffs four straight seasons, with each series extending to the maximum number of games.
With Pat Riley having coached for the Knicks previously, his presence added an intriguing element to the heated war between both teams. Jeff Van Gundy’s renowned grasp of Alonzo Mourning’s leg will always headline the bad blood between these two teams.
15. Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling
It was America vs. Nazi Germany, the Brown Bomber vs. the Black Uhlan of the Rhine, Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling…two fights that permanently cemented themselves in far more than sports lore. While clearly memorable bouts (Schmeling won the first by knockout in Round 12 and Louis won the second by knockout in Round 1), these battles stood to represent the political and social conflicts of the time period. One world against another.
14. Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Auburn Tigers
Let’s take a step back and remember the 1972 Iron Bowl, known as Punt Bama Punt. With the Tigers trailing No. 2 Alabama 16-3 and only a few minutes to play, they somehow blocked two punts and returned both of them for touchdowns to shock their opponents by a score of 17-16.
Not only did it eliminate ‘Bama’s dreams of a national championship, but it left a terrible taste in their fans’ mouths.
13. River Plate vs. Boca Juniors
There are few local rivalries as powerful as the one between beloved Argentine football clubs River Plate and Boca Juniors. The Superclasico featuring these two teams is passionate, ruthless and quite popular. They attract about 70 percent of all Argentine football fans between them.
12. Edmonton Oilers vs. Calgary Flames
Not only did these two teams make up eight of the possible 16 Stanley Cup Finals appearances between 1983 and 1990, but they faced off in the epic Battle of Alberta (1986), which was decided by rookie Oiler defenseman Steve Smith’s own goal.
As these Albertan clubs battle for respect, they look back on perhaps the most memorable playoff series of all time. The first round of the 1991 playoffs featured seven goals by Esa Tikkanen and a historic seven-game finish.
11. Los Angeles Dodgers vs. San Francisco Giants
This mutual dislike began in the late 19th century (1890 to be exact), during the days when both clubs were in New York City. When Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley moved his team to Cali, he convinced Giants owner Horace Stoneham to do the same in order to preserve the rivalry.
These NL West teams each have the most National League pennants with 21 and six World Series titles. Plenty of broken Big Apple hearts along the way.
10. Duke Blue Devils vs. North Carolina Tar Heels
They may be only eight miles apart along U.S. Highway 15-501, but the conflicting natures (UNC is public, Duke private) of these schools have led to quite the heated rivalry.
Two of the four winningest teams in history, getting frisky twice a year in the Battle of Tobacco Road (the tobacco producing area of North Carolina)…having featured the likes Jordan, Hill, Dean Smith and Coach K; It doesn’t get any more historic. The Cameron Crazies always add an intriguing element.
9. Detroit Red Wings vs. Chicago Blackhawks
Flourishing since 1926–27, this icy rivalry had these to two clubs face each other in more regular season games than any other two clubs in NHL history.
From the early days of the Original Six teams to the present, these teams have scratched and clawed for that extra inch (thank you for the quote Al Pacino), with the Red Wings a tad more successful. Ok so maybe that’s an understatement.
8. Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees
Perhaps the only rivalry that will feature a 72-year-old coach getting tossed to the dirt by a mid-30s fireballer, the Red Sox-Yanks historic disdain dates back more than a century, long before Babe Ruth was sold to the Yanks by owner Harry Frazee.
These teams met in the last regular-season series of a season to decide the league title in 1904 (the Red Sox won) and 1949 (the Yankees won).
But the cultural impact is what sparked this rivalry, as Boston was known for its prosperous education, economy and art, while New York was seen as a poor, overpopulated melting pot of sorts. After a thrilling period of success from 1901 to 1918, the Red Sox took a back seat to the flourishing Yanks, who now rest with 27 World Series rings.
7. India vs. Pakistan
Following the partition of India in 1947 and the independence of the Muslim state of Pakistan, these two cricket teams have had a vigorous, heavily intense rivalry that is only suspended during times of war.
Violent fans, millions of expected viewers and testy matches have helped sustain this flourishing competition. No crickets chirping during these games.
6. Celtic F.C. vs. Rangers F.C.
These Glasgow football clubs, collectively referred to as Old Firm, have not only played each other 397 times, but have 96 Scottish League championships, 67 Scottish Cups and 41 Scottish League Cups between them.
With Rangers supporters known to be native Scots and Celtic supporters historically being Irish-Scots, along with political and religious difference, this rivalry has become quite heated over time. The vicious on-pitch battle following the Celtic’s 1–0 victory in the 1980 Scottish Cup Final led to alcohol being banned from Scottish football grounds.
5. Real Madrid vs. Barcelona
Perhaps the most watched club football match in the world (other than the UEFA Champions League Final), Real Madrid vs. Barcelona is a matchup that always instills stress among the fans.
As the two richest, largest and most successful clubs in Spain battle for that next trophy (Barcelona has 75, Real Madrid has 74), fans go into frenzies. With conflicting political views, these cities are always eager to reign supreme.
4. Finland vs. Sweden
Czechs vs. Russians, Canada vs. USA…Sweden vs. Finland, yeah this one is perhaps the most bitter of them all. They’ve been rivals since the the 1200’s, when the Swedes claimed Finland as part of Sweden and disregarded the Finnish culture as second-rate citizens.
A 3–2 loss to Sweden in the 2006 Olympics left quite the bad taste in Finnish mouths, only heating this rivalry up further.
3. Montreal Canadiens vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
Since the British defeat of Quebec at the Plains of Abraham in 1759, their have been serious tensions over English and French-speaking Canadians, a feud that found itself on the ice when the NHL was created in 1917.
But it was the period from 1944 to 1978 when the rivalry truly took off. The two teams met each other in the playoffs 15 times and faced off in five Stanley Cup Finals during those 34 years, and their blood-thirsty battles set a tone for the future.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Michigan Wolverines
It’s known as The Game, a blood-thirsty, hard-fought battle between two powerhouses, both looking to determine the Big Ten Conference title and the eventual Rose Bowl matchups. The illustrious game has been an annual event since 1935 (excluding 1942, 1986 and 1998), and has featured quite the bevy of memorable contests.
None more historic than the Snow Bowl (pictured), a game that saw Ohio State’s punter kick the ball 21 times for 685 yards amid an unbearable tundra of frozen water. It is perhaps the greatest rivalry in North American sports.
1. Joe Frazier vs. Muhammad Ali
Ali was a hero to the blacks, a chatty, bordering far beyond arrogant loud-mouth with hands of steel. But he seemingly depicted his rival as the white man’s hope, an “Uncle Tom” if you will, who was different and eventually seen as a villain.
However, Frazier (R.I.P.) just yearned for the moment he could pay back his talkative opponent with a nice collection of stellar crunches. Three fights, 41 rounds and constant bloodshed. These two survived three murderous attempts from each other and remain the greatest rivalry ever.