As most of the major sports throughout enjoy a well deserved off-season break, we can focus on the debate as to who are the top sportsmen alive today. There have been outstanding displays of athleticism during the past 18 months from each of the individuals mentioned in this list.
Here are the top ten male athletes in the world today, in my humble opinion.
10. Jon Jones (UFC):
Jon 'Bones' Jones is widely regarded as the best pound-for-pound athlete currently competing in any mixed martial arts organization. The UFC Light-Heavyweight Champion has destroyed his opposition over the last 18 months, as he has done throughout his time in the octogon. He is the youngest champion in UFC history and, at only 25 years of age, promises to get even better.
There's not many athletes in the World that have the physical attributes Jones has. At 6'4 and 204 pounds, Jones' length and power overwhelm his opponents and is technically superior to anybody in his division. His last two defenses against Vitor Belfort and Chael Sonnen were demolition jobs, cementing as the hottest property on the circuit. He also equaled the record set by Chuck Liddell for most consecutive title defenses in UFC history, a monumental effort will be needed to prize the gold away from his grasp, that is certain.
Jones will be essential in the continued growth of the sport going forward. He is the crowning jewel in the UFC crown and his dominance has already caught the attention of the worldwide media. Should he continue this astonishing display of dominance, he will take the sport to heights it hasn't been to before.
9. Tiger Woods (Golf):
The Tiger Woods of five years ago would be near the top of this list, such was his influence on sport in general. He changed the way people viewed golf in general, transforming the game single-handedly. However, Woods' well publicized transgressions left him with a mountain to climb, both professionally and personally.
After nearly three years of climbing his way back, Woods is finally back atop the PGA Rankings as the best golfer in the World. He already has three tournament victories to his name in 2013 and while his form in the majors has been somewhat disappointing up to now, at least there is a belief that Woods can now add to his 14 major titles.
It is a testament to the man's character that he has fought his way back to prominence. His infidelity and scandal that followed has obviously changed him as a person, he is far more media-friendly now, more humble and willing to sacrifice his own time for others. Many thought that after 107 weeks without a tournament win, it was the end of Tiger Woods as a golfing superstar. They were wrong, Woods is back in the spotlight for the foreseeable future. Even though the emergence of Rory McIlroy and others will ensure that Woods won't have things his own way, his return to form can only be a good thing for a game of golf, given all the sponsorship and financial clout that follows Woods wherever he goes.
8. Sir Bradley Wiggins (Cycling-Team Sky):
Not many people had a better 2012 than Wiggins. He became the first British winner of the Tour De France and capped it all off by winning the Gold at the London Olympics in the time trial. This made Wiggins Great Britain's most decorated Olympian with seven medals, of which four of them are Gold. He was crowned the BBC Sports Personality of the Year and was even knighted by the Queen in the New Year Honors List. He has a swagger that the sport of cycling hasn't seen before, something it has been desperately craving for some time.
Wiggins has made the sport of cycling relevant with his exploits on the track and on the road. He oozes charisma and has a natural charm that people have warmed too significantly. It is very unfortunate that Wiggins has suffered a knee injury that has forced him to miss this years Tour de France, as the sporting World would have been fixated on Wiggins as he looked to defend his title. His omission from Team Sky's lineup is as damaging to the sport as a whole as it is to Wiggins himself.
7. Novak Djokovic (Tennis):
This is indeed a golden age for Tennis, with greats such as Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Andy Murray providing us with some mesmerizing moments that have elevated the game to new heights. However, it is Djokovic who is ranked number one, and with good reason. At 27 years of age, he is already considered one of the greatest players of all time, having already amassed over $50 million in prize money alone. The Serbian sensation has been on a different planet to his peers over the last year, winning the Australian Open twice and the French Open. He plays the game with so much energy and enthusiasm it becomes infectious. His youthful exuberance on the court makes him a fan-favourite and it is no surprise that sponsors for the major companies are climbing over each other for Djokovic's name on their brand.
While the competition at the top of the ATP rankings is fierce, few expect Djokovic to be passed as number one. Nadal is coming off a serious knee injury, Federer is ageing and his powers aren't what they once were, and Andy Murray needs more Grand Slams to be considered as World number one. With all those elements, it is hard to envisage anything other than the Djokovic era lasting for several years yet.
6. Cristiano Ronaldo (Football-Real Madrid):
Depending on your opinion, Cristiano Ronaldo is either the best footballer in the World, or he is 1a behind Lionel Messi. A fantastic specimen, Ronaldo's fee of £80 million when he transferred from Manchester United to Real Madrid is still the highest fee ever paid for a footballer. Since his move to Spain, Ronaldo has netted an astounding 146 goals in just 135 games in all competitions for Madrid. But for Messi, Ronaldo would be the consensus best player in the World by some distance.
He is as close to the complete footballer as you are likely to find. Incredibly skillful, great in the air, has pace to burn, is a dead ball specialist and knows where the goal is. His defensive prowess could use some work, but he has never been known for that and people don't expect that from him. What they do expect is to be on the edge of their seat everytime he touches the ball. He is frightening running with the ball and when he is on top form there isn't a defender on the planet who can live with him.
