The 50 Biggest Badasses in Sports

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistJuly 11, 2011

The 50 Biggest Badasses in Sports

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    These are the attributes I look for in someone I call badass:

    They are fearless, relentless and invite pressure.

    They either bring the pain, or they get off the ground when others would writhe about with an injury.

    They play with intensity and nastiness, but they aren't stupid or careless.

    They are leaders when called upon and role players when required. No matter what they do, they make you suffer if you attempt to prevent them from doing their job.

    They make plays you think shouldn't be possible for them, because they trust their skills and have bigger kahunas than their opponents.

    These are the 50 biggest badasses in sports today.

    (Note: This is taken from an American perspective. I don't watch rugby nor do I particularly care about it, so keep that in mind as you click through this list.)

50. Tiger Woods

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    When—and mind you, I say when, not if—Tiger Woods gets his swagger back, he'll remind everyone just how bad of a dude he is when he is playing well.

    When Tiger is locked in, there simply is no stopping him.

    He may never be as dominant as he once was, but I feel confident Tiger isn't finished winning tournaments just yet. Given his current limbo however, his ranking is lowered.

49. Brian Wilson

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    This is the sort of badass I envision Brian Wilson being:

    He goes out to the town with his boys, out-drinks them all by a landslide, has intelligent conversations with every hot woman at the bar, gets home and beats his nerdy and sober friend in Halo, wakes up the next morning with nary a hangover, strikes out the side in that evening's game to earn the save and amuses reporters afterwards with a new catchphrase.

    I call this the "Party Badass." I can't back up any of what I just wrote, but that's the impression I get.

    It's probably just the beard. And the fact that he is one of the game's best closers.

48. Blake Griffin

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    If rims weren't inanimate objects that couldn't speak, they would tell you that the most badass player in the NBA is Blake Griffin.

    They would also tell you he brings a whole lot of pain to rims everywhere.

    But since rims can't talk—and because Blake Griffin really only makes this list because of his ridiculous dunking—he goes low. Methinks he'll consistently move up this list over the course of his career, however.

47. Shea Weber

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    At 25, Weber is already one of the league's best defencemen, finishing second in the Norris Trophy voting this past year.

    He's also the captain of the Predators and the team's best player, is a physical presence on the ice and has a devastating slap shot.

46. Derrick Rose

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    Derrick Rose isn't a very big guy, but he does amazing things on the court despite that fact.

    This earns him the "Allen Iverson Small Dude But Still Badass Award," which I just made up right now.

    Congratulations on your award, Derrick.

45. John Force

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    This guy is still racing!

    Oh wait, you haven't watched this yet; one of many crashes he has had in his career.

    This guy is still racing!

    Sometimes, being badass requires you be just a tad crazy as well.

44. Martin St. Louis

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    Another little guy that gets big props for being a huge difference-maker despite his smaller stature compared to the other men who play his sport.

    St. Louis is scrappy, incredibly talented and the heart and soul of the Lightning—in my book, that makes him one badass dude.

43. Peyton Hillis

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    He didn't make the cover of Madden because he's pretty and runs by people—he made the cover of Madden because he's a beast that plows through people to get the extra yard.

    Plus, he had an amazing 2010 season, rushing for 1,117 yards and scoring 13 total touchdowns (11 rushing).

    I mean, look at the guy—would you want to try and tackle him?


42. Duncan Keith

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    It's just teeth.

    Hockey players are crazy.

41. Jared Allen

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    If I saw this crazy dude chasing me down, I'd just hit the turf and call it a day.

    Nuts plus super-talented equals badass when we're talking about defensive ends, at least in my book.

40. DeMarcus Ware

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    I think his bio from the NFL's "Top Players of 2011" nicely sums up just how bad Mr. Ware is:

    Arguably the best pass-rusher in the NFL, Ware has led the league in sacks in two of the last three years. A five-time Pro Bowl selection, he has recorded an impressive 60.5 sacks since 2007. Ware has also never missed a single start in his career.

39. Dwight Howard

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    He would be higher on this list if he were more consistently dominating, which may be nitpicking, since he is the best big man in the NBA.

    When he is on his game, he is fairly unstoppable, almost Superman-esque.


38. Roger Federer

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    For my money (which doesn't go all that far since I know very little about tennis), there are only three players I would ever describe as being badass in tennis:

    John McEnroe, Andre Agassi and Roger Federer.

    Federer may not be the sport's dominating presence as he once was, but he is still good enough to remind you of the fact that he is the greatest tennis player you've ever seen 

    Or that anyone has ever seen, most likely.

    (He's also one of the coolest to watch—do yourself a favor and check out the YouTube search "Roger Federer trick shot." You won't be disappointed.)

