Sports | May 13, 2021 9:27 am

Conor McGregor Seizes Hold of “World’s Highest-Paid Athlete” Title With $180M in Earnings

One quarterback and two soccer stars joined McGregor in earning $100 million or more last year

Conor McGregor at UFC 257
Conor McGregor addresses the media after UFC 257. Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Zuffa LLC

MMA star Conor McGregor only entered the Octagon once in 2020 — lost to Dustin Poirier at UFC 257 — but still ended up atop Forbes’ annual list of the world’s highest-earning athletes.

McGregor, who took home just $22 million for his bout with Poirier in January, made $180 million in 2020 thanks in large part to earnings tied to DraftKings, the video game Dystopia: Contest of Heroes, the lifestyle brand Roots of Fight and the sale of his whiskey brand Proper No. Twelve.

The 32-year-old, who has never been in the No. 1 slot on the list, was one of four athletes to earn more than $100 million in a year that saw most sports lose money due to COVID-19.

“This year, McGregor lands the winning punch, having leveraged his unmatched popularity in mixed martial arts to build a lucrative hustle outside UFC’s Octagon,” per Forbes. “Adding in his endorsements, McGregor made $158 million outside of his fighting career over the last 12 months, becoming only the third athlete, after Roger Federer and Tiger Woods, to earn more than $70 million off the field in a single year while still actively competing.”

Joining McGregor in the $100m-or-More Club are soccer stars Lionel Messi ($130 million) and Cristiano Ronaldo ($120 million), as well as Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott ($107.5 million). Unlike McGregor, Messi and Ronaldo earned most of their cash via their athletic endeavors, despite Europe’s big soccer leagues losing an estimated $7.3 billion in revenue from the pandemic.

LeBron James, who is preparing to defend his title with the LA Lakers in the upcoming NBA playoffs, rounded out the top five on the list, with $96.5 million in earnings in 2020.

Forbes’ on-the-field earnings figures include all prize money, salaries and bonuses earned between May 1, 2020, and May 1, 2021,” per the publication. “Off-the-field earnings figures are an estimate of sponsorship deals, appearance fees and licensing income for the 12 months through May 1, plus cash returns from any businesses operated by the athlete, based on conversations with industry insiders.”