10 MMA Fighters Poised to Make Comebacks in 2013
Given that the metaphorical UFC fighter blood is flowing in the streets like metaphorical wine these days, a lot of the action in the speculative end of the MMA discourse pool has focused on who might next appear on the old metaphorical chopping block.
But the world is far too complex for just one narrative. Even as we guess about who we might see under the axe tomorrow, other veterans are preparing for comebacks today, both inside and outside the UFC.
Here are my 10 picks for those ready to step back into the spotlight in 2013. To be clear, this is not just a list of retired or semi-retired fighters looking to return to the sport. These are fighters who fell on hard times and saw themselves fall off the radar, but who I believe will regain their old positions this year.
10. Brian Bowles
Last fight: Submission loss to Urijah Faber, Nov. 19, 2011
Brian Bowles is one of the more mysterious cases in the UFC. Sure, he lost to Faber, but it's not like he fell to some tomato can. And even if you do deem it a bad loss, Bowles still wasn't released. Look, here he is on the UFC website, despite not fighting for 16 months.
The bantamweight division is not the most dense of the divisions. Bowles, a former WEC champion, is still 10-2 and just 32 years old. He could provide some nice bench depth for the UFC or another promotion. If he's healthy, why not saddle him up?
9. Paul Sass
Last fight: Decision loss to Danny Castillo, Feb. 16, 2013
The Sassangle lost two straight in the UFC and found himself on the business end of Black February. But you have to think the 24-year-old Brit, who has nine career wins by triangle choke, will catch on with another major-league promotion and begin his climb back to the top sooner rather than later.
8. Sean Sherk
Last fight: Split decision win over Evan Dunham, Sept. 25, 2010
Sean Sherk, now 39, said as recently as October that he was priming himself for a return to the UFC. We'll see if the ground-and-pound artist and former UFC champion can get himself healthy and back in the cage after two-and-a-half years on the shelf.
7. Will Campuzano
Promotion: Legacy Fighting Championship
Last fight: TKO win over Jimmy Flick, Dec. 13, 2012
Will Campuzano has looked quite at home since dropping to flyweight in April 2011. Problem is, the UFC didn't announce it was creating a flyweight division until December 2011. So Campuzano went 0-2 there as a bantamweight and was released.
The high-octane Campuzano is a tidy 3-0 since moving to 125. All three wins came by stoppage, and his most recent victory netted him the LFC flyweight title. He defends the title for the first time this April. If the entertaining 26-year-old Team Alpha Male student wants to make a return, it's hard to imagine the UFC not being interested.
6. Sergei Kharitonov
Promotion: Glory Road (kickboxing)
Last MMA fight: Submission win over John Delgado, June 1, 2012
Every list like this has to have a curveball. These things are not exact sciences. Who among us foresaw Jamie Varner's resurgence? Who predicted Todd Duffee?
Kharitonov had a rather ignominious exit from big-league MMA in September 2011 after getting tapped by Josh Barnett in the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix semifinals. He has since moved on to kickboxing, going 2-2 since the Barnett loss.
But he successfully dipped a toe back into MMA in June. If they can get the numbers to work, the hard-hitting Russian—famous among hardcore fans for his scintillating split with Alistair Overeem—would seem like a natural addition to a shallow UFC division.
That assumes, of course, that Zuffa has moved on from their feud with Golden Glory, Kharitonov's management team. That shouldn't be a major sticking point, hopefully, given that Kharitonov was the only Golden Glory fighter under Zuffa contract at that time not released following the spat.
5. B.J. Penn
Last fight: Decision loss to Rory MacDonald, Dec. 8, 2012
The key to Penn's comeback in the UFC: fight at lightweight. Just go to your natural fighting weight and fight there! I'm no Bas Miletich, but that's my $0.02, coming from a guy who'd really like to see Penn walk away a winner.
4. Paul Daley
Promotion: Bellator/Cage Contender
Last fight: KO win over Patrick Vallee, Feb. 23, 2013
Good to see Paul Daley keeping himself busy while he waits for the courts to resolve those visa issues. He has a court date in April. If he gets clearance, expect him to tear into Bellator with a vengeance. In the meantime, keep yourself busy with this video of Daley's flying-knee knockout of Vallee.
3. Anthony Johnson
Promotion: World Series of Fighting
Last fight: KO win over D.J. Linderman, Nov. 3, 2012
I can't believe Anthony Johnson used to cut 50 pounds to get to welterweight. Especially because he's now 3-0 at light heavyweight.
If the concrete-fisted "Rumble" can handle his business against Andrei Arlovski on March 23, he'll have been a winner in nine of his past 11 contests. Whether or not a triumphant debut at heavyweight positions him for a return to the UFC or as a kingpin of WSOF, he appears poised for a big resurrection.
2. Frank Mir
Last fight: TKO loss to Junior dos Santos, May 26, 2012
I believe Frank Mir is going to lose to Daniel Cormier when they fight May 26. I also think Cormier might be championship material for some UFC division. Yes, dos Santos seemed to break Mir's spirit when they fought. But he's a champion, too.
Two losses to champion-level opponents doesn't make you a washed-up bum. What's more, Mir tapped MMA miracle worker Greg Jackson to help get him ready for Cormier. That's not the action of someone ready to give it up. And it will start to pay big dividends to the sMIRker later in 2013.
1. Rashad Evans
Division: Light heavyweight
Last fight: Decision loss to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Feb. 2, 2013
There's no way Rashad Evans is really as bad as he showed against Nogueira.
But that, plus his loss to Jon Jones last April, have a lot of fans and pundits leaving him for dead. I'm not going to fault him for losing to arguably the second-best fighter in the world, and will, for now, assume that stink bomb against Lil Nog was a one-off, even if it was his worst fight in quite a long while.
As Dana White said, Evans and his Blackzilians camp have a lot of work to do. But I believe Evans will do it: Come back to the land of the living, defeat Dan Henderson at UFC 161 and become viable again before the year is out. I don't think we've heard the last from "Suga" Rashad. Far from it.
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