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Unknown Rival

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"Hey, wait a second. I know who you are now! You're that guy! The one who kept getting pissed off at me for not remembering... something."

Two characters can be competing for the same goal, without one of them even aware of the competition. Maybe the reason they haven't picked up on the rivalry is that it is hard to take their rival seriously. Maybe the rival simply hasn't shown up onscreen at the same time. Perhaps they do acknowledge the would-be rival's skills, but someone far superior has already taken the coveted spot. It might just be that the rival is so much weaker, that they can't be considered a serious threat. Whatever the reason, the rival is competing for the same thing as the other character. Objectives for competition may be the fair maiden's hand, simple revenge, a pot of gold, the title of "World's Best Whatever" or the extra-special MacGuffin of the week.

This is common with non-evil antagonists, giving writers a character who can be a source of tension without necessarily being a bad guy. Compare But for Me, It Was Tuesday. See also We Meet Again, which is usually followed by a "Have we met before?", much to the would-be-rival's chagrin.

A Super-Trope to Enmity with an Object, in that there's no way an object can be aware that someone has a grudge on it. Likely to become Offended by an Enemy's Indifference.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

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    Asian Animation 
  • Happy Heroes: With at least one exception in Season 8 where Sweet S. nearly discovers Big M. is a villain before Huo Haha manages to convince her otherwise, the Supermen are completely unaware that Big M. and Little M. are trying to invade their home planet and send out most of the monsters they fight — even if the evidence is right there in plain sight. It isn't until Season 13 when the Supermen finally learn of their former plans to invade Planet Xing.

    Comic Strips 
  • In Tom the Dancing Bug, wealthy Holligsworth Hound is constantly offended by impoverished Lucky Ducky's existence as an beneficiary of government services paid for by Hollingsworth's taxes. Some strips end with Lucky Ducky declaring "Gotcha!" to underscore Hollingsworth's outrage, but in general he doesn't bother to acknowledge the hostility.

  • Jonathan Coulton has the song Nemeses which is eventually driven by this trope. Once the protagonist catches on, he begins to exploit the trope... though the song's tone suggests heartbreak, rather than triumph.
    Ah yes, my old friend
    You are a master of this game
    The hidden blade when you pretend
    That you don't even know my name
    Well played

    Sometimes it's hard to tell
    If you even notice me
    Maybe it's just as well
    It's better you don't see
    The way I'm running just to keep your back in view
    In your shadow, waiting for the perfect moment
  • During the beginning of Lil Bow Wow's rap career, he made a few songs, calling out Will Smith for not making hardcore gangsta rap songs during his career. Will Smith, who's now more into acting than rapping, was unaware of Lil Bow Wow's jabs, until someone finally asked him about it in an interview. He ended the possible rivalry simply saying "I don't respond to children."
  • Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum started a feud with Primus because he thought their song "Wynona's Big Brown Beaver" was mocking his girlfriend Winona Ryder, and at a Soul Asylum concert renamed a song to "Les Claypool's a Big Fucking Asshole". Meanwhile, Primus mastermind Les Claypool pointed out that the song wasn't about her, and Ryder said she didn't mind anyways.
  • Henry Rollins cheerfully admits to having been one (along with a dash of Always Someone Better) to Iggy Pop. Rollins admired the hell out of Iggy, but also was determined to try to outplay and upstage Iggy if they ever performed together. He got that chance 3 times in the early to mid 90s. The first two times not only did Iggy blow Rollins off the stage, but he acted like he wasn't even aware of what Rollins had tried to do and humbly thanked Rollins for the honor of playing with him. Naturally, this just made Rollins more determined to upstage Iggy. So, upon learning that there's a third gig where they'll be playing together, Rollins sets up a punishing, months long training regime so he can play harder and long than he's ever played before. He gives the performance of a lifetime... and Iggy still blows him off the stage. But at least Iggy acknowledged Rollins's attempt for the first time and had to put slightly more energy into destroying him.
    Rollins: "What are you doing in Denmark?" I-I played tonight! "You did?" Yes, I was the opening band, I saw you staring at me! "You played? I just remember Iggy Pop." [Iggy]'s just like *finger flick* dink.

    Myths & Religion 
  • The Bible: In the Book of Job, Satan works to undermine Job's faith by ruining his life, intending to prove to God that Job's piety is superficial. Job variously lays blame for his misfortune on bad luck, unkind fate, or his own mistakes, and resists the temptation to blame God, but he never even suspects that Satan might be engineering his misfortune.

