“What is past is past. Never go back. Not for excuses. Not for justification. Not for happiness. You are what you are. The world is what it is.”
― Mario Puzo, The Last Don
Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Lance Armstrong, Niki Lauda, George Foreman, Bjorn Borg, Pele – sporting legends who clearly paid no heed to Mario Puzo as they announced a comeback from retirement and while some went on to decorate themselves with greater glory and fame, others most likely wished they had stayed retired.
This year has seen the return of two icons to their respective sport. Paul Scholes, one of England’s most accomplished and decorated footballers, made a shock return to Manchester United after announcing his decision to hang up his boots at the end of the previous season. The Ginger Prince has already proved to be pivotal to the club’s charge for a 20th title, and such has been his majestic form that there is widespread clamor for his inclusion in England’s squad heading to Euro 2012.
But perhaps the most shocking of comebacks this year has yet witnessed is that of ‘The Iceman’ – Kimi Raikkonen, who returns to Formula One after walking away from Ferrari in 2009. Raikkonen, arguably one of the most prodigious talents that the sport has witnessed, will be driving for the Lotus team and it is already apparent that despite being away from an F1 car for close to two years, Kimi Raikkonen still possesses the class and the craft, if not the car, to improve on his tally of 18 race wins and 1 World Championship.
With that in mind, here is a look at the Top Five Sporting Comebacks.
5. Randy Couture – Mixed Martial Arts
Randy Couture is one of the most recognized faces of the Ultimate Fighting Championship franchise. A member of the UFC Hall of Fame, Couture is the first man to win world titles in two weight divisions – Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight. After being knocked out twice by then Light Heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell, he announced his retirement at the age of 43.
Thirteen months later, Couture returned to face Heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia for the title. Eight seconds into his comeback, Couture, with his first punch floored the champion and went on to control the match for a further five rounds before he became the UFC Heavyweight Champion for a second time.
A second retirement and comeback saw Couture become a three-time UFC Heavyweight Champion and a two-time UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, before he announced that he was ‘finally done fighting’ at the age of 47.
4. Michael Jordan – Basketball
Widely considered as the greatest basketball player of all time, Air Jordan or His Airness is one of the most accomplished and complete players that the sport has witnessed. Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to three successive NBA Championships, a three-peat, before shocking the entire sporting community by announcing his decision to retire from the sport in 1993, citing a loss of desire to play the game and to pursue a career in baseball.
Two years and an unsuccessful baseball career later, Jordan announced his return to the NBA through a 2-word press release: “I’m back.” Jordan led the Bulls to another three-peat, before calling it quits for a second time.
A second comeback, this time for the Washington Wizards, ended with little success but MJ’s brilliance and his exploits have ensured that he will go into the annals of sporting history as one the greatest legends of all time.
3. George Foreman – Boxing
A two-time World Heavyweight Champion and Olympic Gold medalist – George Foreman, was one of the most feared boxers in the world. Foreman won his first World Heavyweight title with a second round knockout of then-undefeated Joe Frazier in 1973 and made two successful title defenses before losing to Muhammad Ali in “The Rumble in the Jungle” in 1974.
In the aftermath of a loss to Jimmy Young in 1977, Foreman, believing he had had a near death experience, retired from the sport and became an ordained Christian minister.
Ten years later Foreman announced a comeback and in 1991 he took the-then world heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield the distance in a world title fight before eventually regaining the title three years later against Michael Moorer, who was 19 years Foreman’s junior, sensationally becoming the oldest heavyweight champion ever at the age of 45.
2. Muhammad Ali – Boxing
Arguably the most famous sporting comeback of all time, Muhammad Ali returned after being cast out from the sport and stripped of his titles and sent into enforced retirement after refusing to make himself available for the US Army’s draft for the Vietnam war, famously declaring: “I ain’t got no quarrel with the Viet Cong.”
In 1970, the New York State Supreme Court ruled that Ali had been unjustly refused a boxing license, and granted him a license to begin fighting again. After beating Oscar Bonavena, Ali was to fight the undefeated Joe Frazier for the title in a match termed as “The Fight of the Century.”
In one of the biggest upsets in boxing history, Ali regained his title – the one he never lost in the ring – against George Foreman at “The Rumble in the Jungle” in 1974 – ten years after being stripped of his titles.
1. Lance Armstrong – Professional Cycling
Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France a record seven consecutive times. That by itself is a phenomenal achievement but what really sets him apart and makes it even more astonishing is that he battled cancer along the way.
Armstrong enjoyed moderate success in the sport until 1996 when he was diagnosed with stage three testicular cancer and was given a 40% chance of survival following surgery. By 1998, his cancer went into complete remission and he was already engaged in serious training.
Upon his return to the sport, Armstrong dominated the Tour de France, winning it for a record seven consecutive times from 1999 to 2005, before announcing his decision to retire from professional cycling.
A second coming in 2008, in an effort to raise awareness of the global cancer burden, yielded no further professional success before he finally announced his retirement from competitive cycling for good.
Lance Armstrong’s tale will forever be a part of sporting folklore and he is a true inspiration — not only to sportsmen who have suffered setbacks in their career, but to everyone.
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