No matter what you might do
There's always someone out there cooler than you"
The character who is the best-of-the-best comes across someone even better than them; someone more powerful than the Super Hero, or more skilled than the Ninja, or smarter than The Professor, or richer and more important than the rich important guy, or a better banjo player than the master banjo player, etc.
It's not uncommon for the characters to be siblings, not unlike the Aloof Big Brother — e.g. Sam Malone's brother was more popular than him, Adrian Monk's brother was better at deduction. Sometimes one will be wealthier than the other. The classic better sibling is, of course, Mycroft Holmes, better known as "Sherlock Holmes' smarter older brother".
By the end of the story, one of three things has usually happened: the regular character has been totally humiliated trying to beat the other character; they have grown up and realized that they just don't need to be the best, and become happy being second best; or have bested their superior. The most common ways for besting them in action shows is by outwitting or tricking them, finding their Achilles' Heel, using a Forgotten Superweapon, getting into an Unstoppable Rage, or just a good old-fashioned David Versus Goliath confrontation. Sometimes, the character just has to get over their mental block/self-esteem issue, which was the problem all along.
This is generally just a one-shot character, but in continuing, action-oriented shows, this character can sometimes turn into a recurring villain or Big Bad with whom the Hero develops a rivalry. In many cases, the rivalry is entirely one-sided — either the rival doesn't know that their challenger exists or (much to the mortification and fury of the Hero) likes the Hero and considers them a friend, and thus doesn't enjoy competing with them; there may even be something the Hero possesses which the rival character envies.
In other situations, the better character is a Jerkass who just loves to lord their superiority over the Hero. In more cynical works, they will generally get away with their gloating, often to show life isn't always fair and not all success stories are karmic ones, though in other cases their Smug Snake qualities will lead to the Hero one-upping them for a change. Generally these will only be small time victories however, otherwise it will be hard to remain this trope as the status quo without a lot of Offscreen Villainy.
Sometimes overlaps with The Ace. In a Monster Protection Racket, a character can seem this way before they're revealed. See also Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better, Always Second Best, Overshadowed by Awesome, Second Place Is for Losers, The B Grade, That One Player, and Always a Bigger Fish.
- Beetle Bailey:
- Foxtrot: Jason is normally far and away the smartest (if not necessarily wisest) member of his class... with the exception of Eileen, the one girl who consistently gets higher grades than he does and beats him in everything they compete in. Part of this is just her being slightly smarter, but Jason will also sometimes try to sabotage her efforts, which inevitably blows up in his face. Even in situations which come down to pure luck, Jason never comes out on top — one strip has him find a four-leaf clover and boast about it meaning he'll ace the upcoming test, only for Eileen to present him with a five-leaf one. Eileen started out unaware of Jason's envy, but as Character Development set in, she started deliberately trolling Jason with it more often.
- The Bad Guys (2022): The only thief better than the titular gang is the legendary Crimson Paw, considered the best in the world before their disappearance. And while they failed to steal the Golden Dolphin trophy, they also managed to escape without being caught, unlike any criminal that's tried before or since. Mr. Wolf sees his gang's chance of stealing the Golden Dolphin as the perfect opportunity to usurp the Crimson Paw as the best criminals of all time, and also to stick it to the Governor.
- Cars 3: Jackson Storm and the other Next Gen racers are practically designed to be faster and more powerful than Lightning's NASCAR-style generation. Cruz is also this to Lightning to a lesser extent, and this acts as part of McQueen's motivation to have her race in his place at the Florida 500.
- In The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea, this is how Morgana saw her older sister Ursula, because of how their mother favored Ursula over her.
- Monsters University: Despite his love and knowledge of the Scaring field, Mike becomes a Scare Assistant to Sulley, though he does get treated as an equal. And the benign Oozma Kappa gang end up becoming Scarers too.
- In My Little Pony: Equestria Girls, Sunset Shimmer was sure she was the smarter one of Celestia's students, compared to Twilight Sparkle. After undergoing a Heel–Face Turn, she feels weighed down by not being able to figure out how the magic in the human world works in My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Friendship Games, and she now actually feels that Princess Twilight is always going to be better than her, as she thinks Twilight could have already solved the issue. She also loses a math competition to Human Twilight, although just barely.
- Woody and Buzz in Toy Story; Buzz appears to be better at Woody in everything when he first arrives. Though only because he's an upgraded toy while Woody is considered a relic. It's notably inverted in Toy Story 2 where it's ultimately revealed Buzz is an overproduced common toy (the shelves are overflowing with them), while Woody is a nearly one-of-a-kind invaluable collector's item.
- Helen is this to Annie in Bridesmaids. It turns out that she's not-so-perfect after all, and far from what Annie thinks was upstaging her mainly out of thoughtless over-eagerness and a desire to fit in rather than maliciousness or competitiveness.
