Top 20 comebacks in UFC history
We love comebacks.
In Hip Hop, Hollywood, and most of all, sports, comebacks excite us like nothing else.
The really cool thing is that comebacks can take on many different forms. From your standard “battling back from the brink of defeat” to a full-blown career revival, no matter the type, a truly great comeback makes an indelible impact on our memories, and invariably ends up being the subject of a “Do you remember that time…” conversation between fans.
As the UFC marches on towards their 20th Anniversary event, UFC 167, on Saturday, November 16 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, we continue on in our 20 for 20 series with a look at the Top 20 Comebacks in UFC history.
#20: Matt Brown’s Career Resurgence
On November 19, 2011, Seth Baczynski submitted Matt Brown in the second round of their welterweight bout on the preliminary card of UFC 139. It was Brown’s fourth loss in five fights, and despite having seemingly fended off the axe one fight early, returning to the loss column meant next time out, the former Ultimate Fighter cast member (Season 7) would once again be fighting for his place on the UFC roster the next time he stepped into the cage.
Two years later, “The Immortal” has won six consecutive fights to climb into the Top 10 in the 170-pound weight class, and he’s done it in impressive fashion too.
Beginning with Chris Cope at UFC 143, Brown has added wins over Stephen Thompson, Luis Ramos, Mike Swick, Jordan Mein, and Mike Pyle to his resume one after the other, stopping the last four with strikes to establish himself as one of the most dangerous men in the deep and talented welterweight division. That’s a far cry from being on the brink of being released, and his resurgence has – as you would expect – become one of the better stories to emerge from the UFC in the last year.
Next month, he’ll get a chance to extend his winning streak to seven in a showdown with Carlos Condit that could very well turn into the welterweight version of the UFC 166 fight between Gilbert Melendez and Diego Sanchez.
Regardless of the outcome, Brown’s unexpected and highly entertaining rise to being a Top 10 welterweight deserves to be recognized as one of the best comebacks in UFC history.
#19: Tito Ortiz submits Ryan Bader at UFC 132
“The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” was one of the biggest stars in the UFC for a long time – the longest reigning and most successful light heavyweight champion in history before Jon Jones came along, and one of the fighters that helped carry the company to new heights in the wake of The Ultimate Fighter’s success.
Then the losses and the injuries started to mount, and he left the UFC for a time. When he came back, it was more of the same, and that’s what makes his first-round submission win over Ryan Bader stand out.
Engulfed by losses, this bout stands as Ortiz’ lone victory in the last seven years, and one of the most unexpected performances in recent memory. After all, Bader was still viewed as a rising star, and after earning wins over the likes of Keith Jardine and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira – as well as having faced off with Jon Jones in a “Who is the next great light heavyweight?” match-up where Jones answered that question with resounding authority – he was bound to beat Tito. Right?
Ortiz closed the distance, dropped the former Ultimate Fighter winner with a short right hand inside, and then jumped on a guillotine choke to earn the upset victory. The MGM Grand Garden Arena erupted, and Ortiz declared that he was back, jumping into a rematch with Rashad Evans on short notice just a month later.
He wasn’t back. He lost his next three fights, and retired from the UFC.
But for one night at UFC 132, “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” of old was back, and we loved every single minute of it.
#18: Tim Boetsch storms back against Yushin Okami at UFC 144
“That might be one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the UFC!” shouted a hoarse Joe Rogan, having just watched Tim Boetsch show exactly how to approach the third round of a fight when you’re down 2-0 on the scorecards.
Through the first 10 minutes of their middleweight battle at UFC 144, Yushin Okami did what Yushin Okami does against Boetsch, frustrating “The Barbarian” with his suffocating top game in the second after picking him apart with clean, technical boxing in the first. Coming into the third, it was clear that Boetsch needed a finish, and that’s exactly what he got.
