Who are the GOATs of all sports? A list of the greatest to play each sport

Who are the GOATs of all sports? A list of the greatest to play each sport

Samuel Lisubila

The acronym 'GOAT’ means Greatest of All Time and is reserved for one who is deemed to be the best in a particular art, mainly sport. With more than 200+ sports worldwide, individuals in all categories have been the best and earned the most excellent spot. Here is a list of the greatest to play each sport.

GOATs of all sports
From left: Lionel Messi, Michael Jordan and Tom Brady. Photos: Bagu Blanco, Jonathan Daniel, Jim McIsaac. Photo modified by the author.
Source: Getty Images

While some might disagree on who is their favourite payer, some undoubtedly go as the most excellent thanks to their accolades, talent and influence on the game. With all these in consideration, the list below has been analysed and sorted to give the best results from the most popular sports in the world.

10. Tennis - Roger Federer

Every sports GOAT
Roger Federer of Switzerland celebrates after winning his match against Ilya Ivashka of Belarus during day 3 of the Noventa Open at OWL-Arena on 14 June 2021 in Halle, Germany. Photo: Thomas F. Starke
Source: Getty Images

Setting standards in modern tennis is none other than Roger Federer. While some might argue that Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal have more Grand Slam titles than The Swiss Maestro, he is the King when every other aspect is considered. His combined skill, style, versatility and class make him the undisputed GOAT of the racket sport.

Among the awards he has earned throughout his career include 20 Grand Slam singles titles, 28 ATP Masters titles, and seven Swiss Sportsman of the year between 2003 and 2017. He is also one of eight to win a career Grand Slam, winning all four Grand Slams at least once and is one of four to achieve a career Grand Slam on three different surfaces, hard, grass and clay courts.

In 2020, Roger Federer was named the Best Sportsperson in the 70-year history of the Swiss Sports Awards and was later regarded as 'The Perfect sporting icon'. He retired in 2022 after he announced injuries and surgeries had taken a toll on his body.

Who was the first ever to be called GOAT?

Earl Manigault is the first to be regarded as 'The Goat'. He was an amazing street basketball player who became a legend by earning the GOAT term. Also known as 'The Lip', Earl was born in 1944 and grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, where he developed his love for the game. In as much as he didn't participate in the NBA, he was compared to other greats in the NBA and was regarded as one of the greatest basketball players to never play in the NBA.

9. Golf - Tiger Woods

GOATs in different sports
Tiger Woods of The United States during the first round of the 2022 PNC Championship at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club on 17 December 2022 in Orlando, Florida. Photo: David Cannon
Source: Getty Images

Labelled the golf GOAT, Tiger Woods has achieved a successful career since his debut in 1996 at 20. He has been unstoppable throughout the years despite suffering a broken leg and several back surgeries and has continued to have significant wins. He has won every title on his golf course and has risen to excellence thanks to his dominance in the game.

Woods began playing golf early when his father introduced it and coached him carefully. He grew up loving the game and reached the sport's highest rank, earning awards and accolades that only some would dream of. Some of his significant awards include five Masters Tournaments, four PGA Championships, three U.S. Open Championships, and three British Open Championships.

On top of his achievements, his influence and impact on golf have been felt and seen by the millions inspired to join the sport. Several times' The Tiger Effect' has been experienced whenever he plays where TV ratings, attendance and interest in the sport skyrocket, but when he does not play, they all sag.

8. Cricket - Don Bradman

GOATs in sports history
Don Bradman of Australia is in action battling during the Nottingham Test. Photo: Allsport Hulton
Source: Getty Images

The Australian legend has had a fantastic career in cricket and is considered supreme in the pantheon of great batsmen. His impressive stats, blended with his influence on and off the pitch, make Bradman the greatest to play the game, with a record-setting Test batting average of 99.94, which has been cited as the most outstanding achievement by any sportsman in any major sport.

Some of the most outstanding achievements by 'The Don' include the highest personal score in a first-class match, 1931 Wisden Cricketer of the year, 1999 Australian Sportsman of the year and the first former Test player to be elected chairman of the Australian Board of Control in 1960. His most significant award came in 1949 when he was knighted, honouring him as 'Sir' Donald Bradman.

Bradman's unique contribution to the game provided hope and pride to Australians during the Depression period. This move cemented his name as the greatest, as he was and still is a great ambassador for cricket.

7. Baseball - Babe Ruth

GOATs of all sports
Babe Ruth poses for a photo at League Park. Photo: Louis Van Oeyen
Source: Getty Images

Babe Ruth is the greatest baseball player ever to play the game. He is also one of the most successful sportsmen, going strong from 1914 to 1935, spending a more significant period with the New York Yankees. Popularly known as 'The Sultan of Swat', Babe Ruth emerged as the greatest hitter of all time.

Throughout his 22-year career, he has earned major awards, including the League award, the Slocum award (Now: Jack Lang award), the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

6. American Football - Tom Brady

Who is the GOAT of GOATs in sports?
Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prepares for a game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on 2 January 2022 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Photo: Jim McIsaac
Source: Getty Images

After winning his sixth Superbowl, Tom Brady cemented his position as the greatest of all time in NFL history. With 15 career Pro Bowl selections, he has also had the most career receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns for NFL tight ends and an incredible 3 MVP titles to complete the list.

Nicknamed 'Tom Terrific', he holds a .755 winning percentage, which is the most by any NFL quarterback who has started 100 games. Impressively, his 35 postseason victories are twice as many as any other quarterback, and he boasts the only NFL quarterback to win 200 regular season games.