- In Daddy's Home, Brad sees this in Dusty, although Dusty also sees this in Brad who is much more involved in his step kids' lives than he is.
- After Dusty gets a new wife, Sara sees this in her while Dusty sees this in his stepdaughter's father, Roger.
- In Daliland, this sentiment is expressed by Salvador Dalí of all people. Compared to his contemporaries, naturally he's the best of the best. Compared to Diego Velasquez, however? Not even close.
- In The Dark Knight Rises, Bane is a downplayed form of this to Batman. He utterly destroys him in their first fight, and in their rematch, Batman is only able to beat him by disabling his mask. However, Batman was also in bad shape, deteriorating condition, and way out of his prime. Additionally, Bane's mask was initially a strength; it actually prevented him from feeling pain, which gave him an advantage until Batman turned it into a weakness.
- In Excalibur, Merlin warns Arthur, "You must remember, there's always something cleverer than yourself." This was a particularly prescient warning since it was the first time Arthur faced Lancelot.
- In Foxcatcher, the relationship between the Schultz brothers is partially shown this way, at least at the beginning, with Mark very much worried about being in Dave's shadow. This feeling is shared by John du Pont, who worries about seeing as just a branch of his mother's dealing.
- In Gambit (2012 comedy), Martin Zaidenweber (Stanley Tucci) seems to be better at everything than protagonist Harry Deane (Colin Firth).
- In The Good, The Bad, The Weird, Yoon Tae-goo, "The Weird" is this to Park Chang-yi, "The Bad".
- The Hustler (1961): As good as Fast Eddie may be at pool, he will not be satisfied until he has beaten the one player he sees as his possible superior, Minnesota Fats. Minnesota Fats was even the Trope Namer at one point.
- Jiro Dreams of Sushi:
- Master sushi chef Jiro's son Yoshikazu knows that when he eventually inherits the restaurant, he will always be seen as inferior to his father unless his sushi is twice as good as what Jiro made. Jiro himself mentions how he wishes he had Joel Robuchon's sense of smell and taste, imagining how good his sushi would be if he was as sensitive as Robuchon.
- Jiro's second son Takashi mentions that although he serves the same food as his father at his branch restaurant, he has to lower his prices to keep customers coming in (of course, reducing it from 30,000 yen—that's $300—isn't that much of a hit), and has two Michelin stars. (Most chefs would kill for just one—but Jiro's original restaurant has three.note )
- In The Karate Kid, Mr. Miyagi confesses that he is never at ease in fighting:
Miyagi: Fighting, fighting. Same, same.
Daniel: Yeah, but you knew karate.
Miyagi: Someone always know more.
- The title character in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance bullies everyone in town and causes trouble because he knows that none of them could best him in a gunfight. Any time Tom Doniphan approaches though Liberty does little more than mouth off a little because he knows that Tom would kill him if guns were drawn. Doniphan himself feels this way about Ransom Stoddard in regards to Hallie.
- Marvel Cinematic Universe:
- This happens with poor Happy Hogan across the board, albeit always Played for Laughs. He's a capable boxer in his own right and can handle himself in a normal fight, but he lives in a world where Every Other Person Is Super effectively making him the Yamcha of the MCU. When he fights he always either finds himself going up against people like the Badass Normal Black Widow who dumps him on his ass effortlessly or the Extremis-charged Eric Savin who No Sells his attacks, and when he does take down a normal opponent like one of Hammer's security guards Black Widow takes down about 12 of them in that same time frame. By god he's trying though!
- Iron Man 2: Tony for Justin Hammer, who just barely hides his resentment about always being second-best compared to Stark behind his faux grin. In fact, he's not even second-best, he's shown to be a bumbling incompetent fool who's no where close to Tony's league but his massive ego has him convinced that he's only just coming up second-best.
- Captain America: Civil War certainly has a few cases of this. Firstly Bucky is portrayed as an unstoppable killing machine, yet T'Challa defeats him three times. Then he himself is defeated by Captain America, providing another example.
- Tony Stark is an absolutely brilliant engineer and well ahead of his time, but as Rocket sourly reminds him "You're only a genius on Earth, pal".
- Molly's Game: While Molly was quite accomplished at a young age herself, both of her brothers eventually eclipsed her in their father's eyes — at least, she seems to think so.
- A non-combat version of this trope occurs in Yesterday. Ed Sheeran is initially impressed by Jack Malick's songwriting, but is gobsmacked and a little jealous when — on a three hour flight to Moscow — Jack "comes up with" "Back in the U.S.S.R." without the assistance of a guitar or a keyboard and turns it into an immediate hit. This leads to a song-writing contest where both men write a song in 10 minutes to see who is better. After losing to "The Long and Winding Road", Sheeran even calls Jack "the Mozart" to his "Salieri".