  • Whereas Kuromi sees My Melody as her eternal arch-nemesis, My Melody herself is shown to be rather oblivious of this at the very least, and not holding any kind of ill will at most.

  • Find Us Alive has Dr. Harley, who harbors a barely-concealed seething hatred towards the Botany department just because he can't keep plants alive. They behave perfectly pleasantly towards him in return (minus a few wisecracks).
    Harley: (mocking a Botany employee) "Hi, Harley, are you here for the meeting? You having a good afternoon?" I WAS having a good afternoon, what of it? I don’t need to tell YOU anything about my life. Who do you think you are, the Harley’s Life Police Department?!
  • Quest in Show: When Sylvester Strand encounters goblins in the cottage at the Moondew Glade, he assumes they’re simply there to rob the vacationing king. He does not realize the goblins have a personal interest in the Holy Ground he’s trying to claim.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Perhaps the most well-known wrestling example: Starting in the mid-nineties, Shane Douglas has spent over a decade running down Ric Flair. Flair barely paid him any attention. This didn't stop even after Douglas finally got a program with Flair in WCW in 2000 (and beat Flair twice).
  • During the last year of WCW, Booker T was clearly being modeled as a copy of The Rock with promos, popularity and a finisher ("The Bookend") that was a copy of the Rock Bottom. When Booker joined WWF in 2001, he interrupted the Rock in the ring to run the Rock down and say he was the better man. The Rock's reply: " the blue hell...are you?"
  • TNA, as part of its campaign to compete with WWE, markets itself as a Darker and Edgier alternative to WWE, being more violent and bloodier, even going so far as to make occasional not-so-veiled quips at their "competition". WWE responds by...going about their business as usual, not paying any mind to them.
    • Then there was that ridiculous and pointless storyline where BG James and Kip James as the "Voodoo Kin Mafia" would spend weeks mocking Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and Vince McMahon. They would often challenge the three to a fight with $1 million on the line, wait a few minutes, then denounce them as cowards for not showing up. The three never gave any indication they were aware of this, and when Michaels did make a reference to someone "jerking a curtain", even the fans mistook it as a jab at Kurt Angle rather than the James gang.
    • According to some backstage reports, this wasn't simply a "dig at the WWE" angle — this was a genuine attempt by TNA to do a crossover with WWE, the $1 million prize money was apparently real (at a time when many of their top draws worked second jobs to pay the bills). They actually sent a message to the WWE front office, asking if the head of the largest wrestling promotion in America and two of his biggest stars would appear on their show broadcast from Universal Studios. Apparently, Dixie Carter was legitimately shocked when they ignored her, and kept checking at the TNA office to see if Vince had left her any messages.
    • It's educational to compare WWE's reaction to TNA with their reaction to the formation of All Elite Wrestling in 2019. For pretty much their entire history, WWE has basically treated TNA with bemused indifference, just keeping half an eye on them to see if they have anyone leaving who'd be worth signing (most notably AJ Styles in 2016). When AEW started up, WWE went into overdrive in an attempt to drive them out of business by immediately moving WWE NXT from the WWE Network to live TV on Wednesday night to counter-program against AEW Dynamite, going into a frenzy of signing as much new talent as possible while resigning existing talent to much longer contracts in an attempt to keep performers from leaving WWE for AEW, and generally trying to screw with AEW as much as possible e.g trying to keep them from booking large venues such as Madison Square Garden. Mind you, WWE isn't in quite as unassailable a position in the industry in 2019 as they were back in 2002, with a much more dissatisfied employee roster and fanbase, which is possibly just making Vince McMahon much more paranoid than he once was about competition.
  • John Cena's first major feud was as the Unknown Rival to Brock Lesnar. Lesnar injured Cena in a match, leading up to months of Cena putting out videos trash talking Lesnar while he recovered. When he returned, Cena would even adopt a new Finishing Move, the F-U, as a mockery of Lesnar's finisher, the F-5. Lesnar showed absolutely no response to Cena, and when they met again... well, Lesnar beat him again, though Cena actually looked really good in the match, even in defeat, solidifying his status as a rising star.
  • In 2004 H2Wrestling acted as such to Ring of Honor, running directly against it with fired ROH wrestler Teddy Hart. ROH was in a moment of weakness, having lost its distributor to the RF Video Scandal, but for the same reason didn't pay H2 or Hart any mind and Hart made a brief return to ROH in 2009 after H2 went under.
  • The Miz was this to John Cena during their first feud in 2009. Averted since then, however. He got this again in 2011, where The Miz was WWE Champion and was supposed to be the main event at Wrestlemania against Cena. Unfortunately for Miz, Cena and the audience were far more concerned with Cena's problems with The Rock. It wasn't until Miz ambushed and practically murdered Cena that anybody really remembered that he was actually in the equation at all.
  • TNA had its own unknown rival in the form of Pro Wrestling Syndicate, who it actually did acknowledge...after eight years, during a conflict with its much more known rival Global Force Wrestling. Though the Syndicate was very tongue-in-cheek on their own end, nowhere near as persistent or antagonistic as TNA was towards WWE.
  • Within Ring of Honor itself, the Briscoes Decade feud was setup by BJ Whitmer encouraging Adam Page to call out Jay Briscoe while Briscoe was not around in an attempt to make Jay look bad. Page, not really getting the point, went on to confront and challenge Jay on the first show they were both on together after this. Jay accepted, but not before admitting he had no idea who Page was.
  • Brandi Lauren was this to Allysin Kay in Shine Wrestling. Lauren did get Kays (divided)attention after using Kay's own(possible stolen) disguise to help LuFisto retain the single's title belt against Kay, but Kay could never quite remember what it was that made Lauren hate her in the first place. What was worse, the fans couldn't remember seeing Brandi Lauren before, so her whole gimmick in Shine became bragging about how she had been a "star" on bigger shows like EVOLVE and WWE NXT.
  • Matt Riddle constantly badmouths Goldberg and Brock Lesnar, calling them horrible wrestlers and boasting that he will one day face Lesnar and force him to retire. They mostly ignore him, but Goldberg eventually confronted him backstage and told him to knock it off, while Lesnar said he'll never face him because of his attitude.

