CagePotato Roundtable is a new recurring column in which the CagePotato writing staff (and some of our friends) share their opinions on an MMA-related topic, and hopefully inspire some discussion among our readers as well. For the inaugural installment, we took inspiration from Joe Rogan’s enthusiastic crowning of last weekend’s Tim Boetch vs. Yushin Okami fight as “the greatest comeback in the history of the UFC.” That’s debatable, to say the least — but isn’t everything? So what *was* the greatest comeback fight in MMA history?
When Joe Rogan first called The Barbarian’s victory the greatest comeback in UFC history, my first thought was “Come on, Joe, are you seriously the only MMA fan who hasn’t seen Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Bob Sapp?” That comeback exposed Sapp for the overhyped freak that he was while establishing the legend of Big Nog and his ability to come from behind to win fights. Hell, we at Cagepotato consider it to be the best freak show fight to ever come out of Japan. But in fairness to Joe Rogan, that fight didn’t take place in the UFC. So my second thought was “Come on, Joe, are you seriously the only UFC fan who hasn’t seen Mike Russow vs. Todd Duffee?”
What makes this comeback so great was the fact that Todd Duffee and Mike Russow were essentially photo negatives of each other. Before this fight, Duffee was destined to be the next big thing in the UFC’s heavyweight division, having just tied the record for the fastest knockout in UFC history in his promotional debut against Tim Hague. Duffee was on the cover of Muscle & Fitness, the poster boy for Muscletech and seemingly in every men’s magazine on the planet — no matter how loosely the content was related to sports. Meanwhile, Russow was quietly coming off of a unanimous decision victory over Justin McCully in his UFC debut and had more fat in his left bicep than Todd Duffee had in his entire body. Everything about this fight seemed like it was a squash match.
And for the first two rounds, it was. You could almost see the dollar signs in the eyes of Muscletech CEOs as Duffee smashed away at the doughy Russow, seemingly seconds away from a stoppage throughout the fight. Yet out of nowhere, Russow landed a hard straight right that crumbled Duffee, earning him the victory and single-handedly killing all of his hype.
Since then, their careers have gone in opposite directions. Mike Russow has improved his UFC record to 4-0, most recently picking up a victory over John-Olav Einemo at UFC on FOX 2: Evans vs. Davis. Meanwhile, Todd Duffee was released from the UFC for his apparent attitude problem, knocked out by Alistair Overeem in nineteen seconds at Dynamite!! 2010 and recently agreed to fight Neil Grove in India. So there’s that, I guess.
(Not only am I getting paid for writing this, I’m taking a charitable tax exemption for sharing the video with you as well. -CC)
A shot of bourbon and this highlight video. That’s how a man starts his day.
I don’t know what comeback fights these other cats are trying to sell you as “the greatest ever,” but they are wrong. That honor belongs to Kazushi Sakuraba‘s war with Kestutis Smirnovas at K-1 Hero’s 6 — all of the evidence you need is right above if you don’t believe me. Still not convinced? Let me ask you a couple of quick questions:
Did their comeback fighters rebound from a “Falling Tree” KO?
Sakuaba did. Just forty seconds into his bout with Smirnovas, ol’ #39 was felled like a mighty oak then rattled with punches as his limp body crept out of the ring beneath the ropes. Rather than call the fight off, the referee, on sabbatical from a lucrative career producing snuff films, dragged “The Gracie Hunter’s” lifeless corpse back into the ring for another helping of abuse.
Did their comeback fighters score with a hail mary haymaker or a last-ditch submission?
Sakuraba didn’t. The tide wasn’t turned by a swing for the fences, nor did he snag an arm in a wild scramble. He simply fought back. Then he fought back some more. After absorbing a world of hurt that should have resulted in numerous stoppages, Sakuraba came out of rigor mortis with nothing but his will to fight intact. He gave as good as he got, hurting Smirnovas on the feet and finishing him on the mat with an armbar.
That’s a comeback fight, men.
Boetsch vs. Okami could never be the greatest comeback fight in UFC history, because frankly, Boetsch vs. Okami doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. For a fight to be considered the best anything, the stakes have to be high to begin with. That’s why Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen at UFC 117 is my pick here.
Now, if you showed this fight to an MMA newbie, they probably wouldn’t get it; keep in mind that Silva vs. Sonnen was dominated by long stretches of one guy just lying on top of the other. And honestly, if these were two unknown fighters, we would have forgotten about this match the next week. What made the bout legendary is who these fighters were, and how profoundly the fight subverted our expectations.
Imagine buying a ticket to Rocky IV, and in the climactic battle, Rocky beats the shit out of Ivan Drago for eleven and a half rounds before the invincible Russian, with both his eyes swollen shut, throws a blind haymaker and turns Balboa’s lights out. Roll credits. That’s how bizarre this fight was. The guy who was supposed to get blown out was the one doing the blowing-out — until suddenly, he wasn’t. And that’s not to say that Chael Sonnen was anybody’s hero going into that fight. But he was a 4-1 underdog, and nobody was giving him a chance to win against the foreign champion who seemed more Machine than Man.
As I watched the fight with some buddies at a sports bar in New York — where every takedown and knockdown scored by Sonnen caused the patrons to erupt in stunned “OHHHHHH!”s — I realized that sports fans love to see an underdog do well, even if that underdog is one of the biggest heels in the sport. And no matter which team we’re rooting for, we like it when something completely unprecedented happens. But then, two minutes away from one of the greatest title upsets in the sport’s history, Sonnen’s Cinderella story abrupty ended with a triangle choke that nobody saw coming. And the champion was still the champion. And I guess we were supposed to feel happy about that.