- James Blake's music video for his single "Say What You Will" depicts him becoming increasingly jealous and resentful of Finneas O'Connell as the latter one-ups the former at just about everything he does, from selling tickets to winning Grammys to lifting weights. The song itself, however, defies this trope: it's a testament to being content with where you're at and not comparing yourself to others.
- Jim Croce, twice, in two different songs:
- In "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" the title character is a tough guy who learns a lesson at the end of the song when he gets beaten up by an even tougher guy.
And it's bad, bad Leroy Brown
The baddest man in the whole damned town
Badder than old King Kong
And meaner than a junkyard dog
Well the two men took to fighting
And when they pulled them from the floor
Leroy looked like a jigsaw puzzle
With a couple of pieces gone
- In "You Don't Mess Around With Jim", Jim is a pool hustler who takes on and thoroughly beats all comers. Until one of them, Willie McCoy (who goes by "Slim") comes back around to get his money back. The final line of the chorus changes from "You don't mess around with Jim " to "You don't mess around with Slim."
''Yeah, big Jim got his hat
Find out where it's at
And it's not hustlin' people strange to you
Even if you do got a two-piece custom-made pool cue.
- In "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" the title character is a tough guy who learns a lesson at the end of the song when he gets beaten up by an even tougher guy.
- In London in the late 60s, a young man fresh off the boat from America made the audacious request to jam with Cream... and ended up upstaging guitar god Eric Clapton. The young man's name? Jimi Hendrix.
- "Big Iron" by Marty Robbins is about an outlaw named Texas Red who has claimed the lives of twenty men who came for the bounty on him. He thinks the Arizona Ranger who's come for him won't be any different, but is struck down in a Showdown at High Noon by the Ranger's "big iron".
Oh he might have gone on livin'
But he made one fatal slip
When he tried to match the ranger
With the big iron on his hip
- Discussed in Robbie Williams' song "Loser", in which the opening lines are "There will always be someone better than you, even if you're the best". The song itself is about a man coming to terms with and accepting this fact, and putting an end to his attempts to outdo other people.
- In "The Whole of the Moon" by The Waterboys the singer compares himself to someone else who exceeds him in everything he describes. However the song also implies that the other person was so brilliant they burned out so being second best might not be such a bad thing after all.
- The idea behind most championship title changes — given that the winner gets the victory by clean means (i.e., no outside interference or cheating).
- El Canek, the unbelievable strongman who beat Lou Thesz for the Universal Wrestling Association's World Championship Belt and reigned supreme in Lucha Libre Internacional for over a decade. There was just one setback throughout this for him, but a recurring setback. Losing to Mil Mascaras.
- Joshi (female Japanese) wrestler Mariko Yoshida is considered one of the best submissionists of either gender in pro wrestling, and beating her on the mat is essentially impossible for other pro wrestlers. Then Yoshida fought a (worked) wrestling match against Megumi Fujii - a legitimate MMA fighter who retired with a 26-3 record with 16 submission wins. Fujii countered all of Yoshida's best holds with relatively little effort. Yoshida's pride wouldn't allow her to stop going for submission holds no matter how often Fujii countered them. Finally Fujii reversed Yoshida's finishing move the Spider Clutch into her own Spider Clutch. Yoshida finally gave up on trying to beat Fujii on the mat and started using pro wrestling moves, eventually winning via backslide.
- Kurt Angle was on the winning side of a very one sided rivalry with Mic Tierney in Memphis Power Pro Wrestling.
- Triple H was forced to realize that Batista was this to him in 2005 after Triple H lost three straight PPV matches to him, even handing Triple H his first pinfall loss inside the Hell in a Cell (he had been in 5 before that, winning 4, and was not involved in the winning decision of the other). It wasn't until 2019, almost fourteen years after their initial rivalry, that Hunter was finally able to beat Batista in a match, and even then he needed Ric Flair's help to do it.
- The reason the Canadian Ninjas hate the Global Green Gangsters. Portia Perez and Nicole Matthews were the names most heavily associated with SHIMMER's tag team division until Kellie Skater, a Fearless Fool, started tagging with the dirty sneak Tomoka Nakagawa. After Matthews won the singles title, she and Perez went to 3G to inform them it proved the Ninja's superiority only to be laid out by Nakagawa. Their only solace was that neither member of 3G would win the belt until both teams had broken up.
- This was the setup for Brock Lesnar's rematch against Goldberg at the 2016 Survivor Series — according to Paul Heyman, the fact that Goldberg is the only man he hadn't beaten kept him awake at night. And after a match lasting less than 2 minutes, Goldberg went up 2-0 before Lesnar finally conquered him at Wrestlemania.
