Greatest comebacks in MMA history
UFC 99 on Saturday is entitled "The Comeback"
A number of MMA legends have revived their careers
Among them: Quinton Jackson, Randy Couture, Frank Mir
On Saturday night, Rich Franklin and Wanderlei Silva will both try to re-establish a foothold in the tilting landscape of mixed martial arts. Hence, Dana White and the Ultimate Fighting Championship marketing department have come up with UFC 99: The Comeback.
To some degree, the card's moniker is appropriate.
The winner of the headliner will announce his pseudo-relevance in the light heavyweight division, while the loser will slide a little farther into the abyss that marks the end of a hall-of-fame career. Realistically (and sadly), even the winner won't be too far behind (I'm betting on the "Axe Murderer" to stop "Ace").
Let's face it, neither of these guys figures to topple Lyoto Machida or the winner of the Quinton Jackson/Rashad Evans fight. If Evans wins, he's more dangerous than people think and we already know Rampage is a monster.
Most importantly, the Dragon seems to be the purest combat artist of all three. Forgive me if I'm skeptical of how long the "Comeback" will last.
Nah, the career-resurrection angle is purely to sell tickets for this event.
Of course, isn't that the way all of 'em start?
Haven't all the greatest comebacks seemed highly improbable -- if not laughable -- at the time they started? In fact, logic would seem to dictate the most impressive career rebounds should have seemed the most unrealistic in their earliest stages.
That's what makes them so incredible in hindsight -- the fighter beat the odds, often a much more formidable opponent than any human complement.
So, with an eye towards UFC 99 and what could be the beginning of something special, I offer my spin on the top 10 greatest career comebacks in MMA history:
10. Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic
This one opens the list because I'm not sure Cro Cop's gonna make it all the way back.
And I'm not talking about the grotesque head-kick Mirko absorbed from Gabriel Gonzaga. Nah, I think that fight was already part of Filipovic's attempt to return.
Check out his résumé: the Croatian SWAT team member lost twice in his first 20 fights covering five years and some of the biggest names in the fight game as it was back then. Only Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Kevin Randleman beat him.
Then came the marathon war of attrition against Fedor Emelianenko, the fight the "Last Emperor" credits as his toughest to date. Filipovic would go three rounds and 20 minutes with the baddest man on the planet, only to lose a unanimous decision and take immeasurable abuse in the process.
Although Cro Cop would come back to win his next fight against Josh Barnett, he'd lose again in the following bout to Mark Hunt. He'd rattle off another string of victories before transitioning to the newly superior ranks of the UFC and almost getting killed by "Napao."
Then he'd lose again to Cheick Kongo and look in no way, shape, or form like the Cro Cop of old in the process. Now, he's retreated back to his root of K-1 kickboxing.
Who knows if we'll ever see Mirko Filipovic back in the Octagon? Even if we do, it seems unlikely it will be the Cro Cop we remember.
9. Oleg Taktarov
This is sort of a fun one because the more recent crops of MMA fans might not even realize the "Russian Bear" is a fighter. More likely, they'd recognize him from his IMDB page or from movies like 15 Minutes, National Treasure or Bad Boys II.
Don't let the Hollywood stench fool you; Oleg Taktarov is nobody with whom you should trifle.
Oleg is a veteran of the UFC's earliest days, back when it really was a free-for-all.
From 1993 through 1998, Taktarov was a regular and highly-skilled fighter. He notched victories over Tank Abbott and Marco Ruas, he scuffled Ken Shamrock and Ruas to draws, he tasted defeats cooked up by Dan Severn (twice, the second being a unanimous decision after 30 minutes of slugging), Renzo Gracie and Gary Goodridge.
Then he discovered acting (or maybe it was his goal all along).
Between February of '98 and the end of November in 2007, Oleg Taktarov fought once: a submission victory over Aaron Salinas in 2001. He won again in '07 with a submission of John Marsh for Bodog's promotion.
Most recently, the Russian Bear defeated fellow superstar from antiquity, Mark Kerr, with yet another submission.
Two stoppages in two fights after almost a decade away from the endeavor gets Taktarov on this list. If I knew who Marsh was, Oleg would be higher.
8. Mauricio Rua
Lots of fight fans were stunned speechless when "Shogun" Rua lost to Forrest Griffin in September of 2007, I was one of them.
He had literally run through his Pride FC contemporaries: He was 16-2 with 13 victories coming via technical knock-out or straight KO (usually from kicks or head-stomps), two unanimous decisions (over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Kazuhiro Nakamura), and one submission of Kevin Randleman.
He had one early, inexplicable loss to Renato Sobral and a "loss" to Mark Coleman, in which an awkward fall broke his arm.
At the time, Mauricio already listed amongst his vanquished Quinton Jackson, Alistair Overeem (twice), Ricardo Arona, Cyrille Diabate, Evangelista Santos and Akihiro Gono, in addition to those mentioned.
So nobody thought he'd lose to a reality show contestant. Clearly not Shogun, who came in lackluster and ill-prepared. The stoppage by Griffin sent Rua looking for answers, answers it took Shogun over 15 months to find.
But find them, he did.
A rusty defeat of Coleman to finally close the chapter on the broken limb and, more persuasively, his destruction of Chuck Liddell has Rua back on track.
7. Georges St. Pierre
I know, G.S.P. looks odd on a list of career comebacks because the 28-year-old hasn't had a ton of adversity in his still-young career.
But, when you avenge the worst upset in MMA history, it qualifies as a grand bounce-back.
I'll handle Rush's defeat at the hands of Matt Serra a little later, but suffice it to say the defeat weighed heavily on St. Pierre. At first, he simply gave credit to Serra and played the gracious loser. Ultimately, however, the attention and hullabaloo got to be too much.
Then came stories of personal problems, family deaths, this and that -- essentially, G.S.P. wanted out from underneath the story and started wriggling. Georges took on a somewhat bitter edge for the first time in interviews.
Finally, two fights and over a year later, St. Pierre got his shot at redemption in the form of a rematch with the Terror. Rush's subsequent annihilation of a tough-as-nails Serra as well as successful title defenses against Jon Fitch and B.J. Penn have returned St. Pierre to the pinnacle of the sport.
Not bad for a guy so recently familiar with its depths.