We examined male–male competition in guppies (Poecilia reticulata) to test for evidence of hierarchy formation and any subsequent effects on male mating success by comparing the interactions of pairs of males that were siblings and life-long tank mates with those of unrelated pairs that had never met. These pairs of males were first observed in the absence of a female; then a female was added to gauge the effects of the initial male–male interactions on male sexual behaviour. The unfamiliar/unrelated pairs engaged in significantly more aggressive interactions such as physical contacts, nipping and chasing than the familiar/related pairs. Based on several previous studies, we suggest that familiarity played a greater role than relatedness in the differences in behaviour that we observed. Our results suggest that, in some circumstances, more aggressive males may have more mating opportunities than less aggressive males. Our results also indicate that males adjust their aggressive and courtship behaviours to the perceived intensity of competition for mates, based on the number of mature males in their rearing tanks. We suggest that male–male competition for mating opportunities may play a more important role in the guppy mating system than previously thought.