Top 10 Best/Worst Comebacks in UFC History

Brian Oswald@@briancoswaldMMA Editor September 9, 2009

With the return of Vitor Belfort and Tito Ortiz, this is a good time to take a look back at some of the best and worst returns in UFC history.

Sometimes taking time off from the octagon can benefit you, while other times it can send a fighter into a downward spiral.

Whether it went good or bad for the fighter, a UFC return is always memorable for the fans.


10. Kimo vs. Tank Abbott

Back at UFC 43, the infamous Kimo Leopoldo returned to the octagon after a seven-year absence from the UFC and having not fought for over a year. His opponent was fellow infamous fighter, Tank Abbott.

Kimo made short work of Abbot by taking him to the ground and choking him out in the first round. It was a successful return for Kimo, but he was unable to put together a winning streak.

In his next fight at UFC 48, Kimo was finished via TKO in the first round by Ken Shamrock. It was the last fight in the octagon for a fighter who was recently—and falsely—reported dead by the media.


9. Evan Tanner vs. Yushin Okami

The late Evan Tanner was a former UFC middleweight champion and a much respected fighter in the mixed martial arts world.

At UFC 59, Evan Tanner defeated Justin Levens by first round triangle choke. He then left the UFC for two years to focus on setting up a home for disadvantaged athletes and young men at risk. UFC president Dana White stated that Tanner would be welcomed back whenever he was ready.

He returned at UFC 82 to fight top-ranked UFC middleweight Yushin Okami, but things didn't turn out his way. Tanner didn't have much to offer against the power and size of Okami and ended up getting knocked out in the second round.

Even as a former champion, Evan Tanner was unable to do enough to pull off the comeback. Tanner went on to lose a tough-fought split decision in his next bout, against Kendall Grove at The Ultimate Fighter 7 Finale, in what would be the beloved fighter’s final fight before his passing.


8. Vitor Belfort vs. Chuck Liddell

At UFC 103, Vitor "The Phenom" Belfort will return after a four-year hiatus from the octagon, where he will face former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin. Whether he can recapture his past success remains to be seen; what we do know is that on June 22, 2002, he had an unsuccessful octagon return against Chuck Liddell at UFC 37.5

Despite the decision loss, Belfort would bounce back by demolishing Marvin Eastman at UFC 43. It took Vitor just over a minute to explode on Eastman, get a TKO win, and deliver one of the most gruesome cuts in UFC history to his opponent.

"The Phenom" was back this time, and in his next fight he captured the UFC light-heavyweight belt by defeating Randy Couture at UFC 46, albeit via a cut suffered by Couture. The limelight was short-lived, though, as Belfort lost in his first defense to Couture.

A follow up loss to Tito Ortiz at UFC 51 had him pack his UFC bags and head for Japan, where he fought in the PRIDE organization.


7. Randy Couture vs. Brock Lesnar

Randy "The Natural" Couture is arguably the biggest legend in the UFC. After his UFC 74 win over Gabriel Gonzaga, Couture had contract problems which kept him away from the octagon for nearly a year.

Meanwhile, a behemoth named Brock Lesnar was making an impact in MMA. When Couture finally resolved things with the UFC, he was scheduled to return to defend his heavyweight title against Lesnar at UFC 91.

Although Couture did well throughout the fight, he got caught with a right punch that crumpled him to the canvas, where Lesnar was able to finish off the hall of famer with a barrage of hammer fists.

Couture has always been known for overcoming the odds, but the odds were literally too big that night, as a new champion was crowned.


6. Royce Gracie vs. Matt Hughes

Most of the current fighters got hooked on MMA because of one man, Royce Gracie. Gracie had the ability to make anyone tap out in a fight, no matter how big or how strong his opponent was.

He was the winner of UFC 1, UFC 2 and UFC 4. Eleven years after leaving the octagon, he returned to face the most dominant welterweight fighter at the time and then-champion, Matt Hughes, at UFC 60.

Hughes proved that this time size and strength mattered and that MMA had evolved greatly since the days of a prime Royce Gracie. Hughes TKO'ed Gracie in the first round, which was enough for the legend to call it quits in the octagon once and for all. 