Right out of the gate in the final frame, he pressed for the finish, landing a big overhand right 30 seconds into the round that hurt Okami. Boetsch pursued, got in close, and unleashed a string of nasty uppercuts, the last of which took Okami’s legs out from under him.
Just 54 seconds into the round, the fight was over. As Rogan put it shortly after the bout was stopped, “He went for broke. He put it on the line, and he pulled it off!” He then went a little off his rocker, proclaiming “that was the greatest comeback I have ever seen in the history of the UFC,” a remark he laughed about in the cage while interviewing the victorious Boetsch moments later.
Though not the best ever, it was certainly deserving of a spot on this list, and “Be Like Boetsch” should be an instructional phrase used in the corner whenever a fighter is down on the cards and in need of a finish.
#17: Stefan Struve survives, stops Christian Morecraft
Hopefully Stefan Struve will be able to continue his UFC career at some point, because he’s is one of the most consistently entertaining and exciting fighters to compete in the Octagon.
The seven-foot tall heavyweight swings for the fences, looks for the finish, and isn’t afraid to put himself in harm’s way if it means he might land a big shot of his own. In 13 career appearances in the UFC, he’s been to the scorecards once, and despite 12 wildly entertaining fights and nine victories, that’s the one bout that drives him crazy to the this day… and he won that fight.
He won this fight with Morecraft too, though after the first round, you wouldn’t have thought that possible.
This was the first UFC appearance for Morecraft, a 23-year-old with a 6-0 record at the time, and he was looking to make an immediate impact in the heavyweight ranks. Struve entered off a first-round loss to Roy Nelson, and at various points in the opening frame, it looked like a second consecutive stoppage loss was coming.
Morecraft rained down big shots while postured up in Struve’s guard, the Dutch fighter’s head bouncing off the canvas, referee Herb Dean watching intently. Through he tried valiantly, Morecraft couldn’t put Struve away, and the round ended.
Between frames, the doctors took a good long look at Struve’s lip, which was swollen, split open, and bleeding so badly that cutman “Stitch” Duran spent the entire break trying to deal stop the bleeding. Struve was allowed to continue, and just 22 seconds later, he had his fourth UFC win.
No sooner had Struve walked across the cage and opened the round with an outside leg kick did the two plant their feet and start winging wild hooks at each other. It was a “Whoever lands clean first” scenario, and Struve connected, blasting Morecraft with a right hand on the chin that buckled him. Struve followed him to the ground, unleashed a flurry of unanswered rights, earning the victory and a place on this list.
#16: The Spinning Backfist
Long before Shonie Carter and Matt Serra became contestants on Season 4 of The Ultimate Fighter, the two met at UFC 31 in a bout that produced one of the best knockouts in UFC history, and, obviously, one of the greatest comebacks we’ve seen as well.
“Mr. International” is known for his flamboyant attire and over-the-top-and-back-again personality, but he was also a pretty well-rounded fighter in his prime, blending wrestling, karate, and kickboxing together to produce a style that was always entertaining.
Seriously – go find a bunch of old Shonie Carter fights, settle in for a couple hours, and just enjoy the spectacle and excitement of it all.
Over a career that has spanned more than 85 professional fights (officially), this remains Carter’s signature moment.
Serra won the first handily, controlling Carter on the ground, pursuing the submission, while the second was a grind it out along the fence type of frame that could have gone either way. Best-case scenario for Carter, it was even at one round each and the third would decide it. Worst-case? He was down 2-0 and needed a finish.
Serra continued his pursuit of the submission in the third, and looked to be on his way to a decision win as the final 10 seconds started ticking off the clock. 10… 9… 8… BAM!
As Serra looked to close the distance, Carter unleashed a spinning backfist, catching Serra with his elbow and knocking the future TUF winner and welterweight champion out cold.
#15: Carlos Condit finishes Rory MacDonald at UFC 115
Despite an impressive championship run in the WEC and pair of close, entertaining split decisions with Martin Kampmann (which he lost) and Jake Ellenberger (which he won) in his first two UFC appearances, people didn’t full embrace Carlos Condit as a legitimate threat in the welterweight division.
