Comebacks are one of the many things that make mixed martial art fights so entertaining to watch. With punches, kicks, elbows, knees, and submissions at play, the momentum of a fight can change at any moment.
MMA referees often find themselves in a tough spot when it comes to calling fights, given how many times we’ve seen a fighter look like they were one strike away from being finished, only to turn things around and emerge victoriously.
The 10 most memorable comebacks in MMA history
Let’s take a look at some of the most entertaining comebacks in mixed martial arts and breakdown what led to them:
1) Fedor Emelianenko vs. Kazuyuki Fujita
Many hardcore MMA fans would say this is the fight that made Fedor one of the biggest names in mixed martial arts. “The Last Emperor” found himself facing an unranked Kazuyuki Fujita at PRIDE 26, and he got caught with a massive hook a few moments into the contest.
The punch hurt Fedor badly, and he seemed primed to be finished. Fujita ended up looking for a finish on the ground, which ended giving Fedor time to recover. Emelianenko fought his way back up to his feet, scored a knockdown, and brought the contest to an end via rear-naked choke shortly after.
2) Shonie Carter vs. Matt Serra
Matt Serra shocked the world by defeating Georges St. Pierre at UFC 69, claiming the UFC’s welterweight title and becoming one of only two men with wins against the Canadian.
Before that, the most memorable moment of Serra’s career was his knockout loss to Shonie Carter. It was a loss that haunted Serra for years and probably still does to an extent.
Serra was undefeated when he ran into Carter, and he looked like he was about to secure his fifth victory, putting up a skillful performance.
With 10 seconds left in the fight, Carter followed up a missed high kick with a spinning back fist, knocking Serra out cold. If you’re wondering why so many MMA fighters love spinning back fists, look no further than Shonie Carter’s upset win against Serra.
3) Scott Smith vs. Pete Sell
Smith and Sell collided at the Ultimate Fighter 4 Finale fight card, and it turned out to be an entertaining slugfest. Both men had their moments during the fight, but it was how it ended that made it one of the most memorable comebacks in MMA history.
Sell hurt Smith with a hook to the body, and the latter reeled backward towards the cage as he grabbed his rib cage and grimaced. Sell went in for the finish, but it was Smith who landed a devastating right hand that brought the contest to an abrupt end.
4) Roger Huerta vs Clay Guida
This classic took place during the TUF 6 Finale card. Huerta was a rising prospect at the time, and he seemed to have bitten more than he could chew against Guida. Clay dominated the first two rounds with his aggressive wrestling and even scored a knockdown during the second round.
Knowing he was down two rounds, Huerta came out like a madman during the third round, walking Guida down and firing everything he had. Guida dived into a head kick as he tried to take Huerta down and was submitted shortly after.
5) Pat Barry vs. Cheick Kongo
Arguably one of the greatest comebacks in MMA history, Barry dropped Kongo early in the contest, sending him to the canvas. Kongo tried to fight his way back to his feet, but he got caught again, sending him back to the canvas. The fight could have been stopped at that point, and most spectators would have deemed it a good stoppage.
However, referee Dan Miragliotta allowed the fight to continue, and Kongo got back to his feet. He landed a hard 1,2 combination as Barry closed in and followed up with hammer fists, bringing the fight to an end.
6) Fedor Emelianenko vs. Kevin Randleman
The late Kevin Randleman got off to a good start during his 2004 PRIDE showdown against Fedor. He landed what might be the most beautiful German Suplex ever pulled off during a mixed martial arts contest, and it looked like he might have broken Fedor’s neck.
Emelianenko was just getting started, though. He quickly recovered from the devastating slam and submitted Randleman with a Kimura shortly after.
7) Holly Holm vs. Miesha Tate
Holm was riding high off her win over Ronda Rousey heading into this contest. She had stretched her record to 10-0-0, and she was the reigning UFC women’s bantamweight champion. She was highly favored against challenger Miesha Tate, and she was on track to proving the oddsmakers right.
She dominated most of the fight with her technical striking and solid takedown defense, leaving Tate frustrated. Miesha pulled off one of the biggest comebacks in MMA history during the fifth round, dragging Holm to the ground, putting her to sleep with a rear-naked choke.
8) Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Bob Sapp
Sapp was over 100 pounds bigger than Nogueira during their PRIDE Shockwave showdown, and he used his size and strength advantage to brutalize the Brazilian. The fight was always stopped due to the damage Nogueira was taking, but he managed to turn things around in the second round as fatigue crept in for Sapp, winning via armbar.
9) Royce Gracie vs. Dan Severn
Royce Gracie dealt with a significant strength disadvantage when facing Severn, and he was controlled on his back for most of the contest. He withstood Severn’s attacks and ended the fight with a triangle choke about 15 minutes into the fight.
10) Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen
Sonnen talked a lot of smack heading into their title showdown, but he surprisingly backed it up. He relentlessly went after Silva, who had never lost in the UFC at that point, and dropped him a few times during the contest.
Most people gave Sonnen the first four rounds of the contest, and he looked like he was on his way to win the fifth.
Anderson Silva became a legend that day when he secured a triangle choke/armbar combo with a couple of minutes left in the fight.
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