The 40 most dominant athletes of 2018

  • The past 12 months saw some of the usual suspects, like LeBron James, Alex Ovechkin, and Simone Biles, continue their dominance in their respective sport.
  • But several new faces showed up on the world stage, with athletes like Patrick Mahomes, Kylian Mbappe, and Chloe Kim soon to become household names, if they're not already.
  • We ranked the most dominant athletes of 2018 and ultimately found that nobody can touch Simone Biles for the top spot.

The last 12 months were an interesting sports year for the way the old-guard in sports kept its place, and several newcomers emerged with a peek at the future.

LeBron James, Alexander Ovechkin, Simone Biles, and Novak Djokovic, for instance, all had strong years that only added to their resumes.

But 2018 also featured breakout stars like Patrick Mahomes, Kylian Mbappe, and Chloe Kim, who all look the stars of the next generation, soon-to-be household names.

There's no easy way to define dominance, but we tried our best, taking into account personal success and accomplishments, team success, and, well, straight-up superiority.

Read our 40 most dominant athletes of 2018 below:

Cork Gaines contributed to this report.

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The 40 most dominant athletes of 2018
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The 40 most dominant athletes of 2018
40. Neymar

Paris Saint-Germaine, Brazilian forward

Age: 26

One thing to know: While Neymar didn't earn the distinction of "best footballer on the planet" this year, his dominance presents itself in other ways — he's one of the highest-paid, most-followed athletes on the planet, and still playing at an extremely high level as one of the top scorers in Ligue 1 for PSG. With his club already sleepwalking to another league title, the coming Champions League knockout phase could prove decisive for his legacy.

(Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)

39. Naomi Osaka

Tennis player

Age: 21

One thing to know: At just 21 years old, Naomi Osaka's 2018 season felt like a declaration — the age of Osaka is upon us. Between her brilliant play on the court and her delightful press conferences, she's as captivating an athlete as tennis could hope for the coming generation. Her breakthrough came at the US Open, where she defeated Serena Williams in the final to win the first major of her career. There are many more to come.

(Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

38. Zion Williamson

Duke Blue Devils forward

Age: 18

One thing to know: A freshman for the Duke Blue Devils, Zion Williamson has quickly taken over the world of college basketball thanks to his high-flying dunks and his efficient play. Williamson is widely expected to be the No. 1 overall pick in next year's NBA Draft, but not before he looks to wreak havoc on the ACC and bring a sixth national championship back to Durham.

(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
37. Todd Gurley

Los Angeles Rams running back

Age: 24

One thing to know: Gurley represents a comeback of sorts for the running back position. On any given drive, he'll demonstrate a unique combination of speed, power, and agility, sometimes pummeling through defenders, leaping over them, or dancing around them. His 21 touchdowns this year is more than several starting quarterbacks have this season.

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
36. Giannis Antetokounmpo

Milwaukee Bucks forward

Age: 24

One thing to know: A 24-year-old forward who commands the paint and overpowers anyone in his path, Antetokounmpo has quickly established himself as one of the most talented players in the NBA. He shined in the Milwaukee Bucks' 7-game, first-round playoff series against the Boston Celtics last year after averaging 26.9 points and 10.0 rebounds per game during the regular season. He's putting up spectacular numbers this year. If LeBron James is king, Giannis is the prince in waiting.

(Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)
35. Marc-Andre Fleury

Las Vegas Knights goalie

Age: 34

One thing to know: Taking an expansion team from nothing to an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final in just a year is about as impressive a feat imaginable in sports. While the Vegas Golden Knights' miracle run through the 2017-18 season was a team effort, everything started with net-minder Fleury, who saved 92.7% of shots in the playoffs.

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
34. Maddie Rooney

American hockey goalie

Age: 21

One thing to know: Rooney led the US women's hockey team to gold for the first time since 1998 at the Winter Olympics, beating arch-rival Canada in the final. Rooney's save in sudden death of the shootout clinched gold for the Americans.

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
33. Max Scherzer

Washington Nationals pitcher

Age: 34

One thing to know: Scherzer has been one of the most imposing pitchers in baseball for some time, and 2018 may have been his best year yet. He finished the season with 300 strikeouts and a 2.53 ERA over 220 innings pitched. He also might have had the most dominant performance of any entry on this list thanks to his "immaculate inning" — a feat rarer than a perfect game where a pitcher strikes out the side on just nine pitches.