37. Shaun White

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    I don't really know a ton about "extreme sports," but I do know that Shaun White is a ridiculously talented badass that twists and contorts in the air like a gymnast on uppers.

    So he gets the award for "Most Badass Extreme Sports Guy Because I Wouldn't Know Who Else to Put Even If There Was Someone More Badass Than Him in Extreme Sports Though I Sort of Doubt There Is" Award.

    Congratulations on your award, Shaun.

36. Dirk Nowitzki

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    To begin, Dirk doesn't look like a badass. He looks like a tall, goofy German dude that thinks Shaggy from Scooby-Doo is a pretty fashionable fellow.

    But he was badass in this year's playoffs, when his reputation as one of the game's greats was essentially on the line. He was the best player in every series he played in, made clutch shots, and was so locked-in and focused, he would disappear after games before he could even be interviewed.

    If you are a basketball fan, you watched this year's playoffs and said at one point or another, "Man, Dirk is one bad dude!"

35. Micheal Phelps

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    Michael Phelps has 16 Olympics medals, 14 of them are gold medals and his nine individual golds are an Olympic record.

    And he's so good, he can smoke pot during his spare time and still crush his opponents.

    So what did you accomplish today?

34. Ed Reed

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    Ed Reed is a devastating hitter, on the short list of greatest threats after the interception in NFL history and an incredibly bright and hard-working player as well.

    In other words, he is a quarterback's worst nightmare.

33. Dwyane Wade

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    With the ridiculous athletic abilities of LeBron James, he is the player that should be on this list.

    But as he showed in this year's NBA Finals, he doesn't yet have the heart of a champion.

    Dwyane Wade does. He is a leader, he attacks the rim ferociously and he has the killer instinct that LeBron flashed in the Chicago series but forgot about against Dallas.

    For now, D-Wade is the biggest badass in Miami.

32. Ryan Kesler

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    Ryan Kesler will annoy you, fight you, slam you into the boards, back check, beat you one-on-one with the puck, find open teammates and bury the puck in the net.

    The combination of him earning the Frank J. Selke Trophy for being the league's best defensive forward combined with his 73 points (and 41 goals, tying him for fourth most in the NHL) give him a strong case for claiming the honor of being the NHL's best two-way player.

    When you can beat your opponent in every conceivable way on the ice, that's badass.

31. Derek Jeter

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    Remember this?

    Jeter does what it takes to win, even if he gets hurt in the process. That makes him badass in my book.

    Oh, and he's also dated every hot woman you've ever heard of.

    Or at least very close to it.

30. Zdeno Chara

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    I avoided putting guys on this list that are known in hockey as fighters, because I don't particularly think dropping the gloves makes you a badass.

    That, and if I included hockey fighters and goons, I'd never finish this list.

    But Chara is an extremely talented and tough defencemen who is a brutalizing fighter when he does occasionally drop the gloves.

    Elite skill and a killer punch?

    Now that's badass.

29. Kevin Garnett

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    Kevin Garnett's trash talk and occasionally aggressive style of play (which some might call dirty) probably aren't for everyone, but the man backs it up.

    He was the glue and inspiration for the Celtics in 2008, spurring them to victory with his leadership, unselfishness and passion for the game.

    If you need someone to get you fired up before the game, have your back during it and do his part to ensure a victory, let me introduce you to Kevin Garnett.

28. Andre Johnson

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    He is the perfect receiver:

    Big, fast and agile.

    He has great ball skills while the ball is in the air, is acrobatic and balanced enough to make the tough grab, isn't afraid to go down the middle and can outmuscle a defender for the ball.

    He's also a hard worker and seemingly a stand-up guy.

    Oh, and he owned Cortland Finnegan, who is just a really annoying dude.

27. Jose Aldo

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    The current UFC Featherweight Champion, Aldo is a ridiculous 19-1 as a professional MMA fighter and has won 12 straight fights.

    He is scary good.

    He's also just plain-old scary.

26. Michael Vick

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    Anything you can do, Vick can do better.

    Seriously—he's faster, more elusive and can throw a football farther than most people on the planet.

    He also became a true quarterback, winner and a leader this year. He took a ridiculous amount of hits this season but continued to lead the Eagles to victory.

    He became more than a "I'm badass because of my ridiculous talents" type of guy and entered the realm of "I'm badass because I'm a complete football player, and you can't stop me."

    And boy, was it fun to watch.

25. Ben Roethlisberger

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    Off the field, Roethlisberger strikes me as a different sort of ass.

    On the field, however, he is one bad dude. He is tough as nails, clutch and seemingly better when the play breaks down and chaos ensues.

    If NFL players were akin to actual heroes, Big Ben would be the firefighter type that rescues your dog "Binky" as the house is completely engulfed by flames and crumbling to the ground.

