The career of a UFC fighter is a volatile one. A fighter can at one point in his career be considered one of the best pound for pound fighters and the next be in the midst of a downward spiral. The latest example of such a negative career turnaround is Renan Barão. Barão was once heralded as one of the best fighters in the UFC as he held the Bantamweight title and was simultaneously in the midst of a ten year long streak without a loss. Then Barão was defeated in a championship bout against T.J. Dillashaw. The loss seemingly took away Barão’s edge as he went on to lose his following two bouts. Then there is the other type of turnaround a fighter’s career can go through. This type of turnaround is a positive one that involves a fighter going from as low as near dismissal from the UFC to as high as capturing a UFC championship belt. This type of career revival is a rarity being that it typically involves a fighter taking his skillsets to another level.
The list below is comprised of the 15 greatest career revivals in UFC history. The ranking of the list is based on several factors including the severity of the turnaround, the successes of the fighter after his career revival, and the level of competition he faced along the way to turning his career around.
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15 Andrei Arlovski
After winning his fifth fight in the UFC the once UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski and the fighting promotion split ways in 2008. Arlovski went on to defeat many of the most recognizable heavyweight fighters in the sport today such as Ben Rothwell, Roy Nelson, and Fabrício Werdum in the years following his departure from the UFC. Chances would have it that Arlovski would have another crack at fighting in the UFC. In 2014 Arlovski made his return to the UFC and he would make the most of it garnering a four-fight win streak defeating the likes of Travis Brown in a fight of the year candidate and Frank Mir. Arlovski would ultimately lose a title eliminator bout against Stipe Miocic but the verdict was out and Andrei Arlovski was back in prime shape.
14 Mark Hunt
Mark Hunt’s arrival into the UFC came as a result of the UFC’s acquisition of the fighting promotion Pride Fighting Championships. However, Hunt was on a five fight losing streak prompting the UFC to offer Hunt a considerable amount of money to buy out his contract and leave a free agent before ever stepping foot in a UFC octagon. Believing he had a lot in the tank he refused the offer deciding to test his skills in the UFC. Upon his entrance into the UFC Hunt lost his first fight prompting many to believe he should have taken the buyout offer. Hunt, on the other hand, was not deterred winning his next fight in devastating fashion. Then as a surprise to many Hunt would go on to win his next three fights. In 2014 Hunt fought for the UFC heavyweight interim championship although he lost he showed everyone he was among the elite heavyweights in the UFC.
13 Chris Lytle
Chris “lights outs” Lytle going into the final phase of his career was labeled as an average fighter with an all-out fighting style fans loved. With multiple stints in and out of the UFC, he accumulated a record of 5-8 in the fighting promotion. Then in the summer of 2009 Lytle showed signs of an improved skill set defeating Kevin Burns handily in a decision. After the win, Chris capitalized on the momentum defeating Brian Foster with a kneebar submission at UFC 110. Lytle would erupt winning his next two bouts in impressive fashion. After one setback against Brian Ebersole, Chris ended his fighting career with a win over Dan Hardy, retiring shortly after the bout.
12 Patrick Cote
Heading into the fall of 2008 Patrick Cote was seemingly in the prime of his fighting career. As a result of his current five-win streak, he was granted the opportunity to fight Anderson Silva at UFC 90 for the UFC middleweight championship. The bout would unfortunately not go Cote’s way ultimately losing by TKO. Following that bout, Cote would lose two more bouts in a row prompting his release from the UFC. Following his cut from the UFC Cote went on to fight in three different organizations winning all four of his bouts outside of the UFC. In 2012 Patrick return to the UFC losing his first fight back in the promotion. Turning things around, Cote would go on to lose only one bout in his following eight, rejuvenating his career.
11 Ben Rothwell
Before joining the UFC Ben Rothwell was best known for competing in the IFL where he held an unblemished 9 and 0 record. After five fights in the UFC, however, Ben Rothwell accumulated an unimpressive 2 - 3 record. In route to overcoming his past failures, he defeated Brandon Vera via TKO at UFC 164. Rothwell then followed up the win by defeating Alistair Overeem the following year. Rothwell’s next two opponents would succumb to the same fate as the previous two with the only difference being instead of closing out the bout via TKO Rothwell utilized the use of a rarely seen gogo choke. Rothwell is now ranked as the number five heavyweight in the world and nearing a title shot.
10 Alistair Overeem
At the end of 2011, Alistair Overeem was on top of his MMA game. In December of that year, He impressively beat one of the most popular UFC fighters in history Brock Lesnar. Sadly shortly after his victory Overeem who was slated to fight for the Heavyweight championship against then-champion Junior dos Santos failed a drug test. As a result of the drug test failure, Overeem was suspended. In his return to the ring, Overeem returned in less than impressive fashion going 1 - 3 in his next four bouts. Many started to wonder if the once dominant Alistair Overeem past successes were a result of his drug use. Overeem looking to redeem himself after the failures in his previous bouts defeated Stefan Struve in late 2014. Gathering momentum off the win Overeem went on to stage a three-fight win streak defeating the likes of Former champions Junior dos Santos and Andrei Arlovski.
9 Matt Brown
By the end of 2011, Matt Brown was on the cusp of getting released from the UFC. In his previous five fights, he lost all but one bout prompting many to suggest it was time for the journeyman to leave the gloves behind. However with a fighter's spirit, Brown went on a terrifying run winning an astonishing seven fights in a row defeating the likes of Erick Silva, Stephen Thompson, and Jordan Mein. As a result of his unbelievable run, he was granted a title shot eliminator match against another top contender Robbie Lawler. The fight would be brutal back and forth affair that would end in a close loss for Brown. However, the bout showcased Brown’s superb skills and his ability to contend amongst the UFC elite.