5. Boxing - Muhammad Ali

GOATs of all time
Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali training. Photo: Bettmann
Source: Getty Images

Famously known as 'The Greatest', Muhammad Ali is arguably the best heavyweight boxer of all time and is regarded as one of the most significant figures of the 20th century. Taking advantage of his incredible hand speed, dazzling reflexes and constant movement, Ali held his hands low, making his opponents miss by the hair, before knocking them off with his sharp counters.

Ali has had 56 wins and five losses, with 37 knockouts throughout his career. While other fighters might match this, the quality of his opponents and how he dominated the boxing world during his time places him on top of the chart as the greatest boxer of all time.

4. Rugby - Mal Meninga

Sports GOATs of all time
Australia coach Mal Meninga conducts an interview before the 2017 Rugby League World Cup Quarter Final match against Samoa at Darwin Stadium on 17 November 2017 in Darwin, Australia. Photo: Matt King
Source: Getty Images

Over his 17-year career, Meninga captained the Australian team for 23 Test matches and the Queensland State of Origin team for three years. That makes him the only player to captain two Kangaroo Tours, in 1990 and 1994. His achievements and records are a testament to his strength, drive and passion for the sport, earning him the spot as the greatest rugby player of all time.

Playing mainly as a goal-kicking centre and also on the wing, Meninga accumulated multiple awards during his time in the league. He won major awards, including in 1990 when he was named the best player in the world, Australian Rugby League Writers' Player of the Year in 1991, Centre of the Year and Captain of the Year in 1991 and the Sports Tourism Ambassador of the Year in 1993.

3. MMA - Jon Jones

GOAT of all GOATs
Jon Jones poses for a portrait during a UFC photo session on 2 July 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo: Mike Roach
Source: Getty Images

Coming from a traumatic childhood, Jon Jones is one of the most successful UFC fighters of all time. With an incredible reach to his advantage, he uses a ground-and-pound technique which genuinely sets him apart. The point fighter went ahead to be the best in the game, clinching multiple titles.

He acquired notable titles, a two-time Light Heavyweight Championship from March 2011 to April 2015 and from December 2018 to August 2020. He also acquired the interim UFC Light Heavyweight Championship in 2016. He also holds the record for the longest unbeaten streak in UFC history of 18 straight fights.

2. Basketball - Michael Jordan

GOATs of all time
Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls of the NBA prepares to make a shot at Chicago Stadium, Chicago, United States. Photo: Jonathan Daniel
Source: Getty Images

While names like Bill Russel, Wilt Chamberlain and, most notably, Lebron James might be mentioned in the GOAT debate, Michael Jordan remains at the top. Currently the principal chairman and owner of the Charlotte Hornets of the NBA, he spent 15 years in the league, winning six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls.

His dominance in the top basketball league during the 90s grew his popularity, making him one of the most influential athletes of the century. His number 23 jersey became the most popular jersey even after his retirement, and it is the most popular number in all sports.

1. Football - Lionel Messi

Sports GOATs of all time
Lionel Messi of Argentina celebrates his goal during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 match against Mexico played at Lusail Stadium on 26 Nov 2022 in Lusail, Qatar. Photo: Bagu Blanco
Source: Getty Images

After winning the 2022 World Cup, Lionel Messi cemented himself as the greatest footballer of all time. This was the only trophy standing in his way as he had clinched any other award a footballer could earn, making him one of the complete sportsmen of the modern era. Cristiano Ronaldo is the closest to Lionel Messi in this debate as he goes head-to-head against Messi in every comparable statistic that will lead to the GOAT title.

Which is the greatest sport of all time?

Football, also known as soccer, is the greatest sport of all time. It has been voted for, with over 250 million athletes playing it in more than 200 countries.

What is the least known sport?

Some of the least-known sports in the world include unicycle hockey, chess, boxing and indoor kabaddi. The sports are, however, exciting and have even been featured in the Olympics. The three sports are also growing in popularity and may soon be recognised in major tournaments and competitions.

Who is the GOAT in athletics?

Usain Bolt is undoubtedly the most outstanding athlete of all time. Since he became a professional in the sprinting department, Bolt went strong in his career, becoming one of the most complete athletes in the world.

Who is the GOAT in athletics?
Usain Bolt of Jamaica celebrates after he wins gold during the Men's 200m Final on Day 13 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on 9 August 2012 in London, England. Photo: Ian MacNicol
Source: Getty Images

Is Messi the GOAT of football?

Argentina's star Lionel Messi is the undoubted GOAT of football in the 21 century. This comes after he won the World Cup, which was the only trophy missing from his cabinet. He has been compared primarily to Cristiano Ronaldo as the King of the 21st century.

Who is the GOAT of all GOATs in different sports?

New England Patriots hero Tom Brady is the 'GOAT of all GOATs'. He took this spot from Michael Jordan after his seventh Super Bowl in 2022 triumph, which has made him clear of the pack among sports legends. He is the sports' GOAT of all time.

What does GOAT stand for?

GOAT is an abbreviation that stands for Greatest of All Time. It dates back to the 20th century when it praises exceptional athletes, musicians, artists and other public figures since its inception.

The GOATs of all sports above are a true meaning of sportsmanship, with all the hard work and determination that has led them to be the greatest in their crafts. While some are still alive, others who have died have remained to be respected for their positive influence on their respective sports and the world.

READ ALSO: Which are the most popular jersey numbers in sports history?

Sportsbrief.com recently published an article on the most popular jersey numbers in sports history. Athletes who have been influential on a personal level to fans have their jersey numbers earned popularity worldwide. While they may seem like numbers to many, fans use them as inspiration and have adopted ways similar to the respective athlete, hoping to be as great. Read on to find out here.