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ESPN releases its list of the world's best paid athletes by country

The top earners from the U.S. and Spain make big dollars. That's not the case for athletes from Bhutan and Tuvalu.

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Manny Pacquiao (left) with his trainer Freddie Roach. (Photo: Frederick Manligas Nacino/Wikimedia Commons)

Who is the world’s highest-paid athlete? According to an ESPN list released yesterday, it’s Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao, who earned US$50 million in 2011 from two fights. In second place, it was a two-way tie between American boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Formula One driver Fernando Alonso (Spain), both of whom made $40 million last year. (By the way, the man known as “Money Mayweather” made all that cash from a single fight.)

ESPN’s list shows the highest-paid athlete in each country and results are based on salaries and prize money from 2011 or the most recent season. Since the list doesn’t take endorsement contracts into account, that’s probably why athletes like LeBron James or Tiger Woods don’t outrank Mayweather as the U.S.’s top earner.

But last year, Sports Illustrated included endorsements as part of its own list. The top-two earners were both golfers: Woods and Phil Mickelson. Woods made 96% of his 2010 earnings from endorsements; Mickelson’s endorsements accounted for 93% of his $61.2 million in total earnings.

So which countries’ best-paid athletes have the smallest salaries? Tuvalu’s Alopua Petoa and Bhutan’s Chencho, both soccer players, each raked in $4,000 in 2011. Still, both men made more money than any athletes from Kiribati and the Marshall Islands. According to the list, there are no pro athletes from either of these South Pacific nations.

Here are a few additional notes from the list:

-Canada’s highest-paid athlete is Jason Bay, an outfielder with the New York Mets, whose salary was $18.1 million last year. This season, he’ll make an even $16 million.

-Li Na, a female tennis player, is China’s best-paid athlete, with 2011 earnings of $3.7 million. As you can imagine, the list is pretty male-centric, so her inclusion is notable.

-Another standout is Chong Tese, a soccer player who represents North Korea in international play, and who earned more than $600,000 last year. North Korea’s per capita GDP is estimated at $720. That said, Chong Tese was born and educated in Japan, holds South Korean citizenship and plays professionally in Germany. After he was issued a North Korean passport, Chong Tese was cleared to play for their national team under FIFA rules.

-Six hockey players made the list. Russia’s Ilya Bryzgalov was the highest-paid among them, with a 2011-12 salary of $10 million.

-Despite the rise of mixed martial arts—and subsequent talk about the decline of boxing in mainstream culture—six boxers led their countries in earnings, and four of them made in excess of $20 million last year. Only one MMA fighter led his country’s athletes in pay. It was Vietnam’s Cung Le, who made $420,000.

*All figures are in U.S. dollars.