Everybody loves a good comeback story, and in our culture it's almost a requisite, iconic quality for a fighter to have to overcome adversity in order to come back and win the title, as well as our respect. Whether it's Frankie Edgar coming back from a first round beating, or veteran journeyman Yves Edwards bouncing back to the UFC after a four year absence, we like these stories because they are a compelling aspect of human nature.
Deep down I think we all root for the idea of a former great returning to prove to everyone he's not done. This Rocky-esque desire is sometimes gloriously fulfilled, as it was when Nick Diaz returned from a long absence to batter two-weight class champion BJ Penn, or goes horribly wrong, as it did at UFC 60 when Matt Hughes crushed the dreams of Royce Gracie.
Here are a handful of UFC fighters who have either come back from the shadows and stepped back into the limelight, or who are earning their shot at a late stage in their careers:
Who entered the UFC in such a dramatic fashion as Stephan and fellow TUF 1 winner Forrest Griffin after the two put on arguably the best MMA fight in history? It may be difficult to argue he ever left, but the truth is that many thought the Carlson Gracie student was done after dropping a third fight in a row to Krzysztof Soszynski in February of 2010. At the age of 33 he was 11-7 as a professional fighter and on the fringe of being relevant in the UFC at all.
And then Bonnar turned back into the "American Psycho", revenging his TKO doctor cut loss to Soszynski with a convincing beating, pounding on Igor Pokrajac for three rounds, and schooling TUF veteran Kyle Kingsbury on the ground to rattle off a quick three wins.
In fact, Bonnar is now the last man to survive in the cage to a decision with current Light Heavyweight kingpin Jon Jones, and has established himself as being far from done in the cage. The reason Bonnar is a feel-good story is that deep down we love his work ethic, his courage, his heart, but above all, his plain way of speaking and the sense he's just a regular guy who just happens to love breaking faces.
Photo by Josh Hedges via Getty Images
Many people still have no idea who Anthony Perosh is, let alone know why he might be in a list of comeback fighters. The ozzie fighter actually did a first stint in the UFC back in 2006, dropping decisions to Jeff Monson and Christian Wellisch at Heavyweight. Perosh was released from the promotion, and slid to a 6-4 professional record by 2008.
Then, it all turned around. Rattling off a 7-2 record with defeats coming only to Kiwi fighter James Te-Huna and Mirko Cro Cop, Perosh dropped back down to Light Heavyweight and has now won three in the row in the UFC since 2011. The 38-year-old fighter has used his second degree black belt in Brazilian Jujitsu to submit deadly striker Cyrille Diabaté, and Tom Blackledge, as well as a first round TKO against Nick Penner in his home country in March.
Perosh is by no means a contender at Light Heavyweight but the five-time Abu Dhabi World Championship qualifier is a serious threat on the ground to most in the division and it will be interesting to see how "The Hippo" thrives in this career resurgence.
I know what you're thinking. Does Fabricio really belong on a comeback list? Absolutely he does. After getting knocked out quickly by Junior dos Santos at UFC 90, Dana White did not have kind words for the 2007 and 2009 Abu Dhabi World Championships gold medalist. It looked like Werdum was done with Zuffa for good.
And then the man submitted Fedor Emelianenko, ending a 10-year reign of terror, and soaring back into the top 10 list of many a pundit's rankings. Although he then dropped a decision to Alistair Overeem immediately after, that result could very well be in doubt given the fact Overeem recently tested positive for an impossible amount of testosterone in a random drug test. And regardless, many felt Werdum actually won that fight striking, though his repeated attempts to lure Overeem to the ground cost him the decision.
Werdum's three-round demolition of Roy Nelson at UFC 143 has signalled to many that he is very possibly a top-five Heavyweight in the world, and represents one of the better comeback stories in the UFC, especially if he gets a rematch against Junior.
If the Canadian-El Salvadorian doesn't represent a comeback story, nobody does. The 29-year-old fighter is already a grisled veteran, battling none other than Georges St-Pierre in 2002 in Montreal, dropping his first loss of his career late in round 1.
