Who doesn’t love a comeback story? It’s the most endearing and heartwarming trope in sports and sports fiction, right up there with the Cinderella story of the kid who shouldn’t have made it but did. Comebacks in single games make for exhilarating moments, but it’s nothing compared to the sheer excitement that a career comeback generates – especially in a sport like MMA.
It’s difficult for an entire team to rise up from the ashes. Structural changes have to be made to its organization, new coaches and training staff brought in, and generally heavy investment in new star players must be made. Elevating a team from a period of failure is comparable to turning around a large corporation; it takes a disciplined group with a strategic approach. In MMA, and all combat sports, it all comes down to the heart and grit of the man (or woman) in question. Paradoxically, this makes it a technically easier feat, but one that’s more emotionally compelling.
Boxing has its own history with career resurgences. Who could forget George Foreman coming out of retirement and winning back the title? After retiring to becoming a minister in 1977, Foreman returned a decade later to compete (allegedly because he was now flat broke). Incredibly, in 1994 he regained the heavyweight championship that he had lost to Muhammad Ali in 1974 by beating 27-year-old Michael Moorer. Foreman was 45 at the time and still holds the record as the oldest heavyweight champion in boxing history.
MMA is a much younger sport, but already it’s had its own share of incredible comeback stories that will be remembered in the collective memories of fans for decades to come. These are fighters who managed to reinvent themselves when everyone had counted them out; these are the 8 greatest career resurgences in MMA history.
8 #8 Dominick Cruz
7 #7 Alistair Overeem
6 #6 Vitor Belfort
5 #5 Matt Brown
4 #4 Frank Mir
3 #3 Randy Couture
2 #2 Mark Hunt
1 #1 Robbie Lawler
The career path of ‘Ruthless’ Robbie Lawler could only be described as ‘disappointing’ up until 2 years ago. He had been a much-hyped prospect coming up in the early days of the UFC, but he could never put a convincing series of wins together and at times just seemed uninterested in fighting. He was cut from the UFC in 2004 and spent the better part of a decade going from promotion to promotion, winning and competing for titles in EliteXC, Strikeforce, and PRIDE. No one can be sure what exactly changed, but when he returned to the UFC in 2013 for the beginning of his second stint, he was a new man entirely.
Lawler was finally able to channel the aggressive style that made him so effective and popular without compromising on his defence and leaving himself open to excessive strikes. He quickly established a 3-fight win streak against tough competition that earned him a shot at fighting Johny Hendricks for the vacant UFC welterweight championship at UFC 171. In what will almost certainly end up being the closest title fight of 2014, Lawler and Hendricks took each other to their limits, with Hendricks squeaking out the decision victory by the finest of margins. Lawler wasted no time getting back on the horse, and has won 2 straight fights against Jake Ellenberger and Matt Brown while Hendricks has been rehabbing an injury he sustained in their last fight. At UFC 181, Lawler will get a second crack at UFC welterweight champion Johny Hendricks. If he can put together a title winning performance he’ll have capped off the ultimate tale of a late career renaissance in MMA.
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