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|
|1||Cristiano Ronaldo||Soccer||$88 million|
|2||Lionel Messi||Soccer||$81.4 million|
|3||LeBron James||Basketball||$77.2 million|
|4||Roger Federer||Tennis||$67.8 million|
|5||Kevin Durant||Basketball||$56.2 million|
|6||Novak Djokovic||Tennis||$55.8 million|
|7||Cam Newton||Football||$53.1 million|
|8||Phil Mickelson||Golf||$52.9 million|
|9||Jordan Spieth||Golf||$52.8 million|
|10||Kobe Bryant||Basketball||$50 million|
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.