Professional sports are a major form of entertainment around the world. People love to follow their favorite teams and root for a championship. The world of sports is an extremely lucrative business, and athletes are paid extremely high sums of money to perform. This article will examine the top ten athletes in the world. It is categorized by sport and looks at players that are among the most respected. Unfortunately, I could not discuss all the popular sports, and was forced to leave off some great games such as golf, rugby, field hockey, volleyball, winter games, table tennis, and most forms of racing.
10. Tennis – Novak Djokovic vs. Rafael Nadal
Tennis is one of the most popular spectator sports in the world. The game originated in England, and tennis players are among the highest paid athletes. Being an individual sport, players are not paid by salary, but instead by winning individual tournaments. Based on fan base, tennis ranks extremely high in popularity. Tennis involves a quick pace, lengthy matches, and high action. The players are among the best conditioned athletes in the world, and regularly display impressive feats of stamina. The longest tennis match in history was 11 hours, 5 minutes, and covered 183 games. As of 2012, the best men’s tennis players in the world include Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray.
Since July 4, 2011, Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic has been ranked #1 in the world. In 2011, Djokovic became the sixth man in history to win three of the four major tennis tournaments, including the Australian Open, Wimbledon Championships, and the US Open. Djokovic is an extremely popular athlete, and the first Serbian player to win a Major singles title. He is currently only 24 years old, and is projected to be the #1 player for many years to come. Djokovic is a dominant personality and plays with finesse and power. In 2011, he received a large number of international tennis awards, including the honor of being #1 in the world.
Rafael Nadal is regarded as the greatest clay court tennis player in history. He is currently ranked #2 in the world. Nadal has been ranked in the top two of the world rankings every year since 2005. He has officially held at least the No. 2 ranking for an ATP record 232 weeks, and won the French Open seven times. As of June 25, 2012, in their playing careers, Djokovic and Nadal have met 33 times, with Nadal having a 19-14 advantage. Nadal has won the last three matchups, and Djokovic the previous seven. The rivalry is considered to be the top match in professional tennis.
9. Auto Racing – Jimmie Johnson vs. Sebastian Vettel
Auto racing is one of the most watched televised sports in the world. There are many different forms of racing and the two most popular organizations are Formula One and NASCAR. In order to be a great race car driver, one needs to display stamina, strength, precision, and a strict knowledge for how a car reacts at fast speeds. Professional driving is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, and athletes have to be highly skilled to compete at the top level. Professionals are usually paid well, and the richest contract in the history of auto racing belongs to Kimi Räikkönen, who signed a three-year deal with Ferrari in 2007 worth $153 million ($2,942,307 per race).
Jimmie Johnson is widely regarded as the best driver in the world. He currently competes in NASCAR, and drives the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. In 2006, Johnson won his first Sprint Cup Series Championship and then continued to take the honor over the next four years. Between the years of 2002 and 2011, Johnson scored 55 wins and 230 Top 10 finishes.
In 2009, Johnson was named the AP Male Athlete of the Year. He is known for being a fierce competitor who can maneuver a car with ease. In 2011, Johnson struggled toward the end of the season, and finished the Sprint Cup Championship in sixth place. After the Daytona 500, Jimmie got off to a strong start in 2012 and will compete for another title.
The Formula One World Drivers’ Championship (WDC) is awarded to the most successful driver in the Formula One season. Similar to NASCAR, the honor is determined by a points system. For the past two years, the WDC has been won by a German man named Sebastian Vettel. Vettel is sponsored by Red Bull Racing, and is the youngest driver to ever win the Formula One Championship. At the age of 24, he holds a large number of records in Formula One. In 2012, Vettel has begun to receive comparisons to the great driver Michael Schumacher. In February 2012, he was given the highest sports honor in Germany, the Silver Bay Laurel Leaf.
8. Hockey – Henrik Lundqvist vs. Evgeni Malkin
In 1875, the first organized game of hockey was played in Montreal, Canada. Since that time, the sport has expanded and become a popular game in North America, Russia, and other sections of the world that receive cold weather. In Canada, hockey is the national winter sport. Some countries that excel in hockey include Canada, Russia, Czech Republic, Finland, Slovakia, Sweden, and the United States.
Hockey is a quick moving game and involves strategy, finesse, and power. Similar to soccer, hockey players only get a certain amount of scoring opportunities per game, so shots need to be precise and on target. Hockey is violent and is one of the last sports to allow fighting. The NHL is the largest hockey organization in the world and employs the best players from 20 different countries.
