Now that Robbie Lawler has confounded expectations by defeating Josh Koscheck at UFC 157, he can sit back and enjoy his new lease on life with the company.
As fans, we can look back at his victory and in doing so, compare it to other “comeback” fights in the UFC; after all, not everyone who gets a second chance proves capable of making the best of it.
The UFC is the premier organization in the sport; rarely is there an easy fight for anyone with a name as established as Lawler. These days, if you get a second shot, you have to fight for it, and fight hard.
Here is a list of five of the best comeback fights in the UFC.
After a semi-successful stint in Pride, Vitor Belfort found himself back with the UFC, facing Chuck Liddell at UFC 37.5 all the way back in 2002.
It had been over three and a half years since Belfort had fought in the octagon, and while there had been quite a few changes in the company—including ownership—Belfort brought the same things back with him that had made him stand out in the first place.
Both men slugged it out in an action packed fight that was razor close up until the moment that Liddell caught Belfort with a hook late in the fight, dropping “The Phenom” and earning the nod from the judges.
After his first exodus from the UFC, Nick Diaz piled up a string of impressive victories in lesser organizations, turning heads with his exciting fighting style and willingness to trade heavy leather with anyone put in front of him.
So pleasing was his style that Dana White finally couldn’t resist pulling Diaz back into the fold.
Then, things got rocky.
Diaz, who had long campaigned for a shot at UFC welterweight kingpin Georges St-Pierre, was removed from the title bout after failing to comply with the media obligations of his contract.
After the dust settled, fans learned that instead of facing GSP for the title, Diaz would instead be facing B.J. Penn.
Diaz and Penn squared off at UFC 137, where Diaz proved to be too much for the gutsy Hawaiian, battering him for most of the fight en route to a unanimous decision.
When Robbie Lawler climbed the steps that led into the octagon, it had been the first time in over eight years that he had done so.
Lawler’s last bout under the Zuffa banner had been at UFC 50 in 2004, where he lost via submission to the late, great Evan Tanner.
Now back with the company, Lawler was facing Josh Koscheck, a fighter who had fought for the title against Georges St-Pierre in December of 2010.
Most fans and pundits felt as if the takedown game of Koscheck would simply be too much for Lawler; after all, Koscheck had ruined many a night for fighters who couldn’t stop his takedowns, so why should Lawler be any different?
In the end, Lawler proved that landing repeated takedowns isn’t always enough to win, and suffering repeated takedowns isn’t an excuse to give up.
Lawler ended up hammering Koscheck from the top, forcing Herb Dean to jump in and call a halt to the bout in the very first round.
Wanderlei Silva hadn’t fought in the UFC for over seven years when he stepped into the cage at UFC 79.
Standing across from him was the recently removed light heavyweight champion and fan favorite, Chuck Liddell.
It was just about the toughest “welcome back” fight a fighter could have had, and Wanderlei Silva wouldn’t have had it any other way.
For 15 minutes, Silva and Liddell battered each other bloody in a bout that was later recognized as Fight of the Year for 2007, for all the reasons fans have come to hope for in a big fight.
Both men hurt each other, rallied back and slugged it out until the end, leaving the crowd on their feet and roaring in approval.
Silva would lose the bout via unanimous decision, but in a fight like that, everyone wins.
After suffered his second knockout loss to Chuck Liddell (and his second title bout loss in a row) at UFC 57, Randy Couture announced that he was retiring and moving on to greener pastures.
A little over a year later, Couture made another announcement, which in turn left many people scratching their heads.
Couture was going to go back to the division that had, once upon a time, proven that a skilled bigger man usually beats a skilled smaller man—Randy Couture was moving back to the heavyweight division to take on reigning champion, Tim Sylvia.
When Couture left the heavyweight division the last time, it was due to suffering two hard losses in a row to Josh Barnett and Ricco Rodriguez.
Couture had found that dealing with men that large and athletic was too much for him to contend with, and thus he moved to light heavyweight.
Now, he was going back to heavyweight, to fight for the title against perhaps the biggest man he’d ever fight in his career.
No one expected this to be anything more than MMA’s version of Muhammad Ali vs. Larry Holmes; Couture was going to get beaten up, probably badly, but he would get the answers he needed and could move on with his life.
Instead, Couture dropped Sylvia with a hard right hand seconds into the first round, then followed him to the mat, controlling the bigger man and landing punches all the way to the buzzer.
This was repeated for all five rounds, leaving Tim Sylvia with a swollen face and a sinking feeling that his glory days may have just been taken away from him by an “old man.”
With the victory, Couture became the first ever three-time UFC heavyweight champion, and if that isn’t a great way to make a comeback, then nothing is.