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Settling sports’ greatest feuds

02.03.10 at 6:19 pm ET
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Former Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker began a new career last Saturday: mixed martial arts fighter. And after the 47-year-old, who prior to this might be best known for indirectly helping shape the Cowboys dynasty in the 1990s, won his debut for Strikeforce, another former athlete turned MMA figher was quick to offer up a challenge: Jose Canseco. That’€™s right, the same Canseco who lost his debut in the sport in just over a minute. If he is going to beat someone who fights like Walker, he will need all the steroid help he can get. If you haven’t seen the fight, here it is.

Now, this wouldn’€™t be the first time that a pair of athletes mixed it up in the ring. Who can forget the epic bout between 7-foot-7 Manute Bol and William ‘€œRefrigerator’€ Perry on Celebrity Boxing II a few years ago? (Probably most people. In case you care, Bol won in a decision.) So whether it be boxing, MMA or some other style, there are quite a few feuds in the sports world that need to be settled. If Walker vs. Canseco can be in the works with seemingly no bad blood between them, there is no reason these other fights can’t be staged.

Shaquille O’Neal vs. Kobe Bryant

Let’s start with the most obvious. First it was Kobe talking about Shaq’€™s leadership, or lack thereof. Then it was Shaq who responded with some disparaging comments of his own that involved comparing himself to a brick wall. Just when we thought it was over, it escalated again in 2008, shortly after the Celtics beat the Lakers in the NBA Finals, when Shaq showed off his ‘€œrap skills’€ at a nightclub in New York.

It wasn’€™t enough for the NBA to shove the matchup down our throats every Christmas in the guise of Lakers vs. Heat (now Lakers vs. Cavaliers). That resolved nothing. What we really need is for these two to settle their differences, once and for all. And Phil Jackson could even serve as the special referee.

Kevin McHale vs. Kurt Rambis

Game 4 of the 1984 Finals. Celtics and Lakers. Rambis drives to the hole, only to be clotheslined by McHale on his way up.

It is one of the most famous moments in Celtics history, and it is credited with spurring the team to a series-tying victory and an eventual seven-game triumph in the series, the 15th championship in Celtics history. But lest you think the bad blood ended, it all came back last year. McHale had taken over as coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves after moving from the front office. Despite doing an admirable job, particularly with franchise centerpiece and former Celtic Al Jefferson injured, McHale was not given the chance to stay. In the ultimate insult, Rambis was brought in from the Lakers staff to become the head coach in Minnesota, launching headlines like this.

Nolan Ryan vs. Robin Ventura

When you think of classic bench-clearing brawls, this one is near the top. In a game in Texas in August 1993, Ventura, playing for the White Sox, stepped to the plate to face the Rangers’ 46-year-old righty. Ventura, who was 20 years Ryan’s junior, took offense when Ryan plunked him in the ribs, and decided it was right to charge the mound.

None other than former president George W. Bush owned the Rangers at the time, and has his own fond memories of the event. His summary: ‘€œI’ll bet you Robin Ventura wishes he never took a step toward the mound.’€ Bush probably is right, but here’€™s betting that Ventura would love another shot at “The Ryan Express.”

Roger Clemens vs. Mike Piazza

Though the players apparently resolved their differences for the 2004 All-Star game, it is hard to believe the bad blood isn’€™t still there. Let’€™s give Piazza a bat of his own to even the odds and see what happens between the two.

Shawne Merriman vs. Chad Ochocinco

The most recent disagreement on this list comes from the football world, where you would think that players have no trouble taking their aggression out on the field. Of course, for some that is not enough, particularly in the case of Ochocinco. Merriman went through a tough stretch after being placed on injured reserve in the 2008 season ‘€” the Chargers linebacker was accused of assaulting his girlfriend, Tila Tequila, in September. But before that there was the bizarre Twitter exchange between him and Ochocinco. Merriman said he would ‘€œring [Ochocino’€™s] neck’€ if he called him out again, and it took off from there.

Ochocinco had some harsh words for Merriman prior to the game when his Bengals lost 27-24 to the Chargers in December. But with the Bengals grieving over the tragic death of receiver Chris Henry, the game was not about the Merriman-Ochocinco feud. Give the pair their own setting, and you can bet that the sparks would fly.

Claude Lemieux vs. Darren McCarty

Lemieux is known as one of the dirtiest NHL players in the history of the game, taking full pride in his instigator rule throughout a 20-year career (not including his ill-advised comeback last year). As a member of the Colorado Avalanche, Lemieux developed some particular bad blood with the Detroit Red Wings. In the 1996 playoffs, Lemieux delivered one of the most violent hits in NHL history on the Wings’ Kris Draper, checking the forward into the boards and causing devastating injuries that required Draper to have reconstructive facial surgery. Wings veteran Dino Ciccarelli famously said at the conclusion of the series, ‘€œI can’€™t believe I shook this guy’€™s frickin’ hand.’€

The rivalry continued throughout the decade, as Denver Post beat writer Adrian Dater chronicled in his aptly titled book ‘€œBlood Feud.’€ It reached its height the next season when Detroit’€™s Darren McCarty sought his revenge. Lemieux famously ‘€œturtled’€ after McCarty came after him, taking the blows as it escalated in a brawl between the two sides.

The McCarty-Lemieux continued, and Lemieux put up a better fight in the next battle that occurred right on the drop of the puck in a meeting the next season.