The 32-year-old also becomes only the second person from a team sport to make it to the top of the list.
Ronaldo reportedly earned $88million last year, ahead of Barcelona’s Lionel Messi ($81million) and NBA star LeBron James ($77million).
Kurt Badenhausen of Forbes, explains that the Portugal captain has overtaken boxer Floyd Mayweather and golfer Tiger Woods.
“With Mayweather hanging up his gloves and Woods hampered by injuries, there is an opening at the top. Filling the gap is the biggest star in the biggest sport on the planet,” Badenhausen wrote.
“This year, soccer icon Cristiano Ronaldo is the world’s highest-paid athlete, with earnings of $88m over the past 12 months from salary, bonuses and endorsements. Ronaldo is only the second team athlete after Michael Jordan to rank as the top-paid since Forbes began tracking athlete earnings in 1990.”
Other footballers who made the top 50 include: Barcelona star Neymar in 21st place ($37.5m), Manchester United’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic at 23 ($37.4m), Madrid’s Gareth Bale at 25 ($35.9m) and Wayne Rooney of United at 49 ($26.1m).