Henrik Lundqvist is the best ice hockey goaltender in the NHL. He was born in Sweden, and currently plays for the New York Rangers. Lundqvist displays a dominating presence on the ice, and is the only goaltender to record 30 wins in each of his first seven seasons. In 2006, Henrik led Sweden to their second Olympic gold medal. In 2012, Lundqvist had a great season, and led the NHL in almost every goaltending category. He recorded 39 wins in 62 starts, and was one of three players nominated for the Hart Memorial Trophy, which is the NHL’s MVP Award.
Evgeni Malkin is a center who plays for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was born in Russia, and selected second overall in the 2004 draft. After an international transfer dispute, Malkin was allowed to join the Penguins in 2006 and was named the NHL Rookie of the Year. In 2012, Malkin had a great season. He scored 50 goals for the first time, and was the only player to record over 100 points. Malkin is outstanding with the stick, and rarely misses when given the opportunity to score. He has a physical presence, and understands hockey strategy. In 2012, Malkin won the Hart Memorial Trophy.
7. Cricket – Jonathan Trott vs. Sachin Tendulkar
Cricket is one of the most popular sports in the world. It is primarily played in England, Australia, the Indian subcontinent, the West Indies, and Southern Africa. According to statistics, cricket has the second highest fan base of any sport after International football. In order to be a great cricketer, one has to be fast and highly skilled with hand/eye coordination.
Similar to baseball, cricket uses innings, and the ultimate goal is to score the most runs. Currently, England is in first place on the ICC Test Championship board, but India captured the 2011 Cricket World Cup, with man of the tournament being Yuvraj Singh. In the 2012 Asia Cup, Pakistan won by beating Bangladesh by 2 runs. In the 2011 Champions League Twenty20 cricket competition, the Mumbai Indians captured the title.
Jonathan Trott is a South African-born cricketer who currently plays for England. He is an extremely talented right-handed top-order batsman. In 2011, Trott had a great season and scored 1,042 runs in 12 Tests, including four centuries at an average of 65 per innings. On May 29, 2011, he recorded the highest score for an English batsman against Sri Lanka with 203. Trott is widely considered the greatest all-around cricketer in the world. He was given a collection of awards in 2011, including the Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy.
Sachin Tendulkar is an Indian cricketer, who is considered one of the greatest batsmen of all time. At the age of 39, he still ranks among the top cricketers in the world. In 2010, Tendulkar won the Cricketer of the Year Award and, in 2011, he was the runner-up. Tendulkar holds a large number of world records in the sport of cricket. He was the first player to score a double century in ODI cricket. In 2009, Tendulkar passed 30,000 runs in international cricket, and the following year he was the first player to record 15,000 runs in Test Cricket. Tendulkar is the first sportsman in Indian history to receive the honorary rank of Group Captain by the Indian Air Force.
6. Basketball – Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James
In 1891, basketball was invented by P.E. teacher James Naismith. Since that time, the sport has become one of the most popular in the world. Basketball is an exciting game to watch. It moves at a fast pace and the athletes display incredible ability, physical conditioning, and coordination. The NBA is the most prestigious basketball association in the world. The sport is extremely popular among America’s youth, and the NBA Finals have recently overtaken the MLB World Series in television ratings. Unlike other team sports, the small number of players on a basketball court enables individuals to control the pace of the game. For this reason, NBA franchise players are extremely important.
Kevin Durant is a basketball star who plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder. He is an exceptional athlete, and has led the NBA in scoring for three consecutive seasons. Durant is only 23 years old, and was drafted in 2007. He is 6’9″ (2.1 meters) and holds an incredible 7’5″ (2.28 meter) wingspan. Durant is one of the best shooters in the NBA, and has the ability to jump over any player. He has a humble personality and shows incredible energy and poise on the court. In 2010, Durant announced that he signed a five-year contract extension with the Thunder, worth about $86 million. After an exceptional 2012 season, Kevin Durant finished second behind LeBron James in the MVP Award voting.
LeBron James is a basketball player for the Miami Heat. He was selected as the #1 pick in the 2003 NBA draft and quickly became an All-Star. James displays a remarkable ability to control his body in the air, and stands at 6’8” (2.03 m) and 250 lbs. (113 kg). He is a great ball handler and shows discipline, energy, and pure scoring vision. Since undergoing a public move from Cleveland to Miami, James has been criticized by a large number of media publications. He has since looked past the event, and is strictly focused on winning NBA titles for the city of Miami. In 2012, James recorded one of his best seasons and finished with 27.1 points per game. For the effort, he was awarded his third NBA MVP Award and also won his first NBA Championship.
