In a series as deadly as Mortal Kombat, you wouldn’t think participants would survive long enough to maintain ongoing rivalries, but it does happen. With ten games in the franchise, we’ve seen a lot of characters come along, and some of them have more problems with each other than others. It’s honestly pretty rare for us to see characters who actually get along, but sometimes the fights that ensue don’t end when someone is knocked out. Some combatants hate each other so much that they’ll take any chance to rip into each other.
There are plenty of classic rivalries stemming from the franchise’s Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo days, but even characters freshly introduced in Mortal Kombat X have quickly become embroiled in grudges. Not every grudge can be a hit, though, with some feuds having as little bad blood as toddlers fighting over who gets to play with a toy.
From the years-long battles to the fresh vendettas, we’re looking for the hatred with some passion behind it as we get into the 15 Best Mortal Kombat Rivalries.
15. SHUJINKO VS ONAGA
If we’re being honest, Shujinko wasn’t a very good character. His gullibility in trusting Damashi for his entire life didn’t make him look very smart, and his moves were just a mish-mash of those used by more popular characters. But as disappointing as he was as a finished character, the commitment to building up his animosity against Onaga throughout Mortal Kombat: Deception’s story mode was admirable. It was the first in-depth story mode the series gave us, and it was actually pretty good.
In terms of story, Shujinko was given a great reason to dislike Onaga since the Dragon King had used Shujinko his entire life. And it was ultimately Shujinko who freed Onaga by collecting the seven Kamidogu. By unleashing such a monster, Shujinko was indirectly responsible for the deaths of not only Shang Tsung and Quan Chi, but also Raiden. So for Deception, Shujinko was built up as someone with a great reason to fight Onaga. It’s just a shame Shujinko isn’t a very interesting character outside of that.
14. JOHNNY CAGE VS GORO
Not many people are going to call the Mortal Kombat movies classic stories, but they did have one very important contribution to the franchise: the start of the rivalry between Johnny Cage and Goro. There was no deep reason behind the movie pitting them against each other, except for Goro needing a new opponent. But when Johnny Cage stepped up, it gave us one of the most famous moments from the film. Johnny’s iconic sunglasses got broken, but Goro paid a steep price for it after he was the recipient of a low blow and a long fall off a cliff.
While not one of cinema’s finer moments, it still became such a well-known scene in the franchise that it carried over into the games, where they were paired off as rivals on the title screen graphic. They haven’t had much interaction within the lore of the games, however, which is why we can’t put this pair too high up. Nonetheless, if the two did officially interact, you know fans would be happy for the callback and eager to see who would win an official fight between the two in-game.
13. KITANA VS SINDEL
Poor Kitana has a tough family life. We’ll get to the issues she has with her sister later, but she can’t even find comfort with her parents. Shao Kahn lied to her about being her father, so there’s no help there. And then Kitana’s real mother actually is Sindel, but Sindel has been brainwashed by Kahn into wanting to kill her own daughter. Kitana just can’t catch a break.
Kitana has plenty of reason to hate Shao Kahn since he was the one who orchestrated her problems, but being hated by her own mother is a pretty tough problem to beat. Kitana knows if she can just free Sindel then her mother will return to being a good person, but Kitana could very well be killed in the process. There aren’t not many rivalries with one of the people involved wanting to help the other, but Kitana isn’t willing to let Shao Kahn take anything else away from her life. It’s hard to get much more personal than a rivalry with a parent.
12. D’VORAH VS TARKATANS
Mortal Kombat X did a great job of finally introducing some new memorable characters in the franchise, with D’Vorah ranking up there as perhaps the best of the bunch. Even with all the creepy, violent combatants we had seen over the years, she still managed to up the ante. Her insect motif was unsettling not only to the normal humans of the franchise, but even to the Tarkatans, who had basically been at the top of the food chain in terms of creepiness since Mortal Kombat II.
It’s not explicitly stated in the game, but D’Vorah seems to have a particular distaste for the Tarkatan race. Throughout the game’s story mode, she doesn’t just defeat Baraka; she rips the brain right out of his skull to kill him. Then later, when Kotal Kahn defeats Mileena’s rebellion, he allows D’Vorah to be the one to kill her. And it’s not like D’Vorah makes it a swift death, instead kissing Mileena to flood insects down the Tarkatan’s throat that devour her from the inside. D’Vorah certainly seemed to make it a point to show that she could be more brutal than the Tarkatans ever were.
11. SHOKAN VS CENTAURS
The Shokan (who you might know better as the four-armed dragon people who like to jump on you) have definitely been a big part of why the Mortal Kombat series caught on. Goro, in particular, got people talking in the first game and left a lasting impression. But Motaro was the biggest boss the series had up to that point, and has left people wanting to see him return properly in a future Mortal Kombat game (as in not in his stupid minotaur form from Armageddon).
