We see your Manning vs. Brady debate and raise you Manning vs. Tiger. And Tiger vs. Serena. And Serena vs. LeBron. Yes, on this, ESPN The Magazine's 20th anniversary, we present the definitive 20 for 20 -- the most formidable, awe-inspiring and downright dominant athletes of the past two decades. In order. Across sports. Backed by foolproof math. So without further ado: The Dominance Rankings.
by Peter Keating

Tiger Woods

PGA Dominance Rating: 17.0

How can a golfer who's won only eight tournaments in the past nine years be the most dominant athlete of the past 20? Because boy howdy, the 11 years before that. Consider the decade prior to Tiger Woods' dominant run, when golf's players of the year averaged 3.1 wins. From 1999 through 2009, Woods averaged 5.8 wins per season and won the award nine times. He was routinely magnitudes greater than the game's next best: He won 13 of 35 majors from late 1999 to mid-2008, while no other golfer won more than three; three times he won five or more consecutive tournaments -- the last man who won five in a row was Ben Hogan in 1953; of the 45 times he held the outright lead heading into the final round, Woods won 43 of those -- a 95.6 percent closing clip. Even the minutia is amazing: From 2002 through 2005, Woods faced 1,716 putts of 3 feet or less; he made all but four. Nobody's perfect. --Ty Wenger

See More

LeBron James

NBA Dominance Rating: 15.6

In the bowels of Quicken Loans Arena after the Spurs swept the Cavaliers in the 2007 Finals, Tim Duncan hugged a 22-year-old LeBron James, finishing his fourth season, and told him, in effect: You've got next. Of course, even a decade ago, LeBron already had his -- he averaged 27.2 points in his second year, still the most ever in an age-20 season. And even after seven (seven!) consecutive trips to the Finals -- while averaging 94 games in those campaigns -- LeBron hasn't shown much, if any, old-guy attrition. He's pushing 27/9/9, and if that line holds, he'll be the first 30-something to accomplish it in a season. He averaged a triple-double in a single month for the first time in his career in February of this, his 15th, season. And after averaging at least 25 points in 14 seasons -- most in NBA history -- on Feb. 27 he became the founding and sole member of the 30,000/8,000/8,000 club. And we still can't wait to see what's next. --Anthony Olivieri

Peyton Manning

NFL Dominance Rating: 12.7

Perhaps the greatest testament to Peyton Manning's sustained excellence? He made being elite look ordinary; he was just that good. The 539 passing touchdowns, an NFL record. The 71,940 passing yards, also a league mark. The 186 wins at quarterback, the most in the NFL at the time of his retirement -- a record that he held until last October, when foil and fellow ridiculously dominant QB Tom Brady seized that honor. Ponder the sheer amount of year-in, year-out greatness required to amass those numbers. Those 539 TDs? He threw for at least 25 touchdowns in 16 seasons -- three more than Brady. The 71,940 yards? He racked up 4,000-yard seasons before they were de rigueur, reaching that mark 14 times overall (more than any other quarterback) and every year from 1999 to 2004, when no other QB did so more than two times. The 186 wins? Those can add up when you boast a .750 winning percentage (or better) against half the league. Dominating opponents? Nothing out of the ordinary. --Hallie Grossman

See More

Jimmie Johnson

NASCAR Dominance Rating: 12.1

Perhaps we should have seen him coming when Jimmie Johnson, the first rookie ever to lead the point standings, won the pole at his first Daytona 500 in 2002. Perhaps the depth and breadth of Johnson's future achievements should have been self-evident. But then there's this: He rattled off 20 top-10 finishes in 14 consecutive seasons; Richard Petty's longest such streak was seven. He captured five straight championships, from 2006 to 2010; no other driver in NASCAR history has matched that feat. He qualified for every single Chase in his career; no other driver has done that either. Johnson, quite simply, doesn't do letdowns. Pick a year, any year. In 2006, he averaged a top-10 finish. The following season? He won 10 races, the only man in this century to do so. Pick a course, any course. He tallied 16 straight seasons with at least two wins, winning at 20 different tracks. Pick a name, any name. Gordon? Waltrip? Yarborough? Johnson races among them. --Sachin Dave Chandan