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
32. Drew Brees

New Orleans Saints quarterback

Age: 39

One thing to know: Brees may very well be enjoying the best season of his 18-year NFL career. He has posted career highs in both completion percentage and quarterback rating, with a career-low interception rate and nearly 4,000 passing yards under his belt. He also broke the all-time NFL passing record in Week 5 of the season, passing Peyton Manning's mark of 71,940 career yards. With all of that coming together this season, Brees is a favorite to win his first-ever NFL MVP award.

(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
31. Kyler Murray

Oklahoma quarterback

Age: 21

One thing to know: Before Murray played a single snap in the 2018 college football season, he led the Oklahoma baseball team to a regional final in the NCAA tournament and was the ninth overall pick in the MLB Draft. For an encore, he replaced Baker Mayfield as the Sooners' quarterback without a hitch, coming from behind to win the Heisman Trophy and lead OU to the College Football Playoff.

(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
30. Antoine Griezmann

Atletico Madrid, French forward

Age: 27

One thing to know: Griezmann led France to the World Cup, scoring four goals, including a key penalty that broke a 1-1 tie against Croatia in the final. He also led Atlético Madrid to a second-place finish in the 2017-18 La Liga season, scoring 29 goals in all competitions.

(Photo by TF-Images/TF-Images via Getty Images)
29. Christian Yelich

Milwaukee Brewers outfielder

Age: 27

One thing to know: In his first year with the Milwaukee Brewers, Yelich made history en route to winning National League MVP honors. Yelich became the first player in franchise history to win the league's batting title with a .326 batting average in addition to a .598 slugging percentage and 343 total bases. He came just two home runs and an RBI short of earning the Triple Crown, but his crowning achievement on the year was becoming the fifth player in MLB history to hit for the cycle twice in one season.

(Photo by Mike McGinnis/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
28. Lionel Messi

Barcelona, Argentinian striker

Age: 31

One thing to know: Messi has been quiet in 2018, by his standards. Argentina had a disappointing result at the World Cup, losing to eventual champion France in the Round of 16. But he still scored 45 goals in all competitions and led Barcelona to the top of La Liga and champions of the Copa del Rey.

(Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
27. Tiger Woods

Golfer

Age: 42

One thing to know: Tiger Woods might not have been the best golfer on the PGA Tour in 2018, but he was by far the most compelling and showed once again how nobody moves the needle quite as he does. Tiger was in the hunt on numerous Sundays this season, making for some of the most breathtaking golf of his career. When he finally broke through at the Tour Championship in September, the fans in attendance scrambled into the fairway to watch his comeback tour finally reach its conclusion.

(Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
26. Connor McDavid

Edmonton Oilers center

Age: 21

One thing to know: More players in the NHL are forgoing bulk and muscle to become lighter and faster, and nobody does it better than McDavid, who does things with the puck that most can't do at half the speed. McDavid led the NHL in points each of the last two seasons and is a favorite to win his second Hart Trophy as the NHL's MVP.

(Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
25. Marit Bjørgen

Cross-country skier

Age: 38

One thing to know: Bjørgen retired after the 2018 Winter Olympics, but not before she once again proved she is one of the most dominant Olympians of all time. At 38, Bjørgen won five medals at Pyeongchang, including two gold medals. Her 15 career medals are the most ever by a Winter Olympian.

(Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)
24. Cristiano Ronaldo
 

Juventus, Portugal forward

Age: 33

One thing to know: Ronaldo did not win the Ballon d'Or, given to the world's best footballer, for the first time since 2015, but he did finish second. It was the eighth straight year he finished first or second in the voting. He scored 44 goals for Real Madrid, leading them to trophies in the Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup, before transferring to Italian powerhouse Juventus.

(Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images)
23. Stephen Curry

Golden State Warriors guard

Age: 30

One thing to know: Turn on any NBA game, and you'll see Curry's influence on the NBA, with more and more teams taking deeper and quicker threes. But nobody does it like Steph. Curry began the 2018-19 season on a pace that would have topped his unanimous MVP season. There's no more captivating experience in sports than watching the 6-foot-3 guard who changed the NBA catch fire and infuriates opponents with attempts that were heretofore unimaginable.

(Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)
22. Alex Morgan

United States, Orlando Pride forward

Age: 29

One thing to know: Morgan led the USWNT with 18 goals in 19 international games this year. For reference, the next highest-scoring players notched seven goals apiece in that same span. Morgan also contributed five goals and two assists for the Orlando Pride this season. The U.S. Soccer federation rightfully named her the 2018 U.S. Soccer female player of the year.

