Top 10 Comebacks in UFC History: Where Does Kongo Stack Up?
Cheick Kongo stunned everyone who was watching on Sunday night when he knocked out Pat Barry just seconds after appearing to have been knocked out himself. UFC announcer Joe Rogan exclaimed, "That was the most amazing comeback I have ever seen."
Now that we've had some time to reflect and a night to sleep on it, was it really the best comeback in UFC history?
Not in my book. But it's very close.
I've got another recent fight on my list of the Top 10 comebacks in UFC history, a list that features several of the UFC's biggest stars of today, as well as some largely forgotten names from the UFC's past. The full list is below.
The Top 10 Comebacks in UFC History
1. Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen, UFC 117, Aug. 7, 2010
Silva's victory ranks as the greatest comeback of them all, in my book, because of the nature of the fight and its historical significance. Silva is the best fighter in UFC history, and this is the one time he was truly tested by an opponent who brought in a great game plan and executed it to perfection.
For four rounds, Sonnen had used his superior wrestling to get Silva on his back and keep him there, dominating the fight and making Silva look bad -- something no one had ever even come close to doing in Silva's previous 11 UFC fights. When Sonnen put Silva on his back once again in the fifth round, it appeared that he'd cruise to a unanimous decision victory and become the new middleweight champion of the world.
And then it happened: Silva, who had been unable to generate much of anything off his back for 23 minutes, finally put the Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt that Sonnen had mocked to good use, sinking in a textbook-perfect triangle arm bar that made Sonnen tap out, keeping Silva's winning streak alive in dramatic fashion.
2. Cheick Kongo vs. Pat Barry, UFC Live, June 26, 2011
I'll disagree with Rogan and call what Kongo did Sunday night the second most amazing comeback in UFC history. This fight is nowhere near as historically significant as Silva-Sonnen, and it's a different kind of comeback because Silva-Sonnen was a comeback from four rounds of methodical domination on the ground, while Kongo-Barry was a comeback from 30 seconds of intense brawling on the feet. But for moments that make you scream, "Holy s**t!" while you're watching, it doesn't get much better.
Barry blitzed Kongo and appeared to have him finished not once but twice -- at one point referee Dan Miragliotta looked like he was about to step in to stop the fight, and both Rogan and play-by-play man Mike Goldberg said the fight was over. In reality, Miragliotta did a great job of refereeing the fight, and when he appeared to be stepping in to stop it, he was actually just moving to get a better look at Kongo and make sure he was OK to continue.
And Kongo was more than OK: Although he was still on wobbly legs from the way Barry had pounded him, he had his wits about him well enough to land two precise punches, and that was all it took to knock Barry cold.
One thing that frequently happens in comebacks of this nature is that when a fighter has his opponent hurt and is going in for the kill, he'll charge in with his hands down and leave himself exposed. But that's really not what Barry did on Sunday night. When Barry charged Kongo, he kept his hands up. But unfortunately for Barry, Kongo's looping right hook got around Barry's left hand and knocked him off balance, and then as Barry put his hands out to try to balance himself, that's when Kongo connected with the huge right uppercut that knocked Barry out. This wasn't a mistake by Barry, it was just a great comeback by Kongo.
3. Matt Hughes vs. Frank Trigg, UFC 52, April 16, 2005
Hughes was the reigning welterweight champion and had already beaten Trigg once before. Everyone figured Hughes would notch another impressive win.
But early in the first round, Trigg landed a low blow that the ref didn't see -- and when Hughes turned toward the ref to complain, Trigg capitalized, landing punches that badly hurt Hughes, then getting on top of him on the ground, mounting him, raining more punches down and attempting a rear-naked choke. Hughes looked like he was just about finished.
Amazingly, Hughes didn't just escape from the rear-naked choke, but he proceeded to pick Trigg up, throw him over his shoulder, carry him across the Octagon and slam him to the ground. Now it was Hughes mounting Trigg, raining down punches and sinking in a rear-naked choke. Trigg tapped, and Hughes had defended his title. UFC President Dana White has called this his favorite fight in UFC history.
4. Scott Smith vs. Pete Sell, Ultimate Fighter 4 Finale, Nov. 11, 2006
The classic example of the crazy one-punch knockout comeback. Sell landed a huge left hook to Smith's body, and Smith backed away and crumpled over in pain. Sell smelled blood and charged in expecting to finish -- the problem being that he dropped his hands as he did it, leaving his chin exposed. Big mistake.
As Sell came forward, Smith recovered from the pain of the body shot just long enough to throw a big right hook, connecting cleanly to Sell's chin and knocking him cold. It was a great comeback, although I rank Kongo's higher because while Smith came back from pain, Kongo came back from near-unconsciousness.
5. Brock Lesnar vs. Shane Carwin, UFC 116, July 3, 2010
This fight is so memorable because the stakes were so high -- Lesnar, the UFC's heavyweight champion and most popular star, coming back from a yearlong illness to take on his biggest, baddest opponent to date -- but the fight itself is worthy even if you forget its larger ramifications.
Carwin had destroyed every single one of his opponents, and done it within the first four minutes of every fight, and he appeared poised to do the same to Lesnar when he landed a couple of haymakers and knocked him down. As Carwin rained punches and elbows down on Lesnar on the ground, a stoppage looked imminent.
But Lesnar managed to hold on for dear life and actually stagger up to his feet before the first round was over, and by the start of the second the conditioning difference was apparent: It was Lesnar who looked fresh and ready to battle, and Carwin who looked like he couldn't take anymore.