See More

Roger Federer

ATP Dominance Rating: 10.6

This 36-year-old Swiss has a nasty hoarding habit. Roger Federer stockpiled a record 305 weeks (and counting) atop the ATP standings, including 237 weeks in a row (another record). He reached 10 straight grand slam finals from 2005 to 2007 -- yes, a record. After missing the 2008 Australian Open final, he rattled off eight additional consecutive grand slam finals appearances (second only to ... his original record). All that hoarding? It adds up to a whole lot of winning. Federer has emerged victorious in 82 percent of his matches -- a ridiculous 93 percent from 2004 to 2007 -- while winning 29 percent of all tournaments he has entered. The 20 grand slam titles he's captured as a pro? That's 10 percent of all grand slam majors in tennis' 50-year Open era. Federer, who every time he steps onto the court extends his record as the oldest player ever to rank No. 1 in the ATP, has won four grand slams since turning 30. And that, you guessed it, ties a record. --Dan Hajducky

Annika Sorenstam

LPGA Dominance Rating: 10.3

Stop us if you've heard this before: How can a golfer who hasn't picked up a club professionally in the past decade be the most dominant female athlete of the past 20 years? We repeat: Because of, boy howdy, the 10 years before that -- and 2001 to 2005, above all, when Annika Sorenstam -- deep inhale -- captured 43 of her 72 career wins, finishing in the top three almost 70 percent of the time. She averaged an LPGA-best 68.6974 in 2002, 69.0167 in 2003 and 68.6970 in 2004, claiming the three all-time-lowest season scoring averages in tour history. She dominated fellow LPGA competitors (shooting 29 straight rounds under par, a record she claimed alone until Lydia Ko matched it in 2015) and occasionally left PGA foes quaking in their spikes. In 2003, she teed up at Colonial -- the first woman to play in a PGA Tour event in nearly six decades -- and shot a first-round 71, 74 the next day, missed the cut, but beat 11 men. Deep exhale. --Charlotte Gibson

Michael Schumacher

Formula One Dominance Rating: 10.2

In a sport of icons, Michael Schumacher led Formula One in a way no driver had before. Literally. He led for a combined 15,000 miles over the course of his career -- 4,000 more than his closest competitor, Lewis Hamilton, currently claims. He led 30 percent of all laps he raced. He still leads ... as the sport's all-time record holder for career wins (91), wins in a season (13) and championships (7). He was, in short, relentless. His wins came in bunches: 13 in 2004, 11 in 2002, and nine in 1995, 2000 and 2001. When he wasn't winning outright, he was finishing on the podium -- which he did in every single race in 2002. And though his life took a tragic turn -- he suffered a traumatic brain injury in a 2013 skiing accident, and the details of his current condition remain private -- his star-making turn and legacy in F1 continue to, and always will, command respect. --Sachin Dave Chandan

See More

Floyd Mayweather

Men's Boxing Dominance Rating: 10.1

With his 10th-round TKO of Conor McGregor last August, Floyd Mayweather stands alone atop the boxing summit: an unprecedented and unblemished 50-0, with unequivocal standing among the best fighters of all time. Those world titles in five weight divisions? He joins Oscar De La Hoya, Manny Pacquiao, Thomas Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard as the only boxers to achieve such a feat. Those 24 wins against current or former champions? Bonkers. And so for now, and maybe for good, he is untouchable -- literally and figuratively. Witness: Mayweather has been knocked down, officially, just once in his career, and per CompuBox, only one opponent landed more punches against him. The man called Money ranks first all time in plus-minus -- the percentage of punches landed minus the percentage of punches absorbed -- at plus-24.7 and connect percentage (43.9). Despite his well-documented history of domestic violence, his career earnings have inched toward $1 billion on the strength of people paying to view his bouts: Cards featuring Mayweather claim six of the top eight largest-grossing gates in Nevada history. --Anthony Olivieri


