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MMA’s Five Greatest Career Comebacks — And Their Legendary Sports Equivalents


Rise and fall: The Natural spent the majority of his UFC career winning belts and then losing them along the way. He vacated his first heavyweight title in order to compete in Japan, came back to reclaim it against Kevin Randleman, and lost it again to Josh Barnett. His career’s second act as a light-heavyweight was even more of a roller-coaster ride, as he spanked the 205-pound title off of Tito Ortiz, lost it to Vitor Belfort, took it back from Belfort, then lost it to Chuck Liddell. After his trilogy match with Chuck ended in a second knockout loss, Randy Couture announced his retirement from the sport.

The comeback: Couture’s retirement lasted about a year. Back at heavyweight, Randy returned to the cage at UFC 68 in March 2007, and thoroughly handled reigning champ Tim Sylvia, who was 7 inches taller and 13 years younger. He proved conventional wisdom wrong once again against Gabriel Gonzaga later that year, TKO’ing the scary young prospect in the third round. Predictably, Couture decided to walk away while he was on top, vacating his belt for the last time.

Legendary sports equivalent: Michael Jordan wins three NBA world championships with the Chicago Bulls, disappears for a year and a half to play baseball, then comes back and wins three more world championships. (And when Randy Couture returned to the UFC after his second retirement to lose to Brock Lesnar and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, then take a few less-meaningful fights at light-heavyweight before getting crane-kicked by Lyoto Machida? Two words: Washington Wizards.)


Rise and fall: At first, it was little more than a pay-per-view informercial for Gracie jiu-jitsu. But as the UFC developed through the 1990s, its participants evolved from single-art stylists to all-in-one ass kickers, and a thrilling new combat sport was born in the United States. Unfortunately, political pressure led to bans in 36 states and the loss of major PPV providers, and original owners SEG were approaching bankruptcy by the end of 2000.

Luckily, a humble kid from Boston by the name of Dana White saw an opportunity to turn the business around. White teamed up with old high school buddies/casino execs Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta to form a new company called Zuffa, and bought out the UFC for $2 million. They spent the next four years losing an additional $40 million in the enterprise.

The comeback: Though the Fertittas considered cutting their losses and walking away, one final experiment put them over the top — a reality show called The Ultimate Fighter, whose early success on Spike became part of the UFC mythology. The UFC was a cable hit, and the burgeoning mainstream stardom of fighters like Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, and Randy Couture helped turn the fight promotion into a pay-per-view powerhouse. Thanks to their ferocious lobbying efforts, the states that banned the sport in the past began sanctioning it again, and the UFC began holding events everywhere from Australia to Germany to Abu Dhabi. After outlasting or buying out all their major competition, they’re the undisputed rulers of the sport.

Legendary sports equivalent: Muhammad Ali, baby. After becoming the youngest boxer to defeat a reigning heavyweight champion (vs. Sonny Liston in 1964 at age 22), Ali held his title through three years and nine defenses — then had his belt and boxing license taken from him for refusing to be drafted in the Army. Three years later, Ali picked up where he left off, and became the world heavyweight champion once again in 1974, knocking out George Foreman in “The Rumble in the Jungle.” He’d go on to defend his title ten more times through 1977.

So who’s the Lance Armstrong of MMA? And who’s the Michael Vick? If you have any more ideas, holler at us in the comments section…

(Ben Goldstein)

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Cagepotato Comments

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xxoddus- August 1, 2011 at 7:13 pm
Just checked out the Captcha after seeing everyone talk about it and.....WTF! Kudos CP, I don't think a drunk Michael J. Fox could have done better
Jason Moles- July 30, 2011 at 6:21 am
nice work
Dizzylittlelord- July 30, 2011 at 5:54 am
big nog is lance armstrong, came away from something life threatening to the top of the world, also been taken the piss out of by chael sonnen. Feder is the mike tyson, seemingly unbeatable till one dude gets lucky - buster douglass
DangadaDang- July 29, 2011 at 3:41 pm
Good article but if I have to click next one more time I'm never coming back to this site again.
nickyroose- July 29, 2011 at 1:45 pm
both = But

