Ronaldo, Messi, Mayweather, Federer, Woods: Who's the most dominant athlete of last 20 years?


On the 20th anniversary of ESPN The Magazine, they crunched the numbers to find the 20 most dominant athletes of the past 20 years.

Rather than using the ifs, buts and maybes that accompany every sporting argument, ESPN has, rather interestingly, summoned the art of mathematics to provide this particular argument with a statistical twist called a “dominance rating”.

Without further ado, here’s their top 20.

20. Tom Brady – NFL – DR: 6.3

It baffles me how this man is this low in the rankings. A 40-something year-old still performing to a championship level doesn’t come around often, and he will be firmly in the greatest athlete of all time conversation when retired, if not already.

19. Manny Pacquiao – Boxing – DR: 6.5

The slugger from the Philippines has world titles in a record eight weight divisions. One of the most decorated boxers of all time, he fully deserves his seat at this table.


18. Mike Trout – MLB – DR: 7.1

The Los Angeles Angels outfielder is firmly headed for a Hall of Fame career already. Of the nine players in MLB history to get at least 600 home runs, only Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols had more by 26.

17. Barry Bonds – MLB – DR: 7.1

A man dubbed as “The Home Run King,” Bonds recorded 762 of them in 22 seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants. He also had 14 all-star appearances.

16. Allyson Felix – Athletics – DR: 7.3

An athletics superstar. She has more Olympic medals than any other female American track and field athlete (9), walking away with three medals in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

15. Novak Djokovic – Tennis – DR: 8.0

The Serbian tennis legend has enjoyed a heavily-decorated career, with various titles and medals to bite the bullet.


14. Cristiano Ronaldo – Football – DR: 8.2

Ronaldo. Enough said. Five Champions League titles, the most goals ever in that competition, league titles in three different countries. The list of accolades goes on and on.

13. Lauren Jackson – WNBA – DR: 8.3

A scorer that never wilted in her efforts, she was also a high-percentage 3-point shooter. She won the MVP three times and the WNBA championship twice.

12. Serena Williams – Tennis – DR: 8.9

An icon of women’s tennis and the sporting world in general, she is another one who could feel hard done by to not be higher up in the list. 23 Grand Slams says enough.

11. Lionel Messi – Football – DR: 8.9

Messi vs. Ronaldo; football’s debate for the ages. No matter what side of the debate you stand on, the Argentinian’s alien-like magic is undeniable.


10. Usain Bolt – Athletics – DR: 9.5

A household name in sport, he captivated audiences with his Olympic performances from 2008 to 2016. He is the fastest human alive.

9. Marta – Women’s Football – DR: 9.8

The greatest women’s footballer of all time, without question. The Brazilian won an unprecedented five consecutive FIFA World Player Of The Year awards from 2006 to 2010.

8. Floyd Mayweather – Boxing – DR: 10.1

The undefeated self-proclaimed “The Best Ever” is one of the most talented and decorated boxers of all time. These days? Fighting YouTubers.

7. Michael Schumacher – Formula One – DR: 10.2

Before his untimely 2013 skiing accident, Schumacher led an unbelievable F1 career, winning seven championships amid various other accolades.


6. Annika Sorenstam – Women’s Golf – DR: 10.3

The now-retired golfer racked up 72 wins in her career, and finished at least in the top three 70% of the time.

5. Roger Federer – Tennis – DP: 10.6

The Swiss tennis icon has unbelievable plethora of records. 1,000 words would not cover his legendary feats on the court.

4. Jimmie Johnson – NASCAR – DP: 12.1

Five straight NASCAR championships from 2006 to 2010 prove that this man does not like losing.

3. Peyton Manning – NFL – DP: 12.7

Winning two Super Bowls and throwing for 539 touchdowns in his glistening career, Manning defied the odds and cemented himself as one of the greatest ever.


2. LeBron James – NBA – DP: 15.6

A modern day cultural and sporting icon, James has been the face of the NBA for nearly 20 years, winning four championships and four MVPs.

1. Tiger Woods – Golf – DP: 17.0

A golfing fan-favourite, Woods’ injury troubles in recent years has not marred an unbelievable and unprecedented career so far, in which he has won 15 majors.

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