The hotter the competition, the hotter the tempers.

And tempers are flaring over GTE Corp.'s $750 million bid to buy the communications operations of Southern Pacific Co., including its Sprint discount long-distance service.

MCI Communications Corp., which is Sprint's chief competitor outside of AT&T, has vowed to fight the proposed acquisition in every arena possible -- before the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission, which must approve the deal and, if that fails, in private antitrust suits in the federal courts.

"It will be a long, tough fight, which we will take as far as we need to" to block the acquisition, says MCI Chairman William G. McGowan.

McGowan's vow triggered an angry response from GTE Chairman Theodore F. Brophy. "The squeal we hear is from his McGowan's mink being gored," Brophy said. Sprint is much smaller than MCI but, like MCI, reportedly is growing rapidly.

McGowan has charged that the acquisition is anticompetitive because it allows a local telephone company -- the second-largest in the nation -- to use its local monopoly to an unfair advantage to win long-distance business.

MCI is suing AT&T and GTE in an antitrust suit charging them with trying to keep out long-distance rivals by refusing to grant them the necessary connections to the local network. Citing the suit, McGowan says, "I don't want competition by a monopolist -- one who has demonstrated he is willing to violate the antitrust laws to compete."

Brophy, however, denies McGowan's charges and contends that the deal will increase competition in the business because it will inject needed capital into Sprint to make it a more vigorous competitor.

"Mr. McGowan's comments are the best evidence that the acquisiton will result in vigorous competition," Brophy said. "Mr. McGowan has talked a lot about competition in the past, so it is surprising to find him opposing it now."