24. Alex Ovechkin

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    Alex Ovechkin is arguably the most-skilled hockey player in the world, but by now means is he soft.

    He will hit you.


    And often.

    If I continue to write one to two-word sentences with natural pauses in between—a surefire way to indicate emphasis and import—will you believe me than?

    Because Ovechkin is badass.


23. James Harrison

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    If he wasn't so talented or relentless rushing off the edge, I would say he was just a dirty player.

    But he's more than that, which makes him ferocious rather than cheap. The fact that you know he would have no problem injuring you to do his job does makes him an even scarier prospect to consider, however.

    When a man's presence instills fear in you (and he's actually talented and not just a goon), that's pretty badass.

22. Cliff Lee

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    There are few players who are cooler under pressure—namely, postseason pressure—than Cliff Lee.

    Honestly, he looks almost amused by an opposing team's rabid fans, as if their cute attempts to get in his head are as entertaining to him as a kitten playing with a ball of yarn.

    So the next time you cheer loudly trying to phase Mr. Lee, just remember one thing: You are a kitten.

21. Chris Pronger

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    Chris Pronger will beat you up to not only the brink of your own threshold for taking abuse but also to the very threshold of the rules.

    But he's not just annoying—he's also one of the best defencemen alive and one of the finest the NHL has seen in recent years.

    Plus, nobody blows off reporters in a funnier, more combative way, or pulls incredibly awesome stunts such as stealing a puck to screw up a team's tradition.

    You may hate him (which I'm fairly positive everyone outside of Philadelphia does), but you can't deny he's one bad mutha.

20. Kobe Bryant

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    Kobe will rip your heart out if it means winning, and he'll do it with a few seconds left on the clock and his team trailing by one, when he'll promptly sink a twenty-footer and put your heart through the net.

    He has the same competitive fire that made Michael Jordan a badass, even if he'll never quite reach the legacy as Jordan.

    But the fact that you can put the two in the same sentence without committing basketball treason speaks a lot to just how good Kobe is and just how badass he was along the way.

19. Troy Polamalu

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    There are times when I am convinced that Troy Polamalu has cloned himself on the football field, as he winds up making a play on one side of the field after starting on the other.

    I once read that a few quarterbacks don't even bother looking for him before the snap because he will be somewhere entirely different after the snap.

    He is one of the most cerebral players in the game today, but don't be fooled—he uses his own head to put himself in the perfect position to remove yours.

18. Jon Jones

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    Were it not for a disqualification for illegal elbows, Jones would be a perfect 14-0 as a professional MMA fighter—a ridiculous record of success.

    As of June 1st, ESPN ranked him the third-best pound-for-pound MMA fighter in the world.

    You'll find out who the first two were later on this slideshow.

17. Clay Matthews III

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    He looks like Thor and plays like Thor would play if Thor was a football player.

    I think we're done here.

16. Lionel Messi

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    Generally, when I think of soccer players, I don't think badass.

    I think of words like clever, fluid, artistic, cheeky (because of British commentating), etc.

    But Lionel Messi is a badass, no two ways about it. He's accomplished so much by the age of 24, and he's not a big guy, even by soccer standards.

    But he absolutely dominates the world's sport, and that makes him pretty darn badass in my book.

15. Mariano Rivera

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    There is something badass about a good closer.

    Maybe it is all of the pressure they are forced to endure when they are called in from the 'pen. Or the fact that the best ones often have electric, nearly unhittable stuff.

    Mariano Rivera is that and so much more. He is second all time in saves to Trevor Hoffman, and he essentially did it with one pitch, albeit one of the most devastating pitches in baseball history—his cutter.

    When you know what is coming and you still can't hit it, that's badass.

14. Hines Ward

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    He'll make the touch catch, he'll finish his blocks (just ask Ed Reed) and he doesn't back down from anyone.

    Hines Ward may not be the best receiver in the NFL, but he is unquestionably the baddest receiver in the NFL.

    (Also, it should be noted that I am an Eagles fan that doesn't particularly care for the Steelers—I despise them, quite frankly—but I nonetheless felt compelled to include four friggin' Steelers on this list. I'm angry at myself right now, but it had to be done.)

13. Wladimir Klitschko

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    The following (amazing) paragraph comes from Wladimir Klitschko's website:

    On July 2, 2011, Wladimir made boxing history when winning against British fighter David Haye in a unanimous decision to capture the WBA belt. The Klitschkos were the first siblings to unify all heavyweight belts under one family name! By then, Wladimir was WBA, IBF, WBO, IBO and “The Ring Magazine” World Heavyweight Champion while his older brother Vitali held the WBC title.