Beyond the fan debate of whether four arms or four legs is better, the two races also don’t like each other within the games. Kitana actually had to broker a peace between the Shokan and the Centaurs to get them to stop fighting all the time. Of course that truce was short-lived, because who doesn’t want to see huge monster people slug it out? We’ve yet to see a canon battle between members of the races play out in the games, but we’re definitely hoping the lore behind this animosity has a chance to be enacted by the players at some point.
10. SMOKE VS CYBORGS
Some Mortal Kombat characters have rivalries not just with one person, but with an entire group of people. One such character was Smoke, who has one of the more tragic stories shown in the franchise. He’s introduced as a human ninja during Mortal Kombat II, nothing more than another member of Sub-Zero’s Lin Kuei clan. But in Mortal Kombat 3, we learn the Lin Kuei don’t believe ninjas are good enough anymore, and have been upgrading the clan into cyborgs. Cyrax and Sektor were willing participants in the program, but Smoke wanted nothing to do with it.
Obviously going by Smoke’s appearance in MK3, his preferences were not taken into consideration. He tried to get away from the Lin Kuei clan, but was caught and transformed into a cyborg against his will, forced to hunt down Sub-Zero. Yet as we saw in Mortal Kombat 9’s alternate timeline, it could have been possible for Smoke to escape this fate and live on as a human. Though he’s been killed now, it’s safe to say that if Smoke ever returns, the cyborgs and the Lin Kuei are people he’ll be looking to avoid.
9. MILEENA VS KOTAL KAHN
Though there was a dip in quality of the franchise’s characters after Mortal Kombat II, we have gotten some better combatants over the years. In Mortal Kombat X, Kotal Kahn was one of the most intriguing characters since he was attempting to fill the void left by the death of Shao Kahn. Unlike his predecessor, though, Kotal Kahn had a sense of honor, fairness, and was even willing to negotiate with his enemies. As far as tyrants go, he was an improvement.
It wouldn’t be Mortal Kombat without someone stirring up trouble, though, which is where Mileena came in. Since she was the clone of Kitana, and Kitana had been raised as the daughter of Shao Kahn, Mileena believed that actually made her Shao Kahn’s successor. A large part of the story mode of MKX focused on Mileena and her supporters battling against Kotal Kahn and his group to decide who would rule in the power vacuum left by Shao Kahn’s death. It’s not often we see two major villains face off, so it was one of the most interesting rivalries in the new game.
8. LIU KANG VS KUNG LAO
These two aren’t rivals in the sense that they want each other dead, or anything like that. Liu Kang and Kung Lao are friendly rivals, like someone you share a hobby with and whose success motivates you to keep at it as well. The difference is that these two training buddies aren’t trying to match the other’s ability for the sake of personal achievement, but to save their world.
Liu Kang and Kung Lao both have very valid claims as being the hero of Earthrealm, but Kung Lao rejected the responsibility in the first Mortal Kombat tournament because he didn’t want so much riding on him. Instead, Liu Kang claimed that role. Kung Lao has tried to match the courage of Liu Kang, challenging Shao Kahn around the events of Mortal Kombat 3, but getting badly beaten. Kung Lao tried again after the death of Liu Kang in Deadly Alliance, but this time it was Shang Tsung who struck him down.
7. RAIDEN VS SHINNOK
Shinnok might just be the least popular final boss in Mortal Kombat, partially due to his non-intimidating stature, and to fact that his mystique was diminished since he was immediately playable. Despite that, he actually has perhaps the most legitimate reason to be angry at the warriors of Earthrealm of all the game’s villains. Shinnok was once an Elder God like Raiden, but was cast out from his status by his fellow gods, and by Raiden in particular. So Shinnok lost his status and his power and was banished due to the Thunder God.
It’s hard to compete with a rivalry between gods, but Shinnok simply hasn’t been as adept at battling his enemies as other final bosses. Shinnok has only been the main villain in two of the fighting games, and he didn’t stick around long either time. Still, you can’t just get rid of a god, so Shinnok isn’t going anywhere. Even though he was beheaded by Raiden at the end of MKX, Shinnok is still alive, and will never forgive his fellow gods exiling him.
6. SONYA VS KANO
This is another classic rivalry that dates all the way back to the original Mortal Kombat. In the early days, this feud was as simple as Kano being a criminal serving as a member of the Black Dragon organization, while Sonya was a member of the Special Forces devoted to catching people like Kano. There have been other Black Dragon members like Jarek, and Special Forces members like Jax, but Sonya has a special hatred for Kano due to him murdering a former partner of hers.
Ironically Sonya and Kano started off as the two least popular characters in the original game, which led to them being the only members of the original roster who weren’t playable in Mortal Kombat II. So despite their hatred for each other, they were both paired up as prisoners beside Shao Kahn’s throne. That didn’t stop them from continuing their rivalry once they were freed, though. In Mortal Kombat X, Sonya still hates Kano so much that in her daughter Cassie’s fatality, we see Sonya questioning why Cassie is friends with Kano on social media.
