Ronaldo, Messi, Mayweather, Tyson, Jordan, Woods: Highest-paid athletes from 1990-2020


There’s no denying that professional athletes have been securing the bag for the longest time now.

Coupled with various endorsement deals they have outside of their sport, what some sportspeople earn to compete is quite extraordinary.

To showcase this visually, YouTube channel DataLover found data from Forbes and created a timeline that highlights the change in the top 10 highest-paid athletes in the world from 1990-2020.

The video starts with a 24-year-old Mike Tyson at the helm, closely followed by fellow boxers Buster Douglas and Sugar Ray Leonard. This is until Evander Holyfield explodes past them all, however.

Michael Jordan then asserted his dominance at the top for most of the 90s, peaking at around $78 million USD in 1996, the year he guided arguably the greatest NBA team to their fourth title of the decade.

It is worth noting that no footballer featured in the top 10 during the 90s, with boxing, auto-racing, basketball and golf serving as the most dominant sports in terms of pay.

Tiger Woods and Michael Schumacher led the way at the turn of the century as the pair held their spots in the top two for five years. In 2005, Oscar De La Hoya was the only boxer in the top 10, while David Beckham became the first footballer to enter the fray.

Unsurprisingly, Woods remained the highest-paid athlete in the world for the entire decade, with his best year coming in 2007, where he made around $114 million.

The early 2000s then saw Floyd Mayweather come into the mix, overtaking Woods for a year before the legendary golfer reclaimed his throne in 2012. LeBron James and Kobe Bryant were the only two basketball players in the top 10, and Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi started to prop up the ranking in 2013.

From 2014 onwards, Money Mayweather was making some serious cash, earning just around $300 million in early 2015.

Ronaldo and Messi then took over the top two in 2016, closely followed by LeBron and Swiss tennis icon Roger Federer. There were no boxers in the ranking again until 2017 when Mayweather re-entered following his bout with Conor McGregor that year.



It looked as though Messi was going to finish the decade as the highest-paid athlete, but Federer took the crown in the end, earning just $2 million more than the Argentine and $1m more than CR7.

While golf, boxing and auto-racing were the most lucrative paying sports based on their top tier athletes, today, football and basketball are the sports with the most athletes in the top 10 come 2020, with six places in the top 10 occupied by Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar, LeBron, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant.

All in all, we’re excited to see this similar graphic come out in 2031 once data has been collected from 2020-2030.

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