Everyone has their favorite sport, just like everyone has their favorite sports star.
Whether it is football, soccer, boxing, cricket, or MMA, the people we gravitate towards are more than likely successful in their fields. Outside of their accomplishments in their sport, we tend to be attracted to a big personality, or even a modest one.
When betting on soccer, for example, we will put our trust in the likes of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo to get the job done. Those famous names are also typically ones we can trust.
Still, sport is not always a popularity contest, is it?
Well, today it is. Let’s take a look at the ten most popular sports stars in the world in 2019.
10. Tiger Woods – Golf
Tiger Woods is arguably the most famous golfer to have walked the face of the earth.
To many, he is the greatest golfer that ever lived. I mean, he does rank second place in majors and PGA Tour victories. He has a list of achievements longer than a giraffe’s neck. He was also the revolutionary face of the sport in the 1990s and 2000s.
Woods is one of the most recognizable sports stars of the past few decades as a result.
The 43-year-old was destined for fame from a young age. When he turned pro at just 20 in 1996, it took him just one year to establish himself as the premier golfer on the planet. In just 12 months, he had won three PGA tours and the 1997 Masters.
Despite major injuries, Woods was still a popular figure in the sport. However, during the late 2000s, a series of personal problems sullied his clean-cut image. A series of back problems also threatened his future in the sport.
Following years of setbacks, Tiger Woods returned to golf in 2018 and began to show signs of his old self. In September of that year, he won his first tournament in five years when he finished first in the Tour Championship.
However, this was topped in 2019 when he won his first major in 11 years at the 2019 Masters.
9. Steph Curry – Basketball
There are few faces in world sport more recognizable as Steph Curry.
The Golden State Warriors point guard is a three-time NBA champion with the franchise. Additionally, he is a six-time NBA All-Star and two time NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP). More than this, he is one of the most creative players in basketball history.
Is he the greatest shooter to have ever played the game? If Curry is not, then whoever is must truly be something.
Given how he popularized the strategic use of three-pointers, many see Curry as one of the best thinkers on a basketball court on any given day. Incidentally, Curry is the third in all-time made three-pointers in the history of the NBA.
While there is more to the 31-year-old than meets the eye, he is admired by both team members and rival players for his inspirational and creative nature.
He was seen as the driving force behind the ascent of the Golden State Warriors and is among the greatest talents to have ever played the game. There is little Curry cannot do, making him a treasure to fans of the franchise.
Such is Curry’s popularity that he has a social media following of over 23 million and is also one of the most searched-for athletes in the world on Google.
8. Rafael Nadal – Tennis
Few players are as instantly recognizable in world sports as Rafael Nadal.
The Spanish legend is also one of the most successful players in the history of the game, with 18 Grand Slam singles titles. This puts him second in the all-time list in men’s tennis, which is some accomplishment.
Nadal also holds a record 34 ATP Tour Masters 1000 titles and 20 ATP Tour 500 titles. Oh, and did I mention that he is a 2008 Olympic gold medal singles champion?
In professional tennis, Rafael Nadal has amassed a whopping 82 career titles.
Although tennis is far from the world’s most popular sport, there is no doubt that the Spanish icon is a global star. With a social media following of 15.6 million, he has almost ten million more than Tiger Woods.
Nadal is also one of the most searched-for stars on the planet. His name is worth millions every single year in endorsement deals.
It is difficult to think of many tennis stars having the same amount of impact in such a short time as Nadal.
7. Virat Kohli – Cricket
You might be surprised to learn that cricket is regarded as one of the most popular sports in the world.
Now, this is not due to the English game having such a mass global appeal, as it does not. In North America, for example, it would be a struggle to find many people who profess a love for cricket.
However, in countries like India — where Virat Kohli hails from — there is no bigger sport. It is simply a huge game and one that grips the population like nothing else.
Kohli is currently the captain of the India national cricket team and is regarded as one of the best batsmen alive. He plays his club cricket for Royal Challengers Bangalore down in the Indian Premier League (IPL), where he has been captain for six years.
Despite India having a long and rich tradition of success in cricket, Kohli has amassed several records for his country. Among these are the number 1 Test rating (937 points), ODI rating (911 points), and T20I rating (897 points).
Kohli has a social media following of over 37 million and was named as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time in 2018.
6. Roger Federer – Tennis
While his rival Rafael Nadal is a huge name in tennis, there is no one more famous than Roger Federer in the history of the sport.
The Swiss legend is regarded as the best player to have ever taken to a court and has a gigantic list of achievements to back up this claim.
The 37-year-old has won the most Grand Slam singles titles in history, with 20. He also sat atop the ATP rankings for a record total of 310 weeks.
Federer also holds the record for Wimbledon titles (8) and has six Australian Open titles. He has five back-to-back US Open titles and one French Open title, too. He is also the only player after Jimmy Connors to have amassed 100 or more singles titles.
Federer’s popularity is mind-blowing. It is unsurprising, considering there are many who believe him to be the best athlete to have ever lived. He is still going strong well into his late 30s, which is a level of longevity that is rarely seen in the game.
5. Conor McGregor – MMA
Whether you love him or hate him, there is no denying that Ireland’s Conor McGregor is one of the most recognizable faces in the world.
Having revolutionized the sport of MMA with his gift for self-promotion, “The Notorious” converted a legion of new fans to the UFC. As it stands, he is the most successful athlete in the sport in terms of revenue.