- CM Punk was this to Chris Jericho. From the end of his second WWE run to Punk's (initial) retirement, Jericho was never able to beat Punk in a one-on-one match. It was to the point that, when asking Paul Heyman for another match with Punk at Payback 2013, he outright admitted he needed to beat Punk, and after he failed with that match, he finally stopped trying, conceding that Punk was simply better than him. Even in AEW almost a decade later, Jericho hasn't forgotten this — when Punk returned from injury in 2022 and cleaned house on the Jericho Appreciation Society, Jericho was quite visibly terrified seeing him back in the game.
- No matter how hard she tried, Jade Chung was never able to match Candice LeRae as a wrestler. Every time they faced off, it generally ended with Chung being definitively pinned by Candice, with a particularly embarrassing loss in under 5 minutes on NWA TV. Candice essentially used Chung as a stepping stone to becoming a serious wrestler, while Chung (a former race/bikini model) settled into her role as a Ms. Fanservice/eye candy manager.
- Cody Rhodes proved to be this to Seth Rollins in his first feud after returning to WWE in 2022. Rollins lost to Cody in three straight PPV matches, including a Hell in a Cell match where Cody was suffering from a torn pectoral muscle. The last one infuriated him so much that he (In-Universe) took Cody out for the rest of the year in retaliation.
- How many sports rivalries are one sided? Chargers/Raiders, Michigan/Michigan State, Ohio State/Illinois, Oklahoma/Oklahoma State. With their painful fall from grace: The Dallas Cowboys to the New York Giants.
- In Association Football, Germany is frequently the best, except when facing Italy.
- In the CONCACAF Champions Cup (Champions' Cup, with apostrophe, from 1962–2008; Champions League from 2009–2023), Mexican clubs tend to be this to other North American clubs, especially MLS (USA and Canada) clubs. Before Seattle Sounders FC won the 2022 edition, the last time a non-Mexican club won the tournament was in 2005, when Costa Rica's Deportivo Saprissa won the title with a 3–2 aggregate win over Mexico's UNAM Pumas in the final.
- In the 2022–23 National League, the fifth level of English football and the top level of "non-league" football,note Notts County had a spectacular season in its bid to return to EFL League Two after a four-season absence, earning 107 points, which broke the previous league record. In any other season, this would have given the Magpies the one automatic promotion place from the National League. Not this time. There was this certain team from Wales that had dropped into non-league 15 years earlier and was gunning for promotion behind its celebrity owners. As you probably guessed, it was Wrexham, which picked up 111 points. Fortunately for the Magpies, they got their happy ending by winning the playoffs for the second promotion place.
- "Wally Pipp Syndrome" is the fear that no matter how good you are at your job, someone better will take your place should you ever take a day off.
- Wally Pipp was a decent first baseman for the New York Yankees in the early 1920s, until he had to sit out a game with a bad migraine. His replacement — Lou Gehrig, who would play 2,130 consecutive games for the Yankees, a record that stood for about 60 years.
- This is also how Ben Roethlisberger got his start with the Pittsburgh Steelers; Tommy Maddox was injured, Ben took his place, cue 15–1 season and multiple Super Bowls over the next few years.
- Drew Bledsoe in 2001, after leading the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl, he gets hurt and replaced by some 6th-round draft pick named Tom Brady.
- This fear was a large part of the reason that Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre holds the record for the longest number of consecutive starts by a quarterback (he made his first start for the Packers in Week 4 of the 1992 season and wouldn't miss a start after that until late in the 2010 season); Favre had initially earned the starting job while filling in for the Packers' original starter after the latter was injured, and feared that if he ever missed a game, the player who started in his place might supplant him.note
- San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith sat out one week with an injury and his backup Colin Kaepernick led the team to Super Bowl XLVII. Later subverted, as Smith would succeed with the Kansas City Chiefs, while Kaepernick would struggle following head coach Jim Harbaugh's departure after the 2014 season, to the point where he had to compete against Blaine Gabbert for the starting job. Possibly Double Subverted when Smith was then traded to the Washington Redskins in 2018, and the Chiefs replaced him with a kid from Texas named Patrick Mahomes—who'd win the MVP award in his first year as a starter and a Super Bowl in his second, and then sign the richest contract in all of sports at $503 million; on the other hand, Washington had nothing but problems in the quarterback department after they lost Smith for half of the 2018 season and all of the 2019 season with an injury, which is likely part of the reason that the team was happy enough to put Smith back on the roster (although they were a little reluctant to let him play) when he decided to come back for 2020.
- In the 2016 season, Cowboys QB Tony Romo suffered a back injury during a preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks, and his replacement, Dak Prescott, guided the Cowboys to an NFC-best 13-3 record since their last Super Bowl run (Super Bowl XXX). To make matters worse for Romo, he was on injured reserve the previous season. Romo would eventually retire at the end of the season.
- This would sadly be the story of the Buffalo Bills during their AFC reign in the 90s. Despite being the best AFC team in the NFL and going to four straight Super Bowls, every NFC team they faced was always better, including the Dallas Cowboys, whom would go on to have the dynasty the Buffalo Bills were denied, including getting a Super Bowl win over their rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, whom was always the better NFL team during the 70s.
