Canelo Alvarez (Boxer) $142 million 5.
And Messi was named the highest paid athlete for the first time, moving one position from past year thanks to a staggering earnings of $127m (R1.87bn).
Tennis star Serena Williams was the only woman to feature, coming in 63rd.
Athletes had to earn a minimum of $37.7 million to make this year's list.
On Tuesday American business magazine Forbes released its annual ranking of the World's 100 Highest-Paid athletes, who collectively earned $4 billion (R59bn).
Messi is only the second footballer to top the rankings after Ronaldo, and only the eighth different athlete to take the number one spot since the rankings began in 1990.
"But basketball players continue to dominate the top 100 overall, with 35 athletes on the list earning a total of $US1.29 billion, with 72 per cent of that income coming from salaries rather than endorsement deals".
Stars from the National Football League and NBA rounded out the top 10 on the list, with Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson sixth on $89.5m, just ahead of Green Bay Packers signal-caller Aaron Rodgers ($89.3m).
For the second successive year, Lionel Messi sits above arch-rival Cristiano Ronaldo in Forbes' latest rich list, ranking as the best-earning footballer across the globe.
Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James was the highest earning National Basketball Association player, with $89 million, while Golden State's Stephen Curry was ninth with $79.8 million.