Women's Soccer Dominance Rating: 9.8

In the 2007 World Cup semifinal, Brazil vs. the United States, Marta samba-ed around a USWNT defender before sending another American lunging the wrong way, then netted Brazil's fourth and final goal to spring her team to the final in Shanghai. It was just one goal in a career brimming with them -- since making her A Seleção debut in 2003, she has averaged a goal per match in international play -- but it's moments like these, full of ginga, the flash, spirit and movement at the height of Brazilian football, that showcase the full extent of Marta's brilliance. It's why she has surpassed 200 club goals and stands alone as the top scorer in FIFA Women's World Cup history with 15 goals to her name (two more would make her the most prolific World Cup scorer, male or female). It's why she brought home an unprecedented five straight FIFA World Player of the Year awards from 2006 to 2010. It's why Pele himself christened her "Pele with a skirt," a statement some would consider a slight on multiple counts. --Dan Hajducky

See More

Usain Bolt

Men's Track & Field Dominance Rating: 9.5

The fastest human in history has a leg up on the rest of the world. No, really. One study showed that Usain Bolt, at 6-foot-5, needed just 41 steps to cover 100 meters while other top sprinters need 43 or more. Whether it was those long, powerful strides or his trademark gold spikes, Bolt didn't just outrun the field. He obliterated it. From 2008 to 2016, he ran 21 Olympic or world championship events and took first place in 19 of them. (His lone defeats came courtesy of a false start at the 2011 worlds and a teammate's failed drug test following a relay in the 2008 Games.) He won a combined eight Olympic gold medals in the 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash and 4x100-meter relay, the most of any sprinter in history; that haul included claiming the 100- and 200-meter titles in an unprecedented three consecutive Olympics. And he retired last summer with all three of the fastest 100-meter times in history. --Doug Mittler

See More

Lionel Messi

Men's Soccer Dominance Rating: 8.9

That Lionel Messi is only 30 seems an affront to reason. His first official match for Barcelona came 13 years ago, and in that time he has: broken the La Liga scoring record (373 and counting); set a mark for assists (149 and counting); as of this January, combined to score or assist on 10 percent of all goals Barcelona has recorded at Camp Nou; and helped lead Barca to eight titles, 33 percent of the team's all-time total. His proclivity for finding the net has regularly defied logic. His record-setting 91-goal campaign in 2012? That's a goal every four days. His 541 goals in 625 games for Barcelona? That's 0.87 goals per game. Almost nothing has eluded the five-time Ballon d'Or winner (and five-time runner-up; both tied for most nods) ... save for a major trophy with his native Argentina. If his World Cup drought ends this summer in Russia, Messi's scoring prowess (Argentine-record 61 international goals) will likely be the driving force. Any other reason would seem like an affront. --Dan Hajducky

Serena Williams

WTA Dominance Rating: 8.9

Winning the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant actually has competition for the most impressive feat of Williams' long and storied career. She didn't drop a set to sister Venus that day en route to claiming her 23rd grand slam title -- most in the Open era. Along the way, she's racked up more wins and filled her case with more trophies than anyone; since 2013, she has nearly as many grand slam titles (eight) as she does grand slam losses (nine). Simply put, Williams has run the game's best competition straight off the court. She has won 19 of her past 22 grand slam matches vs. top-10 opponents, including a stretch from 2012 to 2016 in which she rattled off 14 straight victories. She's a combined 46-7 vs. Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki. And in 2015, she became the first player ever to boast twice as many points as any competitor in the WTA rankings. She just wins ... baby. --Charlotte Gibson