- The Minnesota Vikings reached the Super Bowl four times in eight years (IV, VIII, IX, and XI) and lost each time (to the Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Oakland Raiders, respectively). They and the Bills are tied for the most Super Bowl losses in league history without winning one. The Denver Broncos matched this record, losing four Super Bowls (three under John Elway), until finally winning back-to-back Super Bowls in Elway's last two seasons in 1997 and 1998.
- In addition to the individual teams mentioned above, this has also applied to entire conferences in the NFL as well; specifically, the NFC over the AFC over a period from 1984 to 1996, as the NFC would win 13 Super Bowls in a row. After the 70s and early 80s saw AFC domination (the only NFC wins of the 70s were two by the Cowboys, with the 49ers and Redskins winning in '81 and '82 respectively), with the LA Raiders blowing out the Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII to conclude the 1983-84 season, the NFC would turn the tables, starting with the 15-1 49ers winning Super Bowl XIX. What really makes the streak notable isn't just the length, but just how much better the NFC really was; this period saw some of the most lop-sided Super Bowls ever played, featuring final scores of 46-10 (XX), 42-10 (XXII), 55-10 (XXIV), and 52-17 (XXVIII). This winning streak saw the rise of two dynasties in the NFC; the 49ers of the 80s, and the Cowboys of the 90s, in addition to producing the legendary 1985 Chicago Bears. Meanwhile, in the AFC, Dan Marino would set just about every passing record for a QB, but his Miami Dolphins would lose in his only Super Bowl appearance (38-16 to the aforementioned '84 49ers); John Elway would drag the Denver Broncos to three appearances between 1986-1989, only to get blown out every time; and the Buffalo Bills (as mentioned in a previous entry) would achieve infamy with four straight appearances without a win. Oddly enough, it was Elway and his Broncos who would finally break the streak, defeating Brett Favre's Packers in Super Bowl XXXII to finally end the NFC's reign. As the new millennium came and went, the AFC would experience a resurgence - particularly with the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick Patriots making 9 Super Bowl appearances with 6 wins, embodying this trope to the entire league - but neither conference has gone on a run quite like that 13-year streak by the NFC, highlighting the greater parity within the modern NFL.
- Elway's Broncos proved to be this to the Cleveland Browns. In all 3 of Elway's Super Bowl losses, he beat the Browns in the AFCCG game each time in order to get to the Super Bowl. Some of these losses were notable, such as The Fumble, where halfback Earnest Byner, who was having the game of his life, fumbled the ball at the three yard line, preventing them from tying the contest, and The Drive, where in the span of just over 5 minutes, Elway led a 98-yard touchdown drive to tie the game, then won in overtime. The Cleveland Browns have still yet to reach the Super Bowl.
- And the cycle continues, as back in the days of the All American Football Conference, the Browns were this to the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers, within their time in the AAFC, had always managed to have respectable records, but because they shared a division with the dominant Browns, and because this was back in the era where only the division winner made the playoffs, missed the postseason. This was most notable in the 1948 season, where the 12-2 49ers missed the playoffs because the Browns had a perfect season of 14-0. The 49ers only losses were to the Browns. The 1949 season gave them a chance, because with the collapse of one of the teams, the divisions were uneven and, instead, the top 4 teams would be in a playoff tournament to determine the champion. The 49ers finally reached the playoffs, as the number 2 seed. note And after beating the New York Yankees (not to be confused with the Yankees of baseball), they made it to the championship, where they lost... to the Cleveland Browns. Fortunately for the 49ers, when the AAFC collapsed, the 49ers' successful records allowed them to be admitted to the NFL, alongside the Browns, and the old Baltimore Colts team which folded the next year. The 49ers have had far more success within the NFL.
- Plenty of all-time great players, Barry Sanders, Dan Fouts and Dan Marino for three examples, never won (or in the case of the first two, ever reached) the Super Bowl.
- Every wide receiver who ever played the game of football, with the possible exception of Don Hutson,note lives in the shadow of Jerry Rice, the consensus best wide receiver of all time. Most notably, Rice not only holds damn near every career receiving record in the books, but those records are so far out of reach as to be functionally untouchable.
- As Tiger Woods and all other great athletes have found out, you can be the absolute best, with no one better, but only for a limited amount of time. Inevitably, age and injury take their toll and competitors that you once would have easily defeated are now the ones hoisting the trophy.
- Even a sport itself can evolve beyond the abilities of former players. Take any Super Bowl-winning football team from the 20th Century and they'd be completely outclassed and dominated by the championship teams of today. This applies to virtually all sports. When Mark Spitz attempted an Olympic comeback, his times were actually better than what he'd accomplished when he won his gold medals... but he didn't even make the cut because all the other swimmers left him in their wake.