Making his UFC debut at UFC 48, Menjivar lost a three round war to Matt Serra, a match in which he demonstrated his tenacity and toughness. Ivan spent the next six years outside the UFC, including a four-year retirement from the sport after dropping his second straight loss to Bart Palaszewski in the IFL in 2006.
Returning to the pro WEC league in late 2010 and making his bantamweight debut, Menjivar dropped a decision to Brad Pickett. But with Zuffa's acquisition of WEC and the absorption of the tinier weight classes, Menjivar has rattled off three wins against Charlie Valencia, Nick Pace and John Albert. Two of those fights were first round stoppages.
There isn't really a whole lot to say about Dan "Hendo" Henderson that hasn't been talked about to death in recent years. But as Henderson joked recently after Zuffa bought Strikeforce, Dana White seems to have to buy every promotion Henderson joins to get him back in the UFC.
Indeed, Henderson fought at UFC 17 before jumping to Pride and becoming a champion in that promotion before the UFC bought the talent-laden Japanese promotion. Although he dropped a five-round grapplefest to Jake Shields almost two years ago, the 41-year-old fighter is 7-1 in his recent run, with defeats over Fedor, Babalu, and Shogun.
The only thing that may taint Hendo's incredible late-career run is his controversy with Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT).
Photo by Esther Lin via MMAFighting.com
Ok, Brian has never fought in the UFC, been cut, and returned, so he's not technically a comeback fighter. But the 31-year-old Australian-American has an astonishing 49-14-1 record, including a 10-fight win streak, three of those in the world's toughest MMA promotion.
Ebersole has battled several world-class fighters throughout his career as well: Ed Herman, Stephan Bonnar, and Hector Lombard to name but a few. And though he lost to all three of them, Ebersole's recent run is nothing short of impressive.
Making his debut against Chris Lytle at UFC 127 a year ago, the man shaved an arrow in his chest hair pointing to his chin before proceeding to lay the second worst beating on Lytle since Josh Koscheck. He also came perhaps the closest to being the only man to knock Lytle out with a vicious knee to the chin.
Ebersole has since defeated another resurging UFC veteran in Dennis Hallman, and squeaked out a barnburner against Canadian Claude Patrick at UFC 140, impressive in and of itself in that Patrick was also riding a 13-fight win streak.
3. Josh Neer
Practically an honorary Diaz brother, Neer has the distinction of having lost to both. Cut from the UFC after dropping a decision loss in a row to Gleison Tibau in 2009, Neer had a lot to prove, going 8-1 since then, with a loss only to Bellator's lightweight phenom, Eddie Alvarez at a catchweight bout of 160 pounds.
After a revolving door of minor league promotional main events, Neer got the call back to the UFC to fight Keith Wisniewski in UFC Live: Cruz vs Johnson. Neer put on an elbowing clinic that was perhaps the most brutal display of effective elbows the octagon has ever seen. Neer followed that performance up by demonstrating his improved jujitsu, submitting UFC veteran Bang Ludwig 3:04 into the first round of their January fight.
Although Neer is far from the top of the food chain, the 33-10-1 fighter has looked extremely tough in his two comeback fights, and has a sneer on his face reminiscent of his fellow Diaz training partners that should put the fear into many a future opponent. His next test will be to face fellow journeyman Mike Pyle at UFC on FX in June.
1. Mark Hunt
We all know this is the feel-good story of the year, and I don't need to dredge this up again, given it's been a topic on every mma website for the past several months. Sufficed to say, after dropping to 5-7 professionally with a quick loss to Sean McCorkle UFC 119, Hunt has won three in a row, including a devastating knockout against Cheick Kongo at UFC 144.
Although Hunt probably doesn't deserve a title shot, it's not hard to understand why people want to see the Super Samoan conclude one of the most improbable comeback stories in MMA history.
Gabriel Gonzaga. After leaving the UFC, few figured the man who became a legend for knocking out Cro Cop with his own trick would ever be back. But after an impressive showing at UFC 142, and a seeming willingness to return to his jujitsu black belt roots, he faces undefeated two-time WBC World Muay Thai Champion Shane del Rosario at UFC 146 in May.