Most Individual sports don't count. Two bratty, spoiled tennis stars feuding on the court? No interest. If there aren't hundreds of thousands of fans motivated by the rivalry, it doesn’t count. There are of course exceptions. Disclaimer: This is of course just one blog's opinion. That's the beauty of sports lists. Disagree? Make your own!
The top ten most enjoyable rivalries in sport
10. Muhammad Ali v Joe Frazier
Starting, naturally, with the exception to the rule. Way back when, in a time when heavyweight boxing was still important, these guys went head to head three times. Two of those events were considered among the greatest, if not the greatest fights of all time. Boxing enthusiasts often call their first fight at Madison Square Garden in 1971 the most 'significant' boxing match in history. Their third fight, "The Thrilla in Manila" is the stuff of lore. This selection is tinged with nostalgia, as boxing, to me anyway, is dead at the moment. It's lost something. I remember staying up late for the big fights, Foreman, Tyson, Lewis, Bruno. There was something of a charm and a class to those fights. Today? Nothing. Boxing has no pulse. Muhammad Ali v Joe Frazier? The stuff of legend.
9. Inter Milan v AC Milan
There is atmosphere, and then there is atmosphere. The depth of passion and history in this rivalry is astonishing. Italian league football has lost a little of its gloss lately, lagging behind La Liga and the Premiership, but any meeting between these two old giants is worth tuning in for.
8. Giants v Dodgers
Every time you see a game between these two, you can feel the mutual hatred in the stands and on the field. In this day and age of multi millionaire playboy players, that's pretty rare. Kind of nice to see actual sporting animosity still alive and well in this rivalry. Of all the rivalries here, do Dodgers and Giants fans hate each other more than anyone else? Even more so than Boston/New York for example?
7. Celtic v Rangers
The 'Old Firm' derby has been diluted somewhat by over exposure to each other, however when gameday comes around, this is one of the most fiercely contested sporting events in the world. Consider this, US readers who are wondering why namby pamby college A against hauty tauty college B isn't in this list. It is actually dangerous, physically dangerous, for a Celtic fan to be at Ibrox, or a Rangers fan to be at Parkhead. You would be literally taking your life in your hands.
'The Old Firm rivalry fuels many assaults and many deaths on Old Firm Derby days; an activist group that monitors sectarian activity in Glasgow has reported that on Old Firm weekends, admissions to hospital emergency rooms increase ninefold over normal levels, and journalist Franklin Foer noted that in the period from 1996 to 2003, eight deaths in Glasgow were directly linked to Old Firm matches, and hundreds and thousands of assaults'
Celtic v Rangers is so much more than just a football match - it's a clash of religion, politics and opposing social attitudes. It's war.
6. India v Pakistan
You want a global level rivalry, a rivalry of potentially nuclear proportions? I give you India v Pakistan. Since the creation of Pakistan by the Partition of India in 1947, cricket on the subcontinent has been a hairs width from causing international incidents on several occasions. I witnessed a small cross section of this on a trip to India a few years ago.
So for those of you following at home, India have arrived in Pakistan for their massive showdown. I have seen Red Sox v Yankees. I have seen Sunderland v Newcastle, the Manchester Derby, Ireland v England in all sports. They are all an episode of the Tellytubbies on a Saturday Morning compared to this in terms of intensity. I don’t know how many guys I saw carrying cricket bats with them today, clutching them like they would be able to help India win from here. In a country with whatever, 1 billion people, it is literally all anyone wants to talk about. It actually nearly proved the catalyst towards the first conversation between my driver and I. I’ll get back to that. On a somber note, but just to give some idea of how big this game is over here, the atrocity in Madrid was a very, very poor second to the game on the front page of the newspapers. If it hadn’t been for CNN in the hotel I would hardly have known what happened actually, showing just how far away and just how different a place this is. Same way I imagine we would turn something of a blind eye to something of that magnitude happening here in Delhi.
5. Sunderland v Newcastle
Often called the Tyne–Wear derby, this makes North Carolina/Duke look like a picnic in the park between friends. These two groups of fans hate each other like there is no tomorrow. Sunderland, for years, were sort of the 'Rebel Alliance' to Newcastle's mighty Empire. However, then Newcastle went and got themselves relegated and spent last season in the division below the Premiership. They are back up again and the two showdowns between the two North Eastern giants in '10/'11 will be as bloodthirsty as always. Perhaps more so than ever before, come to think of it, with Sunderland now built with a spine of steel in the form of Lorik Cana and Lee Cattermole, two of the most committed midfield players in the league. Combine Newcastle's Alan Smith and the odds on a red card in these two fixtures would have to be 1/2 or lower. Sunderland and Newcastle fans would settle for a mid table finish next year if you were to guarantee they would beat their rival. That's literally all they want.
4. Red Sox v Yankees
This rivalry literally exploded back into life in the early part of this decade. So much has happened in the last ten years alone you could write a 1,000 page book on the subject (and plenty have tried!). Joe West might not like it, but Boston/New York is juicy, super juicy. Think about it. All the Pedro Martinez stuff, Don Zimmer taking a dive, Carl Everett breaking up Mike 'Moose' Mussina's perfect game at Fenway, Karim Garcia and Aaron Boone, the whole A-Rod thing, Jason Varitek showing A-Rod who is boss, Johnny Damon, Gary Sheffield fighting with Boston fans and The Mitchell report and the nine Yankees appearing on it.
Then 2004 happened.
Boston coming back from 0-3 down. Dave Robert's steal. Curt Schilling pitching on one leg. David Ortiz's walk off hits. Johnny Damon again.
This isn't as much a rivalry, as an insane melo drama packed to bursting with story lines. Long may it continue..
3. Patriots v Colts
The greatest current rivalry in the NFL, one of the greatest of all time. Polian v Kraft, Dungy v Bilichek, Brady v Manning. The Colts may have the upper hand at the moment, but all Brady has to do is wave his hand with the three shiny Superbowl rings on it in the direction of Manning with his one, and the argument is done. For now.
2. Barcelona v Real Madrid
El Clásico. A match so good, so big, you just crack open a beer, sit back and let it wash over you. This has everything, history, drama and passion. This season's sensational La Liga campaign saw Barcelona and Real Madrid quite literally battle over the title to the final day of the season. It was enthralling, and their late season derby match was absolutely compelling drama. Real Madrid will re-stock over the summer, and bring in more high priced talent while Barcelona look as if they are going to be able to coax their prodigal son Cesc Fabregas home again. Next season could be even more dramatic.
1. Celtics v Lakers
Such a colourful clash of cultures, styles and characters. You had the Showtime Lakers vs. blue-collar Boston in the '80s which was basketball at its best. Now we have the rivalry reborn in '08 and this season, '10, and it feels as dramatic as ever. New characters, same enormous clash of styles. You really get a feeling as a fan that these guys do not like each other, and in this day and age of pampered sports stars, that's kind of nice.
The top ten most enjoyable rivalries in sports
- Muhammad Ali v Joe Frazier
- Inter Milan v AC Milan
- Giants v Dodgers
- Celtic v Rangers
- India v Pakistan
- Sunderland v Newcastle
- Red Sox v Yankees
- Patriots v Colts
- Barcelona v Real Madrid
- Celtics v Lakers