- Is happening very rapidly in ladies' figure skating the last few years. Where before a top-level skater could be a strong contender for years, skaters tend to dominate only for a season or two now. Not because their skills are necessarily recessing, but because there is a tech revolution with multiple female skaters now learning a variety of quadruple jumps.
- Since the 2014 Olympics, it went from Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (2014-2015 season), Evgenia Medvedeva (2015-2016, 2016-2017) Alina Zagitova (2017-2018), Alina Zagitova / Rika Kihira (2018-2019) to the famous 3A group of Alexandra Trusova, Alena Kostornaia and Anna Shcherbakova (2019-2020). There are already strong juniors who will turn seniors in the 2021-2022 season who are expected to challenge them.
- In 2002 Pete Sampras set what many believed to be an unbeatable record of 14 Grand Slam Tennis titles. Just one year later, Roger Federer began a campaign to outdo this. He succeeded, and became widely accepted as the greatest tennis player of all time, but it took longer than he expected after Rafael Nadal emerged as the only man to consistently beat Federer at Slams, and no one could beat him. Then, when it looked like Fed was past his prime, leaving Nadal unchallenged to smash the new record, Novak Djokovic exploded onto centre stage winning 5 Slams in just 3 years. Then... well, you get the picture.
- Andy Murray is generally considered to be the fourth member of the "Big Four" of the era, together with Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic, but has been consistently outshone by the other three throughout his career. Of the eleven Grand Slam finals Murray has reached, he's won just three - losing three to Federer and five to Djokovic - whereas the other members of the Big Four are already in double figures in terms of Grand Slam wins. Some have even questioned whether Murray belongs in the Big Four in the first place, especially with the emergence of Stan Wawrinka, who won three Grand Slams himself (though injuries kept him from a further challenge to the Big Three). However, in 2016 Murray finally became the "someone better", winning almost every tournament he entered (including Wimbledon) and becoming the first person to win back-to-back Olympic singles titles, before finally reaching World No. 1 after seven-and-a-half years of playing second-fiddle to the other Big Four members. Though the following year saw him develop chronic hip problems that nearly ended his career.
- On the women's side, Maria Sharapova suffered from this when it came to her extremely one-sided "rivalry" with Serena Williams. She was one of the fiercest and toughest competitors who could outgrit almost anyone on court and, for much of her career, was the active player with the most Grand Slam titles outside of the Williams sisters, but she never beat Serena from 2004 until retiring in 2020. This kept her stuck in permanent second-fiddle role to Serena (and later, to Victoria Azarenka too).
- At the 1983 NHL All-Star Game, Campbell Conference goaltender John Garrett played well enough to be voted the game's MVP... until Wayne Gretzky scored four goals in the last ten minutes. A second vote for MVP was held, and Gretzky won. Even more cruel for Garrett was the fact that he wasn't even originally voted into the game in the first place. The man he backed up in net for the Vancouver Canucks, Richard Brodeur, was. Brodeur pulled out of the game with an ear injury, and Garrett took his place.
- New college athletes often run face-first into this, especially recruits for big-name sport schools (think Alabama, Clemson, or Georgia for football; Kansas, Kentucky, or North Carolina for men's basketball; Tennessee or UConn for women's basketball). They were the best in their league, but find out in college that they are competing for playing time against other people who were also best in their league, and it was a much bigger and tougher league than theirs. Very humbling. Also true for college stars trying to move up to the pros, as Ryan Leaf and Tim Tebow can attest.
- The Heisman Trophy is awarded to the top college player. There simply are not very many Heisman Trophy winners in the Pro Football (read: NFL) Hall of Fame. Most Heisman Trophy winners play offense, and every single one of them quickly learns he's going to get a bone-crunching body slam and a sincere "Welcome to the NFL" from practically every defensive player he tries to get by during his rookie season.
- In cricket, referring to a batsman as someone's "bunny" means that they consistently get out to that particular bowler note - the most famous case of this was probably Daryl Cullinan as Shane Warne's bunny - Warne's domination was so great that Cullinan ended up in therapy. This article has some more examples.
- Kerri Strug spent her gymnastics career in the shadows of Károlyi protégée Kim Zmeskal (the first world champion from the USA) and later Dominique Moceanu (the youngest national champion in history, at 13). Zmeskal and later Moceanu were the darlings of the gymnastics world, hyped to be "the next Mary Lou", while Strug soldiered along, never getting the hype of her teammates. Of course, then Moceanu fell twice on vault in the team finals of the 1996 Olympic Games, and... well, the rest is history.
- In the world of track and field, Justin Gatlin, America's top 100 and 200 meter runner during most of the 2010s, only beat the Jamaican Juggernaut, Usain Bolt, once during both Olympic and World Championship Games after over a decade of competing. Gatlin finally got a second win against Bolt during the 2017 World Championships, but Bolt, already heading into retirement, was clearly past his prime at this point and left the games with a hamstring injury during the final team relay race.
