Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi Top Forbes' 2016 List of Highest-Paid Athletes

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistJune 9, 2016

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - JANUARY 12: FIFA Ballon d'Or nominees Lionel Messi of Argentina and FC Barcelona  (L) and Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal and Real Madrid smile during the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala 2014 at the Kongresshaus on January 12, 2015 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)
Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images

Longtime La Liga rivals Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid and Lionel Messi of Barcelona topped Forbes' list of the highest-paid athletes in the world for 2016, released Wednesday. 

Kurt Badenhausen of Forbes reported Ronaldo becomes just the second athlete from a team sport to lead the rankings, which the outlet started tracking in 1990, after NBA legend Michael Jordan. The soccer star's total pay for the past 12 months checked in at $88 million.

Here's a look at the top 10 athletes on the earnings list:

Forbes' Ranking of the World's Highest-Paid Athletes for 2016
RankAthleteSportTotal Pay
1Cristiano RonaldoSoccer$88 million
2Lionel MessiSoccer$81.4 million
3LeBron JamesBasketball$77.2 million
4Roger FedererTennis$67.8 million
5Kevin DurantBasketball$56.2 million
6Novak DjokovicTennis$55.8 million
7Cam NewtonFootball$53.1 million
8Phil MickelsonGolf$52.9 million
9Jordan SpiethGolf$52.8 million
10Kobe BryantBasketball$50 million
Forbes.com

Perhaps his placement atop the list, which combines an athlete's salary or winnings with his or her endorsement income, will come as a surprise to the Portugal international. He stated back in 2014 that he doesn't pay much attention to his overall worth, per Ross Fadner of Soccer America.

"I don't know how much money I have. It's not the money that moves me," Ronaldo said. "It's true that at first it did, when I had nothing. Then I wanted to have money for me and my family because I was raised with nothing, we were very poor. I had no toys or presents at Christmas."

Ronaldo earned the most of any athlete through salary at $56 million. The largest single figure on the chart, however, was tennis superstar Roger Federer's endorsement earnings of $60 million. That helped him crack the overall top five despite claiming just $7.8 million in on-court winnings.

All of those numbers pale in comparison to Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s in 2015, when he topped the Forbes ranking with an astonishing $300 million thanks in large part to his bout with Manny Pacquiao. He finished 16th over the past 12 months after fighting just once against Andre Berto before retiring.

In terms of the other major American sports not represented in the top 10, Clayton Kershaw was the top MLB earner at $32 million, ranking No. 33 overall. No players from the NHL cracked the top 100.

All told, Ronaldo and Messi continue to perform at an elite level, which makes it likely they will continue charting near the top for the next couple of years. Novak Djokovic, who rose from No. 13 to No. 6 over the past year, is also a major factor as he dominates the ATP Tour.

Whether anybody is capable of challenging the astronomical wages of Mayweather's past is a mystery, though. After his retirement and Pacquiao's increased focus on Philippines politics, nobody has emerged in boxing or anywhere else in the sports world capable of generating that type of revenue.

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