Not too long ago, six members of The Scrap broke down five different MMA rivalries in a bid to prove that their favorite was the sports best. From Ronda Rousey’s emphatic feud with Miesha Tate to Michael Bisping’s stunning upset over Luke Rockhold, the piece featured it all.
Now just two months later, the team is back, however, this time we are focusing on comebacks.
By definition, a comeback is a return by a well-known person, especially an entertainer or sports player, to the activity in which they have formerly been successful. In mixed martial arts, along with most other sports, a comeback stands for more than just in-ring competition; returning from an injury as well as various other external factors will be included in the list you are about to read.
Without further ado, here are The Scrap’s favorite MMA comebacks:
Caroline Romero – Darren Elkins vs. Mirsad Bektic, UFC 209
My comeback story inside of the Octagon is Darren “Damage” Elkins (24-9) win over Mirsad Bektić (13-3) at UFC 209 in March 2017. The featherweight bout was on the preliminary card at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Elkins was hurting after the first two rounds. He was cut and bloodied. It looked like the 4-1 underdog was in danger of losing to Bektić. However, just like a true Cinderella story, Elkins found his second wind in Round 3. He delivered a heavy right hand and high kick that resulted in a KO/TKO at 3:19 of the final round.
The win resulted in Bektić’s first loss in MMA. Elkin’s perseverance, mental and physical toughness shine in this memorable fight.
Drake Riggs – Holly holm vs. miesha tate, UFC 196
When it comes to my favorite moments in MMA, a lot will revolve around the same types of things or people. So initially for this one, I really wanted to go with the greatest comeback in sports history that was Dominick Cruz recapturing the title against TJ Dillashaw… but I’ve chosen Cruz moments enough for these categories. With that in mind, I’ll go with a fight. And my all-time favorite comeback has probably got to be Miesha Tate vs. Holly Holm.
As someone who prides themselves in being knowledgeable of the female fighters of the sport, I wasn’t always as okay with women fighting as I am now. When I first saw it, yeah, it felt a little odd. But that quickly disappeared. It then became a matter of me not sure whether or not they belonged in an organization like the UFC. My opinion on that changed completely after seeing Tate vs. Julie Kedzie in Strikeforce and she became one of my all-time favorite fighters from thereon. Seeing her journey and how she just couldn’t quite reach the peak of the mountain despite clearly being a top talent was rough, yet inspiring. That obviously changed at UFC 196.
Down on the cards going into the fifth, Tate needed a finish to win it and finally claim UFC gold. We knew that the only way she would make that a reality was by dragging Holm down for a submission. Well, she managed to pull it off with a late hail mary takedown that led to a wild rear-naked choke that put Holm unconscious. You could feel just how much it meant to Tate as the emotion exploded out of her after the referee waved off the fight. It was truly one hell of a moment.
Joey Torres – Julianna Pena and Mackenzie Dern return from childbirth
When I thought about my favorite MMA comeback, the first name that popped in my head was GSP’s return to claim the belt against Michael Bisping at UFC 217. He’s the reason I became such a fan of the sport, but when I thought about it some more, the most impressive comebacks recently have been those of Julianna Pena & Mackenzie Dern after giving birth. Although we have a few MMA moms on the UFC roster now, Pena and Dern were two to do it at the highest level of their career. They also came back and barely missed a step, that’s badass. Dern got back in the win column recently at UFC Vegas 1 and Julianna Pena is the #4 ranked bantamweight in the world, #14 WP4P.
I think this is so huge for the sport and something we should be highlighting. It showcases that women in professional sports can still have their careers and raise a family, should they please. It’s such an impressive comeback when you think about it, and there is no close second.
Austin Luff – Georges St. Pierre becomes a two-weight world champion
In Canada, we take our sports very seriously. Hockey, Basketball, Baseball, Canada is a country of sports. This was evident on November 7th, 2017.
I walked past a newspaper rack and every paper had one man on the cover, Georges “Rush” St-Pierre. GSP was prepared to make his return going up in a division, to fight Michael Bisping for the Middleweight Championship. GSP hadn’t fought since 2017 when he lost a controversial decision to Johnny Hendricks. Even if he called it quits there, he had a Hall of Fame career, but he wasn’t done. We have seen MMA legends return to the octagon and it does not always go well. However, GSP somehow looked like he got even better. It was a huge moment in Canada, and solidified him as the greatest of all time (in my opinion.) This was the first UFC Pay-Per-View I ever watched and I have not stopped since. This is my favorite MMA return of all time.
Lee brown – Sean O’Malley’s return from suspension
This was a tough decision for me, I wanted to go with Neil Magny who has looked good in his 2 fights coming off a 16-month layoff due to a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency suspension, which was later lifted. I decided to go with “Sugar” Sean O”Malley who has been super impressive since his return to the Octagon. O’Malley was given a six-month suspension for drug tests linked to bad supplements. O’Malley accepted a fight against Marlon Vera at UFC 239 but due to elevated levels of ostarine metabolites in his system, he couldn’t get licensed for the event.
