Here Are The Most Dominant Athletes In The 21st Century… So Far

Sports | 5/6/19

Shortly after the turn of the century, a Swiss teenager won his first Grand Slam match and Tiger Woods burst onto the scene as the dominant force in golf. The 2000s also saw Tom Brady go from underdrafted Michigan quarterback to potentially the greatest player of all time.

This article is going to highlight the most dominant and legendary athletes of the 21st century. Did your favorite athlete make the cut?

Phelps Has 14 More Gold Medals Than Anyone Else

Michael Phelps Swimming In Olympics
ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images
ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images

Winning one gold medal at the Olympics is impressive enough, but having 23 gold medals makes you the greatest athlete of all time. There are only 32 countries in the world who have more gold medals than Michael Phelps.

His most impressive showing on the world stage was in 2008 when he casually won eight gold medals and proved that he truly is superhuman. There are a lot of legendary records in this article, but no athlete left the rest of the competition so far in the rearview mirror like Michael Phelps.

Federer’s Stroke Is Unmatched

Roger Federer Tennis
Aaron Gilbert/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Aaron Gilbert/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Most observers of the sport of tennis would say that Roger Federer has the most beautiful stroke in sports and has kept the one-hander alive in an era of two-handed indoctrination. At one point, Federer won eight of ten majors, losing only twice on clay court to Raffi Nadal, who is probably the best clay court player in history.

Federer won 16 majors in his first 27 tournaments which is basically untouchable. Federer passed Pete Sampras for the most major victories, but his record has looked beatable a few times with the likes of Nadal and Novak Djokovic playing so well.

Tiger Woods Was On Pace To Match Jack Nicklaus

Tiger Woods Golfing
David Cannon/Getty Images
David Cannon/Getty Images

Tiger Woods won 12 of the first 34 majors of the 2000s. He completely dominated the sport of golf for nearly a decade. The peak of dominance came in 2008 at the U.S. Open when he won a playoff with a broken leg.

His career fell apart for a few years before winning Player of the Year in 2013 which would be the biggest highlight of his career until he took home the win at the 2019 Masters.

Tom Brady Is The G.O.A.T.

Tom Brady New England Patriots
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Tom Brady has six Super Bowl wins, which is the most of any football player ever. It’s no surprise that he’s considered to be one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. What makes him even more impressive is that he wasn’t a first-round draft pick, or even in the first 100 picks, for that matter.

He was taken in the sixth round of the 2000 draft. He has four Super Bowl MVP trophies, three NFL MVP trophies, and has the record for most games won by a quarterback at 237.

Serena Williams Was The Highest Paid Female Athlete

Serena Williams Tennis
Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Serena Williams has been ranked as the number one player in the world on eight separate occasions. During her sixth reign on top, she was able to hold the ranking for 186 consecutive weeks, which tied Steffi Graf for longest all-time. Williams holds the most Grand Slam titles in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles combined among active players.

Her 39 majors put her tied for third on the all-time list and second in the Open Era. In 2016 and 2017, she was the highest paid female athlete in all of sports after receiving $29 million a year.

No One Believed In Kobe Like Kobe

Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers 21st century athlete
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

Kobe Bryant is unique in that he played his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers. He won five NBA Championships and is an 18-time All-Star. He led the NBA in scoring during two seasons and ranks third on the league’s all-time regular season scoring and fourth on the all-time postseason scoring list.

Bryant was the youngest player in the history of the NBA to reach the 30,000 point mark and is the Lakers franchise leading scorer.

Usain Bolt Is The Fastest Man To Ever Live

Usain Bolt Running 21st Century Athlete
Jean Catuffe/Getty Images
Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

Usain Bolt is a nine-time Olympic gold medalist and has won the 100 m, 200 m, and 4 x 100 m relay at three consecutive Olympic Games. He made international headlines after his double sprint victory in the 2008 Olympics which made him the first person to hold both records since fully automatic time became mandatory.

Bolt is the only sprinter to win Olympic 100 m and 200 m titles at three consecutive Olympics which is incredibly impressive.

Peyton’s Passing Records Are Insane

Peyton Manning Colts 21st Century
Sandra Dukes/Getty Images
Sandra Dukes/Getty Images

Peyton Manning played 18 seasons in the NFL and was able to win two Super Bowl championships. He has the NFL record for most career passing touchdowns with 539, the most passing touchdowns in a season with 55, the most regular season MVP awards with five, and most career comebacks with 43.

At the age of 39, Manning was the oldest quarterback to start in and win a Super Bowl until Tom Brady passed him a few years later after winning Super Bowl LIII.

Lionel Messi Dominates Every Part Of The Game

lionel messi argentina 21st century athlete
David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images
David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

The Argentine footballer, Lionel Messi, is widely considered to be the best player of all time. He has won a record-tying five Ballon d’Or awards, including four wins in a row, and a record five European Golden Shoes.

He’s been with Barcelona for his entire career and also captains the Argentina National Team. His teams have won 10 La Liga titles, four UEFA Champions League titles, and six Copa del Reys. He’s the all-time leading scorer for any player coming out of Argentina.

Lebron James Appeared In Eight Consecutive NBA Finals

Lebron James NBA Finals
Jason Miller/Getty Images
Jason Miller/Getty Images

Lebron James needs no introduction. He has three NBA Champions, four MVP Awards, three NBA Finals MVP Awards, and two Olympic gold medals. He’s appeared in 15 All-Star games and has been the NBA All-Star MVP three times.

