2011's 10 Most Popular Athletes in the World

Jonathan R.R. ClarkeContributor IIIAugust 19, 2011

2011's 10 Most Popular Athletes in the World

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    It is time to take a look at the top 10 athletes who attract the largest fan-base across all sports.

    Fans are everything when it comes to the power and respect an athlete, or a team, receives. Just a single fan shouting out a boxer's name can help that fighter overcome thoughts of defeat and power through the fight with that extra motivation they needed. A soccer player can miss or score a game-winning penalty through the help, or the jeers, of fans.

    With the importance of our fickle allegiances outlined, without further ado, let us begin the list and take a peek at some of the most fortunately fan-supported athletes in the world today...

10. Usain Bolt

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    9.58...19.19...these are the current numbers which represent Usain Bolt. They are quick too. I mean, unbelievably quick.

    Luckily the Jamaican is able to live up to his ironic last name, as he has smashed world records time and time again. When talking about that night in Berlin, 2009, Bolt is quoted In his autobiography saying "I was slowing down long before the finish and wasn’t tired at all. I could have gone back to the start all over again." With this kind of enthusiasm and child-like passion for his sport, Bolt is bound for a wealth of success and a following of thousands of fans.

    The type of fans who will be chasing him down the street for autographs...if they can catch him that is...

9. Floyd Mayweather

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    The Money is a controversial figure amongst boxing fans. Some see Mayweather as a genius in the ring—a Goliath amongst mortal men when it comes to mastering the sweet science.

    Others see him as a lesser impressive version of Sugar Ray—a jumped-up and arrogant individual who’s abilities and talents have been drowned by an ego, so big, that Muhammad Ali looks humble beside him.

    But what Ali used to deliver in arrogance was always done so in a joking way—and he always backed it up. And, whether the Mayweather haters like it or not, Floyd has done the same. He has supremely fast hands and is as elusive as a bot-fly on caffeine.

    Skills like this earn you fans. Mayweather has more fans than he has haters—way more...especially over here in the U.K. Whether Mayweather can weather the Pac-man storm is another matter though (see what I did there?). But I am sure that he will have a hoard of fans behind him if he decides to do so.

8. Lewis Hamilton

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    Lewis Hamilton has got it all. The boyhood dream of being a racing driver, the dashing good looks of a prince and the super sexy Nicole Sherzinger as his princess...not bad at the age of 26.

    To go with all of this, whilst he is racing around in his McLaren Formula 1 rocket, a wage of extreme proportions is getting dumped into his bank account every month. If this is still not enough to make him a popular, if not envious, guy—then his charm and reserved manner when conducting interviews are certainly winners amongst his fans.

    Speaking of winners, Mr. Hamilton’s success is another fundamental ingredient to his popularity. After all...everyone likes to see their idol succeed right?...Unless you’re a Bob Sapp fan of course...

7. Randy Couture

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    What is not to love about Randy "The Natural" Couture? The man is a living legend of the UFC. His countless underdog brawls which have seen him ultimately overwhelm his, theoretically, superior opponent have helped him win the hearts of so many UFC fans around the world.

    Randy has been a part of many epic encounters with the likes of Chuck Liddell, Vitor Belfort and even the man mountain Brock Lesnar. Couture fought well into his forties, 47 in fact, which is an impressive feat in itself.

    I think what endears "Captain America" to his fans more than anything though, is the fact that he keeps on returning to the Octagon with just as much motivation and passion for the sport as he did all of those years ago when he made his debut back in 1997. It’s over these years that Mr. Couture has attracted a huge following of fans, making him part of this most popular list.

6. Lionel Messi

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    A long time ago there was a football player by the name of Diego Maradona. He changed the game completely. His diminutive stature and unearthly speed on the ball was something the beautiful game had never quite seen before. A lot of people said they would never see it again.

    But then came Lionel Messi.

    It must be something in the national water, because Messi is also an Argentine, he is also just 5'4" and he can move like a bat out of hell with the ball glued to his foot. His balance is unrivalled and, contrary to his size, he is as strong as a bull. At just 24 he has already scored 183 goals in all competitions—something which is quite remarkable at such a young age.

    If this still isn’t enough to make him popular amongst fans of football, his humbleness and love for the game is infectious and has clearly infected the rest of the Barcelona and Spanish national team—as their domestic and national dominance continually proves.

5. Manny Pacquaio

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    Manny Pacquiao’s lightning fast hands, supremely swift footwork and shark-like predatory instincts have propelled him to the forefront of boxing’s ambassadors of the modern era. The Filipino has crushed 53 of his 58 opponents—38 of them by knockout. An impressive record by anyone’s standards. He’s beat big names too: Barrera, De la Hoya, Hatton and Mosley.

    The current state of affairs regarding his position in the potential Mayweather fight is somewhat ambiguous though. Some say Mayweather is ducking the encounter, whilst others are determined that Pacquaio is avoiding a blood test.

    But the fact of the matter is, Pacquiao has not ducked any fights before this and, for that reason, has earned a following of fans who believe Pacman to be the small candle of hope from which boxing can be revived.

4. Roger Federer

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    Roger Federer is arguably the greatest tennis player in the history of the game. His success is only half of the story when it comes to his popularity however. His persona and aura when on-court is something quite different to the rest of the field.

    Yes Rafael Nadal is quick and relentless, and Andy Roddick is brutally strong and precise—but nothing quite beats the sight of the cool, calm Swiss coasting across the court; turning this high-exertion sport into a graceful ballet. It is something you cannot quite place your finger on, it is vague and inexplicable, but when Roger Federer walks into a game in the height of his form—it becomes artistic. It makes me proud to be a human being when I see what some of us are capable of doing.

    Roger Federer is one of those people.

3. Georges St. Pierre

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    How Georges St. Pierre has managed to maintain his handsome features whilst facing some of the toughest fighters on the planet defies all logical sense. The man is simply a god amongst his fans. I should know, I am one of them.

    The French-Canadian has a charm and charisma which no other fighter seems to possess. His cheeky accent and innocent humour has proved to be a winner amongst a large fan base in the UFC. Along with this, his consistent sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct has gained him the respect of fellow fighters too.

    To be loved by a guy who has just been well and truly mutilated by you is quite an achievement. Georges St. Pierre—an all-round nice guy but also a walking human weapon.

2. LeBron James

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    LeBron James is already regarded as one of the greatest basketball players ever. His uncompromising talent on-court has seen him compared with the likes of Michael Jordan himself. As well as this, a constant chatter rings amongst universities and colleges across the U.S.—who is better, Kobe or LeBron?.

    To which some reply with the Lakers legend—but most reply with the seven-time NBA All-Star, Miami Heat hero, LeBron James. With the colossal following that basketball has in the United States, it is no wonder that the most popular basketball player has to be on this list. His fan base spans across all of America, just as Jordan’s did—making him a hugely—6'8" to be precise—popular athlete.

1. David Beckham

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    Ahh yes, the Golden Boy of Soccer.

    Could anyone else have been No. 1...really?

    David Beckham is every bit the celebrity and superstar as he is the complete footballer. What happens when you combine those enviously good lucks and charms of a perfect male model with the skills of a world class footballer? One of THE most popular athletes in the world—possibly in history.

    He has a huge fan following throughout Japan, as well as across Europe, and after his multi-million dollar transfer to LA Galaxy in 2007, having proved his worth with timeless performances on the field, he now has the states hearts too.

    This man is so popular in fact, he can get away with wearing sarongs and sporting the craziest haircuts the world has ever seen. The really irritating thing is...he pulls every new hair-do off.

    Thanks for reading!

    Forgot anyone? Let me know and comment below!