We're all well aware that the greatest athletes in the world make tens, if not hundreds of thousands more than the rest of us yearly. But which ones are the absolute highest paid?
Some are exactly the ones you'd expect, some may surprise you, and some omissions may surprise you even more. Despite being in a league with no salary cap, no major league baseball player is on this list. And because endorsement money is factored in, some athletes in sports like golf find themselves far higher up than they would've been otherwise.
So who are, according to Forbes, the highest-paid athletes in the world?
1. Floyd Mayweather
2018 Pay: $285 million
Mayweather, an astonishing 50-0 in his professional boxing career, fought his last match in August of 2017. Yet it's that very match, against Conor McGregor, that lands him at the top of the list. Mayweather earned $275 million from that match, not only from fighting in it (and emerging victorious) but for promoting it as well. That's more than enough to make him the overwhelming No. 1 here - his settlement with the SEC for his role in an ICO controversy in 2018 could barely dent it.
2. Lionel Messi
2018 Pay: $111 million
Messi is one of the most well-known athletes in the entire world. Lionel Messi is the all-time leading scorer in the history of La Liga, Spain's storied professional football league. And he doesn't lead it by a little, either; he's over 100 goals ahead of the No. 2 all-time scorer (we'll get to him in a second). Combine his yearly contract with Barcelona (the team he has spent his entire La Liga career with) with his other football endeavors, such as playing for Argentina in the 2018 World Cup, Forbes estimates he made $84 million from the sport alone. His endorsements, including a lucrative Adidas (ADDYY) deal, comfortably pushed him over $100 million for the year.
3. Cristiano Ronaldo
2018 Pay: $108 million
Fittingly, Ronaldo is behind Messi not just in La Liga goals but the list of highest-paid athletes in the world. Of course, a big part of why Ronaldo is in second in La Liga history is because he first became a star in the Premiere League with Manchester United. In 2009 though, Ronaldo was able to transfer to Real Madrid. Here, he became the worldwide icon he is now for the sport, at one point averaging $50 million a year on his contract. After nearly a decade in La Liga, though, Ronaldo transferred again -this time to Italian football club Juventus.
4. Conor McGregor
2018 Pay: $99 million
McGregor, the ever-vocal fighter who has boxed against Floyd Mayweather in addition to his mixed martial arts career, very suddenly announced his retirement from UFC in March of 2019. Whether he actually stays retired remains to be seen, but McGregor made quite a bit of money from his one match in 2018: his loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov, a match filled with tension due to McGregor's past with Nurmagomedov and others. A heated end to the match resulted in, among other things, a six-month suspension for McGregor.
2018 Pay: $90 million
For several years, Barcelona fans had the pleasure of seeing Messi and Neymar on the same team. But the Brazilian superstar wanted out, and Barcelona paid the largest release clause ever to let him out of his contract in 2017, allowing Neymar to then become a member of French club Paris Saint-Germain. PSG will be paying Neymar $350 million through 2022, to go along with the tens of millions he makes in endorsement deals with Nike (NKE - Get Report) , McDonalds (MCD - Get Report) , Red Bull and more.
6. LeBron James
2018 Pay: $85.5 million
LeBron is the first athlete on the list that Forbes estimates made more from endorsements in 2018 than actual salary. It's not that hard to believe, as LeBron James is the biggest face in basketball and perhaps the biggest name in all of American sports. The Cleveland legend now plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, but his attempt to create a new dynasty in L.A. stalled out in the first year of his contract; 2018-19 isn't just the first time in nine years James isn't in the Finals, but his Lakers team didn't even make the playoffs.
7. Roger Federer
2018 Pay: $77.2 million
Per Forbes, a whopping $65 million of that pay was from endorsements alone. It certainly pays to be the greatest of all time in your sport, as many believe Roger Federer to be in tennis. More than two decades into his career, Federer, 37, is still easily one of the best players in the sport, even returning to the No. 1 world ranking at one point in 2018 after a hot start that included a win at the Australian Open.
8. Stephen Curry
2018 Pay: $76.9 million
The Golden State Warriors have won two straight NBA Finals and three of the last four, a full-fledged dynasty. That dynasty starts with Stephen Curry. Curry is a two-time MVP, and is already regarded as one of the best 3-point shooters in the long history of the NBA. His rapid ascent to NBA superstardom has netted him a huge amount of money in endorsement deals as well. Most players of Curry's level of fame have a Nike contract, but Curry was actually offered more money by Under Armour (UAA - Get Report) .
9. Matt Ryan
2018 Pay: $67.3 million
The Falcons quarterback makes his way this far up the list as the first NFL player because at the time he signed a contract extension in 2018, Matt Ryan was the highest-paid NFL player of all time. His was the first contract to average $30 million a year. Future lists will perhaps have other quarterbacks higher up as his record has since been broken by players like Aaron Rodgers, but Ryan remains one of the best and most durable quarterbacks in the league, even if he hasn't replicated his 2016 MVP season in subsequent years.