*Edit Where the fuck did the edit go.
nickyroose- July 29, 2011 at 1:44 pm
Viva usually I agree with you both on this shit I wanna see a screen shot in a thread. I have made some gutsy predictions to come true but you literally have to be shitting me if you saw that coming... you're either crazy or a genius or a crazy genius. I literally dropped my beer when that punch put bader down.
rampage01- July 29, 2011 at 12:25 pm
@Big_Shell Says

ask alves, koscheck and fitch and bj about that.
Big_Shell- July 29, 2011 at 12:12 pm
yes...utter destruction via Unanimous decision filled with nothing but GSP sitting in the half guard or superman jabbing his way through 25 minutes of nothing happening. Utter destruction is Mir vs Congo or Matt Brown vs. Pete Sell. GSP hasn't destroyed anyone since Hughes and Sera. I am a huge fan of GSP's ability, work ethic, and training. I despise his unwillingness to end fights when he has all the talent in the world.
TellaTruth- July 29, 2011 at 10:30 am
Common guys lets not get rediculous, "return to legit contendership," (?) How about something like "return to legitimacy?"
intercept440- July 29, 2011 at 9:46 am
i dont know about comebacks, but i can pretty much gaurentee, nick diaz's utter destruction come oct 29, anyone who thinnks otherwise, is even more delusional than chael sonnen is.
rampage01- July 29, 2011 at 9:03 am
gsp comeback from loosing a humiliating fight against serra.
RwilsonR- July 29, 2011 at 8:43 am
If Chael Sonnen comes back and beats Anderson Silva, that would be one hell of a comeback akin to Lance Armstrong, because, you know... they both have ball issues... and they're both kinda self-absorbed assholes.
RwilsonR- July 29, 2011 at 8:41 am
After Tito goes against all odds and wins the belt back, and is elevated to number one on this list, Lee Murray will break out of a Moroccan prison and find Tito in a parking lot outside a UFC event and knock him out, and steal both the belt and the number one comeback title from him.
bgoldstein- July 29, 2011 at 8:31 am
@ ReX13 : This site went to shit after Kipp Tribble left.
bgoldstein- July 29, 2011 at 8:29 am
@ NotReadyStatus: That's dead-on, actually.
NotReadyStatus- July 29, 2011 at 8:24 am
Mike Kyle has to be the Michael Vick. People were talking about his permanent banishment from the sport for the soccer kicks to Brian Olsen. After being shunned for a couple years, he came back to chalk up a respectable 8-2-1 record.
Viva Hate- July 29, 2011 at 8:00 am
"breaking a four-and-a-half year winless streak in an upset that absolutely nobody saw coming" I beg to differ, I have been predicting the Tito comeback all along!
ReX13- July 29, 2011 at 7:51 am
this ben goldstein guy is pretty good.
Yazloz18- July 29, 2011 at 7:39 am
Not a bad article. A little iffy on Shogun as he didn't really fall too far, yeah the loss to Coleman was pretty bad at that point in Coleman's career but it was an injury TKO and not a royal beatdown. Also waiting on people to come in and complain about the reffing in the Brock/Mir fight
Fried Taco- July 29, 2011 at 7:28 am
Any day now, CP will start it's own comeback.
Pen Fifteen- July 29, 2011 at 7:27 am
Obviously, War Machine is preparing himself to be MMA's Michael Vick.
k-onda- July 29, 2011 at 7:24 am
I wish some of my old high school friends were casino execs - what a bunch of damn losers
ArmFarmer- July 29, 2011 at 7:17 am
and no, Tito would not be number one. These other guys came back to win titles, he would have to do that. Then he would certainly be number one.
ArmFarmer- July 29, 2011 at 7:15 am
Nice writing, didn't have to reread anything to make sense of it. Good article in terms of content too. Well done.
Captcha.. still irritating.