(Photo by Erwin Spek/Soccrates/Getty Images)
21. Ester Ledecka

Alpine skier and snowboarder

Age: 23

One thing to know: At the Winter Olympics, Ledecka, a snowboarder by trade, shocked the sporting world last week when she finished first in the ladies' Super-G— an event she had competed in at the international level before but had never placed higher than 29th. When she later took gold in women's snowboard parallel giant slalom, she became the first athlete to medal in both Alpine skiing and snowboarding events at the same games.

(Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)
20. Mookie Betts
 

Boston Red Sox right fielder

Age: 26

One thing to know: Betts was named the 2018 American League MVP after leading all of baseball with a .340 average, .640 slugging, and 10.4 WAR. He also won his third straight Gold Glove award as he staked his claim as one of the best all-around players in MLB.

(Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
19. Kevin Durant

Golden State Warriors forward

Age: 30

One thing to know: After two championships and two Finals MVPs, Durant is climbing the all-time NBA leaderboard. This season he's averaging 28-7-6, LeBron James-esque numbers. Sure, the Warriors' system helps make his life easier, but the reason he makes the Warriors so dominant is he's the emergency option when the system breaks. The immediate future of the NBA hinges on whether he leaves the Warriors this summer.

(Ray Chavez/Digital First Media/The Mercury News via Getty Images)
18. Khabib Nurmagomedov 

MMA fighter

Age: 30

One thing to know: If you come at the king, you best not miss. In the build-up to his fight against Conor McGregor, Khabib Nurmagomedov was confidently stoic. None of the bus attacks or verbal abuse thrown his way by his brash opponent seemed to get to him. When it came time to fight, Khabib held total control, forcing McGregor to tap in the fourth round. Nurmagomedov remains undefeated in 27 UFC fights and has the potential to go down as one of the greatest fighters of all time.

(Photo by Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
17. Khalil Mack
 

Chicago Bears linebacker

Age: 27

One thing to know: Mack is the most visceral force in the NFL. Watch the Chicago Bears on any Sunday, and you'll likely see Mack bowling through one or two offensive linemen, then knocking down the quarterback and dislodging the ball. His 12.5 sacks, 6 forced fumbles, 1 interception, and 1 defensive touchdown show Mack is touching the ball more than any defensive player outside of Aaron Donald.

(Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
16. Daniel Cormier

MMA fighter

Age: 39

One thing to know: Daniel Cormier went 3-0 in 2018, and became just the fifth two-division champion in the history of the UFC after knocking out Stipe Miocic for the heavyweight championship in July. Cormier still holds both of his belts and should have a few more big fights and even bigger paydays before hanging things up.

 (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
15. Magnus Carlsen

Chess player

Age: 28

One thing to know: Carlsen has been the best chess player on the planet for the better part of a decade. At this year's World Chess Championship, challenger Fabiano Caruana gave Carlsen his toughest task yet, playing him to 12 consecutive draws before getting dispatched during the tiebreaker speed rounds. Thanks to Carlsen's speed dominance, his standing as the top player in the world will remain for at least another two years.

(Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
14. Aaron Donald

Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle

Age: 27

One thing to know: It is not easy for a defensive player to receive MVP consideration in the scoring-happy NFL, but that is what Donald did in 2018. Donald leads the NFL in sacks — a rarity for a defensive tackle — and he has done it despite being double-teamed 70% of the time. Nobody else in the NFL is double-teamed more than 46% of the time.

(Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
13. Novak Djokovic

Tennis player

Age: 31

One thing to know: One of the best comebacks of the year was also one of the most dominant performances. Djokovic found his mojo again in 2018, showing off the precision and impenetrable defense that suddenly went missing in 2017. Winning two grand slams in one season would be a tremendous feat for anyone, but that it happened to Djokovic — after he hit rock-bottom following a streak of five slams in two years — only made it that much sweeter.

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
12. Tua Tagovailoa

Alabama quarterback

Age: 20

One thing to know: Tagovailoa came off the bench to lead Alabama to the 2018 College Football Playoff championship, including the game-winning 41-yard strike in overtime. Tua dominated college football for most of the 2018 season, throwing 25 touchdowns and no interceptions in the first eight games of the season before battling injuries.

(Photo by Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
11. Patrick Mahomes

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback

Age: 23

One thing to know: It's hard to describe Mahomes without referring to the cliché "It factor." Mahomes embodies "it" better than anyone else. The second-year quarterback and first-year starter has taken the Chiefs to new heights with his limitless arm, athletic prowess, and penchant for turning mundane plays into must-see highlights. That he leads the NFL in yards and touchdowns with less than a full season under his belt is scary.

(Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
10. Breanna Stewart

Seattle Storm forward

Age: 24

One thing to know: Stewart's success as a three-time consensus national player of the year and four-year NCAA champion with the UConn Huskies has quickly translated to the next level. At 24 years old, the forward became the second-youngest player to earn WNBA MVP honors. She led the Seattle Storm to a WNBA title and won Finals MVP after averaging 24.6 points and 6.9 rebounds per games in the playoffs.

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
9. Kylian Mbappe

Paris Saint-Germain, French forward

Age: 20

One thing to know: Who had a better year than Mbappe? The 19-year-old wunderkind had a breakout year as he helped France win the World Cup and Paris Saint-Germain dominate Ligue 1. He also won the Kopa Trophy for best young player in the world at the Ballon d'Or ceremony. Mbappe's speed and touch combination is almost comical, and it's even more exciting that it seems the best is still yet to come.

(Photo by Mehdi Taamallah/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
8. Ada Hegerberg

Olympique Lyonnais, Norwegian striker

Age: 23

One thing to know: Hegerberg scored a whopping 31 goals through 20 games during the 2017-18 Division 1 Féminine season and added another 14 goals through 12 matches thus far in the 2018-19 season. The Sunndalsøra, Norway, native led Olympique Lyonnais to its 5th UEFA Women's Champions League title with four goals through four contests. With nearly 300 goals at just 23 years old, it is no wonder that Hegerberg became the first-ever female recipient of the Ballon d'Or.

(Photo credit should read ROMAIN LAFABREGUE/AFP/Getty Images)
7. Lewis Hamilton

Formula 1 driver

Age: 33

One thing to know: Hamilton won the 2018 Formula One championship, his second straight and fifth overall. He dominated the international circuit, winning 11 races for Mercedes, including eight of the last 11 of the season.

(Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
6. Jacob deGrom

New York Mets pitcher

Age: 30

One thing to know: The 30-year-old Mets ace's Cy Young case was almost helped by his team's futility this season. When deGrom would finish his start with seven strikeouts and two earned runs, and the Mets still could not score enough to win, people would ask "How much more can he do?" He ultimately finished 10-9 as a starter, with a league-best 1.70 ERA and .912 WHIP in 2018, and that was enough for voters to say, "That was enough."

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
5. LeBron James

Los Angeles Lakers forward

Age: 33

One thing to know: The story of James' dominance is becoming boring, frankly. James continues to defy logic by putting up the same monstrous stats each year. This season, his first with the Lakers and 16th in the NBA, is no different, as he's averaging 28-7-7. Look no further than his Game 1 performance in the 2018 Finals — when he scored 51 points and nearly took down the Warriors, if not for a missed free throw and a forgetful teammate— for proof that when James is going full speed, nobody can touch him.

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
4. Luka Modric
 

Real Madrid, Croatian midfielder

Age: 33

One thing to know: Modric had a year that only the best footballers in the world can dream of bringing to fruition. Modric was the centerpiece of Croatia's brilliant run to the World Cup final, a constant nuisance to opposing defenses due to his ability to create and distribute with an energy that never seemed to fade. At Real Madrid, he helped his club to yet another Champions League title. In December, he became the first player not named Messi or Ronaldo to win the Ballon d'Or in a decade.

(Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images)
3. Alex Ovechkin

Washington Capitals wing

Age: 33

One thing to know: Ovi is 33 years old and in his 14th season, but he might be playing the best hockey of his career. After leading the Caps to the 2018 Stanley Cup, he is on pace to score more than 70 goals, which would beat his career-high 65 goals that came when he was 22. It would also be the seventh time in the last eight seasons in which he led the NHL in that category.

(Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
2. Chloe Kim

Snowboarder

Age: 18

One thing to know: U.S. snowboarder Chloe Kim dominated the competition in the halfpipe at the 2018 Winter Olympics. She secured the gold medal before taking her third and final run, but still chose to pull out all of the stops, becoming the first woman in Olympic history to throw down back-to-back 1080s en route to a 98.25 score. Most recently, she won gold on the modified superpipe at the Dew Tour, beating the second-place finisher by more than 12 points.

(photo by Sam Mellish / In Pictures via Getty Images)
1. Simone Biles

Gymnast

Age: 21

One thing to know: Just one year into resuming her training (she took a year off following the 2016 Olympics), Simone Biles officially declared herself the best gymnast in the world. At 2018 world championships, she became the first gymnast to win medals in all six of her events, including four golds and a record fourth all-around title. She now has the most career world titles of any gymnast, and better yet — she has another two years to prepare for Tokyo 2020.

Simone Biles is the most dominant athlete in the world.

(Photo by Ulrik Pedersen/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
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