Mixed martial arts is the fastest-growing sport on the planet, and it’s arguably the most entertaining. With punches, kicks, knee, elbows, slams, takedowns, and submissions in play, the momentum of MMA fights often switch in the blink of an eye.
The 20 Best Comebacks In Mixed Martial Arts
Ready to find out who pulled off some of the biggest comebacks in mixed martial arts history, let’s jump right into our list:
1) Anderson Silva Vs. Chael Sonnen
Anderson Silva’s comeback victory against Chael Sonnen at UFC 117 was one of the most inspiring moments in mixed martial arts history.
Silva was at the peak of his reign when he stepped inside the cage to face Sonnen. He had been so dominant to the point that fans expected another highlight reel finish from him. Sonnen was extremely aggressive with his trash talk leading up to his fight with Silva, fueling fans’ desire to see him humbled. He bombarded Silva with insults and made a few unsavory comments about Brazilians and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, making him the most hated man in MMA at the time.
Fans got the highlight they wished for, but it didn’t come how they had foreseen. Sonnen’s bite turned out to be almost as vicious as his bark, going after Silva from the opening moments. He rocked Silva with an overhand early in the contest and kept Silva on his back for most of the round while blasting away with ground strikes.
Fans saw more of the same during the second, third, and fourth rounds, and it slowly started to dawn on them that it could be the end of Silva’s championship run. To make things worse, Sonnen took Silva down early in the fifth round and kept him there for a few minutes.
Just when it seemed like all hope was lost, Silva secured a triangle choke off his back and combined it with an armbar. Sonnen was forced to tap, bringing an abrupt end to his dominant performance against a man most fans viewed as the best fighter in MMA history.
2) Cheick Kongo Vs. Pat Barry
The showdown between these two was expected to be an entertaining kickboxing contest, given both men’s pedigree, but it turned out to be one of the most epic comebacks in MMA history. Both men were tentative during the opening moments of the fights, with Barry getting the better of the exchanges. They traded leg kicks for most of the opening minutes until Barry backed Kongo toward the cage and caught him clean with a massive punch.
Kongo was on skates immediately as he wobbled all over the cage, while Barry followed up with more shots. Just when it looked like Kongo was almost back up to his feet, Barry dropped him with another shot. Many referees would have stopped the fight at that point, but Dan Miragliotta allowed the action to continue.
That turned out to be the correct call as Kongo eventually got back to his feet and knocked Barry out cold with a series of vicious punches.
3) Fedor Emelianenko Vs. Kevin Randleman
This is one of the bouts that made Fedor the biggest star of the Pride era. Randleman was one of the best wrestlers in the division, and he got off to a good start, securing Fedor’s back and following up with arguably the most beautiful German suplex ever seen in mixed martial arts.
The slam was so devastating many fans thought the contest was over. However, in true Fedor fashion, “The Last Emperor,” regained his composure and submitted Randleman with a kimura shortly after.
4) Conor McGregor Vs. Nate Diaz
Conor McGregor was on a roll when he faced Diaz for the first time. He was originally scheduled to face Rafael dos Anjos but ended up with Diaz when RDA pulled out a week before the fight. Nate stepped up as a late replacement and a feud between him and McGregor officially started.
The fight started as most fans expected with Conor dominating the striking exchanges. Diaz’s face was a bloody mess by the end of the first round. However, Diaz pushed through the adversity and kept going toe to toe with McGregor. He eventually caught Conor with a jab-cross combination that wobbled the Irishman.
Dazed, McGregor shot for a takedown and Diaz used the opportunity to secure top position. From there, he secured mount and started blasting away, forcing McGregor to roll and expose his back. Nate locked in a rear naked choke that brought the contest to an end to the shock of many fans.
5) Christian Lee Vs. Kiamrian Abbasov
Lee had a rare opportunity to become a two-division champion at ONE on Prime Video 4 and showed the world he has the heart of a champion. Fans knew they were in for a treat when the fight started at a furious pace. Abbasov controlled the pace of the dance with his pressure and landed a few heavy shots.
Lee tried to slow down the pace with a takedown, but it didn’t take long for Abbasov to work his way back to his feet. He cracked Lee with a vicious left moments later, sending him to the canvas. Lee somehow managed to regain his bearings and wisely secured a clinch to slow down Abbasov’s onslaught. A takedown followed up shortly after and Lee used it to turn the fight’s momentum.
Lee continued to mix up his strikes with takedowns and he eventually forced a stoppage with his ground-and-pound during the fourth round. With the win, Lee secured the ONE Welterweight World Championship belt to keep his ONE Lightweight World Championship belt company.
6) Georges St. Pierre Vs. Michael Bisping
MMA fans were happy to see one of the sport’s legends return when he signed a contract to fight Bisping for the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s middleweight title. GSP was the longest-reining welterweight champion in the promotions, but he never fought in the middleweight division during his reign.
GSP manage to secure takedowns during the first round, but Bisping got right back to his feet after each one. St. Pierre started slowing down during the second round and Bisping took control of the fight. GSP suffered the worst cut of his career during the third round after Bisping landed some vicious elbows from his guard. Just when it looked like it was the beginning of the end of GSP, he secured Bisping’s back and ended the fight with a rear naked choke, extending his 12-fight win streak to 13.
7) Scott Smith Vs. Pete Sell
Smith might be the least-known fighter who makes our list twice. This gem came from the Ultimate Fighter: The Comeback Finale. The fight between the two was closely contested, but Sell started taking control during the second round. He hurt Smith with a vicious punch to the liver and closed in for the finish. However, Smith was playing possum, and he caught Sell with a heavy overhand that brought the contest to an end as he rushed in.