    Heavyweight boxing may be really boring these days, but you can't question Klitschko's dominance—the dude just wins fights.

12. Peyton Manning

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    Peyton Manning isn't on this list because of his otherworldly talent, impeccable work ethic or frightening intelligence.

    Nope, he is on here because he has started 208 straight games (regular season), the second longest streak for a quarterback in NFL history behind Brett Favre's 297.

    To put into perspective just how impressive both of those numbers are, Ron Jaworski is third on the list with 116 consecutive starts.

    That means Manning has played five-and-three-fourths more consecutive seasons than the No. 3 player on that list.


11. Adrian Peterson

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    The fact that I am about to type this sentence and share it publicly should give you an idea of just how badass I think Adrian Peterson is:

    He is the closest thing to Jim Brown my generation has ever witnessed firsthand.

    He's big, fast, powerful, elusive and has great vision. He will run over you, by you or around you, but the chances of you tackling him are low.

    He fears no defender, but quite a few fear him.

10. Patrick Willis

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    We return to the NFL's "Top 100 Players of 2011" for Mr. Willis:

    Arguably the best all-around linebacker in the league, Willis recorded 128 tackles and a career-high six sacks in 2010. The four-time Pro Bowl selection has averaged 148.7 tackles with a combined 15 sacks and 28 passes defensed during his career.

    Patrick Willis will find you, tackle you and make you feel large quantities of pain.

    Be afraid—be very afraid.

9. Usain Bolt

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    In terms of recorded history, he's the fastest man to ever live on planet Earth.

    If that isn't badass, I don't know what is.

    Oh, and he set a world record while essentially gloating for 10 meters at the 2008 Olympics.


8. Georges St-Pierre

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    St-Pierre can beat his opponents in just about every conceivable manner inside of the Octagon, making him a scary proposition indeed.

    He boasts a ridiculous 22-2 record and has won nine straight fights against some of the best fighters in the world.

    GSP might as well stand for "gonna smash people."

7. Floyd Mayweather Jr.

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    He's never lost a professional fight, compiling a stunning 41-0 record.

    Did you catch that? I said he's never lost a professional fight.

    Now, if we could only get him to fight the one guy we want to see him face...

6. Brian Urlacher

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    Brian Urlacher isn't a bull in a china shop, but he once killed a bull that got loose and ran into a china shop.

    Why did the chicken cross the road? Because Brian Urlacher told it to, that's why.

    Brian Urlacher once survived in the belly of a whale. He punched his way out.

    There is nothing to fear except fear itself. And fear is afraid of Brian Urlacher.

5. Albert Pujols

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    If you are a pitcher and Albert Pujols steps to the plate, the following is very likely true:

    He is stronger, better-prepared and more focused than you.

    If you make a mistake, he will crush it into the stands.

    He has x-ray vision.

    Okay, so that last one isn't true, but you get the point.

4. Anderson Silva

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    He is one bad dude, trust me.

    Or you could go by his 30-4 MMA record, it's your call.

3. Roy Halladay

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    This guy has more mental toughness than any pitcher I've ever seen. He doesn't just want to get outs—he wants to dominate people.

    It's awesome.

    He is one guy I would actually go into an actual battle with. He would be so calm and focused I would feel safe fighting next to him.

    Halladay is the kind of guy that shows up the gym—in the offseason—before the sun is up. He's the kind of guy who is so technically sound you might not realize just how dominating he truly is.

    He may not seem as badass as some of the other players on this list because he is quiet and focused, but believe me, he is as dominating at his craft as anybody else you'll find here.

    I mean, he pitched a perfect game and celebrated by waiting for a hug and smiling.

    And I think it was the first time I ever saw him smile.

    And then he threw a no-hitter later that year in the postseason.


2. Manny Pacquiao

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    Here's a generic paragraph from Wikipedia that should sum things up:

    He is the first eight-division world champion; having won ten world titles, and the first to win the lineal championship in four different weight classes. He was named "Fighter of the Decade" for the 2000s by the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA). He is also a three-time The Ring and BWAA "Fighter of the Year", winning the award in 2006, 2008, and 2009.

    He's 53-3-2 as a professional fighter, and one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters ever.

    Now fight Mayweather, damnit!

1. Ray Lewis

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    I don't know what it is about Ray Lewis, but as soon as I started this list, I knew he would be No. 1.

    Is it the fact that he is arguably the greatest linebacker ever? Is it his intensity and passion for the game? His leadership? That strange dance he does before games?

    I suppose it is "all of the above" and more. The guy just oozes badass out of his pores. If Terry Tate had a hero, it would be Ray Lewis.

    What else can be said other than that?

    Be sure to hit me up on Twitter (@TRappaRT) along with the entire B/R Swagger team (@BR_Swagger).