Down but Not Out: The 10 Greatest Comebacks in UFC History

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Down but Not Out: The 10 Greatest Comebacks in UFC History
(Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

"The Comeback" can be something that strengthens a career or kills it indefinitely. When a fighter makes a comeback, there is a great amount of hype, some good, some bad, but when that comeback is successful, it defines and brands a fighter forever.

In this list, you will see some of the most successful (and alternately, biggest busts) comebacks in the world of MMA, and more specifically, the UFC.

 

10. Ken Shamrock

Shamrock is synonymous with the sport of MMA but by talking about the man, you will notice some slumps, some choices and some revivals.

Shamrock fought in the original UFC events, in the tournaments that truly tested the will and endurance of a fighter and he did quite well.

Shamrock became the first UFC Superfight Champion after defeating Dan Severn at UFC 6. Severn reclaimed the belt a year later.

Shamrock posted a record of 23-5-2 before entering the World Wrestling Federation.

After four years in the WWF, Shamrock returned to MMA and in 2002, the UFC brought back "The World's Most Dangerous Man."

The reason for his return: Tito Ortiz.

Shamrock was unsuccessful in his return to the UFC, losing four of five fights including three losses to the aforementioned Ortiz in a trilogy of fights that had more hype surrounding it than WrestleMania. 

His other two bouts were a loss to Rich Franklin at "The Ultimate Fighter" finale for Season One (the same event that saw Griffin/Bonnar revitalize MMA) and a win over Kimo Leopoldo, another UFC veteran at UFC 48.

Shamrock's comeback to MMA after pro wrestling wasn't as successful as we had all hoped, but it was good enough to make it to No. 10 on this list and for all optimists, Shamrock, 45, is still in great shape and still fighting (he won his last fight in February of this year via a first-round armbar to Ross Clifton in the WarGods promoted event in Fresno, CA)

 

9. Royce Gracie

Isn't it funny how a comeback list starts off with two fighters that defined MMA back in the '90s?  Well, for this sport, it has come a long way from humble, yet controversial beginnings.

Royce Gracie started a trend for fighters to be more well-versed and better prepared in the sport.  He won the UFC 1, 3, and 4 tournaments and fought 13 fights in a span of 17 months, something that is unheard of in this day and age.

Gracie left the UFC after the draw against Ken Shamrock at UFC 5 in 1995.

Gracie made his return at UFC 60, 11 years later, against then-Welterweight Champion Matt Hughes.  Hughes defeated Gracie at 4:39 in the first round via punches.

Gracie is an icon in MMA but more recently has fallen to hard times. After winning his last fight in 2007, Gracie tested positive for anabolic steroids. He made a comeback, it was much hyped, but in the end, it was disappointing but newsworthy enough to make the top ten.

 

8. Forrest Griffin

When competing in the first season of TUF, Griffin was exposed to the world as a gritty fighter with a great chin. The former LVPD officer won the inaugural season by defeating (and defining MMA for the new generation of fans) Stephan Bonnar.

Then, Griffin stepped in with the big boys.  After finishing off his first two opponents in the first round (Bill Mahood at UFC 53 and Elvis Sinosic at UFC 55), he fought Tito Ortiz. Griffin gave a great performance against the former Light-Heavyweight champ but lost a split decision.

He defeated Stephan Bonnar at UFC 62.

Griffin fought Keith Jardine at UFC 66 and got knocked out in the first round.  What transpired next was something I thought I would never see in MMA, a fighter crying.

Griffin has since shown what kind of a man he really is, defeating Hector Ramirez by decision and dominating Mauricio "Shogun" Rua before winning the Light-Heavyweight Title from Quinton "Rampage" Jackson at UFC 86.

He has since lost his title to Rashad Evans (who in turn lost it to Lyoto Machida at UFC 98) and is slated to fight Anderson Silva at UFC 101.

To come back from his loss to Jardine and face adversity (mainly due to the crying) and showing that despite a reputation as a reality show star, Griffin can fight and climb the ranks, enough to earn him this spot on the list.

 

7. Patrick Cote

Cote is a great example of a comeback. He started 5-0 in his MMA career and went to the UFC. He fought Tito Ortiz and took him to the limit, losing via a unanimous decision.

He lost his next two fights (Joe Doerkson and Chris Leben) and was chosen to be on the fourth installment of TUF. This season was unlike any other. It pit UFC fighters that were struggling and created them into stars.

Dubbed "The Comeback", Cote took full advantage of the season, training with world-class fighters but losing to Travis Lutter in the finale.

With his reality show stint behind him, Cote went on a four-fight win streak (five, if you include his TKO of Jason Day in another promotion) that saw him get into contention for Anderson Silva's Middleweight Title.

The Silva fight showcased Cote's talents and if it weren't for injuring his right knee, Cote could've won. This fight also marked a trend for Silva as most experts will tell you for not finishing his opponents (something Silva will have to answer for in his fight with Griffin this summer at UFC 101).

Though Cote did not capture the Middleweight crown, he earned a spot on this list for stepping his game up from unimpressive in the UFC to the title contender that he still is.

