How many times have you heard people say, ‘It’s not the winning but the taking part that counts’? On one level that might be true, but the fact remains that most people play sports to win. And if you keep winning and rise to the top of your discipline, you’ll earn sack loads of money.
At the top, the rewards are immense. Whether you’re a boxing fan or not, you can’t have escaped the fact that there’s a super fight brewing – Floyd Mayweather v Conor McGregor will meet on August 26 – and it could end up awarding the biggest purses in fight history.
In the red corner, meet Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather, whose moniker suggests he didn’t get into the game just to take part. His record reads 49-0 and he’s acknowledged as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters of all time.
In the blue corner, meet ‘The Notorious’ Conor McGregor. He’s also got an unbeaten professional boxing record, but at 0-0 it’s less impressive. McGregor earned his chops in the Octagon, with an MMA record of 21-3-0 (UFC, 9-1-0).
The purses are estimated* but conservative figures have put them at $100m for Mayweather and $75m for McGregor. However, if PPV sales hit predicted targets they could grow to an astonishing $400m for Mayweather and $127m for McGregor.
That would be enough to catapult them straight to the top of the sporting rich list for next year. The top 10 below is for the past 12 months and includes salary/winnings and endorsements (salary/winnings in brackets).
*Baseline purses will be released a day before the fight, as per Nevada State Athletic Commission law, but won’t include gate, PPV percentages and other bonuses.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo, $93m ($58m)
Football, Real Madrid
The perma-tanned Portuguese superstar might compete with Lionel Messi for the title of world’s best footballer (four Ballon d’Ors to Messi’s five), but he beats him on the money list. Ronaldo has won 22 trophies, including the Champions League (four times) and the 2016 European Championship. Diagnosed with a racing heart when he was 15, Ronaldo soon put that behind him, starting his senior career with Sporting CP before joining Man United in 2003 at the age of 18. He helped United to three successive Premier League titles, won his first Ballon d’Or aged 23 and signed for Real Madrid in 2009 for a then-record transfer fee of €94m.
2. LeBron James, $86.2m ($31.2m)
Basketball, Cleveland Cavaliers
James once said, “You have to be able to accept failure to get better”, but it’s not easy to see how he’d know. At school he was touted by SLAM magazine as “the best high school basketball player in America right now” and after graduating he was the first pick of the 2003 NBA draft. He’s won three NBA championships, two Olympic golds and is the Cavelier’s all-time top scorer. Off court he’s hosted Saturday Night Live, was the first black man to appear on the cover of Vogue and was named as one of the 100 most influential people in the World by Time.
3. Lionel Messi, $80m ($53m)
This one must hurt. Messi isn’t used to finishing behind anyone and especially not his footballing nemesis Ronaldo. He’s won the Ballon’d’Or more times than anyone else, has outscored Ronaldo since his rival’s move to Real Madrid (427 goals to 406) and won more major trophies than him (29), although like Ronaldo, Messi has not lifted the World Cup. Like Ronaldo he had his medical issues as a child too – Messi was diagnosed with growth hormone deficiency, but Barcelona paid for his treatment and he’s stayed with them ever since.
4. Roger Federer, $64m ($6m)
Majestic, elegant, the GOAT… Federer has transcended his sport and with 19 Grand Slams he’s the most decorated male tennis star in history. 2017 marked an incredible comeback for Federer, who some thought was done after his 2012 Wimbledon victory. With both Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic suffering this year, Federer – at the age of 35 – won the Australian Open before his emotional victory over Marin Cilic this summer at the All England Club. It was his eighth Wimbledon title and he won it without losing a single set.
5. Kevin Durant, $60.6m ($26.6m)
Basketball, Golden State Warriors
The 6ft 9in colossus was once dubbed the nicest man in basketball, but that all changed in 2016 when he announced he was leaving Oklahoma City Thunder to sign for the Golden State Warriors. You can’t keep a nice man down though and Durant recently set a new Guinness World Record for the largest basketball lesson ever when he shared his skills with 3,459 Indian children from the Reliance Foundation. Durant, who has won one NBA Championship and two Olympic gold medals, is also an enthusiastic YouTube Vlogger, tech investor and part-time rapper.
6. Andrew Luck, $50m ($47m)
American Football, Indianapolis Colts
Luck is actually the third highest-paid sportsman in the world, but slips down the list because of his endorsements. He’s a second-generation footballer – his dad was a quarterback with the Houston Oilers – who spent his early days in London and Frankfurt, before his family moved back to Texas where he was quickly earmarked as a future star. He’s been with the Colts for three years now and has led them to the play-offs each year.
6. Rory McIlroy, $50m ($16m)
McIlroy was always destined for the top after an appearance as a nine-year-old on TV. The toothy youngster attempted to recreate his home training technique – chipping a ball into a washing machine from 20 yards, which he managed on his fourth shot. Asked if he wanted to be a professional golfer, he said yes, and has lived his dream since 2007, spending 95 weeks as the world number one and winning four Majors – the US Open (2011), the PGA Championship (2012, 2014) and The Open Championship (2014).
8. Stephen Curry, $47.3m ($12.3m)
Basketball, Golden State Warriors
Basketball is a family affair for the Currys. Stephen is a second-generation NBA star (his dad, Dell Curry, played from 1986-2002), and his younger brother Seth plays for the Dallas Mavericks. He’s been called the greatest shooter in NBA history and has fired the Warriors to two NBA Championships (2015, 2017), while becoming the first player to be elected MVP by a unanimous verdict.
9. James Harden, $46.6m ($26.6m)
Basketball, Houston Rockets
Harden recently signed a four-year contract extension with the Houston Rockets for around $160m, totaling $228m over six years – the richest contract in NBA history. He was the third overall pick in the 2009 draft by Oklahoma City Thunder and traded to the Houston Rockets in 2012, where he has become one of the most prolific scorers in the NBA.
10. Lewis Hamilton, $46m ($38m)
Formula One, Mercedes
Given his looks and the glamour of F1, you’d think Hamilton would have picked up more endorsements, but his salary is enough to keep him in the top 10. He’s a three-time world champion (2008, 2014, 2015) and he has more wins than any other British driver in F1 history. He finished runner-up in his maiden year in 2007 and hasn’t finished outside the top five since. He’s also the only sportsman in the top 10 who’s been fined and called a ‘Hoon’ (hooligan driver) by an Australian court.
Daniel Negreanu – Poker’s biggest winner, $34,093,588
PokerStars pro Daniel Negreanu is the biggest money-winner in poker – a game where cash is king. Since his first recorded cash in 1997 ($1,050 for finishing 10th in a $230 Limit Hold’em event), Negreanu has done pretty much everything in poker, winning six World Series of Poker bracelets. We say ‘pretty much’ because Negreanu hasn’t won the WSOP Main Event, although he came so very close in 2015 when he finished 11th from a field of 6,420 runners.
Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor fight on August 26 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. You can watch it on PPV on TV in your local area.