5. Baseball – Justin Verlander vs. Matt Kemp
In order to be a great baseball player, you have to display stamina and determination. One of the most incredible records in all of sports is the consecutive games streak (2,632 straight games) achieved by Cal Ripken, Jr. As we move into 2012, baseball has started to move past the Steroid Era. Players hit less home runs, and the overall pitching velocity has decreased. Certain athletes have emerged as All-Stars, while others have disappeared from the league.
Justin Verlander is a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers. He stands 6’5″ (1.98 meters), and was selected 2nd overall in the 2004 MLB draft. Verlander is an intimidating presence on the mound and has become known for his power, endurance, and control. In 2011, Justin finished the season with a 2.40 ERA, 24 wins, and 250 strikeouts, giving him the Triple Crown for a pitcher. He was named the AL Cy Young winner and AL MVP. It was the first time that a pitcher won the MVP Award since Dennis Eckersley in 1992. In 2012, Justin Verlander is among the league leaders in ERA, wins, and strikeouts.
Matt Kemp is an outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was drafted in 2003, and became an All-Star in 2011. Kemp is known for his incredible power in all fields. In 2011, he led the National League in home runs (39) and RBIs (126). He was the first Dodger to accomplish the feat since Dolph Camilli in 1941. Kemp also played in every game of the 2011 season, and extended his streak to 364 consecutive ballgames. He signed an 8-year, $160 million contract extension in the offseason. In 2012, Kemp started the season on a torrid hitting pace, but then suffered a series of injuries. With the long MLB season, he looks to be an important factor for the Dodgers in October.
4. Combat Sport – Anderson Silva vs. Manny Pacquiao
A combat sport is any regulated competition in which two people fight each other for points and advantage. The history of combat sports dates back to the Olympic games of 648 B.C. and the sport of Pankration. The only rules of Pankration were no biting or gouging of the opponent’s eyes out. Combat sports involve incredible displays of strength, agility, power, and pure physical dominance. In the 1900s, the sport of boxing became extremely influential. The top boxers were seen as the world’s premiere athletes. In the last 15 years, the sport of mixed martial arts has expanded, and fights have become popular. In 2012, the fighters of the UFC are often viewed as the most dominant combative athletes in the world.
Anderson Silva is a Brasilian mixed martial artist, who currently holds the UFC Middleweight Championship belt. He is recognized as the #1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world by a large number of reputable publications. In June of 2006, Silva made his UFC debut and knocked out Chris Leben. The following October he won the Middleweight Championship in a fight with Rich Franklin. Since that time, as of June 2012, Silva has defended his title in 12 consecutive fights.
Anderson Silva is an absolutely devastating striker, and has the ability to knock out his opponent with punching, kicking, and other Muay Thai techniques. Silva has extremely strong grappling ability, and is a black belt in Brasilian Jiu-Jitsu, and judo.
Manny Pacquiao is a Filipino professional boxer, who is widely considered the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world. Pacquiao holds a current professional record of 54 wins (38 knockouts), 4 losses, and 2 draws. In his career, Manny has captured six world titles in four separate weight classes. He is one of the best conditioned athletes in the world, and holds an incredibly strong punch. Pacquiao is a smart boxer and controls the ring with a quick pace. As the fight progresses, he always holds the advantage and understands stamina.
Unlike UFC fighter Georges St-Pierre, Manny Pacquiao has performed on a regular basis for the past five years. On June 9, 2012, Pacquiao suffered a controversial loss to contender Timothy Bradley in Los Vegas, Nevada. Pacquiao clearly controlled the fight, but the judges voted Bradley the winner. Unlike anything seen before, eight days after the fight, a review committee announced that Pacquiao should have won. However, the WBO can’t overturn the official result, and recommended a rematch.
3. American Football – Aaron Rodgers vs. Calvin Johnson
American football is the most popular sport in the United States. It is a violent game that is full of action, aggression, and emotion. The rules can be traced to early forms of association football and rugby. In 2011, the average attendance for an NFL game was 66,960 fans, making it the most attended sport in the world. In addition, the 2011 Super Bowl was the most-watched American television program in history with 111 million viewers. Super Bowl Sunday has become known for large parties, good food, and celebration. The Super Bowl is the second-largest day of food consumption in the U.S. after Thanksgiving.
On the football field, the quarterback is the most important position. In 2012, the best quarterback in the NFL is Aaron Rodgers, who plays for the Green Bay Packers. Rodgers led the Packers to a 15-2 record in 2011 and was named the AP Male Athlete of the Year. Since taking over for Brett Favre, Rodgers has become the NFL’s career leader in the category of passer rating. He is an amazing athlete and can deliver a football with exact precision. Rodgers has one of the strongest arms in the league, and has become known for his quick mechanics. In 2012, Aaron Rodgers is projected to be the NFL MVP for the second consecutive year. He holds a slight edge over other great quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, Eli Manning, Michael Vick, and Cam Newton.
