10 Best Comeback Moments in MMA History

Dustin FilloyFeatured ColumnistJune 17, 2013

10 Best Comeback Moments in MMA History

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    There's nothing more exhilarating than watching a Rocky Balboa-like story come to life in the spectrum of MMA.

    Since the UFC's inception in 1993, fighters have pulled off incredible and inspiring comeback stories, unthinkable feats that left fans with goosebumps.

    Some of the best memories in the sport's brief history came about because of unexpected efforts from resilient fighters that rose from the ashes.

    Those who witnessed the main-event bout between Cheick Kongo and Pat Barry at UFC Live 4 were privileged to see one of these moments.

    On the brink of unconsciousness, Kongo turned the tide on Barry in an instant and KO'd the former K-1 fighter with a pair of right hands that utterly stunned the crowd at Pittsburgh's Consol Energy Center.

    Kongo shocked Barry and wowed a sleepy crowd, only failing to reach the top 10 because his bout with "HD" ended in just 2:36.

    While Kongo didn't make the cut, here are the 10 greatest comeback moments in MMA history.

    All stats according to Fightmetric.com.

Honorable Mention

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    Heavyweight legend Fedor Emelianenko put on two of the greatest displays of resiliency in Pride history when he stormed back from the edge of defeat to best Kazuyuki Fujita and Kevin Randleman at Pride 26 and Pride Shockwave 2004.

    In the midst of a heavy exchange, Fujita stunned "The Last Emperor" with a counter punch early in the fight, severely wobbling Emelianenko's legs and nearly ending the bout.

    Fujita, however, elected to ground Emelianenko, a mistake that cost him the bout. Emelianenko worked his way back to his feet and then dropped Fujita with a violent combination that set up a fight-ending rear-naked choke at 4:17 of Round 1.

    Against Randleman, Emelianenko found himself on the wrong end of a German suplex early in the first round. Randleman secured The Last Emperor's back and launched him over his head, dropping Emelianenko violently on his head and neck.

    Amazingly, Emelianenko survived the slam and then used his grappling prowess to turn the tides and gain the top position in a scramble on "The Monster," a two-time NCAA Division I wrestling champ.

    Mere seconds after getting dumped on his head, a calm Emelianenko locked up a kimura and smoothly forced Randleman to give up with a tap.

10. Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard II

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    Probably only Frankie Edgar and the bout's referee, Yves Lavigne, were sure that "The Answer" could continue after absorbing a barrage of heavy blows from Gray Maynard in the first round of UFC 125.

    With the lightweight belt up for grabs, Maynard stunned Edgar early and often and sent him flying to the canvas on several occasions.

    But while "The Bully" landed 47 strikes to The Answer's 10 in the first round, he failed to put away the ever-scrappy former champ, opening the door for one of the greatest comebacks in company history.

    A banged-up but still passionate Edgar stormed back to win the next four rounds, outstriking Maynard 97-93, including 95-71 in the significant strikes category. Edgar also stuffed 14-of-17 shots from Maynard, and scored on 3-of-11 takedown attempts.

    Edgar did enough in the last four rounds to persuade the judges to rule the fight a draw, the third of its kind in a UFC title fight.

    With a vicious puncher chasing him and his lights almost out, Edgar proved toughness wins over the judges, at least some of them.

9. Bryan Baker's Fight with Leukemia

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    World Extreme Cagefighting and Bellator MMA veteran Bryan Baker overcame remarkable odds just to stay in the fight game after announcing in 2010 that he was fighting chronic myelogenous leukemia.

    Doctors discovered Baker's condition just days before his second bout in Bellator MMA. At that time, Baker had just begun treatment, and could barely last five minutes in the gym.

    Regardless of his weak physical condition, "The Beast" courageously accepted a fight with Sean Loeffler at Bellator 16.

    Even with little strength and fighting aches and pains, Baker astoundingly TKO'd Loeffler in just 2:43.

    Shortly after revealing that he was battling leukemia, and following a win over Eric Shambari (triangle choke) at Bellator 20, Baker locked horns with former UFC title challenger Jeremy Horn at Bellator 30. 

