How Michael Jordan, Mike Tyson, Cristiano Ronaldo became the biggest earning sports stars from 1990-2020 – The Sun

IN the past 30 years, the world's leading sports stars have vied for the title of highest earner.

From Tiger Woods in golf to Michael Jordan on the basketball court, they've all made a mint during their era of being the best.


Forbes has put together a brilliant animated timeline that documents the wealth these sporting geniuses have generated while on top of their game over the last three decades.

Let SunSport explain who did it, year-by-year, and how.

1990

It was the year Margaret Thatcher quit as Prime Minister, and in sport there was one man on everybody's lips.

Forget Maggie in the House of Commons, Mike Tyson was the most feared person on the planet.

However, in February of that year he was surprisingly toppled by rank outsider Buster Douglas, which explains why that un-fancied fighter raked in around £21million.

He followed his shock victory with a blockbuster fight against Evander Holyfield and lost the WBA, WBC, IBF, and lineal heavyweight titles.

He earned slightly less than Tyson (around £23million) that year who fought two more fights, knocking out Henry Tillman and Alex Stewart.

Incredibly, Sugar Ray Leonard makes the top three (around £10million) and he didn't even fight in 1990.


1991

By the end of '91, boxers still dominated the sports world – thanks to large purses boosted by pay-per-view events.

It was Evander Holyfield, the WBA, WBC, and IBF heavyweight champ, who was the man to beat – defeating both George Foreman and Bert Cooper to earn big days.

His wealth shot up to £47million.

However, Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan was beginning to cement his name in basketball as a huge commodity commercially with brand Air Jordan.

He moved up to third on the list with a £12million fortune.

1992

Formula 1 winner Nigel Mansell soared faster than his Renault racing car – with a £12million fortune in '92.

But despite winning the drivers' championship, he still wasn't worth as much as Brazilian racing god Ayrton Senna (£17million).

It was rising star Jordan though who took top spot – more than doubling his earnings to £28million by the end of the year, as he celebrated regaining the NBA championship with the Bulls.

1993

Towards the tail-end of 1992, Holyfield's reign as boxing's best heavyweight was over after he lost to Riddick Bowe by unanimous decision.

Bowe fought three fights in '93, including two successful defences against Michael Dokes and Jesse Ferguson, before he was beaten by Holyfield in their rematch.

Still, those fights saw him earn a total of £19.5million.

Our own Lennox Lewis, who held the WBC heavyweight title, crept in with £11.5million – thanks to two big wins against Tony Tucker and Frank Bruno.

But it was still Jordan on top with £29million.


1994

The emergence of Shaquille O'Neal in basketball threatened Jordan's crown as the king of the court.

In the 1994-95 season, he led the scoring in the NBA with a 29.3 point scoring average.

His performances made him around £13million – but he was still dwarfed by his rival, who earned almost double.

Other notable entrants included tennis legend Andre Agassi, who won the US Open, with £8.8million and Jack Nicklaus (£11.4million) who won the Senior PGA Tour's version of the Mercedes Championship that year.

1995

It's the return of 'Iron Mike'.

Tyson was out of jail after three years serving a rape conviction and on the comeback trail.

And he unleashed his frustrations after he was uncaged on Peter McNeeley and Buster Mathis Jr, who were both battered as Tyson raked in £33million.

After signing a mega-contract with Dallas Cowboys, Deion Sanders jumped up to fourth on the list with £17.7million.

But everybody still trailed Jordan on £36million.

1996

Football came home, but you'd be hard-pushed to find any footballers on this list… for the moment.

It was the year that Jordan's run of four consecutive years being the highest earner in sport came to an end, even though he became a Hollywood star in Space Jam.

Mike Tyson took the crown again – £58million made in '96 – wining both the WBC and WBA titles against Frank Bruno and Bruce Seldon respectively.

That same year he fought Evander Holyfield for the first time, losing at the MGM Grand, but still earning a huge pay-day.

Michael Schumacher appears in third spot with £26.7million thanks to signing a bumper deal with Ferrari.

1997

By the end of 1997, Jordan has regained his crown with £63million, while Tyson slipped to fourth on the list with £21million.

Tyson's victor Holyfield enjoyed a career resurgence, beating him in a rematch through disqualification (the famous ear-bite) and later Michael Moorer to make £43million.

Oscar De La Hoya retained the WBC and lineal light welterweight titles in 1996, and then defended them five times, most notably against Hector Camacho, to record £31million.