Lesnar took Carwin down, easily mounted him and then surprised everyone by finishing the fight not with punches, but with an arm-triangle choke. It was not just a great comeback from a devastating first round, but a great comeback from a devastating year of illness for Lesnar, who is now recovering again and hoping he'll have another such comeback in his future.
6. Royce Gracie vs. Dan Severn, UFC 4, Dec. 16, 1994
Think of this one as the early version of Silva-Sonnen. Gracie was the undisputed champion of the early days of the UFC, having won the UFC 1 and UFC 2 tournaments, and he was looking to come back with a vengeance at UFC 4 after having to drop out of UFC 3 with an injury. But he had never faced anyone like Severn, an enormous wrestler who wasn't afraid to put Gracie on his back.
That's exactly what Severn did at the start of the fight, and on top of Gracie on the ground is where Severn stayed for 15 minutes (in those days, there were no rounds or time limits). It appeared that the great Gracie had finally met his match.
At least, that's how it appeared to most viewers at the time, many of whom still didn't really grasp what Brazilian jiu jitsu was all about. But Gracie delivered a great lesson about the use of the guard in Brazilian jiu jitsu by simply holding on while Severn smothered him and waiting for an opening. Sure enough, that opening eventually came, and Gracie threw up a triangle choke to force Severn to submit. The official time was 15 minutes, 49 seconds.
The sad postscript is that many fans didn't get to see the ending. The UFC's pay-per-view broadcast ran longer than the allotted time that most cable companies had given it, and so the card was taken off the air before Gracie's victory. It was the great comeback that most fans missed.
7. Frank Edgar vs. Gray Maynard, UFC 125, Jan. 1, 2011
This lightweight title fight got off to an insane start, as Maynard (who had a reputation entering the bout as a boring fighter) swarmed the champion from the start, badly hurt him with hard punches, nearly finished him in the opening moments and won the first round, 10-8. If you were watching it live, you might have questioned whether Edgar would even be able to answer the bell for the second round.
But Edgar didn't just answer the bell, he came out fighting hard in the second, and for 20 more minutes he and Maynard engaged in a beautiful display of MMA at its best. This fight was a pleasure to watch, even if the ending -- a split draw -- felt a little unsatisfying.
I might call this the greatest comeback in UFC history if Edgar had managed to win after nearly being stopped in that crazy first round. Managing a draw is still an impressive feat.
8. Mike Russow vs. Todd Duffee, UFC 114, May 29, 2010
The closest thing the UFC has ever had to Homer Simpson vs. Drederick Tatum. Except for the ending.
Duffee was the impossibly muscular power puncher who had set the UFC record for fastest knockout ever in his last fight. Russow was the chubby guy who looked like he was tailor made to be served up as an easy win for a hot young prospect.
For two and a half rounds, that was exactly the way it went down: Duffee was the superior boxer, and he peppered Russow's face with unanswered punches. It was all Russow could do to keep standing. But as the fight wore on, Duffee began to fade, looking like a guy who was drained after an exhausting workout session of hitting a heavy bag. And then it happened: Out of nowhere Russow threw one big haymaker that put Duffee on the floor. Russow pounced but realized as he went to the ground on top of Duffee that his opponent was already out, hitting him with a little love tap instead of a punch.
9. Andre Roberts vs. Ron Waterman, UFC 21, July 16, 1999
This fight is almost totally forgotten by today's fans, but I've always liked it. Waterman entered the Octagon with a 4-0 record, and he had destroyed all of his opponents, always winning by TKO and needing a grand total of just two and a half minutes to win all four fights. It looked like he'd have an easy time running through Roberts, a 350-pounder who wore a shirt when he was fighting (which was allowed back in the old days) to hide his enormous gut and didn't have much in the way of martial arts skills. But Roberts hit like a ton of bricks, and Waterman found that out the hard way.
Waterman started strong, and another early TKO looked likely when he opened up a big cut on Roberts's face, forcing the fight to be paused within the first minute so that the ringside doctor could take a look. But the doctor let Roberts continue, and out of nowhere Roberts landed a hard punch that stunned Waterman, sending him reeling backward, and then Roberts pounced and landed several punches on the ground. As Waterman recovered just enough to get to his feet, Roberts landed one more huge punch that knocked Waterman cold, ending the fight.
10. Matt Serra vs. Shonie Carter, UFC 31, May 4, 2001
Two of the most entertaining personalities in UFC history gave us one of the greatest finishes ever to take place inside the Octagon. For 14 minutes and 50 seconds, Serra was the better fighter, and with 10 seconds to go in the fight, he was poised to win the decision.
And with nine seconds to go in the fight, he was sprawled out on the canvas unconscious. Carter had landed a spinning back fist that knocked Serra out, a devastating punch that has earned Carter a permanent place in the hearts of UFC fans. A stunning, sudden ending.
11. Phil Baroni vs. Amar Suloev, UFC 37, May 10, 2002
12. Chris Leben vs. Terry Martin, UFC Fight Night, September 19, 2007
13. Tim Sylvia vs. Andrei Arlovski, UFC 59, April 8, 2006
14. Stefan Struve vs. Christian Morecraft, UFC 117, August 7, 2010
15. Carlos Condit vs. Rory MacDonald, UFC 115, June 12, 2010
16. Royce Gracie vs. Kimo Leopoldo, UFC 3, September 9, 1994
17. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Tim Sylvia, UFC 81, February 2, 2008
18. Guy Mezger vs. Tito Ortiz, UFC 13, May 30, 1997
19. Pete Williams vs. Mark Coleman, UFC 17, May 15, 1998
20. Don Frye vs. Tank Abbott, Ultimate Ultimate 96, December 7, 1996