The Top 10 Best UFC Comebacks of 2014
Comebacks, whether in life or in a specific endeavor, are what dreams are made of. In athletics, we may often idolize dominance, but we relate to and relish unlikely success even more.
In his speech, titled "the Strenuous Life," delivered to Chicago’s Hamilton Club in April 1899, the future President Teddy Roosevelt described how victory was made most full when it was earned in spite of adversity and hardship. The "highest form of success," he said, "comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph."
Indeed, anything that comes easily is usually not as worth celebrating as wins which are the result of great struggle. Many UFC fighters demonstrated inspiring wills to overcome adversity, both in individual fights and in their lives and careers, in 2014.
Here are, in order, our ten favorite comebacks of the past year.
10. Yoel Romero (9-1) defeats Derek Brunson (12-3) by 3rd round TKO, Jan. 15
Derek Brunson simply looked like the better MMA fighter early on against the former Olympic Judo competitor Yoel Romero. Brunson controlled the early part of their middleweight showdown, and initially made Romero look old and awkward.
Then Romero turned it around with superior conditioning and nasty striking power. In the end, Brunson had to show a great deal of heart to hang on as long as he did against Romero, who viciously pummeled him in the third round until the referee had to call a halt to the fight.
Romero would go on to win twice more in 2014, and with a fight against Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza scheduled for UFC 184 in February, may be just one more win away from a middleweight title shot.
9. Fabio Maldonado (22-7) beats Gian Villante (12-5) by decision, Mar. 23
No one could have guessed that pudgy former boxer Maldonado would prove to have better conditioning than the chiseled wrestler Villante, but that’s exactly what got the Brazilian this dramatic come-from-behind win last spring. Early on, Villante looked to be every bit the nightmare matchup for the hard-punching Maldonado, closing the distance and dominating the grappling.
After Maldonado survived the initial onslaught, however, Villante appeared to run out of gas. For the rest of the fight, Villante gamely ate punch after punch, mostly with his hands down, as Maldonado stole the fight.
8. Dan Henderson (30-12) KO’s Mauricio "Shogun" Rua (22-10), Mar. 23
Later that same night, Dan Henderson snapped a three-fight losing streak by knocking out fellow legend Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in shocking fashion. This bout was a rematch of one of their 2011 bout, which was one of the most violent and gutsy fights of all time.
That fight saw Henderson nearly knock Rua out several times early on before getting dominated and nearly finished himself, over and over, in the final two rounds. Rua looked to be picking up where he left off last March, as he hurt and out-classed Henderson in the first two rounds of their rematch in Brazil.
All it took was one punch from Hendo in the third, however, to change and end the fight. The former Olympic wrestler used his knockout power to catch Rua flush on the nose, drop him and then finish him off in a stunning end.
7. Mitch Clark (10-2) submits Al Iaquinta (10-3), May 24
Iaquinta has done all he can to leave this late spring submission in the rear view mirror, with two straight wins following the defeat, and a marquee matchup against Joe Lauzon at UFC 183, at the end of this month. But this night will forever belong to Mitch Clark, who scored an upset come-from-behind second round submission win.
Initially, Iaquinta appeared to be in complete control over Clark. Heading into round two, things did not look good for the Canadian.
That all changed, however, when Clark locked on a Brabo choke around the arm and neck of the New Yorker, and didn’t let go until the ref pried him off.
6. Donald Cerrone’s career comeback
Donald Cerrone lost two out of his first three fights in 2013. Then he ended the year with an impressive submission win over Evan Dunham at UFC 167 to bring his mark to .500 in his last four bouts.
Cerrone would turn that one win into a tear in 2014, however, fighting more than any other top lightweight in the world, staying undefeated through his last five fights, and finishing all but one opponent in that span. "Cowboy" has a chance to continue his run this Saturday at UFC 182, when he faces Myles Jury in a 155-lb contender’s bout.
5. Cathal Pendred (15-2) submits Mike King (5-1), July 19
Welterweight Mike King looked to be on his way to a rousing UFC debut in the first round of his bout against veteran Irishman Cathal Pendred. King hurt Pendred badly and it seemed unlikely that the Straight Blast Gym product would be able to change things around in the second round.
But of course, that’s exactly what he did. Pendred got a hold of King on the ground and managed to get the finish with a rear naked choke submission hold.
4. Matt Brown (19-12) stops Erick Silva (17-5), May 10
There simply is no counting out Matt Brown. Ever. The Ohio fighter survived a heroin overdose years ago, and then became a successful MMA fighter, even making it to the Ultimate Fighter and the UFC.
Then after a rough patch of losses, Brown suddenly blew through the welterweight ranks to become one of the very best fighters in the world, and a top 170-pound contender. On his way to the top, Brown also had to survive being nearly knocked out by Erick Silva last spring.
Silva took it to Brown at the start of their fight, and hurt "the Immortal" badly with a body shot. Brown, who appeared to be on his way out of the fight, instead held on and then stormed back, brutally beating Silva in the third round of their main event so badly that the referee had to intercede and call it off.
3. Cat Zingano (9-0) stops Amanda Nunes (9-4), Sep. 27
There may not be an undefeated fighter in the UFC who has had to come from behind as much as Zingano. In a bantamweight title contender’s match in 2013, Zingano was getting beaten soundly by Miesha Tate before turning it around in the third, stomping her for the TKO win to earn a title shot.
Zingano missed that first title shot because of a torn ACL, but made her long-awaited return this fall against top prospect Nunes at UFC 178. To put it mildly, Nunes was all over Zingano and looked to be on her way to an easy, if violent win in her UFC debut.
Like she often does, however, Zingano woke up late and then unleashed scary fury on her opponent, stopping her with a barrage of jarring punches and elbows on the ground for the TKO win.
2. Dominick Cruz’s career comeback
Sadly, Cruz will have to come back from a serious injury once more, as the former bantamweight champion has torn another ACL and faces a long rehab period. Let’s remember the good times today.
As WEC and UFC bantamweight champ, Dominick Cruz never came close to having his world title taken from him in the ring. A series of serious back-to-back injuries kept the champion out of action for three years, and the UFC was forced to strip him of his belt.
But when Cruz returned the same night Zingano did last September, he stormed the gates and absolutely crushed former title challenger Takeya Mizugaki. Some how, some way, Cruz emerged from those three years out of competition seemingly stronger, faster and better than ever.
Cruz faces some dark and difficult days ahead in the next year, as he attempts to come back once more from yet another knee injury. At least he will have this incredible success, embodied by that dominant win in 2014, to look back on for inspiration and as evidence that for him, nothing is impossible.
1. Cat Zingano’s career comeback
The comeback fighter of 2014 is the only person to appear on our list twice. And though this warrior never shrinks "from danger, from hardship or from bitter toil," this fighter isn’t such a man as Roosevelt spoke of, but rather a courageous and victorious woman.
Cat Zingano’s exciting comeback against Nunes last September was made awe-inspiring by the rocky and traumatic road she traveled just to get back in the cage. After losing a potentially star-making TUF coaching job and world title shot against Ronda Rousey because of a knee injury, the mother’s world was shaken further by the death of her husband.
Zingano’s impressive win over Nunes earned her another title shot — which she’ll get in the form of a UFC 184 co-main event vs. Rousey in February. It was the fighter’s ability to go through debilitating physical injury, while at the same time losing a spouse, and raising her family on her own, that makes Zingano’s career comeback not just the best of 2014, but one of the best of all-time.