This is the fight that started changing that perception.
Through the first two rounds – and to the delight of the partisan crowd in Vancouver, British Columbia – MacDonald controlled the action. The young B.C. resident showcased his diverse skill set, beating Condit to the punch, using his wrestling, and taking a 2-0 lead into the final frame, where the audience at GM Place (now Rogers Arena) rose to their feet to cheer on the youngster from Kelowna.
Between rounds, the usually calm Greg Jackson got fired up in the corner, telling Condit, “It’s about war! You bounce, you move, and you give it to this kid!”
MacDonald started quickly, but Condit caught him with a hard right hand 40 seconds into the round that turned the tables. MacDonald immediately shot for a takedown, and Condit capitalized, opening up the Canadian with short elbows from top position. At the halfway point of the final frame, it was clear that MacDonald was fading, and Condit was unrelenting, pounding on his tired, grounded foe with punches and elbow in dire search for the finish.
With 30 seconds left, Condit climbed back into MacDonald’s half guard and resumed his assault, leading to referee Kevin Dornan calling a stop to the fight with just seven seconds left in the round.
The bout served to justify the hype surrounding MacDonald, and propelled Condit into the UFC 120 showdown with Dan Hardy that turned out to be Condit’s breakthrough win. While Tim Boetsch’s comeback win over Yushin Okami was quicker, this one earns a higher spot on the list because of the atmosphere in the arena and how late the stoppage came.
#14: Oleg Taktarov submits Tank Abbott at UFC 6
Nobody would ever confuse Tank Abbott with being a technical fighter, but the guy could put a serious hurting on you with his fists, and after doing just that to John Matua and Paul Varelans in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds, respectively, the man who would become one of the early stars of the UFC meet the emotionless, eventually Hollywood “Russian Bad Guy,” Oleg Taktarov in the finals of the UFC 6 tournament.
Abbott came out the way he always came out – launching haymakers, trying to end things as quickly as humanly possible. Despite connecting with some big shots to start the fight, Abbott couldn’t finish the resilient Russian.
Both men were exhausted, and with Abbott doing very little from top position, referee “Big” John McCarthy broke the fighter, restarting them from their respective corners, and Taktarov found a victory.
Pressed into the cage, Abbott dropped down for a takedown, and Taktarov grabbed a guillotine, eventually dropping to the canvas in an attempt to finish the choke. Abbott survived, and Taktarov let go of the hold, moving around to take his back, the spent brawler unable to defend. After setting his hooks, he flatten out Abbott, laced his right arm under his chin, and sunk in the rear naked choke, earning the tap at 17:47.
This was a true battle of attrition between two early stars.
#13: Mark Hominick tries to finish Jose Aldo at UFC 129
No one said anything about a comeback having to end in victory in order for it to be considered one of the best in UFC history.
A Hollywood producer looking to make the next great (first great?) MMA movie couldn’t have pitched a better narrative than this one.
This was a homecoming of sorts for Mark Hominick, who lived about 90 minutes away in London, Ontario, but had never before had the opportunity to compete in his home province. He’d get that chance on the biggest stage the UFC has put together to date, as more than 55,000 fans packed the Rogers Centre for UFC 129, where “The Machine” would take on Jose Aldo for the featherweight title.
Adding to the story was the fact that his wife, Ashley, was pregnant with their first child and due any day.
Aldo dominated early, picking apart the technically sound Shawn Tompkins student, beating Hominick to the punch early and often. A welt began forming over Hominick’s left eye, and by the time the fourth round was over, it had grown to the size of a small apple.
Undeterred, Hominick came out for the fifth looking fresh, and after Aldo landed a couple shots early in the round, the Canadian scored a takedown, and started going to work on the reigning champion. As Hominick threw punch-after-punch at the Brazilian, who seemed content to stay on his back trying to avoid the onslaught, the crowd got louder and louder and louder, seemingly trying to will their charge to victory.
