Sporting Rivalries – Handbags and Gladrags

Posted: June 21, 2014 in Sport

State against State, Mate against Mate. Cheats against Churchgoers. After 101 matches it is definitely a great rivalry played with real passion. Ever since Artie gave The Crow a clip around the year there has been no love lost – on the field. At this time of year we hate the Blues. But really only this time of year. Because in three months they may be playing for Australia. In NRL loyalty tends to follow club – state – country. Because Australia is clearly the best nation in the world at NRL then most focus centres on SOO as the true pinnacle of the sport. The only rider to that is we barrack for any team playing Manly on any given day. Despite a scoreline of 8-0 recently the series is always closer than that would indicate. But they have cleaned the game up too much. Yes no one wants cheap shots ala Big Man’s jawstopper but a couple of punches man to man is better than constant niggle. As Gallen said after match two it is embarrassing as everyone runs in for the brouhaha only to suddenly realise you cant throw a punch so you get the clown next to ya to “hold me back or Ill have him” hoping against hope they dont let go. So instead we get the niggle and spoiling tactics. Its a good rivalry certainly but has lost some sting

If you want an international sporting event to get in a lather about then look no further then the Ashes cricket tests. Poms are genetically programmed to be hated. Ok there is no real physical impact but you can do some damage with a little red rocket from 22 yds. Because you cant throw punches we have sledging. Some is humorous of course but most are cheap shots said to someone who is wrapped up like the Michelin Man but cant hit back. A win over the Poms does indeed make the weetbix taste better the next morning. There is however too much nonsense in between to truly nominate cricket as the ultimate contest.

Aussies have a good rivalry with the All Blacks in Union but it has been a long time since it has been an even contest. For a true rivalry to flourish you need hatred and you need even matching. There are likely good rivalries in AFL but who really cares and of course when it comes to soccer if you get paid 3 million a day to fall over on cue then the contest can lose some appeal. There are many classic rivalries in NBA and NFL I am sure but they are more akin to SOO I imagine and I know nothing about them and care even less. So leaving team sports to one side what about personal rivalries? Glad you asked.

Borg and McEnroe. Scrunchies at 20 paces ? Federer and Nadal – zzzzzzz. Palmer and Nicklaus. Woods and Mickelsen. As much as I love Golf its hard to get too wrapped up in multi-millionaires fighting over another million. Prost and Senna? Ok this one is interesting because these guys do scary shit. They are rich of course but maybe earn it more then getting up and down from the bunker. It was a genuine rivalry and more important one could impact directly on the other – as they often did. This of course brings us to the ultimate example for a great sporting rivalry

It involves proud men. It involves brutal interaction. It left both a shell of their former self and it enthralled us for years. In reality there was no clear winner. I was lucky enough to grow up with it. One cannot be mentioned without the other. It is of course Ali and Frazier. No handbags or gladrags here folks. It was cage fighting before they added the cage. It had everything. Two black men who were polar opposites. Ali was at times despised and then admired. Frazier was always quietly respected but never got the accolades initially he should have. He actually helped Ali early on in his boxing exile. Their styles were so opposite and of course this is the first ingredient of a great match. Heavyweight Boxing was the ultimate sporting event in the world. Think World Cup condensed down to 15 brutal rounds. The first match was simply and literally the “Fight of the Century”. Frazier won fair and square but of course in boxing if not knocked out then you can always claim foul. The second match was largely a dour affair but duly set the series up for the ultimate decider – The Thrilla in Manila. This was no dead rubber folks. Frazier was past his prime having been cleaned up by Gorgeous George but when the man opposite was Ali he did a Rolf Harris. No he didnt grope young girls, he grew an extra leg duh! It was brutal but fascinating. Both men were never the same even though Ali went on to record a significant win over Norton later. Frazier hated Ali simple as that. Ali had been cruel for years, often to pump up the box office but there was also deliberation there at times. The excellent “Thrilla in Manila” doco, a must watch for any Frazier fan, shows a bitter and twisted but ultimately decent man seemingly content in his quite existence but simply unable to forgive one man. Even revelling in his darker moments in Ali’s declining health. The playing of his phone call back message by his brother was a most poignant scene in the doco. He was proud of his role in damaging Ali. Ali was and is one of my sporting idols but he was no angel. A supreme athlete and sublime showman that ultimately fulfilled his true promise outside the ring.

So in future when someone starts blabbering on about the great sporting rivalry before your eyes do some reading, watch some footage. Understand what a real rivalry is and how it impacts totally on the participants. Then make sure you jot down the odds for your next bet and hope your latte isnt too frothy because that can really rile you up.

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