5. Ken Shamrock vs. Tito Ortiz

The rivalry between Ken Shamrock and Tito Ortiz boiled over after Ortiz defeated and flipped off Shamrock's friend and training partner, Guy Mezger, at UFC 19. Tito later became the UFC light-heavyweight champion and a fight between these two seemed inevitable.

Shamrock had not fought in the UFC since 1996. Unfortunately for Ken, his return against Ortiz in UFC 40 was disastrous, as he was dominated by the champion for three rounds before his corner stopped the fight.

This lost seemed to be the first of many as Ken Shamrock went on a downfall from there, winning only two of his next seven MMA fights, including two more losses at the hands of Tito Ortiz.


4. Frank Mir vs. Marcio Cruz

Former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir was mowing down the competition in the UFC heavyweight division before suffering a severe motorcycle accident in 2004.

Unable to defend his newly acquired belt, Mir was stripped of the title and had to undergo surgery and rehab before getting back into the octagon. Mir finally returned in 2006, at UFC 57, against Marcio Cruz.

Although physically able to return, Mir wasn't 100 percent mentally ready for a comeback, and it showed. Cruz dominated Frank and TKO'ed him in the first round. It seemed as if Mir had nothing to offer in the fight.

Mir was able to miraculously get his career back on track and go on to beat Antonio Nogueira for the heavyweight interim belt, but that fight against Cruz was the toughest loss of his career.


3. BJ Penn vs. Georges St. Pierre

At UFC 46, BJ Penn became UFC welterweight champion when he choked out Matt Hughes. Afterwards, he signed a contract with a rival promotion and was stripped of his belt.

He eventually returned at UFC 58, against top welterweight contender Georges St. Pierre. The fight was a dream match for most UFC fans and the winner would also get a shot at the champion, Matt Hughes.

Penn came off strong in the first round, using his superior boxing skills to bloody St. Pierre. Unfortunately for Penn, he gassed out in the second round and slowly got picked apart by St. Pierre, who did enough to win a split decision.

The return fight was not one Penn likes to remember—the loss haunts him to this day.

He went on to rebound and eventually capture the lightweight title against Joe Stevenson at UFC 80. He also got a rematch with St. Pierre at UFC 94, only to get dominated beyond recognition.


2. Jens Pulver vs. Joe Lauzon

Jens "Little Evil" Pulver was the first UFC lightweight champion—and a good one at that. He dominated the division with his superior stand-up skills and knocked out all the competition.

He left the UFC after his title defense against BJ Penn in 2002, only to return in 2006 at UFC 63. There was a lot of hype surrounding the return of Pulver, but the hype wasn't enough as UFC newcomer Joe Lauzon crashed Pulver's comeback party with a shocking 48 second KO win.

Everybody in attendance had their jaws dropped to the mat because of what they had just seen. Lauzon later proved he was a good fighter and one of the top prospects in the lightweight division. In his next fight, Pulver lost a grudge rematch to Penn and decided to cut weight and fight for the WEC.


1. Randy Couture vs. Tim Sylvia

A disappointing loss to Chuck Liddell at UFC 57 sent Randy Couture into retirement. One of the greatest fighters had finally had enough and left. Little did we know, he would return to author one of the greatest comeback stories in UFC history.

A phone call made to Dana White about an eventual return was all that was needed to hype up his next fight. At UFC 68, Randy returned to fight the considerably bigger UFC heavyweight champion, Tim Sylvia.

Couture stunned the 6’7" giant eight seconds into the fight with a punch that sent the champion to the canvas. He went on to dominate Sylvia to win a decision and the title, doing so at the age of 44.

To this day, there is no comeback in UFC history that has been as spectacular as this one.


    Nick Diaz Arrested for Alleged Domestic Violence

    MMA logo

    Nick Diaz Arrested for Alleged Domestic Violence

    Alec Nathan
    via Bleacher Report

    Broadcast Legend on Mission to End Bipolar Stigma

    MMA logo

    Broadcast Legend on Mission to End Bipolar Stigma

    Andreas Hale
    via Bleacher Report

    Rising Stars Whose Potential Is Being Wasted

    MMA logo

    Rising Stars Whose Potential Is Being Wasted

    Matthew Ryder
    via Bleacher Report

    Fight Night 130 Main Card Predictions

    MMA logo

    Fight Night 130 Main Card Predictions

    Matthew Ryder
    via Bleacher Report