Hominick would come up short, the round coming to a close and Aldo winning a unanimous decision, but this was a valiant final push that stands out as the most memorable moment from one of the biggest events in UFC history, and one that deserves a place on this list, even if it was without the Hollywood ending.
#12: Martin Kampmann catches Thiago Alves
Martin Kampmann is one of those fighters that are rarely in a dull fight. Whether he’s earning the victory or on the wrong end of the results, whenever “The Hitman” is in the Octagon, you know you’re in for a good show, and that was the case here.
Both Kampmann and Alves were ranked in the Top 10 at the time, and this bout would move the victor one step close to title contention. While the first two rounds were close, Alves had earned the 10-9 score in both frame according to most people, and with roughly a minute left in the fight, looked to seal his second consecutive victory with a late takedown.
But he left his neck exposed, and Kampmann capitalized, latching onto a guillotine choke, and using Alves’ momentum to roll through into mount. With just 48 seconds left in a fight he was losing, the Danish welterweight forced the Brazilian to tap, snatching an impressive victory from the jaws of defeat.
Kampmann would follow it up with a come-from-behind win over Jake Ellenberger, but has since lost back-to-back outings to Johny Hendricks and Carlos Condit, the latter earning Fight Of The Night honors.
#11: Mike Russow pulls a Homer Simpson against Todd Duffee at UFC 114
Comparing this to Muhammad Ali’s famous “Rope-A-Dope” routine against George Foreman would be a disservice to “The Greatest.” Besides, there is a more apt comparison.
In the eighth season of The Simpsons, there is an episode called “The Homer They Fall,” where family patriarch Homer discovers he has a medical condition that makes it impossible for him to be knocked out. He embarks on a boxing career with Moe the Bartender, a former prizefighter in his younger days, as his manager, suggesting Homer let his opponents exhaust themselves before toppling them with one shot once they’re spent.
While that probably wasn’t Russow’s plan heading into the fight, that’s pretty much how this one played out.
Duffee entered with unmatched hyped, fresh off a then-record-setting seven-second knockout win over Tim Hague in his UFC debut. The young, muscular heavyweight was supposed to steamroll the doughy police officer who happened to also be a professional fighter on the side, but no matter what he hit Russow with, Duffee couldn’t put him away.
Just passed the midway point of the final round, down went Duffee.
Russow connected with a short right hand in close, and it was all over. He followed his felled opponent to the canvas, hitting him with what is easily the weakest final blow in UFC history once he realized Duffee was out.
MMA Homer Simpson 1, “Duffman” 0.
#10: Frank Shamrock finishes Tito Ortiz at UFC 22
This one should rank high on the list of greatest fights in UFC history, but because UFC President Dana White and Frank Shamrock are forever at war with each other, it has more or less been relegated to “Let’s not talk about that, m’kay?” status.
But this was epic, and easily one of the best comebacks in UFC history as well.
Ortiz was young, aggressive, and just starting to enter what would become his dominant period in the light heavyweight division. He had earned back-to-back wins over Jerry Bohlander and Guy Mezger before meeting Shamrock at UFC 22, and dominated the fight early.
He was bigger and stronger than Shamrock, but couldn’t put the light heavyweight champion away. Through 15 minutes, it was all Ortiz, and most of the fourth round played out that way as well, but when Shamrock went to stand late in the frame, an exhausted Ortiz grabbed for his leg, and the champion seized the moment.
Shamrock unloaded on Ortiz, collecting his fourth successful title defense with a stoppage at 4:42 of the fourth round. Having turned back all challengers, “The Legend” announced his retirement following the bout. Ortiz would go on to win the vacant title in his next fight, and Shamrock would eventually become the first face of Strikeforce when they made the transition into MMA.
Both have mixed reputations with fight fans, and dicey histories with the UFC, but regardless of all of that, this was an outstanding fight and a tremendous comeback.