Was the final result in itself that suprising? Of course not, considering Anderson Silva‘s extra-dimensional brilliance and Chael Sonnen’s history of being submitted by Brazilians with that very same move. But no comeback fight has come close in terms of sheer drama, and I’m not sure we’ll see anything like it again.
Jefferey “Karmaatemycat” Watts
Have any of you guys ever been inadvertently kicked in the junk? I have, and it completely sucks. It can, in most cases, change the outcome of a fight! I would like to remind you of that fateful day in which Matt Hughes’s testicles were introduced to Frank Trigg’s knee during their second meeting at UFC 52. There was some crazy hype leading into this fight to begin with. Frank Trigg had really been laying on the smack talk leading up to their rematch, which was rather obvious when Mario Yamasaki brought them to the center of the cage. Then Hughes ate a knee to the groin a minute and ten seconds into the first round. I mean, that just sucks, but not as much as having the referee not see the low blow.
Then to make matters worse, Frank Trigg swarmed Matt Hughes! Trigg even established a full mount and was pounding away at Hughes. It was, to say the least, a very bad situation for Hughes as he proceeded to give Trigg his back so that he could survive the situation. A lot of guys are going to tell you this or that, but let me tell you rule #1 in a fight: Survive one situation so that you can attempt to survive the next. That’s exactly what Hughes did. I would wager a bet that Frank Trigg thought he had Matt Hughes locked in that RNC. God knows a lot of other people sure did. But being the Hughes nutthugger I am, I remember screaming and willing him to defend that choke. I was jumping off my couch, biting my lip, and cheering stereotypical MMA Fan stuff. I sure as shit did not expect Hughes to just grab Trigg and charge across the ring and slam him. Then he continued to beat the piss out of him, get his back, and rear naked choke Trigg.
To me, that’s always been a great example of fighting out of tough positions. Matt Hughes really showed his worth that night. I just don’t know a lot of welterweights at that time in the UFC who would have been able to take a shot to the groin, as well as all those shots from a mount, defend those submissions, and then have the energy to get up and slam his opponent, all while finishing him in the first. Just an all-around epic comeback. I mean, that shit’s right out of a Tarantino, Rodriguez film. Not even Xeno could argue that.
Those are all great mentions, guys, but none compare to the exhilarating experience of watching the Immovable Object square off against the Unstoppable Force. I’m talking Roger Huerta vs. Clay Guida at the TUF 6 Finale back in ’07. “The Carpenter” dominated the opening round with his aggressive attack and breakneck pace. The fight didn’t stay on feet long until Clay took Roger to the mat and ground-and-pounded him into giving up his back, which lead to Guida’s rear naked choke attempt, and even more damage dished out to close out the round.
Round two started with Guida smothering “El Matador” like a wet blanket; with every “Toro!” shouted, the bull rushed in to gore his opponent. Without missing a beat, Guida continued his destruction of Huerta on the canvas, highlighted by a massive uppercut that sent him flying backward. Rocked and on Quiver Street, the horn at the end of the round saved Roger Huerta from certain doom.
And then something happened. I’m not sure if Huerta’s corner told him that Clay had sodomized his brother or what, because “El Matador” came out looking to hurt someone. In that first minute, he was more active and aggressive than GSP has been in all of his fights combined. (What? Rogan can jizz his pants about Tim Boetsch but I can’t get away with a little hyperbole?) Whatever, I digress. Huerta threw a perfectly timed knee, staggering the man who had just bullied him for the past ten minutes, and then swarmed Guida until he fell into the fetal position, allowing Huerta to sink in a rear naked choke to end the fight fifty-one seconds into the final round.
Scott Smith is one of my favorite fighters. There, I said it. Sure, he fights with the strategy of a cokehead playing Tekken for the first time, but the man has been a part of some of the most poetic brawls in the history of the sport, and practically defines the comeback with his every performance. You know, except in his last three fights, or the Diaz fight, or the Lawler fight…
…anyway, you could make the case that his flash KO of Pete Sell was his greatest comeback, and I’d probably be inclined to agree with you. However, it was Smith’s third round drubbing of Benji Radach back at Strikeforce: Shamrock vs. Diaz that will forever remain one of my most treasured MMA moments.
After dropping Radach in the first round, Smith would rush in for the kill, only to find himself reeling from a perfectly placed counter right. Midway through the second, he was put on queer street compliments of a Radach left hook, and the end seemed all but imminent. As he slumped onto his stool heading in between rounds, Smith couldn’t help but tell his cornerman that he was in fact rocked, a revelation that most fighters are often too stubborn to admit. But as the Phoenix rises from the ashes of its former self, Smith would cough up some blood, wipe off his face, and enter the third round like a man possessed.
With just under 2 minutes to go, Mauro Ranallo remarked that Smith would need a knockout to win the fight. About ten seconds later, Smith would do just that, delivering a brutal right hand that sent Radach crashing to the mat in a pile. A follow-up right sealed the deal, and earned Smith the unofficial nickname of “The Comeback Kid,” a moniker he would prove worthy of in his come-from-behind victory over Cung Le the following December. Perhaps I’m just a sap, but watching Smith embrace his kids in the center of the cage after scoring the biggest victory of his career (at that point) was one of the more heartfelt moments I’ve seen in MMA, and made the fight all the more significant. At least in my eyes.
So what’s *your* favorite MMA comeback fight? Let us know in the comments section. If you have a question for a future Roundtable column, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll send you a t-shirt if we decide to use it.