 

6. Matt Serra

Following in the footsteps of the last person, Serra also came up due to his stint on TUF 4. Serra, however, was more successful.

After going 4-4 in his UFC career, Serra entered The Ultimate Fighter house and won the season in the Welterweight division, defeating Chris Lytle, to get a shot at George St. Pierre's title.

At UFC 69, Serra entered the title fight as a substantial underdog but soon after, all that underdog talk was over as Serra won the 170 lb crown by defeating "Rush" in the first round.

He has since lost the title but thanks to his season in TUF, Serra has proved himself to be an elite fighter, even though his last two fights hasn't gone his way (he lost to Matt Hughes at UFC 98).

 

5. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua

Shogun is on this list based on the hype going into his UFC career and the up's and down's that followed it.

Shogun's UFC debut was a lackluster performance when he lost to Forrest Griffin at UFC 76. He has since followed it up with wins over HOF'er Mark Coleman at UFC 93 and more recently, over former Light-Heavyweight Champion Chuck Liddell at UFC 97. Both wins came via TKO.

He is now the No. 1 contender to new champion Lyoto Machida and are slated to meet for the belt at UFC 104 in Los Angeles.

 

4. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson

Jackson is a beast, bar none but for a fighter who has only lost once in the UFC, it is the power of that very loss that puts Rampage on this list.

Rampage entered the UFC by defeating Marvin Eastman and followed that up in the ultimate way: by defeating Chuck Liddell for the Light-Heavyweight title.

He successfully defended the belt against Dan Henderson (and in the process, unifying the UFC Light-Heavyweight and PRIDE Middleweight titles) and then lost to Forrest Griffin in a controversial decision.

Ten days after the loss, Rampage was arrested and booked for suspicion on wreckless driving. He pleaded guilty to evading police, driving against traffic and a misdemeanour of driving wrecklessly. Sentencing is set for Jan. 7, 2010.

All this was due to the loss to Griffin as Rampage and family have all claimed that after the loss, Jackson fell into depression.

However, Dana White gave him an opportunity to get his spirits up: a fight with Wanderlei Silva, the same man who dominated Rampage in PRIDE.

Rampage answered with a first-round KO of "The Axe-Murderer" and followed that up with a win at UFC 96 to Keith Jardine.

Despite everything that happened after the Griffin fight, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson is showing that when opportunity comes your way, you better knock it out.

Rampage is scheduled to be a coach on The Ultimate Fighter 10: Heavyweights with Rashad Evans.

 

3. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira

Minotauro has always been known as somewhat of a comeback kid, crawling through the ashes of defeat to get a victory and it has never been more defined until he entered The Octagon.

His debut was against Heath Herring, a fighter that he has defeated twice before in PRIDE (he captured the first PRIDE Heavyweight title in their first bout).

In the first round, Herring got a knockdown on Nogueira and the fight seemed to be over but in a shocking move, The Texas Crazyhorse proved to the crowd that he was crazy, letting Nogueira get up and continue. Herring lost the bout by decision.

In his next fight, Nogueira fought Tim Sylvia for the interim UFC Heavyweight title and was dominated for the first couple rounds. In the third round, Minotauro got a guillotine choke in and forced Sylvia to tap out.

Nogueira lost his last fight to Frank Mir and is now scheduled to fight Randy Couture at UFC 101.

 

2. Randy Couture

Couture is a legend in the sport of MMA and is a namesake for the sport. He hasn't had a losing streak since 2002 and is a former five-time UFC champion.

His trilogy of fights with Chuck Liddell sparked MMA for the new millennium and it spelled the end for Captain America...for about a year.

He came out of retirement and dominated Tim Sylvia in a five-round wrestling clinic at UFC 68 to capture the Heavyweight Title. He went on to defeat Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 74 and wanted better competition, namely Fedor Emelianenko, the number one heavyweight in the world.

UFC's failure to sign Fedor sparked Couture into a legal battle with his employer, which resulted in a hiatus for the Hall of Famer.

He reached an agreement with the UFC and is now back in active competition. He returned at UFC 91, losing to Brock Lesnar, losing his title in the process.

Couture will now face Antonio Nogueira at UFC 101.

 

1. Frank Mir

The top of the list belongs to a man who went to the top, only to fall, but rise again.

Frank Mir defeated Tim Sylvia at UFC 48 by snapping Sylvia's arm in an armlock to capture the Heavyweight title. Mir didn't fight for another two years because of a motorcycle accident that broke his femur in two places.

Upon his return to the UFC, Mir was shaky. He lost in the first round of his first fight to Marcio Cruz.

After splitting a win and a loss in the next two bouts, Mir found himself up against Antoni Hardonk at UFC 74. Mir won via a kimura at 1:17 of the first round.

Lesnar was next but Mir fought him off with a kneebar at UFC 81 and a TKO of Minotauro at UFC 92. Wtih the latter win, Mir captured the interim UFC Heavyweight title and a shot at the undisputed title against the same man he made tap out at UFC 81, Brock Lesnar.

Lesnar-Mir 2 is set for UFC 100.

 

That concludes this list of unsuccessful and triumphant returns.

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