  • In Romeo and Juliet, although Count Paris is technically Romeo's rival for Juliet, he's never made aware of that fact. He dies without ever realizing that the girl he wants to marry loves someone else. Romeo is vaguely aware of Paris's interest in Juliet, but he doesn't learn of it until after Juliet's seeming death; when he does, his reaction is more a feeling of kinship with Paris over their shared loss than rivalry.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Battletech
    • The Taurian Concordat (size: Roughly 30 systems) considers the neighbouring Federated Suns to be their Arch-Enemy and live in a state of constant mobilization in case the Federated Suns attack them again like they did during the Reunification War. The Federated Suns (size: 300+ systems), on their end, consider the Concordat Beneath Notice and Not Worth Killing (mostly because the Concordat have a history of fighting extremely dirty on home terrain) and are way more concerned with the Draconis Combine.
    • Wayne Waco of The Waco Rangers had sworn eternal enmity towards Wolf's Dragoons over an incident where Waco's son was allegedly crushed under the foot of a Dragoons 'mech after he'd ejectednote . In fact, Waco made a point of immediately repudiating any mercenary contracts if his employer eventually hired Wolf's Dragoons. However, he never got around to telling Jamie Wolf of his undying hatred, and so the Dragoons were mostly blithely unaware. At least until the Waco Rangers attacked the Dragoons' HQ planet Outreach, with Waco killing Wolf (and being killed simultaneously himself) in a grudge-match duel.
  • In Eclipse Phase, the Jovian Republic is terrified of the threat posed by the Titanian Commonwealth, and is convinced that the Commonwealth will nuke them if it gets the chance. The Titanian Commonwealth doesn't actually care about the Jovians, viewing them as a tedious bunch of Evil Luddites who are more of a threat to their own citizens than anyone else, and is more likely to send humanitarian aid than anything military unless the Jovians are trying to start something with a Titanian ally.
  • Cyberpunk: The rivalry between Adam Smasher and Morgan Blackhand in a nutshell. As far as Smasher is concerned, Blackhand's status as the World's Best Warrior is antithetical to Smasher's "Metal strong, meat weak"-philosophy, and Smasher therefore has to kill Blackhand or see his core beliefs invalidated. As far as Blackhand is concerned, Smasher is just another psychopath with a cyberware fetish he sometimes runs into professionally and otherwise does his best to stay away from.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Zigzagged with the Tau. The average Tau citizen thinks converting the Imperium to the Greater Good is only a matter of time as they've already converted several Imperial planets, and if not the Tau have the technological advantage. However, that's because the Ethereals keep it very carefully hidden just how tiny the Tau empire is compared to the Imperium, and just how badly outnumbered they are (Imperial planets can contain billions if not trillions of people). While it's true that the Tau appear to have the advantage in term of technology, Imperial forces are very good at the "throw more men at the problem" strategy-which along with their better technology once they get serious and bring out the good stuff-were pounding the Tau into the ground until the Tyranids forced a ceasefire. The good stuff being whatever the local sectors were able to throw up at short notice. The Imperium has bigger fish to fry and the Tau happen to be in the perfect spot to provide a barrier against multiple regional threats.