See More

Lauren Jackson

WNBA Dominance Rating: 8.3

When Lauren Jackson notched her 1,000th career point, she became the youngest WNBA star to reach that benchmark. Ditto for 2,000. And 3,000, 4,000 and 5,000. She was, in short, a relentless scorer, a terror on the inside with a rare ability to shoot beyond the arc -- she cracked the 40 percent threshold three times in her career (2004, 2007 and 2009). But the real proof of Jackson's dominance is in the PER pudding. Three of the top five single-season PER scores belong to her, including the overall record: 35.04 in 2007. Consider: Though she herself came close to that mark the year prior (34.91), no other player in WNBA history has even reached 33. Consider too: The NBA single-season PER record is 31.82, set by ... Wilt Chamberlain in the 1962-63 campaign. Jackson's 12-year WNBA tour de force wound down in 2012, but not before she racked up the second-highest career win shares of all time (72.97) and finished as the leader in that category five times (2003, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2010). Boom. --Sean Hurd

See More

Cristiano Ronaldo

Men's Soccer Dominance Rating: 8.2

Anything the Beautiful Game's greatest can do, Cristiano Ronaldo can do better. Or at least faster. This month, the Portuguese star scored his 300th La Liga goal -- the second player in history to reach that threshold, after Lionel Messi. The difference? Forty-eight, to be exact. Ronaldo needed only 286 games to Messi's 334. Yes, any way you slice it, Ronaldo is a scoring terror. Since joining Real Madrid in 2009, he has averaged more than a goal a game, which makes a kind of ridiculous sense when you consider he collects goals in bunches: 49 career hat tricks, 33 in La Liga alone, the most in league history. He boasts more goals in Champions League knockout rounds (58) than all but two players have scored overall (Messi, 98; Raul, 71). In all, his 79 goals for Portugal are the second most in European history, behind only Hungary's Ferenc Puskas. And his 640 goals between club and country is the sixth-highest top-division total in 150 years. Beautiful, indeed. --Sachin Dave Chandan

See More

Novak Djokovic

ATP Dominance Rating: 8.0

Among the Federer-Nadal-Djokovic triumvirate, Novak Djokovic's 12 grand slam titles feels downright paltry. (Rafael Nadal claims 16 such trophies; Roger Federer boasts a record 20.) So how, you may ask, does the Serb land a mere 10 spots below Federer in our dominance rankings? How does he land here at all when Nadal is so notably absent? We offer for your consideration Djokovic circa 2011 to 2016. Over that stretch, he appeared in three times as many grand slam finals (18) as he missed (six). He totaled 140 wins vs. top-10 competition -- nine more such victories than Federer and Nadal combined in that time. He took home at least 20 wins against top-10 opponents in five separate years (Nadal did so once, in 2013; Federer has never cracked 20); in 2015 alone, he racked up 31 top-10 wins, an Open era record. Then there's this: Though Djokovic trails in grand slam titles won, he owns a winning record vs. both Federer (23-22) and Nadal (26-24). --Sean Hurd

See More

Allyson Felix

Track & Field Dominance Rating: 7.3

How do you properly put Allyson Felix into context? It's not just that she sprinted to three medals (two golds, one silver) in Rio and left the 2016 Games as the most decorated woman track and field star in U.S. Olympic history. It's that she did so without qualifying for her most cherished -- and dominant -- individual event, the 200 meters. (In April 2016, she suffered a sprained ankle a few months before the Olympic trials and missed qualifying to defend her 2012 gold by 0.01 of a second.) And it's not just that Felix has more Olympic medals (nine) than any other U.S. woman track and field star. It's that she is tied for the most of any woman track and field star, period. The difference? Felix hauled in six golds and three silvers. Merlene Ottey, who shares top honors, claimed no golds, three silvers and six bronzes. Pile on Felix's record 16 IAAF World Championships medals (11 golds, 3 silvers, 2 bronzes) and, well, you get the full picture. --Sean Hurd