10. Matthew Stafford
2018 Pay: $59.5 million
Matt Ryan's contract broke the highest-paid record of Kirk Cousins, who broke Jimmy Garoppolo's record, all in quick succession. Months before all of that, though, the highest-paid quarterback was Matthew Stafford of the Lions. In 2017, he signed a five-year extension worth $135 million. Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick in 2009's NFL Draft, has been exceptionally durable, starting every game for eight consecutive seasons. However, the Lions have failed to win a single playoff game in Stafford's tenure.
11. Kevin Durant
2018 Pay: $57.3 million
Love him or hate him, Kevin Durant set out to get paid and get a championship when he first hit the free agent market and ended up getting both. Durant left the Thunder to join an already-stacked Warriors team and helped turn them into an unstoppable force. Durant lost his lone Finals appearance in Oklahoma City, as they fell to the LeBron-led Miami Heat, but he played outstanding basketball in his first two Finals with the Warriors, winning Finals MVP against the Cavaliers in both.
12. Lewis Hamilton
2018 Pay: $51 million
The star of the Mercedes team in Formula One, Hamilton is one of the absolute best in the racing game. The British-born driver has won five Formula One Championship races in his career, including the last two consecutive years and four of the last five. He has also helped his team win five consecutive Formula One World Constructors' Championships.
13. Russell Westbrook
2018 Pay: $47.6 million
Westbrook had a tall task in 2016-17, having to be the No. 1 guy in Oklahoma City after Kevin Durant left. He responded by winning the league MVP that year and averaging a triple-double. Russell Westbrook has successfully gotten the Thunder to the playoffs in all three years since Durant left, but they've failed to advance past the first round each time, most recently losing to the Portland Trail Blazers in devastating fashion in five games.
14. James Harden
2018 Pay: $46.4 million
A year after Russell Westbrook won NBA MVP, his former Thunder teammate won one for a different team. James Harden turned into one of the biggest stars in basketball with the Rockets, culminating in the 2017-18 season that saw him win MVP and get the Rockets to the No. 1 seed of the Western Conference, coming tantalizingly close to defeating the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals before falling short in Game 7. Harden is signed to a massive contract with the Rockets through the 2022-23 season.
15. Canelo Alvarez
2018 Pay: $44.5 million
He may not be undefeated in his boxing career, but a record of 51-1-2 is hardly anything to look down on. Alvarez is perhaps the best active boxer out there right now, and his most recent match against Rocky Felding in December of 2018 won him the World Boxing Association's super middleweight title. Alvarez's one loss in his storied career? It came in 2013 against - who else? Floyd Mayweather.
16. Tiger Woods
2018 Pay: $43.3 million
Expect Tiger Woods to be far higher on this list in the future; Forbes estimates that the overwhelming majority of this pay came from sponsorships and that just $1.3 million came from actual golf winnings. That changed this year, though. If you've so much as glanced at a sports news website or program in the past month, you likely heard about the golf legend breaking out of a years-long slump and mounting an incredible comeback to win the 2019 Masters Tournament thanks to an impeccable final round. It was his first win at the tournament since 2005 and his fifth overall.
17. Drew Brees
2018 Pay: $42.9 million
It's funny to think about the Dolphins deciding not to sign Drew Brees in 2006, worried about whether he would successfully recover from injury and surgery. Brees signed with the Saints instead and got to work crafting a Hall of Fame career in New Orleans. He led the team to its first ever Super Bowl win in the 2009-10 NFL season and continues to play at an elite level a decade later. As of this writing, he is the all-time NFL leader in passing yards and second in touchdown passes, 19 behind Peyton Manning.
18. Sebastian Vettel
2018 Pay: $42.3 million
Vettel currently races for Scuderia Ferrari, but his greatest success came in the early 2010s while a teammate of Red Bull Racing. It was then that Vettel won four consecutive Formula One World Championships from 2010-13, in addition to his second place finish in 2009. His first five years with Ferrari have seen success as well, including consecutive second place finishes in the Formula One World Championship in 2017 and 2018.
19. Derek Carr
2018 Pay: $42.1 million
What's the most money you've ever made off of one good year at work? In the 2016 NFL season, Derek Carr through 28 touchdowns and just 6 interceptions, leading the Raiders to the playoffs for the first time since 2002. That offseason, he signed a five year contract extension with Oakland worth $125 million. Carr has put together solid enough stats in the two years since then, including a 4,000-yard season in 2018, but he hasn't reached the heights of his 2016 season, and the Raiders have yet to return to the playoffs.
20. Rafael Nadal
2018 Pay: $41.4 million
Tennis fans have spent the 21st century in something of a golden age of the sport as they've had the pleasure not just of watching Roger Federer, but Rafael Nadal at the same time. Entering his 18th year as a professional, Nadal has 11 Grand Slam titles to his name. That includes 10 straight years of at least one Grand Slam title (he won three of the four in 2010), and after a two-year drought winning the French Open and US Open in 2017. Nadal followed that up with another French Open title in 2018.