- Many basketball greats back in the 90's like Karl Malone and Charles Barkley have led their respective teams to the NBA playoffs multiple times, with these two players going all the way to the finals. The last hurdle that they had to face for a championship trophy was a guy named Michael Jordan, and this guy proved to be an insurmountable hurdle for both players.
- Jordan himself, during the early years of his career, would not be enough for his Chicago Bulls to defeat Larry Bird's Boston Celtics, or more damningly, the "Bad Boys" Detroit Pistons led by Isiah Thomas, who proceeded to stop them dead cold in their tracks. Their dominance over Jordan and the Bulls was short-lived, however, when Jordan and his team found a way to go around their infamous "Jordan Rules" defense.
- Almost all world chess champions eventually lose their titles to a younger, up - and - coming player. Emanuel Lasker, who held the title for a record 27 years, recognized this and ceded his title in advance to the Cuban José Raúl Capablanca, so that when the time came for their match, Lasker was actually the challenger. He still lost, though.
- Secretariat carved his place in history when he won the US Triple Crown in 1973, but his rival Sham was also incredibly impressive, running the second fastest Kentucky Derby run in history. Had Secretariat been born one year later, Sham might still be a well-known horse today, but alas. Making matters worse for Sham: the horse that finished two places behind him at the Kentucky Derby, a big gelding named Forego, took multiple levels in badass and became US Horse of the Year in each of the next three years.
- As with college football mentioned above, young baseball prospects often get humbled in this manner. These are typically guys just out of high school, who were always the best baseball player in their hometown and likely view themselves as invincible. Then they get to training camp and see other players just as good, and often better than them, and this is usually just at the minor league level. As a result, the really good players start to realize that they need to work hard to be major league caliber.
- While much of Peyton Manning's NFL career could be this in comparison to his greatest rival Tom Brady, even in college he experienced this when it came to one particular team. Manning finished his collegiate career with 11,201 passing yards and 89 touchdowns and had a 39-6 record as a starter, but there was one team he could never get past: The University of Florida Gators. After taking over as starting QB, Manning and his Tennessee Volunteers would fall to the Gators all three times they played from 1995-1997, losing by scores of 62-37* , 35-29* , and 33-20; in the case of '95 and '97, those were the only regular season losses for Tennessee.* What's more, even after losing to Florida during the '97 season, Tennessee still had a chance to win a championship with a victory over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl and a loss by Michigan in the Rose Bowl; neither happened, as the Volunteers gave up over 400 rushing yards in a 42-17 loss and Michigan held off Washington State. The final insult? The season after Manning got drafted to the NFL, Tennessee would not only beat Florida, they would go all the way, defeating Florida State in the first-ever BCS National Championship game to win the title.
- SC2VN is based on the StarCraft II scene, so naturally it has this. A player in Master league is in the top ~2% of players, but Mach still refers to them as 'casual' and easily beats them. Mach, in turn, is in Grandmaster league (top 200 ladder players in the region), but still gets stomped by actual pros.
- SOON: Atlas resents Fang, a former pupil, for her more successful academic career.
- Danganronpa has an odd mutual example with Makoto Naegi and Nagito Komaeda (at least, in game modes like Ultimate Talent Development Plan where the two interact), since both are Ultimate Lucky Students. Makoto feels inferior to Nagito because Nagito's luck is much stronger than his, while Nagito thinks his luck is a sucky blessing and idolizes Makoto because Makoto is the Hope Bringer that Nagito wished he could be.
- In DEATH BATTLE!, fights between characters with a certain ability that defines them can come down to who can do so better, although sometimes it's a case of one person having secondary powers the other lacked, or being well-rounded while the other was overspecialized.
- Subverted in Doctor Lollipop — Doctor Lollipop is obviously reluctant to call in Doctor Woodsman despite needing his help, and it initially seems to be because Doctor Woodsman is this for him. It turns out that it's because Doctor Woodsman is a squeamish dullard who's too concerned with the risk of hurting cute animals to actually do his job.
- In Red vs. Blue, Agent Texas constantly showed Agent Carolina up at every turn, winning the Director's favor, which Carolina desperately wanted. Eventually, Carolina admits that Texas is just better than her, and accepts the Reds and Blues' help.
- Two More Eggs stars Dooble, a weird little man who speaks in non-sequiturs, greets people with a quirky catch phrase ("Helloche!"), and shows up to solve people's problems in improbable ways, often without realizing it. Season 2 introduced a rival character, Renfrow, who has the same gimmick but always manages to show up first, even when Dooble tries to set up a problem that he can swoop in and fix.
- A chapter of Book Wyrms actually invokes this. Considering that Gwendolyne is the product of generations of genetic selection and training all geared towards making the perfect warrior, she's probably isn't exaggerating much.