Calvin Johnson is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. He stands 6’5” (1.96 m) and has incredible leaping ability and enormous hands. In 2007, Johnson was selected by the Detroit Lions and has since blossomed into a premiere athlete. The presence of Calvin Johnson on the football field has caused defensive coordinators to adjust their defensive strategy. He regularly faces double coverage, and opens the field up for quarterback Matthew Stafford. In 2012, Johnson signed one of the largest contracts in sports history, when he agreed to a 7-year, $132 million dollar deal. He will receive over $1 million per game for the next seven years.
2. Summer Olympics – Usain Bolt vs. Ryan Lochte
The 2012 Summer Olympics will take place in London from July 27 to August 12, 2012. Many of the ceremonies will be held in a new 200 hectare Olympic Park located in east London. It is the first time that London has hosted the Summer Olympics since 1948 and it should be a remarkable show. In the 2008 games, the United States won 110 medals, followed by China (100), Russia (72), Great Britain (47), Australia (46), and Germany (41).
The official mascots for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games are Wenlock and Mandeville. The medals were designed by David Watkins and made by the Royal Mint. The Opening Ceremony is named “The Isles of Wonder”, and a short film starring Daniel Craig as James Bond will be shown during coverage of the ceremony. The games will feature 26 different sports in 39 disciplines.
Usain Bolt is a Jamaican sprinter and the fastest man in the world. He currently holds the record time in the 100 meters, the 200 meters, and the 4×100 meters relay. Bolt is 1.95m (6’5”), and runs with long strides. He is the most explosive athlete in the world and possibly the quickest man to ever participate in competition. At the 2011 World Championship in Daegu, Bolt was eliminated from the 100m final after a false start, but captured first place in both the 200m and relay races. At the 2012 Olympics, Bolt’s biggest challenge will be his teammate, Yohan Blake.
For the last two years, a man named Ryan Lochte has dominated international swimming competition. He was named the World Swimmer of the Year in 2010 and 2011, and is a world class athlete. Similar to Ian Thorpe in Athens and Michael Phelps in Beijing, Ryan Lochte has a chance to make history in London. Lochte is older than teammate Michael Phelps but, as of June 2012 has only three Olympic gold medals.
At the 2012 Summer Olympics, Lochte is going to compete in a large number of events, and could win a handful of gold medals. Before 2011, Phelps beat Lochte in every international race but, after Ryan beat his friend he said: “Once I was able to beat Michael, it gave me a motivation, an edge. I told myself, I can do this. Once I beat someone, they won’t beat me again.”
1. Association football – Lionel Messi vs. Cristiano Ronaldo
Association football is the most popular sport in the world, with an estimated 250 million players. The FIFA World Cup is the most widely viewed event in the world and the 1950 match between Uruguay and Brasil holds the attendance record for a team sport (an estimated 210,000 people). Association football has come to symbolize the highest level of athletic achievement and competition. Many people consider Brasilian star Pele to be the best footballer ever. He is the top scorer ever, recording 1281 goals in 1363 games. However, as football has expanded, the game’s strategy has followed. Some feel it is harder to score a goal in 2012 than ever before.
Lionel Messi is an Argentine footballer who plays for FC Barcelona. He is currently only 24 years old, and already recognized as the best soccer player in the world. Messi won the FIFA Ballon d’Or (World Player of the Year) in both 2010 and 2011, and the Ballon d’Or in 2009. He is one of only two players to win three consecutive MVP Awards, the other being Michel Platini. Lionel is known for his ball handling, unselfish play, trick shots, and incredible accuracy.
In 2012, Messi scored five times in a UEFA Champions League match and finished the season with 60 goals. It was the first time that a player had finished with 60 goals in a European league since Gerd Müller in 1972-73. Messi also holds the goal scoring record for FC Barcelona, with a total of 243 goals. He is the clear favorite to win a fourth consecutive Ballon d’Or in 2012.
Cristiano Ronaldo is a Portuguese footballer who plays for Real Madrid. He is one of the highest paid athletes in the world ($400,000 per match), and holds a contract buyout clause of €1 billion. Ronaldo is an incredible goal scorer, and is known for his acrobatic dribbling skills and power. He is a relentless striker, and rarely misses opportunities to score. Behind Messi, Ronaldo is recognized as the best soccer player in the world. In 2008, he won the Ballon d’Or. In 2011-12, Ronaldo scored 56 times in European league play and led La Liga with 42 goals.