McGregor is known for his razor-sharp wit, sharper suits, and an even sharper tongue. A natural self-promoter, the Dubliner’s gifts helped him to ascend through the ranks of the UFC’s featherweight and lightweight divisions, becoming the first-ever fighter to hold belts in separate weight classes at the same time.
This level of popularity inspired mega-rich boxing icon Floyd Mayweather to challenge McGregor to a bout inside the ropes.
The Irishman obliged, eventually losing by way of a tenth-round TKO but picking up an estimated $100 million in the process.
These days, McGregor is not as active as he once was. However, he does own a brand of whiskey and has money to burn, so it’s no real mystery.
Still, Conor McGregor’s huge social media following and overall popularity make him one of the planet’s most famous names.
4. Neymar – Soccer
Brazil’s Neymar is beyond a star. He is the definition of a superstar.
The PSG forward might annoy some with his over-the-top injury simulations and bad sportsmanship, but there is no denying his talent on the pitch.
The French club broke the world transfer record for the talented forward, paying out €222 million for Neymar’s services. In his first season at PSG, he helped his new team to the Ligue 1 title, winning the league’s player of the year title in the process.
While at Barcelona, Neymar won the Champions League and formed a formidable partnership with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, which further enhanced his profile in the public eye.
Although he has years of soccer left in him, Neymar is already the third-highest goal scorer for the Brazilian national team. His 60 goals in 97 games put him behind Pele and Ronaldo.
With a social media following of over 107 million, Neymar gets a lot of love from around the world. Not only is he considered one of the best at his craft but is also seen as an inspirational figure to many of his countrymen.
You don’t have to like the guy, but you cannot deny that he is one very, very famous man.
3. Lionel Messi – Soccer
There are some who believe that Barcelona and Argentina icon Lionel Messi is the greatest to have ever played soccer.
It is very difficult to argue against this sentiment.
Messi has achieved pretty much everything that there is to be won in the game. Multiple Champions League trophies, La Liga titles, Copa del Reys… you name it.
The big trophy that Messi has never got his hands on, however, is the FIFA World Cup. He came close in 2014, with Argentina later succumbing to an extra-time goal to lose in heart-breaking fashion to Germany.
Regardless of Messi never being a World Cup winner, he has done pretty well for himself in the game and will go down as one of the premier talents of all time.
His popularity isn’t too bad, either. Messi has more than 103 million followers on social media and would be mobbed in probably any country around the world. He makes more in endorsements in one year than many sports players make in a few.
He is, quite simply, an icon.
2. LeBron James – Basketball
LeBron James is widely regarded as one of the greatest basketballers of all time.
James is currently plying his trade with the Los Angeles Lakers, where he is hoping to kickstart another dynasty for the franchise. If there is any player in the world that has that power, it is LeBron.
As it stands, America’s most famous player has three NBA championships to his name. Over the years, he has amassed a pretty incredible four NBA Most Valuable Player Awards and three NBA Finals MVP Awards.
Yes, his resume is pretty incredible. But it doesn’t stop there.
James has made 15 NBA All-Star Game appearances, earning three NBA All-Star MVP awards. He is the all-time NBA playoffs scoring leader, too, coming in at fourth place in all-time career points.
While his pro career has been nothing short of sensational, James also has two Olympic gold medals in his trophy cabinet to polish.
James’ popularity has seen him make truckloads of cash in endorsement deals. He has also seen his popularity steadily increase off the back of appearances on TV and movies.
As of July 2019, James has 45.3 social media followers, which is nothing to scoff at.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo – Soccer
In first place is Portugal and Juventus’ living legend, Cristiano Ronaldo.
The former Real Madrid and Manchester United star has consistently been in the top two players on the planet for years. To put it another way, Ronaldo and Messi have been arch-rivals battling for the title as the best in the world.
It is difficult to argue against Ronaldo as being one of the greatest players in the history of the sport. The guy has five Ballon d’Or awards and four European Golden Shoes, with a total of 29 major trophies.
The Portuguese has won six league titles and five UEFA Champions Leagues with Manchester United and Real Madrid. He was also part of the Portugal team that won the UEFA European Championship and UEFA Nations League.
Ronaldo is the top scorer in the history of the UEFA Champions League, with 126. He has also scored more goals in one UEFA European Championship with nine. Oh, and if that is not enough, his 44 assists in the Champions League is also a record.
All in all, Ronaldo has scored more than 700 career goals, which is insane.
Now, when it comes to his popularity, the Madeira-born megastar is one of the most recognizable faces in the world. He has 148 million social media followers, making him one of the most followed athletes alive.
Ronaldo is a big deal. A very, very big deal.
There you have it, boys and girls.
These athletes above are living the dreams that many of us had as kids. With global popularity and the admiration of millions, the likes of Ronaldo, LeBron James, and Conor McGregor will never know what it is like to be sitting at home on a Saturday night.
At the same time, can you imagine the pressures they are under every time they walk outside of their front doors?
Being this famous can’t be all it’s cracked up to be, surely.
Adam is a sports writer and tipster with a strong background in MMA and boxing.
A self-confessed sports fanatic, when Adam is not watching and writing about rugby, soccer, Gaelic Games, and F1, he can often be found working on methods and strategies to beat the bookies.
For his troubles, Adam is a big fan of Leinster Rugby, Glasgow Celtic, and trusting the process.