1998

There was just no shifting 'Air Jordan', who once again recorded the highest salary of any sports star at £55million.

However, his shock retirement a month into 1999 had an effect on his future earnings, as you will soon read.

At Ferrari, Schumacher was beginning to turn the Italians into a supreme racing team – earning his £29.9m salary.

While hockey star Sergei Federov was a new entry with £23million starring for the Detroit Red Wings to win the Stanley Cup.

1999

By the late 90s Tiger Woods was hailed as a sporting genius, with predictions that he was going to be the first ever billionaire sportsman.

He followed up his Masters win two years previous to land the PGA Championship for the first time in '99.

His earnings put him marginally second behind Schumacher (£38.7million) with £37 million.

Lennox Lewis, who added Holyfield's WBA, IBF titles, and the vacant IBO heavyweight belt to his WBC, featured in eighth place with £22million.

2000

It was the year F1 star Schumacher won his first drivers' championship with Ferrari – justifying the huge salary the Italians were paying him.

The German earned an incredible £48million, while his nearest rival Woods trailed him by £4million.

Michael Jordan returned to basketball with the Washington Wizards, but not as a player, but an owner – still managing to make £29million.

2002

With no records for 2001, we skip to 2002 – and there's a change at the top.

With Masters and US Open wins in 2002, Woods made an astonishing £55.8million.

Schumacher dropped just behind with £53million.

Now back playing in the NBA with the Wizards, Jordan made £28.2million.

Kobe Bryant was a new entry in the top 10 with £17million after leading the LA Lakers to their second NBA championship in consecutive years.

2003

No stopping Tiger.

Despite no major championship wins in 2003, he was still out on top making more than ever (£63million).

Baseball legend Alex Rodriguez became the youngest ever player to hit 300 home runs in '03, and made the cut in 7th position with £21million.

Michael Jordan, in his final year as a basketball pro aged 40, still managed to make £28million.

2004

The first footballer to make the list is, of course, our very own David Beckham.

A year before, Becks left Manchester United for Real Madrid and it helped him become a global superstar.

He was the 8th highest paid sports star in '04 with earnings of around £22million.

NFL legend Peyton Manning won his second MVP trophy on the spin, making £32million in the process.

However, it was still Woods on top, closely followed by Schumacher.

2005

Disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong made his first appearance on the list in '05 – after winning seven Tour de France titles in a row from 1999.

A figure of £22million wasn't too shabby for the American, and he was another new entry in highest earning sports stars, alongside MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi, who earned the same amount.

NFL star Michael Vick made £29million after signing a nine-year contract with Atlanta Falcons.

Woods (£70million) still leads Schumacher though by £21million more in earnings.

2006

It was the year a retired boxing legend made his biggest payday.

Muhammad Ali hadn't fought a professional fight for 25 years, but he was the third highest earning sports star in the world in '06 with £50million.

How? Simple. By selling rights to his name and likeness to entertainment and licensing firm CKX.

Phil Mickelson, who won the Masters and the US Open in '06, also features in fourth sport with £38million.

Yes, you've guessed it, Tiger is out in front though with £73million.

2007

Two years after winning the Ballon d'Or and winning the hearts of Barcelona fans, Ronaldinho's performances were beginning to help him accumulate a solid wage.

He was the 10th highest earner in '07 with £24million.

Kimi Raikkonen, now an F1 World Championship winner, also makes an appearance in fourth spot overtaking Schumacher as motor-racing's highest earner with £31million.

Woods is now at £80million – and is still the top dog.

2008

Brand Beckham goes into overdrive.

At this point in time, the Three Lions legend was in his second year at LA Galaxy – breaking America.

So it's no wonder he's second to Woods (£92million) with £40million.

Roger Federer makes his first appearance in the top 10 – winning the US Open for the fourth time in a row in '08.

LeBron James, then 21, breaks into the list with £30million.

2009

For eight years in a row the Tiger money-making machine showed no signs of slowing.

In '09 earnings had jumped to an unfathomable £89million.

Thanks to an induction into the Naismith Hall of Fame, Jordan enjoyed a spike with £36.4million.

Raikkonen was fractionally behind him with £36million, a year before leaving Formula 1.

2010

The emergence of several new names in the sporting world provided a more refreshing list for 2010.

Boxers Floyd Mayweather (£50.2million) and Manny Pacquiao (£32.4million) entered the fray in second and eighth spot respectively.

NFL stars Eli Manning (£31million) and Terrell Suggs (£29million) also feature.

