Explosive sports feuds bring the drama

Daniel Bukszpan

What would professional sports be without trash talking, grudges, beefs and rivalries? For some, feuds are as integral to spectator sports as the game itself, and sometimes, a contentious situation between star athletes, their coaches and team owners is as enthralling as the score, and can create additional interest in the main event.

Click here for the explosive sports feuds
Click here for the explosive sports feuds

Slideshow: Explosive sports feuds

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Some sports feuds are legendary, such as Mike Piazza and Roger Clemens; Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier; John Rocker and the entire city of New York. Some feuds started on the field, and some on pure boneheaded violence. We remember them for their great drama and for the thrills that they offered to sports fans long after the game ended.

Read ahead for some recent personal conflicts.

Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby

Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby play for the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, respectively. The evenly matched athletes are embroiled in what ESPN has called “the best rivalry in hockey.”

Both men agree that their rivalry is professional, not personal. “To say that we absolutely hate each other, I don't think so," Crosby said, and Ovechkin agreed. "Off the ice, I can shake hands and say hi like normal people," the Russian athlete said. "But on the ice, you don't have friends.”

Ovechkin and Crosby are also competitive in terms of salary. According to The New York Times, Ovechkin has a 13-year contract with the Capitals worth $124 million, and the upcoming season is Crosby’s last under a five-year deal worth $43.5 million, according to The Associated Press. This puts Ovechkin’s annual salary at approximately $9.5 million and Crosby’s at $8.7 million.

B.J. Penn and Georges St. Pierre

B.J. Penn is a former mixed martial artist and Georges St. Pierre is the current welterweight champion of the UFC. They sparred in 2006, and St. Pierre won in a controversial split decision that guaranteed a rematch.

That contest came in January 2009 and was preceded by mutual trash-talking, which Penn took literally to the ultimate degree. "I’m serious. Georges,” Penn said. “I’m going to go to the death. I’m going to try to kill you, and I’m not joking about this." But St. Pierre had the last laugh when he defeated Penn in four rounds.

The feud may have been responsible for more than just good copy. According to the Nevada State Athletic Commission, the rematch was the sixth-highest revenue-generating event in officially sanctioned MMA history, with $4,290,020 in gross sales and 13,622 paying attendees. By contrast, the original 2006 match didn’t even make it into Nevada’s top 35 gates.

Carmelo Anthony and Mike D’Antoni

In 2011, Carmelo Anthony refused to sign a three-year contract extension with the Denver Nuggets worth $65 million. He ended up on the New York Knicks, where practically everyone believed he would be an asset. Except for Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni, who coached his team to play as a unit, clashing with Anthony’s style.

By 2012, it was clear the situation wasn’t working out. The team that D’Antoni had coached successfully was now on a losing streak, and he lobbied to have Anthony traded. He was unsuccessful, and he resigned, right in the middle of the last season of his four-year, $24 million contract.

Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz

The postgame handshake between the coaches of the winning and losing teams is a ritual of good sportsmanship that’s taken place after football games for decades. However, after an October 2011 game between the Detroit Lions and the San Francisco 49ers, it precipitated a melee.

Jim Harbaugh, coach of the victorious 49ers, gave Lions coach Jim Schwartz a handshake and slap on the back that was too vigorous for Schwartz’s liking, and a scuffle ensued. Dozens of members from both teams poured onto the field and mobbed their coaches. No actual punches were thrown, so neither coach was fined, but neither coach apologized.

Harbaugh, who had just become the recipient of a five-year, $25 million contract, said he didn’t see any reason for an apology. “We spoke about it after the game, and at some point we will talk in private,” he said. “Apologies always seem to me like excuses."

Dwight Howard and Stan Van Gundy

On April 5, 2012, the antipathy that Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard had for coach Stan Van Gundy went public when it was alleged that the player had asked for his coach’s ouster. This allegation was made by Van Gundy himself, who said that he had gotten word from a reliable source. "I was told it was true by people in our management," the coach told reporters.

Howard denied it, and one of his representatives denied a report that the player had told billionaire team owner Rich DeVos that he would never play for Van Gundy again. "It's a completely made-up, B.S. story," the representative told ESPN.com. Regardless, Howard will miss the rest of the 2011-2012 season in order to undergo back surgery, so the status of this kerfuffle remains unknown.