See More

Barry Bonds

MLB Dominance Rating: 7.1

Forget for a moment the baggage he carries, and put yourself on the mound with Barry Bonds at the plate. There's a runner on and you need one out. Imagine all of the reasons pitchers like yourself chose to intentionally walk Bonds 688 times. Surely your fellow aces were aware that he was stockpiling MVPs, on his way to seven, four more than any other player in baseball history. Their scouting reports showed the same numbers, including that 162.4 career WAR, second only to Babe Ruth among all position players. Their memories, like yours, are haunted by the feats that humbled the best hurlers and gave Bonds three of the top four OPS seasons of all time: 1.422 in 2004, 1.381 in 2002 and 1.379 in 2001. No, they, like you, rationalized that each of those 688 intentional walks -- 381 more than the next-closest hitter, Albert Pujols -- was strategic, not a sign of weakness. There was no shame in those free passes. They still are the truest acknowledgment of one man's dominance. --Doug Mittler

See More

Mike Trout

MLB Dominance Rating: 7.1

Mike Trout is one for the ages. And we do mean nearly every age of baseball. Behold: The Los Angeles Angels outfielder has a 55.2 WAR through his age-25 season, a mark surpassed only by Ty Cobb among position players. Also of note: Trout's WAR has already surpassed the career marks of Hall of Fame sluggers Tony Perez, Orlando Cepeda and Ralph Kiner. In truth, any exercise in Trout comparison eventually leads you here, to mentions of Hall of Fame mainstays -- or future mainstays. He claims four eight-WAR seasons through his age-25 season, tied for the most with Cobb and Alex Rodriguez. Of the nine players who have hit at least 600 home runs in MLB history, only A-Rod and Albert Pujols mashed more by age 26. And those 150 homers, 400 extra-base hits and 150 stolen bases that came before his 26th birthday? Well, that's where Trout stands alone. No other player in history, Hall of Famer or otherwise, has matched those marks. --Doug Mittler

Manny Pacquiao

Men's Boxing Dominance Rating: 6.5

When you hoard world titles in eight weight classes -- the most of any boxer in history -- sure, we'll save you seat at the dominance table. It's not every athlete who earns three BWAA Fighter of the Year nods, after all. Manny Pacquiao, in fact, is one of just six boxers to ever three-peat. Here's why: From Pacquiao's 2008 win over Oscar De La Hoya to his defeat by Juan Manuel Marquez in 2012 -- the era CompuBox considers his prime -- he threw 12 more punches per round than the welterweight average. But more telling is that his 19.7 power punches landed per round bested the welterweight mark by more than seven. It was during that time that he reached peak Pacquiao, setting career highs in punches thrown (1,069) and landed (474) in his slugfest victory over Antonio Margarito. In the end, the politically controversial Filipino senator proved more than dominant: He knocked out 20 of 26 opponents from 2000 to 2009. And that leaves little room for debate. --Anthony Olivieri

See More

Tom Brady

NFL Dominance Rating: 6.3

If it's true that you are what you eat, the famously health-conscious Tom Brady is nuts (and crucifers, greens and a sizable cistern of water). His career numbers are nuts too: Brady claims more postseason wins as starting quarterback (27) than do 27 franchises. His Super Bowl victories (five) outnumber the all-time playoff-win tallies for one team (the still new-ish Texans) and match another's (the not-at-all new-ish Bengals). Since 2006, Brady has six of the top 30 postseason QBR performances -- his closest competitor is Peyton Manning, with three -- and he has the top single-game playoff QBR, 98.0 vs. Jacksonville in 2007. And lest you think Brady burns brightest only on the big postseason stages, his long-term success is also staggering: Since 2007, only 13 QBs without their own branded cookbook have thrown at least 34 touchdown passes in a season, while Brady himself has averaged 34 TD tosses for those years; and his 341/82 TD/INT mark since '07 is the league's best. Let's face it, he's bananas (but only when mixed in a smoothie). --Hallie Grossman

See More

More Stories