Athletes who made the most money in 2015

Steven Hanley, Special to

The highest paid

Roger Federer of Switzerland returns a forehand shot to Novak Djokovic of Serbia during their Men's Singles Final match on Day Fourteen of the 2015 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 13, 2015
Getty Images

Today, athletes are making more money than ever before. It's become commonplace to see sports figures in all major sports get record-breaking deals, like the Cleveland Cavalier's Kevin Love did when he completed a five-year, $110 million deal over the summer. For the mathematically challenged, that's more than $20 million a year—far more, in fact, than the average chief executive of a major corporation.

Read More Why corporate CEO pay is so high, and going higher

Using Forbes Magazine's recently compiled list of the highest-paid athletes in 2015 to date, CNBC has put together a list of the top five earners. While it would seem to make sense that the biggest names in the most popular U.S. sports make the most money, the list proves that this may not necessarily be the case: Big-paycheck names such as Alex Rodriguez, LeBron James and Tom Brady actually failed to make the cut. A few names on this list, ranked from lowest to highest earners, may come as a surprise to many readers.

By Steven Hanley, special to CNBC
Posted 20 Sept. 2015

Roger Federer: $67 Million

Roger Federer
Getty Images

Roger Federer, the No. 2-ranked tennis player in the world right now, takes the crown as the richest tennis player of the year, and the fifth-highest paid athlete of 2015.

Federer, who made a mere $9 million from match play this year, makes the majority of his money off the court. As arguably the most-popular male tennis player in the world, Federer has been able to land endorsement deals with powerhouse companies such as Nike, Rolex, Gillette and Credit Suisse. These endorsements have netted Federer $58 million dollars this year, bringing his 2015 total to a whopping $67 million.

Lionel Messi: $73.8 Million

Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona shoots at goal during the La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Barcelona at Vicente Calderon Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.
Getty Images

Lionel Messi, perhaps the most skilled soccer player ever to grace the field, comes in as the fourth-highest paid athlete of 2015 with just under $75 million. Messi also owes a lot of his wealth to endorsements from companies such as Samsung and FIFA ($22 million this year), but the majority of his earnings come from contracts with various soccer teams. In 2015, Messi made $52 million alone by playing for arguably the best club team in the world, Barcelona, as well as for the Argentine national team.

Despite its small (but growing) fan base in the United States, soccer is widely considered to be the most popular sport in the world. Messi, along with superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, is undoubtedly the face of soccer worldwide.

Cristiano Ronaldo: $79.6 Million

Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid CF reacts as he fail to score during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Real Betis Balompie at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on August 29, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.
Getty Images

Cristiano Ronaldo, also known as CR7, is constantly juxtaposed to Messi as the best player in the world. However, he has made slightly more than his Argentinean superstar rival this year. Ronaldo, like Messi, has made $52 million from playing for both Real Madrid and the Portuguese national team, but he holds a slight edge in endorsement deals. As the world's most-followed athlete on social media platforms, Ronaldo has been able to land a large deal with Nike, as well as launch his own clothing line, CR7. These deals have earned Ronaldo $27 million this year, bringing his 2015 total earnings to nearly $80 million.

Manny Pacquiao: $160 Million

Manny Pacquiao
Getty Images

Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao, the Filipino-born boxer, ranks as the second-highest paid athlete with $160 million. That sum is double Cristiano Ronaldo's earnings on the year—but much of that was actually earned in one fell swoop. Pacquiao's 2015 earnings probably qualify him as having the world's richest hourly rate, because his one-hour May 2 battle with Floyd Mayweather earned him a staggering $120 million.

Pacquiao did not prevail against his challenger, but "The Fight of the Century" made him an awfully wealthy loser, with the help of the more than 4 million people who shattered Pay Per View records, and generated $400 million in revenue.

Floyd Mayweather: $300 Million

Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Getty Images

If the "Fight of the Century's" loser is No. 2, you'd have to assume that the victor is No. 1. Floyd "Money" Mayweather—infamous for flaunting his pile of cash—comes in as the highest-paid athlete of 2015 with an astounding $300 million. Like Pacquiao, Mayweather made the vast majority of his money from their faceoff. The 60 percent that Mayweather secured from pay-per-view buys netted him $220 million, the most money ever made by an individual in a single event.

The remaining $80 million that Floyd made this year came from two main sources: less-significant matches that netted him at least $60 million and endorsements from Burger King, FanDuel and Hublot, which totaled $15 million in revenue.