5. LIU KANG VS SHANG TSUNG
Liu Kang could basically be called the rival of any of the villains, since for the first four games, it always fell to Liu Kang to defeat them all. Shang Tsung seemed to take it especially hard, though, and it’s easy to understand why. If not for Liu Kang, Shang Tsung would have triumphed in the final Mortal Kombat tournament needed for Outworld to gain control of Earthrealm. Liu Kang ruined all that, and made Shang Tsung a failure in the eyes of Shao Kahn.
It took until Deadly Alliance, but Shang Tsung did finally gain a measure of revenge. In the game’s opening, Shang Tsung posed as Kung Lao to get close to Liu Kang as he was training, and then the sorcerer, along with Quan Chi, ambushed Liu Kang. For the first time in the franchise’s history, Liu Kang had to sit out on a game because he wound up dead. Shang Tsung cleared a path for his and Quan Chi’s control by snapping Liu Kang’s neck. However, that kind of backfired when Liu Kang came back as a vengeful zombie in Deception.
4. QUAN CHI VS SCORPION
Even after all these years people still associate Scorpion’s biggest rivalry with a certain other ninja in the series. In the story of the games, Scorpion let go of that grudge quite some time ago when he found someone far worse. For years Scorpion had blamed the Lin Kuei ninja clan for the death of his family, but eventually he learned the sorcerer Quan Chi was behind it all along. Ever since then, Scorpion has made it his sole purpose to catch and kill Quan Chi as painfully as possible.
Scorpion has literally followed Quan Chi into the depths of Hell for the chance to avenge his family. In the events of Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, we learned the two had become trapped in Hell where Scorpion’s powers were significantly increased, while Quan Chi’s were negated. And in Mortal Kombat X, Scorpion’s anger was so great that he chose to kill Quan Chi, and nearly doomed Earthrealm as a result, rather than show mercy. Quan Chi is finally dead in the story, but seeing as this is Mortal Kombat, we doubt this rivalry will be over for long.
3. KITANA VS MILEENA
Sibling rivalries have always been a pretty common trope in stories, but none quite like Kitana and Mileena’s. Kitana had a pretty rough life, believing she was the daughter of the emperor of Outworld, Shao Kahn, and that Mileena was her identical twin. Kitana was in for a rude awakening when she eventually learned everything she knew was a lie, that Shao Kahn wasn’t her father, and that Mileena was actually just a Tarkatan clone made to look like her.
In reality, Kitana is the rightful princess of Edenia, and Kahn made Mileena as a way to usurp Kitanna’s rightful claim. When Kitana realized the scheme she had been made part of, Kahn had no further use for her, and wanted Mileena to kill her and steal her identity. Mileena was literally made to be a rival for Kitana, so it’s no surprise they’ve had a huge grudge that can never end as long as both of them live.
2. RAIDEN VS SHAO KAHN
Raiden and Shao Kahn are the Mortal Kombat equivalent of the epitome of good and evil. In terms of the most powerful rivals who face off through the series, it doesn’t really get any bigger than these two. Shao Kahn standing on the verge of taking over Earthrealm was what motivated Raiden to put aside his role as nothing more than an observing god. Raiden felt obligated to intervene and fight the emperor himself.
As we see in the beginning of Mortal Kombat 9, Shao Kahn still winds up conquering the world despite Raiden’s intervention. Raiden has no choice but to send a message to his past self, telling him how to stop Kahn. Ironically the key was not to fight Shao Kahn, but for Earthrealm to allow Shao Kahn to win so the other gods would feel compelled to intervene the same way Raiden did. Though it’s finally over for the time being, the battle between Raiden and Shao Kahn has been one of the most enduring of the franchise.
1. SUB-ZERO VS SCORPION
Even though this rivalry has been squashed for years now, it’s still what everyone thinks of when they picture grudges in Mortal Kombat. It’s not hard to see why, either. This one dates all the way back to the original Mortal Kombat, and couldn’t even be stopped by death. Scorpion himself was already a hellspawn, but he also killed Sub-Zero during the events of the first tournament. That didn’t stop these two from continuing to feud, though, because Scorpion was out to exterminate every member of the Lin Kuei, who he believed were responsible for the deaths of his family.
It wasn’t until the events of Mortal Kombat 4 that we learned the two ninjas had been feuding for nothing. Quan Chi was actually the one who had ruined Scorpion’s life, and he had set up the original Sub-Zero for the crime. Still, there’s no doubt these two were a big part of why Mortal Kombat has endured in popularity for so long. Even if Scorpion and Sub-Zero became best friends in the next game, fans would still have fond memories of their classic rivalry that spanned the early years of the franchise.
Which Mortal Kombat fighters do you most like to see face-off? Tell us your favorite rivalry in the comments!
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