Conor McGregor, Lionel Messi Headline Forbes' List of World's Highest-Paid Athletes

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVMay 12, 2021

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JANUARY 23: Conor McGregor of Ireland prepares to fight Dustin Poirier in a lightweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Going into the whiskey business was the right move for UFC star Conor McGregor.

McGregor was the highest-paid athlete in the world at $180 million in total earnings, according to Forbes' Brett Knight. Of that figure, $158 million came from sources outside of UFC, including the sale of his stake in Proper No. Twelve Irish Whiskey. 

Barcelona star Lionel Messi was second on the list at $130 million, with longtime on-field rival Cristiano Ronaldo following closely behind. The Juventus star made $120 million.

McGregor was 16th on Forbes' 2020 list at $48 million and climbed to No. 1 despite having fought just once—losing to Dustin Poirier at UFC 257—during the outlet's earnings window of May 1, 2020 to May 1, 2021.

The 32-year-old stands out as an example of how diversifying your portfolio can be a good thing.

Dallas Cowboys star Dak Prescott was a big riser as well. The two-time Pro Bowler wasn't even included in the top 60 one year ago and moved up to No. 4 ($107.5 million).

Prescott earned $31.4 million from his one-year franchise tender with the Cowboys in 2020, and this offseason he signed a four-year, $160 million extension that included a $66 million signing bonus.

This time next year, Messi may be heading in the opposite direction.

The future of the six-time Ballon d'Or winner at Barcelona remains up in the air after he unsuccessfully tried to leave last summer. The Catalan club is currently staring at a massive debt figure, so it may not be able to afford to carry over the terms of his current four-year, $672 million contract. Likewise, another club may not be all that keen on paying that kind of money to a player who turns 34 in June.