    Visual Novels 
  • Parodied several times in the Ace Attorney franchise.
    • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney:
      • Butt-Monkey Gumshoe announces himself to be Phoenix's rival, who is both confused and flattered — but mostly amazed.
      • Even more so with Winston Payne, who is hardly remembered by Phoenix and completely ignored by fellow prosecutor Edgeworth.
    • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies, Phoenix's reaction to Gaspen Payne claiming that his older brother Winston is Nick's "longstanding rival" is suitably incredulous.
      Phoenix: ("Longstanding rival"...? When were we ever rivals, let alone "longstanding"...?)
    • Played for Drama in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney: Seven years before the game starts, Phoenix received a last minute request to defend Zak Gramarye. Before the trial began, he mentioned to Zak that he received all of the files from Zak's previous attorney. And at the time, that seemed to be the full extent of his interactions with the previous attorney. Unbeknownst to Phoenix, the previous attorney, Kristoph Gavin, was so angry about being fired that he decided to frame Phoenix for forging evidence to win the case, which resulted in Phoenix losing his badge. Then he spent seven years pretending to be friends with Phoenix to make sure that he never found out. When the truth comes out, the culprit goes on a Motive Rant about Phoenix being a "second-rate attorney" who never should have been hired over him. Phoenix had figured things out by that point, though the timey-wimey nature of the gameplay set in the past makes it unclear exactly when he did.
    • In The Great Ace Attorney, Soseki Natsume blames Herlock Sholmes for leading the police to him and arresting him twice and even called Sholmes his arch-rival, to the point of hearing Sholmes's name causes him to become infuriated. Meanwhile, Sholmes barely remembers Natsume's name or the circumstances that led to his arrest.
  • Downplayed in Cafe Enchante in Misyr's route where Asmodeus is quick to proclaim that he is in love with Kotone and she is his bride whereas Misyr doesn't take any his claims seriously.
  • In Code:Realize, Nemo is very impressed with Impey and Victor and declares them to be his equals and considers them to be his Worthy Opponent in engineering and science respectively. Whereas Impey doesn't mind, Victor is especially unenthusiastic about being Nemo's "eternal rival" and would decline that honor.
  • In Fate/stay night, Issei considers Rin to be his arch-nemesis. Rin never responds to his enmity, which only makes him more suspicious and jealous. And on a less humorous note, Shinji has this going on towards Shirou, but this grudge reaches extreme levels fairly quickly.
  • Hatoful Boyfriend has Nishikikouji Tohri in Holiday Star and the drama CD. He's always trying to go after Shuu, and he's never able to even encounter him. Yuuya tells Shuu about one of his attempts, once.
    Shuu: Nishiki...kouji... The client from four years ago? No, that's not right. The other witness from the third toucan trial... isn't right either, is it?
    Yuuya: You really don't remember? It's rare for Iwamine-sensei's world-renowned preeminent memory to be so troubled.
    Shuu: You're making too much of it. I won't remember each and every thing about anybirdie I have no interest in.
    Yuuya: Somehow or another, it looks like Nishikikouji Tohri has some catastrophically one-sided feelings. Life doesn't always go as planned.
  • Little Busters!: Sasasegawa Sasami and Rin. Sasami interprets their constant battles as them being fierce rivals and takes them very seriously. Rin interprets their battles as Sasami being annoying and can never remember her name.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Schoolgirl Rival, One Sided Rivalry


Sir Pentious Fights Alastor

Despite attacking him twenty times, Alastor doesn't really take Sir Pentious as a serious threat and claims he doesn't remember him. But when Pentious rips his jacket, Alastor definitely remembers him now.

How well does it match the trope?

4.79 (29 votes)

Example of:

Main / UnknownRival

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