#9: Matt Hughes carries Frank Trigg across the cage at UFC 52
Dana White’s favorite fight of all-time is also one of the best comebacks of all-time.
Matt Hughes submitted Frank Trigg at UFC 45, finishing him with a standing rear naked choke, and these two genuinely disliked each other. When they came to the center of the cage for final instructions before the start of the fight, Trigg got right in Hughes face, and the welterweight champion shoved him backwards.
Early in the first round, Trigg caught Hughes with a knee in the nuts, and when Hughes looked to the official (Mario Yamasaki) to call time, he got nothing – the ref hadn’t seen the foul, and Trigg pounced, blasting Hughes with a flurry of strikes, sinking in a rear naked choke.
And then it got epic.
If you’ve ever been to a UFC event live and marveled at the “Baba O’Riley” montage before the main card starts, you’ll know this part pretty well.
Hughes escaped the choke, and while still on the ground, secured his hands around Trigg. He then stood up, lifting Trigg on his shoulder, carried him across the Octagon, and planted him into the canvas with serious authority.
From there, Hughes returned fire, pounding on Trigg until he eventually sank in a rear naked choke of his own to defeating for the second time, and complete one of the best comebacks we’ver seen in the Octagon.
#8: Scott Smith flattens Pete Sell
Scott Smith and Pete Sell were a pair of UFC veterans given a chance to gain a little more exposure and a second chance in the Octagon as contestants on Season 4 of The Ultimate Fighter. They were given a place on the finale, and it produced one of the most epic comebacks of all-time.
After nearly two full rounds of give-and-take on the feet, Sell ripped a left hook to the body that forced Smith to double over, grabbing his abdomen. Seeing his opponent hurt, Sell did what you would expect him to do and charged in at Smith, looking for the finish.
But his hands were down, and when he got into range, KA-POW! Smith fired a right hand that dropped Sell like a sack of hammers to win the fight. As soon as the fight was waved off, Smith went back to feeling horrible as a result of the body shot, while Sell got brought up to speed on what had happened.
Three years later, Smith would duplicate the feat in Strikeforce, absorbing 13 minutes and change worth of punishment at the hands (and knees and feet and shins and elbows) of Cung Le before dropping the former middleweight champion with a similar blistering knockout blow.
#7: Frank Mir finishes “Minotauro” Nogueira… again
At UFC 92, Frank Mir became the first person to finishing former Pride heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira with strikes, something famed finisher Mirko Cro Cop and heavyweight legend Fedor Emelianenko had never done.
Three years later, the two would meet for a second time in the co-main event of UFC 140 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, where Mir would once again accomplish a first, and earn his way onto this list of the greatest comebacks in UFC history.
Nogueira’s UFC career has been all peaks and valleys – strong performances chased by disappointing results – but he entered on the upswing, having returned to the cage after an 18-month hiatus to knock out Brendan Schaub before a ravenous crowd in Rio de Janeiro at UFC 134.
Just passed the midway point of the first round of this rematch, Nogueira connected with a right hand that put Mir on roller skates. Out of desperation, he dove for a leg, and after unloading with hammerfists, Noguiera looked for a guillotine choke. Somehow, Mir managed to defend, ending up on top, where he quickly jumped into side control and secured a deep kimura on the Brazilian’s right arm.
Mir continued to torque, Nogueira refused to tap, and then his arm was broken. Nasty stuff, and easily one of the best comebacks in UFC history.
#6: Brock Lesnar submits Shane Carwin at UFC 116
Brock Lesnar unified the UFC heavyweight title by beating Frank Mir at UFC 100, and looked to be at the start of what would be a dominant run atop of the division. But before he could square off with unbeaten No. 1 contender Shane Carwin, he fell ill, eventually being diagnosed with diverticulitis.
In Lesnar’s absence, Carwin brutalized Mir to claim the interim heavyweight title, where the sidelined champion congratulated him in the cage. The two would finally meet at UFC 116, and as he had done in every one of his previous 12 fights, Carwin looked to end things right away.