8) Frank Mir Vs. Brock Lesnar
Mir scored one of the best comebacks in MMA history when he welcomed Brock Lesnar into the Ultimate Fighting Championship at UFC 81. Lesnar came out aggressively, putting Mir on his back and unleashing powerful ground strikes that immediately cut Mir up. Mir went for a kneebar as Lesnar pounded away and eventually forced him to tap. BJJ players worldwide are particularly fond of this comeback as it highlights how effective BJJ can be even when fights aren’t going your way.
9) Angela Lee Vs. Xiong Jing Nan 2
Lee was finished during her first fight against Xiong when she moved up to challenge for the strawweight title, but she got some revenge during their rematch. Xiong enjoyed the striking advantage for most of the fight and she looked to be ahead on the scorecards heading into the fifth round of their atomweight title showdown. Xiong dominated the opening moments of the fifth and final round, but Lee took her down and secured a submission with only 12 seconds left in the contest.
10) Eddie Alvarez Vs. Eduard Folayang
Alvarez’s ONE Championship debut didn’t go as planned as he ended up getting knocked out by Timofey Nastyukhin. However, he earned many new fans when he pulled off one of the biggest comebacks in the promotion’s history during his next outing.
Folayang sent him to the canvas with a heavy leg kick and jumped all over him with vicious ground strikes. Just when it looked like the fight was over, Alvarez swept and secured top position. He finished Folayang with a rear-naked choke shortly after.
11) Matt Hughes Vs. Frank Trigg 2
Hughes scored the biggest comeback of his career during his second fight against Trigg. Trigg secured a tight rear-naked choke, but Hughes miraculously managed to pick him up and slam him on the other side of the cage. Hughes went on to win the fight via rear-naked choke.
12) Fedor Emelianenko Vs. Kazuyuki Fujita
Fujita was largely unknown heading into his Pride 26 showdown against Emelianenko, but he managed to rock him early in their contest. Emelianenko was visibly wobbled on his feet, but he managed to fight through it and drop Fujita with a liver kick, followed by a pair of hooks. He jumped on Fujita and ended the fight with a rear-naked choke.
13) Kazushi Sakuraba Vs. Kestutis Smirnovas
Sakuraba pulled off the unthinkable during their K-1 HERO’s 6 showdown, getting knocked out and coming back to win the fight. It was the rules and ropes that made that possible if you’re wondering.
Smirnovas secured top position and unleashed a vicious barrage of ground strikes. However, the bombardment was stopped as Sakuraba’s head went under the ropes, just as it appeared he’d been knocked out.
That gave Sakuraba some time to recover before the beating continued. However, he secured an armbar that brought the contest to an end later on.
14) Scott Smith Vs. Cung Le
Cung Le was known for putting on kickboxing clinics during his Strikeforce days, and that’s what took place when he fought Smith. Le dominated the fight from the opening moments and he was on his way to securing another impressive victory before Smith turned things around with a barrage of heavy punches that gave Le his first professional loss in MMA. Le got some payback on his next outing, finishing Smith with a vicious spinning back kick in the second round of the rematch.
15) Royce Gracie Vs. Dan Severn
Our list wouldn’t be complete without this all-time classic. Gracie was about 180 pounds soaking wet, while Severn walked around at 260 pounds. It was a fight that should have never taken place given the immense size difference and Gracie took a severe beating on the ground for most of their UFC 4 fight. However, he eventually secured a triangle choke and put Severn to sleep.
16) Brock Lesnar Vs. Shane Carwin
Carwin put a vicious beating on Lesnar during the first round of their epic UFC 116 showdown between the two behemoths, but the former WWE star managed to weather it all. Carwin was exhausted by the time the second round started and Lesnar took him down and put him away with an arm triangle.
17) Miesha Tate Vs. Holly Holm
Holm was coming off her historic victory against Ronda Rousey and she dominated most of her fight against Tate including the fifth with her striking and takedown defense. With less than two minutes left in the fifth round, Tate took Holm’s back off a scramble and put her to sleep with a rear-naked choke to win the UFC’s women’s bantamweight title.
18) Derick Lewis Vs. Alexander Volkov
Lewis looked like he didn’t belong in the cage with Volkov for most of their UFC 229 encounter, with Volkov hurting him early and often. Volkov dominated most of their three-round showdown, but Lewis eventually knocked him out with 11 seconds left in the bout.
19) Leon Edwards Vs. Kamaru Usman
Leon fought well during the opening round of his title showdown with Usman and made history by becoming the first man to take Usman down inside the cage. Usman was a lot more dominant during the remaining rounds and was a minute away from securing another successful title defense when Edwards connected with a head kick that knocked him out cold.
20) Ben Askren Vs. Robbie Lawler
The UFC threw Askren to the wolves for his debut fight against Lawler. Askren had been acquired via a trade with ONE Championship and he was sporting an undefeated record. Lawler came out aggressively during their fight, slamming Askren to the ground and bloodying up his face with vicious ground and pound.
Many fighters would have quit at that point, but Askren managed to stay in the fight and survived the onslaught, and he had Lawler in a bulldog choke moments later. The fight was stopped prematurely as the referee thought Lawler was asleep when he wasn’t, but Lawler was stuck regardless and would have eventually gotten choked out.
With the victory, Askren kept his undefeated record intact but ended up suffering a devastating knockout during his next fight against Jorge Masvidal.
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