It's an admittedly perilous question -- one that's near-impossible to answer and is sure to result in fierce debates between fans who view their sport or their player as the indisputable best. But, after watching Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s destruction of Shane Mosley last night, I feel compelled to throw my hat into the ring.
Simply put, Mayweather is the most dominant athlete on the planet. He's not only undefeated, but he obliterates his opponents, toying with fighters like Mosley who "experts" expect to give him trouble. He turns boxing into an art form, deftly dodging, smothering and deflecting punches while carefully picking his spots and hitting his opponents with precision and accuracy. It's not always the most "exciting" brand of boxing, but it's the most effective. If the object of the sport is to accumulate quality punches and win, Mayweather is the undisputed master.
So, how am I defining dominant? Basically, in my mind, you're dominant if you possess skills that none of your peers can ever hope to replicate. It doesn't mean you always win and are never challenged, but, at your best, there's nothing anyone can do to stop you. Also, for me, championships play a big role. It's a mark of a dominant player to not only rack up jaw-dropping individual stats, but also close the deal with trophies. It's one thing to look really good at your craft most of the time, but
the ability to perform "under the lights" takes another level of mental
fortitude that shouldn't be undervalued. Of course, individual sports are different, and Mayweather disregards the boxing commissions' various belts because he doesn't want to pay fees. But, in his case, a 41-0 record speaks volumes.
OK, without further ado, here's my list of the most dominant players in the world today. As always, argument is welcome in the comments section:
1. Floyd Mayweather Jr.
2. Lionel Messi
At 22 years old, Messi is already at the pinnacle of professional football. His skills are other-worldly, and his stats are beyond gaudy (29 goals in La Liga this year). He's also a winner, as evidenced by Barcelona's "treble" last year of the Copa del Rey, Champions League and La Liga trophies. The pressure is on for him to perform for Argentina this summer at the World Cup. If he does, he could solidify his place as the greatest ever to play the game.
3. Roger Federer
You could make a compelling argument that Feds is #1 or #2 on this list. The all-time leader in Grand Slam titles with 16, Federer has been a virtually unstoppable force on the tennis landscape for most of the last decade. So why is he #3? One reason: Rafael Nadal. His arch-rival, when not hobbled by injuries, not only pushes Federer more than any other competitor, but also beats him regularly in big matches. He's 5-2 against Roger in Grand Slam finals and 11-5 against him in all finals. As Tim Joyce wrote today on RCS, 2010 may be the year for Federer and Nadal to rekindle their rivalry. If they do, it will go a long way toward establishing where Federer stands in tennis history. If he manages to beat Rafa in Paris, he can put all the debates to rest. But, if he falls to him not only in Paris, but also in London and maybe even New York, the discussions about Federer's place in tennis history will only grow more lively and contentious.
4. LeBron James
James' dominance of the NBA is unnerving. Averaging close to a triple-double in 2010 en route to his second straight MVP trophy, James is the undisputed king of the NBA. He still needs a title though. Last year, he didn't have the team to do it. This year, he does. So, if he falls short, the questions will mount. If he wins, however, he'll secure himself a spot in the pantheon of the world's best athletes. Right now, let's say he's renting a room. It'll be his if he brings a trophy to Cleveland.What about others? Tiger Woods would have been on this list a few years ago, but, given the recent turn of events, we don't know if he's still the same dominant force in the golf world. Albert Pujols deserves mention as a baseball player without equals, but he's only won one (fluky) World Series.
So, there you have it. Keep in mind that this is just a snapshot based on where things stand today. If Nadal sweeps Federer this year and Pacquiao beats Mayweather in November (you know the fight's going to happen), this list could look a lot different at the end of 2010.