Tito Ortiz and Dana White

Tito Ortiz is a former UFC athlete. His contract ended in 2008, capping years of bitter trash-talking with UFC president Dana White. White had been Ortiz’s manager at one point, but the two had such a bad relationship that Ortiz’s 2006 contract stipulated that he and White would square off and settle their differences through hand-to-hand combat in the Octagon.

The fight never materialized, and their already contentious relationship completely deteriorated. Just to make clear that the split between Ortiz and UFC was permanent, the fighter said that "the door is shut 100 percent" on ever signing a new contract, and White said that he had “no interest whatsoever in being in the Tito Ortiz business."

Unfortunately for White, the Tito Ortiz business was a lucrative one to walk away from. According to the Nevada State Athletic Commission, Ortiz competed in four of the top 35 highest revenue-generating events in officially sanctioned MMA history. This includes the all-time highest revenue-generating event, a December 30, 2006, match between Ortiz and Chuck Liddell that earned $5,397,300 in gross sales and had 12,191 paying attendees.

Vitali Klitschko and Dereck Chisora

Vitali Klitschko is a hulking Ukrainian boxer who stands over 6-6, has a 79-inch reach and the nickname of “Dr. Ironfist.” In February 2012, he and fellow boxer Dereck Chisora were posing for a pre-bout “stare-down” photograph at a weigh-in in Munich. Things took a turn from the ordinary when Chisora slapped Klitschko in the face as the photos were being taken.

The two men were quickly separated, but Klitschko remained stoic and only retaliated verbally. “He hit me not like a boxer but like a woman, with an open hand,” the pugilist said. If he wants to fight properly, he must do that with his fists.” Klitschko even retained his composure in the ring immediately prior to the fight, when Chisora spit water in the face of the Ukrainian’s brother Wladimir.

Klitschko exacted revenge by defeating Chisora with what The Daily Mail called “a sustained beating.” Chisora was further humiliated when he was fined $50,000 for the slap and then had his World Boxing Council license suspended indefinitely.

Urban Meyer and Lane Kiffin

Urban Meyer is the former coach of the University of Florida football team. Lane Kiffin was coach for the University of Tennessee Volunteers for just one season, but during that time he managed to do two remarkable things: He earned $2 million, and he ignited a headline-grabbing feud with the Gators’ coach.

Kiffin was speaking to fans at a breakfast at the Knoxville Convention Center when he claimed that Meyer had unsuccessfully courted recruit Nu'Keese Richardson by phone while the athlete was visiting the Tennessee campus, a violation of NCAA rules. "I love the fact that Urban had to cheat and still didn't get him," Kiffin told the attendees.

It was bad enough that Kiffin had made this claim, but worse was that it wasn’t true. Meyer had never placed any such call. Southeastern Conference commissioner Michael Slive publicly reprimanded Kiffin, who immediately issued an apology. Meyer was none too amused, and said so in The Orlando Sentinel. “It’s not humorous,” he said. “I can think of a few other words that I’m not going to say, but certainly not ‘humorous.’”

Carlos Tévez and Roberto Mancini

Roberto Mancini is manager of the Manchester City football club and Carlos Tévez is one of his star players. He joined the team in 2009 and was promoted to captain the following year, but by December 2010 he was already stepping on toes. He first attempted to renegotiate his contract, then he submitted a transfer request one week after a confrontation with Mancini that the BBC News characterized as “an angry exchange.”

Tensions between player and coach came to a head in September 2011 when Tévez wouldn’t play in a game against Bayern Munich. Although Tévez denied it, Mancini claimed that the player flatly refused to take to the field as ordered, leading the coach to state: "If I have my way he will be out of the club. … I cannot accept this behavior from him. " Tévez was placed on leave shortly thereafter, and went back to the team in February 2012 after issuing public apologies. However, by that time he had already done considerable damage to his own wallet. The BBC estimated that after all the fines, lost wages and lost bonuses, the whole affair had cost him £9.3 million, or $15.1 million.

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