- Dave Strider has his inability to properly come to terms with this as his primary problem, manifesting mainly late into Sburb. He feels he can only dream of being someday as great as his Bro. When it's not Bro, it's Davesprite or some other future self. When it's not them (or rather, when he is them), it's John. He does not see himself as a hero, whereas he feels Bro and John are.
- Since they're the same person, Davesprite has the same problem. He saved Alpha John from death, gave Dave a bunch of power-ups, and even dueled with the Big Bad, yet he still can't help feeling like a cheap knock-off of the "real" Dave.
- In the Alpha timeline, Dirk feels this way about having Dave as his older Bro and guardian. Even though Dave died hundreds of years before Dirk showed up.
- I'm the Grim Reaper: Scarlet is an Action Girl who can take care of sinners easily. But she’s also a new reaper, and so Brook (who is more experienced than she is) beats her in a fight with ease.
- Played for Laughs in Moonstuck with Blueblood, who ends up outdoing heroine Woona in several ways... despite never actually appearing in the comic proper.
- Max Powers in Pv P is, in Cole's own words, a better person than Cole in almost every way. Cole disliked him because he was a constant reminder of just how flawed a person Cole is in comparison.
- Dora's brother Sven in Questionable Content is more popular with the opposite sex (often stealing Dora's friends) and better at earning money than his sister, a fact that bothers her to no end.
- Played with in this Sam & Fuzzy.
- Sidekicks: Dunkelheit was always second best to the hero Guardian and this bothered him so much that it eventually drove him to villainy. It's also heavily implied that he also felt inferior to his sidekick Darkslug, who was younger and more powerful than him.
- In Tower of God:
- One character is so frustrated about this and Can't Catch Up, that he decides to kill Rachel to stop Bam from climbing. When Bam once again proves his genius by saving her with a technique he had just been shown, said character gives up and commits suicide.
Hoh: I've always asked myself: Why did God give that thing so much power… and me too little power to protect my friends?
- This is also the reason why Arie Hon, considered the strongest of the 10 Family Heads, chose to follow Jahad. Before entering the Tower, Arie Hon challenged Jahad 10 times and lost 10 times, so he chose to serve Jahad as a result.
- One character is so frustrated about this and Can't Catch Up, that he decides to kill Rachel to stop Bam from climbing. When Bam once again proves his genius by saving her with a technique he had just been shown, said character gives up and commits suicide.
- Infinity, a very character from The Descendants is this for The Whitecoat and seemingly every other street level hero in New York.
- The creepypasta "Lack of Empathy" is from the point of view of a sociopath who believes himself better than anyone. Once he realizes his neighbor Travis is also a sociopath, he begins making plans to kill him, furious at the possibility of this trope. Ultimately, he is caught off-guard and outdone by Travis's sister, Marian — who, as opposed to Travis and himself, is a psychopath.
- Less Than Three Comics:
- In Brat Pack, Firestorm is Lancer to Mr Perfect's Hero, and often finds himself in this type of relationship.
- Played somewhat straighter with Captain Awesome, who is Mr Perfect's better, he even has the same powerset as Mr Perfect, albeit at a much higher level.
- In you could make a life, David resents Jake for being a more successful and popular hockey player than him. This continues even after he admits to himself that Jake is a genuinely nice guy he wants to be close to.
- When Jim Darkmagic's brother Percival shows up as an allied NPC in Acquisitions Incorporated, he claims to have one more spell in his spellbook than Jim, and for the rest of the encounter proceeds to cast whatever spell Jim just cast, but always dealing exactly one extra point of damage. Until the party throws him down a stairwell.
- Jermaine performs this function for Lester in The Awkward Compilation. He knows it, revels in it, and lampshades it constantly.
Jermaine: I win all the games, get all the girls, do all the dishes... I'll always beat you. You'll never be able to surpass my level of— YOU SUCK AT LIFE.
Jermaine: Lester's such a great friend. I'm better than him at everything. Man, what would I do without him?
- Hero House has Solid and Liquid and Snake, with Liquid always feeling outclassed due to his recessive genes.
- This has happened twice in the Noob backstory. Mist was the first player to become number one, but got overshadowed by Spectre both in terms of talent and reputation. Spectre trained Amaras then eventually left the game for personal reasons. A few years later, Fantöm won a duel against Amaras, who had remained number one all that time.
- Solid jj: In "The Avengers Interview Hulk", the team realize that Hulk can one-up them in pretty much everything: Hulk can throw things (e.g., a semi-truck) bigger than the shield that Captain America threw, strong enough to be comparable to Thor without needing any hammer, can jump high enough to reach heights that Iron Man can while being more cost-efficient, and at least as smart as self-proclaimed genius Iron Man with his Ph.D. The others decide to find a way to reject him rather than ending up looking like "a couple of chumps" compared to Hulk.