Following on from the return of Miesha Tate at UFC Vegas 31, and in anticipation of the long-awaited comeback of former Bantamweight champion T.J Dillashaw this coming weekend, The Run It Back boys take a moment to look at the top 5 Most Iconic Octagon Returns in UFC History.
5. Ken Shamrock (UFC 40)
After losing a split-decision to Dan Severn at UFC 9 in 1996, the man dubbed ‘The World’s Most Dangerous Man’ made a non-conventional cross into professional wrestling.
After four years with the WWE (and competing sporadically in various mixed martial arts promotions abroad), he made his infamous return to the UFC in November 2002 to take on long-time rival Tito Ortiz for the light heavyweight championship.
Whilst the fight didn’t go according to plan for Shamrock, the hype and buzz surrounding the MGM Arena was unlike anything mixed martial arts had ever seen before, with Joe Rogan calling the event “the most incredible night in mixed martial arts history”.
The event sold 150,000 Pay Per Views – more than three times the average buy rate at the time.
4. Ronda Rousey (UFC 207)
After a somewhat bizarre extended layoff from the sport following her loss to Holly Holm at UFC 193, the most famous female name in the UFC made her highly anticipated return more than 12 months later at UFC 207 to take on the bantamweight champion – Amanda Nunes.
Unfortunately, the comeback didn’t go according to plan for the pioneer of women’s mixed martial arts, and Rousey was utterly dominated by her Brazilian counterpart.
Since that night, Nunes has gone on to cement herself as the greatest female mixed martial artist of all time, whereas Rousey walked away from the sport all together – acknowledging that her reign at the top of women’s MMA was clearly done.
However nobody can dispute the impact ‘Rowdy’ had on the sport, with her final bout selling 1.1 million pay per views.
3. Georges St-Pierre (UFC 217)
Following 9-straight welterweight title defences, GSP decided to call it a day following a hard-fought, split decision victory against Johnny Hendricks at UFC 167.
At 25 wins and just 2 losses (both later avenged), many argued that GSP was the greatest mixed martial artist of all-time.
However, after a near 4 year retirement, the great man decided to put his legacy on the line when he returned to fight Michael Bisping for the Middleweight Championship at UFC 217.
His return to the octagon set the record for the Canadian pay per view market, surpassing the Floyd Mayweather vs Conor McGregor boxing match from two months earlier.
GSP went on to defeat Bisping via technical submission in the third round to become the Middleweight Champion, and only the fourth person in UFC history to become a champion in multiple divisions – cementing his name in every GOAT discussion for the rest of time.
2. Brock Lesnar (UFC 200)
After establishing himself as an international star in the WWE, Brock Lesnar turned to mixed martial arts in 2007, and by 2008 he was the UFC heavyweight champion.
He defended his title on multiple occasions, before suffering a life-threatening bout of diverticulitis. Lesnar never looked the same after the health issues, and ultimately retired in 2011 after back-to-back losses.
However in 2016, just as UFC fans were preparing for the main event of UFC 199 (Rockhold v Bisping), they were hit with a surprise announcement: “I’m back!” and the promo faded… Fans around the world erupted, and Lesnar made his shock return to the octagon less than a month later face Mark Hunt at UFC 200.
However due to the short turn-around between the fight announcement and the event, Lesnar was granted a USADA exemption to compete – a move that would ultimately come back to haunt all parties.
Whilst Lesnar dominated the fight from start to finish, the “win” was short lived due to a… (you guessed it…) anti-doping policy violation, and the fight deemed to be a ‘no contest’.
To add further insult to injury, Lesnar was fined $250,000 by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, and suspended for one year – souring one of the most iconic UFC returns of all-time.
It remains to be seen if fans will ever see Lesnar compete in the UFC again. The clock is ticking…
1. Conor McGregor (UFC 217)
Has there ever been a more polarising figure in the history of professional sport than ‘The Notorious’?
After cementing ‘champ-champ’ status at UFC 205 with a brutal knockout of Eddie Alvarez, McGregor turned his attention to boxing to take on Floyd Mayweather in what was dubbed ‘The Money Fight’.
McGregor received around 100 million dollars after the pay-per-view cuts, and MMA fans wondered if we’d ever see the Irishman return to combat sport of any form.
Those questions were answered a few years later when McGregor returned to face the reigning (and undefeated) Lightweight Champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov, at UFC 229.
The event took place following a heated lead-in, which saw Khabib get into an altercation with McGregor’s good friend and training partner – Artem Lobov.
To summarise what happened next: McGregor jumped on his private jet with a few buddies, flew to New York, and smashed up a bus or two in the process whilst looking for Khabib.
He was arrested, released, and apologised… to absolutely no one… Setting the stage for the most highly anticipated main event in the history of the sport.
Needless to say, Khabib dominated the fight from the outset, and whilst McGregor mounted a mini-revival in the third round, the Irishman ultimately had no answer for Khabib’s brutal ground-game, and lost the fight via a neck crank in the fourth round.
The rivalry between the two combatants was more ferocious than anything seen before in the UFC, and as a result, the event sold a staggering 2.4 million pay per views – setting a UFC record that may never be broken.
Like him or hate him, nobody draws a crowd like ‘The Notorious’. And that’s why Conor McGregor’s return at UFC 229 goes down as the most iconic return to the Octagon of all-time.