21. Alex Smith
2018 Pay: $41.4 million
Alex Smith was drafted first overall in the 2005 NFL Draft, and after several rough years with the 49ers he broke out in the 2011 season. He was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs prior to the 2013 season and thrived in his five seasons there, as the team made the playoffs in four of his five seasons. He was traded to Washington prior to the 2018 season and signed a $94 million contract extension with them. But midway through a solid year for Smith, a devastating leg injury ended his season. After extensive surgery, as well as post-surgery complications, Smith's future as an NFL player is up in the air.
22. Phil Mickelson
2018 Pay: $41.3 million
At 48 years old, Phil Mickelson remains one of the biggest names in golf. This despite the fact that he has not won a Major since 2013, and didn't win a single PGA Tournament from 2014-17. Still, Mickelson has been a pro for nearly 30 years now, winning five Majors in the process. He became one of the biggest athletes of the 2000s thanks to his story; Mickelson spent the 1990s as a solid pro golfer who could not seem to get the elusive Major victory until he won his first Masters in 2004.
23. Jordan Spieth
2018 Pay: $41.2 million
While Mickelson is one of the game's veterans, Jordan Spieth, at 25, is one of its bright young stars. Spieth has already won 11 PGA Tournaments in his young career, three of which were Majors. 2015 was a particularly good year for Spieth, as he won both the Masters and the U.S. Open. His 2015 Masters was particularly outstanding, as he shot 18 under par the entire tournament.
24. Damian Lillard
2018 Pay: $39.2 million
The last shot Damian Lillard made prior to this writing was one for the ages, an insane buzzer-beater to eliminate the Thunder in five games. It put him at 50 total for the game. Lillard doesn't necessarily get the hype of a LeBron, Curry or Durant, but he is one of the best players in the NBA, an All-NBA First Team selection for the 2017-18 season. And after helping Portland advance with a historic playoff game, he's likely to start seeing even more hype.
25. Anthony Joshua
2018 Pay: $39 million
Joshua, who has been boxing professionally since 2013, has won all 22 of his fights. Only one was by decision; the other 21 victories were knockouts as Joshua has established himself as the best heavyweight in all of boxing right now. Joshua was set to defend his heavyweight titles against Jarrell Miller at Madison Square Garden later this year, but their match was canceled after Miller reportedly failed a drug test. As of this writing, Joshua has yet to find a replacement foe.
26. Rory McIlroy
2018 Pay: $37.7 million
McIlroy is only 29 but has been a golf pro for over a decade now, with 15 PGA Tour wins to his name. Four of those were Majors, and his last of those victories came in 2014 when he won the PGA Championship, his second such win in a three-year span. Though McIlroy is approaching five full years since his last Major, he was victorious at the 2019 Players Championship in March.
27. Trumaine Johnson
2018 Pay: $37 million
Trumaine Johnson may be a surprising choice as the highest-paid non-QB NFL player on the list. He had some spectacular years with the Rams, like his seven-interception season in 2015, but was not consistently an elite player. Still, Johnson hit free agency at the right time when a team needed a cornerback, and in March of 2018 the Jets signed Johnson to a five-year contract worth $72.5 million. Of that, $34 million was fully guaranteed, including his $20 million signing bonus.
28. Jimmy Garoppolo
2018 Pay: $36.2 million
What's the most money you ever made off of six good weeks at work? Jimmy Garoppolo was drafted by the Patriots with the potential to be Tom Brady's successor, but when it was clear Brady wasn't going anywhere soon, New England traded him to the 49ers. He filled in for C.J. Beathard one week and then started the final five games for San Francisco, putting up impressive stats and winning all five. From that, the 49ers signed him to a then-record $137.5 million deal over five years. In the third game of the 2018 season, his first on the contract, he tore his ACL, ending his season.
29. Kyrie Irving
2018 Pay: $36.1 million
Kyrie Irving was drafted first by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2011 in the hopes of being their new LeBron. Irving quickly became a star, and LeBron ended up returning to Cleveland. The pair often had public disagreements and spats, but each was crucial to their incredible comeback in the 2016 NBA Finals as they defeated the Golden State Warriors. Still, tensions continued to mount and Irving was eventually traded to Boston. Irving has continued to put up good numbers with the Celtics, but his contract gives him the option to opt out after this season, putting his future with the team in question.
30. Giannis Antetokounmpo
2018 Pay: $35.5 million
A leading candidate for this season's NBA MVP award, Giannis is a more recent addition to the list because only in the past couple of years has he become one of the faces of the NBA. This year cemented him as perhaps the best young player in basketball, leading the Bucks to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, where they proceeded to demolish the Pistons in the first round. Antetokounmpo signed a four year extension worth $100 million in 2016, and his deal with Nike includes a signature shoe set to be released soon.
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