    Baker survived several precarious situations against the dangerous Horn, eventually grinding out a unanimous-decision win.

    The Beast continued to get stronger in the following months and ultimately won his next two fights by knockout. Baker knocked out Joe Riggs at Bellator 43 before TKO'ing Jared Hess in his next fight at Bellator 50.

8. Georges St-Pierre Bouncing Back from Two Knee Injuries

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    His triumphant return at UFC 154 didn't mark the first time that longtime UFC welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre came back from a knee surgery.

    St-Pierre got one of his knees surgically repaired before getting upset by Matt Serra at UFC 69.

    Following his loss to "The Terror," St-Pierre hooked up with Tristar Gym head trainer Firas Zahabi, a move that's paid major dividends.

    "Rush" won his next nine fights, including eight in welterweight title scraps, before tearing his ACL while training in preparation for UFC 143.

    After getting surgery again and rehabbing his knee for over 18 months, St-Pierre valiantly defended his welterweight belt in Montreal against Carlos Condit at UFC 154.

    St-Pierre spoiled the night of plenty of Condit fans and even more doubters on Nov. 17, 2012. But at least "The Natural Born Killer" benefited in some way from St-Pierre's return, pocketing a $70,000 "Fight of the Night" bonus alongside "GSP."

7. Brock Lesnar vs. Shane Carwin

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    In one of the most hyped heavyweight fights in company history, Brock Lesnar absorbed a brutal beating in the first round of UFC 116 at hands of Shane Carwin.

    Carwin dropped Lesnar early in the first round and outstruck the former NCAA Division I wrestling champ 61-17, including 40-3 in the significant strikes department.

    Lesnar hung on by a thread as referee Josh Rosenthal wisely watched on and allowed the gargantuan former champ to fend off thunderous ground strikes from Carwin.

    Lesnar survived the round and caught his second wind before returning for the second stanza.

    Visibly inspired, Lesnar charged out of the gates in Round 2, scored a takedown, and went to work passing Carwin's guard.

    Lesnar locked up a arm-triangle choke and squeezed with all his might, inducing a tap from Carwin at the 2:19 mark.

    Lesnar could have landed higher on this countdown, but his brilliant comeback over Carwin got dampened by two consecutive losses and an unceremonious retirement from the sport. 

6. Frank Mir's Remarkable Return from a Motorcycle Crash

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    Less than nine months after breaking his femur and tearing several ligaments in his knee in a motorcycle accident that nearly claimed his life, Frank Mir got his heavyweight belt repossessed by the UFC.

    Doctors seriously doubted Mir's future in the UFC. Some even speculated that the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt would never run again.

    A patient Mir kept the faith and put in the time in rehab, returning to action in February 2006.

    Mir, however, embarrassingly dropped two of his first three bouts in the UFC. Mir lost via TKO to relatively unknown underdog Marcio Cruz at UFC 57. He then got TKO'd by a natural light heavyweight in Brandon Vera at UFC 65.

    Just when it appeared that he was essentially demoralized in terms of his career, Mir made a triumphant comeback and won his next three fights, including an upset TKO victory over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC 92. The win once again made Mir heavyweight champ.

    Mir, who remains a perennial contender nearly nine years after his accident, went on to compete in an interim title fight against Shane Carwin at UFC 111. He then fell to Junior dos Santos with the heavyweight belt up for grabs at UFC 146.

    Only less-than-memorable losses in a select few title fights kept Mir from landing in the top five of this list.

5. Tim Boetsch vs. Yushin Okami

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    In hindsight, the look in Tim Boetsch's eyes before the last round of his fight with Yushin Okami at UFC 144 said it all.

    After getting pummeled by the former middleweight title challenger for the better part of two rounds, "The Barbarian" came out in Round 3 with determination exuding from his demeanor.

    Boetsch charged Okami when the opening bell for the third round sounded and quickly let the Japanese star know that he meant business. 

    The Barbarian stunned Okami with a pair of right hands and a head kick. Boetsch then chased Okami down and finished him with a barrage of uppercuts along the fence. 

