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Sports rivalries are shaped by a sense of place and identity as well as by psychology, sociology, and politics. For well-known sports rivals, every engagement is a big game, whether or not a championship is at stake, as their reputation is shaped by their successes.
Throughout the years, here are some of the most iconic sporting rivalries that have made history:
- Conor McGregor versus Khahib Nurmagomedov
MMA is known for its feuds between fighters, but one rivalry really takes the top spot. Conor McGregor is one of the most well-known MMA fighters of all time, and he’s just as good a fighter as he is at causing a rift with other athletes. Nurmagomedov and McGregor have been repeatedly jibing at each other for years, and it finally came to blows on October 6th, 2018, for what has been dubbed as one of the most important UFC fights ever. Their beef with each other started way back in 2015, with McGregor stating he thinks Nurmagomedov would win the lightweight belt instead, poking fun at his stature and physical appearance. In retaliation, Nurmagomedov made it clear that he’d like to get McGregor in the ring and prove him wrong. This type of smack talk against each other went back and forth until they fought in 2018, with Nurmagomedov ultimately winning the battle. It’s not known why these two were at each other’s throats for so long, and it’s unclear if McGregor was serious or not with his comment made back in 2015, but it definitely made for a great rivalry and fans revelled in their face-offs.
- Los Angeles Lakers versus Boston Celtics
Having met twelve times in the NBA finals, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics tower above their competition when it comes to Hall of Fame inductees and championships. Historic moments include Red Auerbach lighting his victory cigar on the parquet floor of the Boston Garden in the 1950s and ’60s and Pat Riley orchestrating the Lakers’ “Showtime” in Armani in the 1980s, generating a range of personal rivalries as well as a team rivalry. Race has been another primary cause of discussion among fans, especially as the Celtics fielded a disproportionately white line-up at a time when the game had become dominated by African American players.
- Joe Frazier versus Muhammad Ali
Boxing is a game all about rivalry as it is, but some of the most well-known rivals include Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. With race being a huge part of the rivalry stemming back to their first match in 1971, even though both men were African American and had been friends prior, that changed after Mohammed Ali went to great lengths to depict Frazier, who was largely silent on the issue of civil rights, as a patsy for the white establishment. With Ali being such an outspoken champion of black power, this psychological advantage created an intense rivalry. In 1973, Ali won a commanding decision over Frazier and became considered the greatest fighter of all time to many. For 14 rounds, Ali and Frazier relentlessly fought until Ali ultimately survived better than Frazier, winning the “Thrilla in Manila” by a technical knockout.