Note: U.S.-based athletes are excluded from this list (i.e., Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, etc.).
10. Alexander Ovechkin (Hockey)
Country of Origin: Russia
The 2009 NHL MVP earns about $12 million a year. He is a two-time league MVP and holds a lot of promise being only 24 years old. Unfortunately, Alexander Evechkin's lack of English fluency makes it difficult for him to become more popular in the American mainstream.
9. Fedor Emilianenko (MMA)
Country of Origin: Russia
Fedor Emilianenko is the World Alliance of MMA Heavyweight Champion. The 33-year old is one of the most popular fighters in an increasingly visible sport that is gaining traction with major networks. MMA is extremely appealing to the young demographic. Many pay homage to the formidable Russian-born prize fighter.
8. Alberto Pujols (Baseball)
Country of Origin: Dominican Republic
The 30-year old is the 2009 National League MVP. Pujols along with Alex Rodriguez are chasing home run and slugging-related records. He is excelling in a sport that is fairly popular, and thus earns about $18 million annually. He is one of the three best hitters in baseball. Additionally, Pujols is probably the best athlete to ever come out of the Dominican Republic.
7. Usain Bolt (Track and Field)
Country of Origin: Jamaica
The sky is the limit for the 23 year old Jamaican considered by far the world's fastest human. What Usain Bolt was able to accomplish at the 2008 Beijing Olympics was simply mind boggling. He won three gold medals at the 2009 World Championships. The fastest man in the planet shattered his Beijing world records at the 2009 world championships. The name Usain Bolt is familiar with most sports fans despite belonging to a sport that is covered by the press infrequently. At just 23, Bolt is the best athlete to ever come out of Jamaica.
6. Rafael Nadal (Tennis)
Country of Origin: Spain
The 23-year old won the 2009 Australian Open and earns over $31 million a year. He is largely known as an elite player second only to Switzerland's Roger Federer, Nadal displays tremendous energy on the court and lays everything on the line each and every game - a trait that resonates with millions of fans in a sport with hundreds of millions of followers. Nadal, at just 23, is the best athlete to ever come out of Spain.
|Manny Pacquiao | Boxing|
5. Manny Pacquiao (Boxing)
Country of Origin: Philippines
Philippine national hero Manny Pacquiao, 31, is regarded as one of the greatest boxers of all time. He sports a record of 50 wins, 3 losses, and 2 draws, and is the WBO welterweight champion of the world. Pacquiao is universally regarded as the best athlete to ever come out of the Philippines. Additionally, he is regarded as the best Asian boxer of all time.
The Filipino earned close to $40 million in 2009 and intends to run for congress in his native land in May 2010. While boxing is gaining in popularity, the sport remains a niche activity in the minds of mainstream fans, having fallen out of the top 15 American sports. A prospective fight with undefeated American Floyd Mayweather, Jr could become the biggest fight in boxing in over 30 years. Pacquiao's mythos, it is said, is rivaling Muhammad Ali's.
Photos: Manny Pacquiao training at Wild Card Gym (Feb 2010)
On Facebook: Manny Pacquiao
4. Dirk Nowitzki (Basketball)
Country of Origin: Germany
Germany's Dirk Nowitzki, 31, earned close to $30 million in 2009. Nowitzki has been a fixture as one of the NBA's elite players, and is the franchise player for the Dallas Mavericks. He is the best basketball player to come out of Germany, and one of the best German athletes ever. Dirk Nowitzki is the NBA's top international player for most of the past decade, Nowitzki continues to pursue winning a NBA championship ring. He starred in his eighth consecutive all-star game in 2009.
3. Maria Sharapova (Tennis)
Country of Origin: Russia
The 22-year old Russian is the most popular Eastern European athlete in the world, and earned close to $24 million in 2009. Maria Sharapova endorses for companies such as Nike, Tiffany, Canon, and Land Rover. There are more accomplished athletes on this list - Sharapova won the 2008 Australian Open. However, her beauty earns her high visibility among sports fans around the world. Sharapova recently signed a $70 million deal with Nike.
2. David Beckham (Soccer)
Country of Origin: England
David Beckham, 34, is not just one of the top international athletes of the world, he is a global cultural icon and celebrity. Along with actor Brad Pitt, Beckham is one of the most followed cultural personalities in the world. His official Facebook page attracts over two million followers. In 2008, he was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame. The name "David Beckham" is one of the most searched names on Google and Yahoo in the decade of the 2000s. In 2009, he earned about $23 million. He is one of the few athletes in which fans do not necessarily have to watch him in a game - they follow him wherever, whenever, regardless.
1. Roger Federer (Tennis)
Country of Origin: Switzerland
The top-ranked international athlete in the world today is none other than tennis superpower Roger Federer. There is ongoing debate whether Federer or Pete Sampras is the sport's greatest player ever. A large percentage think that the Swiss is simply the greatest tennis player of all time. At 28, Federer set the record for most career Grand Slam titles in 2009. He earned close to $33 million in 2009. He won at Wimbledon to clinch the record for all-time Grand Slam titles. Federer endorses products of companies such as Nike, Mercedes-Benz, Rolex, and Gillette.