    Boetsch knew he had no chance to prevail if he allowed Okami to fight him to a decision. As a result, fans got to see what happens when a skilled brawler gets backed into a corner and decides to fight his way out.

4. Mike Russow vs. Todd Duffee

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    Things looked awfully grim for Mike Russow after two rounds with hulking heavyweight Todd Duffee at UFC 114.

    Duffee outstruck Russow a combined 45-10 in the first two rounds, nearly finishing the Chicago police officer on a few occasions.

    Unfortunately for Duffee, four-ounce gloves leave little room for error, a theory he regretfully proved midway through the fight's last round.

    Russow clipped a bobbing Duffee with a straight right hand that rendered the American Kickboxing Academy product unconscious before he hit the mat. 

    Like Boetsch did to Okami, Russow waited for a moment of urgency to make his move on Duffee. But unlike Boetsch, who needed several blows to finish Okami, Russow amazingly needed just one shot to KO the massive Duffee.

3. Randy Couture vs. Tim Sylvia

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    Although Couture became the first fighter in UFC history to capture belts in different weight classes, the defining moment of "The Natural's" career didn't come until he turned 43.

    Following his second loss to Chuck Liddell in a light heavyweight title tilt at UFC 57, Couture announced his retirement from the sport.

    But less than a year later, Couture emerged from his temporary retirement to challenge enormous former heavyweight champ Tim Sylvia at UFC 68.

    In a bout few believed he could win, The Natural outstruck the 6'8" Sylvia 138-39 and scored on seven of his 10 takedown attempts. The win not only turned Couture into a bona fide superstar, it also made him the oldest champ in UFC history.

2. Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen I

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    It seemed evident heading into the fifth round at UFC 117 that Chael Sonnen was on the brink of grinding his way to a victory over longtime middleweight champ Anderson Silva.

    But even in the midst of getting roughed up for more than four rounds, "The Spider" never lost sight of Sonnen's lifelong Achilles heel—submission defense from the top position.

    Silva controlled Sonnen's wrists from the closed guard position before waiting for the perfect moment to throw his left leg around "The American Gangster's" neck to start a tight bite on a triangle choke.

    The Spider tightened the triangle and then countered a Sonnen escape attempt by turning the submission into a triangle armbar.

    Feeling his lights fading, Sonnen finally tapped with 1:50 left to surrender a fight that he primarily dominated.

    Though few thought Sonnen would win before UFC 117, even less thought Silva would prevail after the first four runs of the bout.

1. Matt Serra vs. Georges St-Pierre I

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    With a previous record of 4-4 in the UFC, Matt Serra didn't seem like the most likely candidate to outlast the other 15 fighters featured on The Ultimate Fighter 4: The Comeback.

    Serra, however, bested Pete Spratt and nemesis Shonie Carter to reach the finals against a surging Chris Lytle. 

    Serra then narrowly defeated Lytle in a controversial split decision win at The Ultimate Fighter 4 Finale, earning a shot at welterweight champ George St-Pierre at UFC 69.

    The Terror's failure to impress against Lytle, coupled with St-Pierre's monumental win over Matt Hughes at UFC 69, made Serra a significant underdog heading into UFC 69.

    In the most uneven title fight in UFC history, St-Pierre, who enjoyed an eight-inch reach advantage in the scrap, was deemed an 11-to-1 favorite (-1100) while Serra was deemed a 7-to-1 underdog (+700). 

    The tremendous odds stacked against him apparently didn't affect Serra as the New York native clipped St-Pierre with a looping right hand just over three minutes into the fight to set off a breathtaking series of events.

    GSP tried to escape The Terror's wrath once on skates, but a heap of punches from a determined Serra eventually dropped St-Pierre to his hands and knees, where he succumbed to a TKO loss at 3:25 of the first round.

    By defying such mind-boggling odds, Serra solidified his spot in history as the sport's greatest underdog story. After all, Serra's name will always ring synonymous with comeback—at least until someone tops his shocking win over St-Pierre at UFC 69.