After eating the first barrage of punches, Lesnar looked genuinely afraid of the onslaught he knew was coming, and had no answer. Along the cage and eventually on the ground, Carwin landed shot after shot after cinder-block-handed shot as referee Josh Rosenthal looked on. Watching the fight, you expected Rosenthal to wave it off, but it never happened, and the horn sounded, signaling the end of the round.
Lesnar had survived, and Carwin looked confused… and spent.
As they stood across the cage from each other to start the second round, Carwin gave Lesnar a wink, which drew a smile from Lesnar, and the two touched gloves when they met in the center of the cage. When the action restarted, it was clear that the interim champion was running on empty.
Less than a minute into the frame, Lesnar ducked under for a takedown, and after softening up Carwin with short punches to the head and body, Lesnar locked onto an arm triangle choke, tightening the squeeze and earning the submission win at 2:19 of the second round.
Outside of the cage, he overcame an illness that threatened his career, and once he returned, Lesnar survived a vicious onslaught that would have – and maybe could have – ended any number of fights.
#5: Randy Couture wins the heavyweight title at UFC 68
After losing the rubber match of his trilogy to Chuck Liddell at UFC 57, Randy Couture announced his retirement. Less than a year later, “The Natural” announced not only that he was making a comeback, but also that he would be stepping in to face Tim Sylvia for the UFC heavyweight title.
It’s easy to look back in hindsight, mock Sylvia, and downplay the magnitude of this fight, but after losing to Andrei Arlovski at UFC 51, “Big Timmay” “The Maine-iac” had rattled off six consecutive victories, including back-to-back wins over Arlovski. As much as the best heavyweights in the world were competing in Pride at the time, he was the top dog in the UFC by a wide margin, and looked like he should beat the old, rusty ring general Couture.
And here is why the guy is a legend…
Couture not only won the fight, claiming the heavyweight title for a third time, but he absolutely dominated the five-round affair, setting the tone with a big overhand right that dropped Sylvia. It was nuts: the 43-year-old Couture just mauled him, beating him in every facet of the fight, adding another chapter to his storied carrier, and another belt above the fireplace.
#4: Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard battle to a draw at UFC 125
In 2011, the Fight Of The Year happened on the very first day of the year, as lightweight champion Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard covered every inch of the Octagon in an instant classic at UFC 125.
The fact that it made it out of the first round and how the second round played out is what puts it on this list.
To this day, Maynard is still wondering what exactly you have to hit Edgar with in order to put the Toms River, New Jersey native away because over the course of the opening fight minutes, “The Bully” connected with everything except a steel chair and yet every time you thought, “Now he’s done,” Edgar got back to his feet.
And then he came out to start like the second bouncing around like nothing happened, taking the fight to Maynard. At one point, he scooped him up and slammed him into the mat.
The difference between the first and second was night and day, and the fact that Edgar rallied from as dominant a round as we’ve seen in the Octagon to not just survive, but come out and win the next round before trading frames with Maynard over the final 15 minutes was incredible.
While both men felt unsatisfied with the result and the idea of a second consecutive rematch for the lightweight title annoyed some people, it turned out to be alright, because…
#3: Frankie Edgar finishes trilogy with Gray Maynard at UFC 136
Ten months after their draw at UFC 125, Edgar and Maynard returned to the cage to resolve things, and if you can believe it (and you should because it happened), the third fight was even better than the second bout.
And it was eerily similar too.
Just as had in January, Maynard put it on Edgar in the opening round, once again rocking “The Answer” with heavy shots, earning a 10-8 score from most observers. And once again, there was Edgar, fresh and ready to rock in the second, bouncing in and out, snapping combinations like the initial five minutes were a figment of everyone’s imagination.
Unlike their meeting earlier in the year, however, this one did not end up in a decision.
