GOAT of GOATs: Who is the Greatest Athlete Of All Time? Vote now

Yahoo Sports Staff
·9 min read
(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)
(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

Who is the GOAT of GOATs? The greatest of the greatests? An answer to the question: Who is the greatest athlete of all time?

Well, we’re asking you to vote.

When you do, keep this in mind: It’s impossible to compare players of different sports. Babe Ruth vs. Michael Jordan is an unanswerable argument. What we can attempt to determine is this: Who dominated their competition the most?

We’ve seeded 16 athletes from 16 different sports based on your votes of who is the GOAT of each individual sport. Now, it’s time for the main bracket. Remember, this isn’t about popularity, but who dominated their sport the most. Vote now to determine who is The GOAT of GOATS.

(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports illustration)
(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports illustration)

1. Wayne Gretzky vs. 16. Jon Jones

The case for Wayne Gretzky

The “Great One” racked up 2,857 points in his 20-year career and would own the NHL’s all-time scoring record even if you took away his career goals (894) and counted only his assists (1,963). A nine-time MVP, Gretzky was so brilliant he cast a shadow on three men who would otherwise have great NHL GOAT cases: Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr and Mario Lemieux.

— Kevin Kaduk

The case for Jon Jones

Jon Jones is the most dominant MMA fighter the sport has seen. He’s 26-1 and his only loss came in a disqualification that was a referee mistake. He is 14-0 in UFC title fights and has beaten six former UFC champions and a reigning Bellator champion.

— Kevin Iole

2. Michael Jordan vs. 15. Cheryl Miller

The case for Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan was so good his claim to the NBA’s GOAT throne is still gaining momentum almost a quarter-century after his retirement from the Chicago Bulls. “The Last Dance” documentary reminded us how thoroughly he eviscerated the league. Jordan went 6-for-6 when a title was on the line, winning Finals MVP each time. He added five regular-season MVPs, three more scoring titles than anyone else in history and a Defensive Player of the Year award. No amount of honors or statistics can properly calculate how much fear Jordan’s blend of skill, athleticism and confidence struck into opponents’ hearts when the game mattered most.

— Ben Rohrbach

The case for Cheryl Miller

One day in high school, Reggie Miller came home excited that he had scored 39 points. Alas, that wasn’t even the high for his family that day. His sister had also played. She scored 105. Cheryl Miller was the most dominant women’s basketball player of the pre-WNBA era, California’s all-time leading scorer in high school and a four-time All-American and two-time national champion at USC. The competition has drastically improved since Miller’s heyday, but she’d have been a star in any era.

— Jeff Eisenberg

3. Roger Federer vs. 14. Amanda Nunes

The case for Roger Federer

Roger Federer’s six-year run from 2004-09 remains unapproached in its dominance in the history of men’s tennis: World No. 1 for 237 straight weeks (second best is Jimmy Connors at 160); winner of 14 of 24 Grand Slams; finalist in six others; completion of the career Grand Slam. In one stretch, he reached the finals in 10 straight Grand Slam events and in 17 of 18. That stretch alone cements him in the conversation of the greatest ever. That he accumulated a record 20 Grand Slam titles playing in the same era as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, Nos. 2 and 3 on the Grand Slam list, only augments Federer’s résumé.

— Jay Hart

The case for Amanda Nunes

Amanda Nunes is the greatest women’s mixed martial arts fighter of all time because of her extraordinary punching power, submission skills and wins over the legends of the sport. She needed less than one round to finish Ronda Rousey, Cris “Cyborg” Justino, Miesha Tate and Holly Holm, and has a pair of victories over reigning UFC women’s flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko.

— Kevin Iole

4. Muhammad Ali vs. 13. Annika Sorenstam

The case for Muhammad Ali

No matter which version of Muhammad Ali you pick — the fast, agile, almost-impossible-to-hit-boxer of his youth or the wily, gritty tough guy who returned after more than a three-year exile from his sport — he has an argument as the greatest of all time in his sport. Ali won an Olympic gold medal, held the heavyweight title on three occasions, went 11-3 against opponents who wound up in the International Boxing Hall of Fame and became the biggest star the sport has ever known.

— Kevin Iole

The case for Annika Sorenstam

Sorenstam spent the 2000s virtually matching Tiger Woods win-for-win. She retired in 2008, having won 72 LPGA Tour events and another 18 international events. She claims 10 majors, won Player of the Year eight times, and recorded the lowest seasonal average on Tour six times. She’s also the only woman to shoot 59 in an official event, and her 2003 — two majors, 11 total wins — remains one of the finest seasons ever compiled by any golfer.