Although Magny has looked good in his return, winning both fights via decision, O’Malley has look sensational. In his return to the Octagon, The “Sugar Show” finished Jose Quinonez within 3 minutes in the first round. In his next fight, he finished former WEC champion Eddie Wineland at UFC 250. Along with his 2 wins, he also won Performance of the Night bonuses with a total fight time under 4 minutes. O’Malley is now ranked #14 in the bantamweight division and should get a step up in competition as he moves forward.
Steven Rae – Nick Diaz vs Paul Daley, Strikeforce (2011)
Who doesn’t love a good comeback? A story that inspires thousands across the globe and often turns oddsmakers perplexed with both confusion and envy. Each of the aforementioned comebacks has cemented themselves in the sport’s history, all deserving of a mention when this topic of debate is put forth to the table. However, what I am about to present to you may be one of the wildest out there.
Initially, I was tempted to go with either Anderson Silva’s emphatic last-minute comeback against Chael Sonnen – arguably the greatest one of all – or Michael Bisping’s career resurgence, albeit have opted to brush those aside for this piece. My favorite comeback of all time is Nick Diaz vs. Paul Daley.
When I was first introduced to the sport that is MMA, Nick Diaz stuck out to me like a sore thumb; to put it lightly, he did not, and still doesn’t, give a f*ck. This attitude directly correlates to his in-cage antics and performances. I have always appreciated the style of both Diaz brothers, but especially Nick, as he likes to drag his opponent into deep water before suffocating them with a series of strikes, which are seemingly never-ending. His 2011 main event with powerful British brawler Paul Daley wasn’t your classic Nick Diaz performance, nevertheless has been labelled one of the sports greatest rounds of all time.
At the time, Diaz was the reigning Strikeforce welterweight champion, riding an incredible nine-fight win streak over some of the promotions biggest stars. He was quickly building himself up to be one of MMA’s more routine finishers, and this would not change on that fateful night. To cut a long story short, both Diaz and Daley brought a lot of boiled over animosity to the cage, and would quickly sort out their differences in front of a live audience for the promotion’s welterweight strap.
Within 30 seconds of fighting, Diaz found himself on his knees after succumbing to two left hooks; Daley’s best weapon. The challenger did his best to finish the fight – conscious of his opponent’s jiu-jitsu game – unloading fierce punches and even landing a sneaky soccer kick. This wasn’t enough to deter Stockton’s favourite fighting son, who rapidly rose to his feet. He began to turn on the gas, applying pressure while mixing head-body combinations on a struggling Daley. Just as it looked like a Diaz masterclass was in full effect, the unthinkable happened – the left hook came back to haunt him. He was now flat on his face, with a knockout artist raining down ground and pound onto his skull. Surely the battle was over?
After a minute of punching his adversary’s head in, Paul Daley looked fatigued and gestured the champion to stand back up. This invitation was gladly met by both Diaz and the crowd, who were quite obviously getting their money worth from just this fight alone. With just 30 seconds remaining, Diaz struck, forcing the opposition onto the backfoot and returning to his infamous head-body combinations. This mix of offense left a countering Daley exposed as he ate a huge right hook, and began to visibly wobble to the canvas. Diaz rushed his fallen foe, offering some quick ground strikes before referee ‘Big’ John McCarthy waved off the contest with only three seconds on the clock. Nick Diaz had just returned from the cusp of unconsciousness, winning arguably 2011’s round of the year.
This fight persists as one of my ‘go-to’ fights within the sport; if you have five free minutes, check it out for yourself, and witness one of mixed martial arts greatest comebacks of all time.
Connor Rogowsky – Josh Emmett vs. Shane Burgos, UFC Vegas 3
In the mist of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UFC found a way to put on fights. Before this fight, I knew who Josh Emmett was, and knew he had power in his right hand. Walk-off KO power, evident by numerous highlights in the UFC. But his fight with Shane Burgos made a life-long fan out of me.
Emmett had some awkward landing with his lead leg that left him in visible discomfort. There almost appeared to be a slip, a no contact injury, and Emmett was walking gingerly. It was confirmed that Emmett tore his ACL, and it was presumed to happen at this moment, early in the first round. He also partially tore his MCL and suffered a focal impact fracture of his femur.
The fight went to a decision, a 3-round war. Burgos overwhelms his opponents, with pressure, power, and his size in the division. He is a very intimidating opponent, and Emmett was able to battle on one leg for almost the entire fight to win the decision. I could not believe that Emmett made it out of the first round with the injury to the leg, and Burgos continuing to attack the injured leg. By the end of the fight, I was surprised that Burgos was the one trying to survive the onslaught of Emmett.