He is fourth all-time in points scored and is the NBA all-time playoff scoring leader. He has been voted onto the All-NBA First Team twelve times and the All-Defensive First Team five times. James appeared in the NBA Finals in eight consecutive seasons from 2011 until 2018.

Tim Duncan’s Leadership Will Go Down In History

Tim Duncan Basketball 21st Century Athlete
J Pat Carter/Getty Images
J Pat Carter/Getty Images

Tim Duncan didn’t start playing basketball until he was a freshman in high school. Fast forward a few years and Duncan was winning the NBA Rookie of the Year in his first professional season. Duncan is a five-time NBA champion and a three-time NBA Finals MVP.

He’s the only player ever to be selected to both the All-NBA and All-Defensive Teams for 13 consecutive seasons. He has over 26,000 career points and over 15,000 career rebounds, all with the San Antonio Spurs.

Shaq Was A Scoring Machine

shaq
ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images
ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Shaquille O’Neal played 19 seasons in the NBA and at 7 ft in tall and 325 pounds, he’s one of the biggest players to ever play. He’s a four-time NBA champion and a three-time NBA Finals MVP. On top of that, he was a 15-time All-Star and a two-time NBA scoring champion.

He’s one of only three players to win NBA MVP, All-Game MVP and Finals MVP awards in the same year. He ranks eighth all-time in points scored, sixth in field goals, 15th in rebounds, and eighth in blocks.

Sid Is Part Of The Exclusive Triple Gold Club

Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins 21st Century Athlete
Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images
Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

Sidney Crosby is widely regarded as one of the greatest hockey players of all time after debuting as the first-overall pick in the 2005 NHL draft. It only took him two seasons to lead the NHL in points and capture the Art Ross Trophy, becoming the youngest player, and the only teenager, to win a scoring title in any major North American sports league.

He’s one of the very few players in the world to win a World Junior gold medal, a World Championship gold medal, and Olympic gold.

Bonds Has A Patchy Legacy, But The Numbers Speak For Themselves

Barry Bonds 21st Century Athlete
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

There are many conversations that surround Barry Bonds’ legacy and whether PEDs played a big part in his success. Four of Bonds’ seven MVPs came during the PED era and three came before. Despite the fact that many baseball journalists may not give him the credit, Bonds’ numbers make him a first ballot Hall of Famer.

He has eight Gold Gloves, 12 Silver Sluggers, and 14 All-Star selections. He led the league in on-base plus slugging six times and placed in the top five six more. He has the most home runs in league history at 762 and holds the record for most career walks with 2,558.

Johnson Is A Living Legend

Jimmie Johnson 21st Century Athlete
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

If you don’t follow NASCAR too closely, you’re probably unaware that driver Jimmie Johnson is a living legend in the sport. He’s been racing in NASCAR’s premier division for 19 years and has 83 wins with 356 top tens.

He’s tied with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for most NASCAR Cup Series championships with seven. He was the 2009 Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year and a five-time Driver of the Year. His dominance is overlooked.

Lindsey Vonn Is America’s Best

Lindsey Vonn 21st Century Athlete
Michael Kappeler/picture alliance via Getty Images
Michael Kappeler/picture alliance via Getty Images

Lindsey Vonn is the greatest skier in American history and one of the best the sport has ever seen. She won the World Cup four times and she’s one of only two female skiers to do so. Vonn won the gold medal in downhill at the 2010 Olympics and was the first American to do so.

She also won a record eight World Cup season titles in the downhill, five titles in super-G, and three consecutive titles in the combined series. She’s one of six women to have won World Cup races in all five disciplines of alpine skiing.

Lefty Is A Top 10 Golfer Of All Time

Phil Mickelson Superstar Athlete #18
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Phil Mickelson has quietly solidified himself as one of the premier golfers of all time. He’s tied for the eighth-most majors and fifth-most tournament wins in the modern era. He’s one of, if not THE most prolific left-handed golfer and he has three Masters titles and six-runner up finishes at the U.S. Open (which is the major that is keeping him from the career Slam).

He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2012 and has spent over 25 consecutive years in the top 50 of the world golf ranking.

Ronaldo Is One Of The Most Famous Athletes In The World

Cristiano Ronaldo Best Athletes #20
Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images
Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images

The football superstar has been the world’s highest paid athlete and is generally considered to be the most famous. He has an incredible amount of records in the Portuguese, UEFA, La Liga, Premier and Champions league to his name.

He has a record-tying five Ballon d’Or awards and is the first player to win four European Golden Shoes. He has won 28 trophies in his career, including six league titles, five UEFA Champions League titles, and one UEFA European Championship. He has scored over 700 career goals for his club and country.

Simone Biles Has Made A Huge Impact In Her Short Career

Simone Biles USA Gymnastics Winner
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

It’s incredible to think that Simone Biles was only two years old by the time the year 2000 hit. Biles is the only woman to win three all-around world championships in a row and then capped that with a four-gold, one-bronze performance during the Rio Olympics.

Her composure and athletic ability have put her on the short list to be one of the best gymnasts of all time and someone who had the best Olympic showing as well.

Mike Trout Is The Highest Paid Player In North American Sports

Mike Trout MLB 21st Century Athlete
Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images
Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images

Mike Trout is a seven-time MLB All-Star and two time American League MVP (he was the runner up for the award four other times). Trout’s athleticism on the field is unmatched in the majors. He’s regarded as the most well-rounded player in the league and has led the American League in wins above replacement (WAR) in each of his first five full seasons.

He’s led the American League in runs five times, and times on base four times. As of 2018, he led all active players in career slugging percentage, on-base percentage, and stolen base percentage. He’s the highest paid player in the history of North American sports.