8 Frankie Edgar
After losing three champion bouts in two divisions in a row many were starting to wonder where Frankie would go next. It seemed that to get another shot at either the lightweight or featherweight belt he would have to defeat all other contenders that would be considered for a title shot beside him. First up was top ten featherweight Charles Oliveira at UFC 168 whom Edgar would defeat by unanimous decision. Then there was bj Penn, Cub Swanson, and Urijah Faber. All three men would ultimately fall short to Edgar. Edgar’s next bout would be against his most difficult opponent Chad Mendes. A man who for the previous three years was only defeated by the division's two champions Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor. In the end, Frankie would come out victorious against Mendes earning a shot at the interim featherweight title.
7 Vitor Belfort
Vitor Belfort began his tenure with the UFC at the age of 19 winning the UFC 12 Heavyweight Tournament that same year. After winning the tournament Belfort faced some ups and downs in the UFC eventually leaving the fighting promotion to join the Pride Fighting Championships. After another unsuccessful run in the UFC Vitor found himself bouncing around a few different fighting promotions eventually garnering a third shot at the UFC. In his return, Belfort took his skills to another level dominating opponents and securing a shot at the title in three different weight classes. Though he was unable to claim the belt in the three attempts few fighters can claim to have achieved such a feat.
6 Frank Mir
In 2004 Frank Mir was on top of the UFC’s heavyweight weight class, holding the division’s championship belt. Sadly a few months after capturing the belt Mir would be involved a devastating motorcycle accident the results of which left Mir with a shattered leg. It would take Mir more than a year to recover from the incident in the process losing his title due to his absence. In his return to the UFC Mir seemed by many to be off his game, a shell of the pre-accident fighter. Unwilling to relent on his abilities he continued to re-develop his skills going through wins and losses along the way. Then in 2008 after wins over Brock Lesnar and Antoni Hardonk, it was announced that Frank would fight Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC 92 for the UFC heavyweight interim championship. It took Mir only two rounds to defeat Nogueira capturing the interim belt.
5 Rafael dos Anjos
After UFC 139, Rafael dos Anjos’s career was in a crisis. Losing twice in his last three bouts his performance in the fights was less than impressive. To make matters worst he suffered a broken jaw in a bout against Clay Guida at UFC 117. The injury as he would later state planted a mental obstacle to his fights. Going into 2012 He was determined to turn things around and that he would do going an astonishing 8 and 1 in his next nine bouts. Following a win over Nate Diaz at UFC on Fox 13, Anjos pleaded his case for a title shot. At UFC 185 Anjos was granted what he longed for a shot at the UFC lightweight title against then champion Anthony Pettis. In a fight that the odds makers had Dos Anjos as a major underdog, he impressively defeated Pettis capturing the title.
4 Fabrício Werdum
Fabrício Werdum, upon his introduction into the UFC in 2007, was heralded as the best heavyweight jiu-jitsu practitioner to ever step foot in the cage. However, as a result of his substandard stand-up abilities, he would struggle in the UFC, eventually getting cut from the promotion. After his departure from the UFC, Werdum went on to fight in other organizations, drawing such a name for himself that he eventually signed back into the UFC. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Werdum would go on to win five consecutive fights, earning the opportunity to fight Cain Velasquez for the Heavyweight championship of the world. In the bout against Velasquez, Werdum proved to be the superior fighter, dominating the first two rounds and eventually submitting Velasquez in the third round, claiming the title.
3 Matt Serra
By the end of 2005, Matt Serra’s career was in limbo. Falling short in three of his previous five fights he was looking for a change of fortune in a new division, the welterweight division. Enrolling in The Ultimate Fighter 4: The Comeback Serra fought his way through two opponents leading up to The Ultimate Fighter 4 finale which he was set to fight Chris Lytle. Serra won the fight securing not only a six-figure prize but a shot at the welterweight title against then-champion Georges St-Pierre. In a bout where Serra was a 5 to 1 underdog, he shocked the world defeating St-Pierre by knockout in the very first round becoming the UFC welterweight champion.
2 Robbie Lawler
Lawler began his career with the UFC at the ripe old age of 20 years old. At that time he was a young upstart with a ton of potential and plenty of knockout power. After successfully claiming victories in his first three UFC bouts Lawler would, unfortunately, garner a record of three and one in his following four bouts forcing him to step away from the UFC. Post UFC Lawler would go on to strengthen his skills and capture wins that would lead to his eventual return to the octagon. Lawler made his return to the UFC at UFC 157 winning the bout against Josh Koscheck via devastating KO. From that win, Lawler went on a rampage losing all but one fight in route to capturing the UFC welterweight title at UFC 181. Through his historic battles of late, he is now widely considered one of the best welterweights of this generation.
1 Dominick Cruz
In 2006 the fighting promotion WEC announced that it would be merging with the giant fighting promotion UFC in 2006. As a result of the merger the UFC acquired the WEC bantamweight champion, Dominick Cruz. Shortly following the merger the UFC decided to hold a match between Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber to decided the first ever UFC bantamweight champion. After successfully capturing the belt against Faber, Cruz would go on to skillfully defend his title twice before unfortunately suffering a devastating ACL injury. It would be later revealed that injury required surgery keeping the fighter out of the cage for upwards of a year. Recovering from the injury Cruz was set to return to the cage at UFC 169 in a unification bout against then interim champion Renan Barão. Unfortunately, Cruz would suffer yet another injury forcing the UFC to strip him of the belt. The injury bug would continue to haunt Cruz who would be hit with a succession of injuries in the years following the loss of his belt. Cruz would ultimately get a chance to reclaim his title at UFC Fight Night: Dillashaw vs. Cruz against T.J. Dillashaw. In what would be a closely contested bout, Cruz would reclaim his title and place at the top of the bantamweight division.
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