- Associated Press - Thursday, January 5, 2017

Motocross has seen its share of fierce rivalries. In the sport’s early days, it was Bob Hannah and Kent Howerton. The next generation saw Jeff Matiasevich and Damon Bradshaw going at each other every race. Chad Reed and James Stewart took center stage once the 2000s arrived.

The budding rivalry between Ryan Dungey and Ken Roczen, polar opposites on and off the track, has a chance to be one of the best in the sport’s history and drive its popularity into the future.

“We’re very respectful to each other, but we’re very different,” Roczen said. “Different personality, different everything.”

Dungey is the steady veteran.

In 2010, he became the first rider in motocross history to sweep the 450cc Supercross and outdoor titles as a rookie. The 27-year-old from Belle Plaine, Minnesota, went on to win two more outdoor titles and two more in Supercross.

Dungey also had a rivalry with Ryan Villopoto that helped push the sport to new levels of popularity. Villopoto surprisingly retired on the opening day of the 2015 Supercross season, leaving Dungey without a clear-cut rival.

Roczen has slipped into that role nicely.

The 22-year-old German got his career off to a roaring start, winning his first 450 Supercross race in 2014 on his way to finishing third in the overall series race. Roczen went on to win the 2014 outdoor title, took the 2015 Monster Energy Cup and picked up his second outdoor championship last year.

The rivalry between Dungey and Roczen moves on to its next chapter on Saturday, when Dungey will enter the Supercross opener at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California, as the reigning series champion.

Ken’s a good rider and anytime you race, he’s going to give you a fight,” Dungey said. “That’s just the racer in him and myself. It’s definitely challenging to myself, battling like that, but it also good to have that. That’s why it’s racing.”

Dungey and Roczen have a few similarities, including once having the same trainer and living on the same street.

But that’s about it.

Dungey’s image is that of the All-American - he was the first motocross rider to appear on a Wheaties box - with a relentless work ethic, someone who takes an almost machine-like approach to racing and training. Though he’s been criticized at times for his methodical approach to racing, the results are hard to argue against; he rarely crashes out of a race and is one of the most consistent riders in the sport’s history.

“Give it up to the guy. Not everybody is like that,” Roczen said. “He gets the job done, has a lot of championships, he’s consistent, so I give him that. But other than that, he’s just a get-work-done rider.”

Roczen is the carefree European hotshot, his personality more on the outspoken side, his riding style in a flashier vein. He still works hard - wouldn’t be one of the sport’s top riders if he didn’t - but likes to add a little pizazz into everything he does.

“He’s the complete opposite of me,” Roczen said. “I literally enjoy riding dirt bikes. A lot of riders in our industry actually don’t, but that’s not me. I like to have fun with my training, everything I do.”

For all their differences, Dungey and Roczen have one big thing in common: Respect for one another.

While they’re not going out to dinner or hanging at each other’s houses, there’s a mutual regard for their differing approaches toward the same result, not to mention the competitiveness.

“We both have respect for each other and that’s the bottom line,” Dungey said. “We both know we’re going to go out there and give it our best and may the better man win.”

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