After using his movement and combinations to take a 10-9 round in the third, Edgarcaught Maynard with a huge shot off a failed takedown attempt late in the round, and “The Bully” never recovered. Edgar swarmed him along the cage, trapping him against the fence, unloading a torrent of left hands that prompted referee Josh Rosenthal to step in.
Battered, bloodied, but victorious, Edgar celebrated, and we got a terrific finish to one of the best trilogy to ever grace the Octagon, and another tremendous comeback to add to this list.
#2: Cheick Kongo drops Pat Barry in Pittsburgh
This was just insane.
Heavyweights Pat Barry and Cheick Kongo were elevated to the main event of this UFC Live event in Pittsburgh the day before the fight, and ended up turning in one of the most incredible 30-second sequences in MMA history.
Just before the midway point of the round, Barry caught Kongo with an overhand right that dropped the muscled Frenchman. He followed up, unloaded a barrage of lefts and rights looking to finish, but Kongo hung in there grabbing for a leg. Barry shrugged off his still-dazed opponent’s takedown attempt, dropping him for a second time with another overhand right.
“He’s out now,” Joe Rogan said on the broadcast, but it was quickly followed by a “Nope” from his partner Mike Goldberg, as Kongo once again looked for the desperation takedown, eventually climbing to his feet.
Kongo literally backed himself into a corner, and Barry came forward after him. Suddenly, Kongo stopped and threw a right hand that staggered Barry, following up with another thunderous right that folded Barry over, finished.
The fight honestly could have been stopped twice during Barry’s offensive and no one would have complained. Instead, it continued, and we ended up with the second greatest comeback in UFC history.
#1: 'The Triangle'
Chael Sonnen talked a whole lot of mess heading into his UFC 117 showdown with middleweight champion Anderson Silva. It made for great entertainment and added buzz to a bout that looked like it was going to be another one-sided, easy victory for the dominant Brazilian.
As much as Sonnen had impressed earning consecutive victories over Dan Miller, Nate Marquardt, and Yushin Okami on his way to earning a shot at “The Spider,” he had a track record of coming up short in big moments and suspect submission defense, leading to the self-proclaimed “Gangster From West Linn” being given little chance of backing up his pre-fight promises once the cage door closed.
When the first round came and went with Sonnen control the majority of the round and finishing in top position, raining down punches, it was just one round. Maybe Silva had taken him too lightly or was trying to give his brash opponent a false sense of security.
When it happened again in the second, all that talk of a wrestler with a strong control game being the blueprint for defeating Silva – who entered having won 11 straight in the UFC and 12 consecutive contests overall – rushed back into your head.
When the third round followed the same general pattern – Sonnen grinding away from top position, Silva having no real answers from his back – the challenger had already done enough to win the fight on the scorecards.
When the fourth round produced another 10-9 frame for Sonnen, most people were in a state of shock. Here was the most dominant champion the UFC had ever seen being put on his back repeatedly, dropping four consecutive rounds having previously lost three, maybe four rounds in total during his time in the Octagon.
Silva needed a finish, but with Sonnen having controlled for the first 20 minutes and showing no signs of relenting, most were resigned to the fact that a new champion would be crowned in five minutes.
Through the first three minutes two minutes and 56 seconds of the final frame, Sonnen was in control. The end result seemed like a formality.
But Sonnen got a little sloppy, and Silva capitalized in a flash.
Controlling his left arm and pushing his right back just enough, the champion slipped his left leg over Sonnen’s shoulder and locked up a triangle, extending the challenger’s tramped arm in an armbar as well.
Sonnen tapped, and then swore that he didn’t, but referee Josh Rosenthal correctly stepped in, waving off the bout.
There were no words.
For 22:57, Chael Sonnen did exactly what he said he would do. In the span of 13 seconds, Anderson Silva rendered it all moot, snatching a miraculous comeback victory out of thin air.
It was almost unbelievable then, and is still hard to comprehend three years later. As great as some of the finishes on this list were, top spot was never in question.
This is the best comeback in UFC history.