Tiger's on £85million, down four million from the previous year.

2011

Now, we have three names from football in the top 10.

Cristiano Ronaldo (£31million) and Lionel Messi (£25million) joined the group of high-earners in 7th and 10th spot.

But they still trail Becks on £32.5million in terms of being football's highest earner.

Winning the French Open helped Federer climb up to fourth spot with £37million.

2012

Tiger's stranglehold on top spot after ten years at the top is finally over!

He makes way for Mayweather, who earned £68million after defeating Miguel Cotto to win the WBA (Super) light middleweight title.

And boxing really took over, with Pacquiao right behind him with £49million.

Federer, again, enjoyed a rise with £42 million. It was the year he won his 7th Wimbledon title.

2013

Guess who's back?

Not to be outdone, Woods returned as sports' biggest paid star in 2013 – once he returned to winning ways.

He won the Farmers Insurance Open, the WGC-Cadillac Championship, then the Arnold Palmer Invitational in quick succession.

Sponsors Nike then released an ad to commemorate his return to top of the rankings with the tagline "winning takes care of everything".

2014

It was the year the promising talents of their sport would see their earnings leap.

Fresh from his second Ballon d'Or win on the spin (his third in total at that point), Ronaldo was a runner-up with £64million.

Mayweather was the top contender – with a mega £82million thanks to two blockbusting fight and wins over Argentine Marcos Maidana.

LeBron James returned to Cleveland to play for the Cavs after opting out of his contract with the Miami Heat, which made him £57million richer.

While Rafael Nadal returned to form with a French Open win on his way to a £35million payday.

2015

Billed as the fight of the century, Mayweather and Pacquiao locked horns to earn a fortune in 2015.

Mayweather won the fight and the majority of the purse – a cool £240million that kept him in Bugattis.

But Pacquiao's £127million isn't a bad runners-up prize.

On the opposite side of the scale, Tiger's star was fading – with scandals and injuries contributing to a poor run of form and loss of sponsors. Just £41million this year.

2016

Mayweather retired, Pacquiao turned his hand to politics, which meant both prize fighters dropped out of the top 10.

Ronaldo and Messi were (and still are) dominating the football world, competitively trying to outdo each other to grab the moniker of who was the best.

It was Ronaldo who reclaimed his Ballon d'Or from his Barcelona rival, after winning the Euros with his country, and he topped the rich list.

But just like their talents, there wasn't much in it. Ronaldo made £70million, while the Argentine earned £65million.

Fresh from Australian Open and French Open wins, Novak Djokovic forced his way into the top 10 (sixth spot) with £43million.

2017

Lewis Hamilton makes his first appearance on the list – thanks to winning his third Formula 1 championship in four years.

He netted £35million in motorsport, which isn't too shabby.

Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry was also making a name for himself as the three-point king and NBA champ with £37million – aided by a bumper sponsorship deal with Under Armour.

Ronaldo led LeBron by around £5.6million at the top with £75million.

In the NFL, Andrew Luck's contract extension from the previous year with the Colts made him the highest paid player in American football with £36million, which put him sixth position.

2018

Mayweather came out of retirement to put on an exhibition of boxing in a special fight against UFC star Conor McGregor.

Defeating the Irishman, he scored an astonishing £227million – just slightly less than his 2015 fight against Pacquiao.

McGregor, on the other hand, was £79million richer.

A year after becoming the most expensive footballer in the world, PSG star Neymar joined the list with £72million.

But he still trailed behind Messi (£89million) and Ronaldo (86million), who lost their Ballon d'Or crown to Luka Modric.

2019

Thanks to a huge contract signed with streaming service DAZN, Canelo Alvarez found himself in the big league – with £73million to his name in '19.

He also added the IBF middleweight belt to his name after defeating Daniel Jacobs, as well as the WBO light heavyweight title for stopping Sergey Kovalev.

But it was Messi who was the top boy – £102million richer, which is his highest total to date.

It also coincided with him reclaiming the Ballon d'Or.

2020

Today's top earner in sport, incredibly at 38, is Roger Federer – becoming the first tennis player in history to top the list.

His pay-packet of £86million is partly due to the coronavirus pandemic that has halted all major sports.

Both Ronaldo and Messi have seen massive salary cuts, and are down to £85million and £84million respectively.

In 2019, Woods ended an 11-year major trophy drought by winning the Masters in April, so he's £50million wealthier.

While Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins penned a new contract back in March to find himself squeezed into the top 10 with £49million.


 

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