The rumour mill is suggesting he could be set for an emotional return to United this summer, although a reported £70 million fee and wages of £250,000 per week sure to be a stumbling block. Whether Madrid will be willing to let their prized possession go is another matter entirely. One thing's for sure, it will have every Premier League defender shuddering at the thought.
5. Adrian Peterson (NFL-Minnesota Vikings):
When Peterson suffered a catastrophic knee injury at the end of the 2011 season, few expected him to reach the dizzy heights he had previously set for himself. Not only did he reach those levels, he obliterated them, almost breaking the NFL rushing record and winning the leagues Most Valuable Player award. A remarkable feat.
Peterson is an aggressive, powerful runner who thrives on physical contact. When he gets up a head of steam, it's almost impossible to stop him in the open field. The Vikings made the Playoffs last season, with Peterson carrying the team on his back due to the inconsistency of Quarterback Christian Ponder. He finished just 8 yards shy of breaking the all-time rushing record, something that he will be looking to top in 2013.
Peterson is a great role model for people suffering injury and what can be achieved with hard work and complete dedication to your rehabilitation. A perfect example of how an athlete should conduct himself in the face of adversity.
4. Usain Bolt (Athletics):
The fastest man on the planet, the pinnacle of evolution and a breath of fresh air to the sport of athletics, Usain Bolt was the star of the summer Olympics. He came away with three golds, in the 100 and 200 metres, plus the 4x 100 metre relay. What made this accomplishment even more impressive was the amount of effort it took, which appeared to be very little.
Bolt is a natural athlete, that is evident when you look at his chiseled, 6'5 inch frame. You can't teach speed, and Bolt has worked hard to maintain the level of performance that has seen him break every notable world record he has set out to. Whether he can improve on his 9.58 second World record in the 100m remains to be seen. He has spoken of possible retirement, which will no doubt please his rivals. It would leave a gaping hole in the sport, for which Bolt has become "the most marketable athlete in history".
3. Floyd Mayweather (Boxing):
He may not fight as often as he used to, but Mayweather is still the pound-for-pound king of boxing. His arrogant, brash demeanor means just as many people loathe him as love him, but there is no denying his ability in the ring. There's nobody that has come close to beating Mayweather, many beaten by the time they set foot in the ring.
He is a tremendous counter puncher with lightning reflexes who avoids punches effortlessly. Although he may have missed out on his career defining fight with Manny Pacquaio, that won't tarnish his legacy when people look back on his career. Despite lengthy lay-off's in-between fights, Mayweather always comes back like he has never been away. A five-weight World Champion, Mayweather is in the twilight of his career and whether you agree with his attitude or not, his talents must be enjoyed while he is still fighting.
Mayweather has never cared what the general public think of him, all he has ever cared about was making money, and he has made a fortune. "Pretty Boy" topped the Forbes' highest paid athletes in the world list in 2012, earning an astonishing $85 million for just two fights. He served a short prison term in that time, but there's no question that he will go down in the annals of history as one of the greatest that's ever laced up a pair of gloves.
2. Lionel Messi (Football-Barcelona):
Despite Ronaldo being hot on his heels, Messi is the best footballer we have seen since Diego Maradona, a once-in-a-generation talent who has dazzled fans his quick feet and deft touches that leave defenders flat-footed and trailing in his wake.
The World and European footballer of the year has broken the Barcelona all-time scoring record at the tender age of 26. Now in the prime of his career, Messi has a chance to be the greatest footballer in history if he continues at this stupendous level of performance.
This season was Messi's finest, eclipsing Gerd Muller's record of most goals in a calendar year with 91. That is a record that will stand through the ages and out of the current crop of footballers, only Messi himself has a chance of breaking it. In all competitions, Messi scored 60 goals in the season that will no doubt see him lift the World and European player of the year trophies once again.
The only thing that has eluded Messi is honours on the International stage with Argentina. They have vastly underachieved as of late but with the World Cup in South America (Brazil) in 2014, the stage is set for Messi to transfer his club form to his country. If he manages to do this, then there will be little dispute he is the greatest player of all time.
1. LeBron James (NBA-Miami Heat):
Sometimes you know when you're watching greatness, throughout the NBA Playoffs this year was one of those occasions. LeBron James was phenomenal throughout, dragging the Heat to another championship while his teammates almost watched in awe. Despite all the criticism he has received over the years, James has continued on his path undeterred and is now considered to be the best player we have seen since Michael Jordan.
James is a marketing machine who makes around $53 million annually, yet that isn't how he wants to be remembered. He has made no secret of the fact he wants to go down as the best ever, something that is well within his reach, despite the iconic status Jordan has.
James' accolades over the last 12 months beggar belief. 2x NBA Champion, 2x MVP, 2x Finals MVP and Olympic Gold Medal. There's not an athlete on the planet who could boast that resume over the last year. That's why James tops this list, and whoever has been fortunate enough to watch him over the last year wouldn't deny it's well deserved. Long live the "King".
Dean Jones: Follow me on Twitter @DeanJones_