— Jay Busbee

5. Michael Phelps vs. 12. Lionel Messi

The case for Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps has … deep breath … won 28 Olympic medals, 10 more than anyone else; collected 23 golds, 14 more than anyone else; has the single most dominant Olympics in history, winning eight golds in 2008; has set 39 world records; set a world record at 15, won gold medals in his 30s. Oh, and he has won 20 more Olympic medals than Usain Bolt.

— Pat Forde

The case for Messi

Lionel Messi has never won a World Cup. But over 16 years and counting, he has undoubtedly risen above a former GOAT (Pelé) who won three. He has conquered the Champions League four times. He has dominated Spain’s La Liga – and dominated his contemporary Cristiano Ronaldo in the process. His goal-plus-assist numbers (1.15 per match) are preposterous, unlike anything the modern game has ever seen. And he’s done all of this, with grace and ingenuity, in the most defensive-minded era in soccer history. His brilliance is unequaled.

— Henry Bushnell

6. Mario Andretti vs. 11. Tiger Woods

The case for Mario Andretti

The greatest race car drivers are the ones who are the most adaptable. And that’s why Mario Andretti is the greatest of all time. Andretti was great in every car that he raced. He won three USAC championships, the 1967 Daytona 500, the 1969 Indianapolis 500, the 1978 Formula 1 World Championship and the 1984 CART title. His team also finished second in class in the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans when Andretti was 55.

— Nick Bromberg

The case for Tiger Woods

If we’re talking dominance — and we are — then Tiger Woods’ stretch from 1999-2002 is without comparison. He won five of six majors, including four in a row, and seven of 11. His 82 PGA Tour wins put him in a tie for first.

— Jay Busbee

7. Mia Hamm vs. 10. Tom Brady

The case for Mia Hamm

Mia Hamm scored 158 international goals (second all time, male or female) and assisted on 144 (most all time) en route to two World Cups and two Olympic golds. Sixteen years after her retirement, Hamm is still a cultural icon, and still – arguably – women's soccer's GOAT.

— Henry Bushnell

The case for Tom Brady

As the MVPs, Pro Bowls, records and Super Bowl rings pile up, it becomes difficult to argue against anyone but Tom Brady as the greatest NFL player of all time. Perhaps there's some distinction to be made between "greatest player" and "greatest résumé," considering so much NFL success is based on being in the right situation (and Brady has been in an incredible one), but why belabor the point when Brady's résumé blows anyone else's away? He has more Super Bowl rings than any other player in NFL history. He won his first championship at age 24 and his latest at 41, and it's unlikely that will ever be matched. He is one of five players with at least three MVP awards, and tied for the all-time record with 14 Pro Bowls. And he's still adding to his legacy.

— Frank Schwab

8. Babe Ruth vs. 9. Serena Williams

The case for Babe Ruth

Why is Babe Ruth baseball’s GOAT? Let’s put it this way: For every other athlete in this series, you could say that he or she was “the Babe Ruth of their sport” and you’d have a good case without writing another word. But since we have the space: More than eight decades after his last plate appearance, Ruth is still the career leader in two of the game’s most important stats: WAR (182.5 games) and OPS (1.1636). He’s third in home runs (714), second in RBI (2,214) and 10th in career batting average (.342). And if you want dominance, in 1927, Ruth hit 60 home runs — more than the total posted by 12 of the 15 other teams. Also, here’s what the all-time home run list looked at the end of 1935, Ruth’s final year: 1. Babe Ruth - 714; 2. Lou Gehrig - 378; 3. Jimmie Foxx - 302; 4. Rogers Hornsby - 300; 5. Al Simmons - 256. Oh, and he won 94 games and owned a career 2.28 ERA as a pitcher.

— Kevin Kaduk

The case for Serena Williams

Serena Williams has been a force on the circuit for so long that even after going through a life-threatening childbirth, losing in a Grand Slam final is considered a colossal disappointment. A quarter-century after her debut, the 23-time Grand Slam winner is still a favorite in any tournament against up-and-comers half her age. She is the greatest player of all time for her success, her late dominance and the impact she has had off the court from overcoming racist attitudes to putting on display the antiquated policies of tennis simply by wearing a catsuit.

— Cassandra Negley