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5 times that stepping out of retirement proved to be a bad idea for UFC legends

After her loss to Ketlen Vieira, Miesha Tate’s return from retirement seems like less of a good idea.
After her loss to Ketlen Vieira, Miesha Tate’s return from retirement seems like less of a good idea.
Scott Newman

Like many other sports, MMA is a tricky game to get out of. That’s the case even when a fighter is clearly past their sell-by-date, which is often the situation in the world of the UFC.

Over the years we’ve seen a number of high-level UFC fighters – even former champions – choose to retire, only to go back on that decision later.

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That often turns out to be a horrendous idea. While Georges St-Pierre and Randy Couture both won UFC gold after returning from retirement, they remain the exceptions to the rule for the most part.

In general, it’s incredibly difficult for any fighter to get back into the groove after returning from retirement. This is even more apparent when that retirement lasts a while.

On that note, here’s a look at five times stepping out of retirement proved to be a bad idea for UFC legends:


#5. Miesha Tate – former UFC bantamweight champion

Miesha Tate struggled to match Ketlen Vieira in her second bout back from retirement.
Miesha Tate struggled to match Ketlen Vieira in her second bout back from retirement.

We begin with a former UFC bantamweight champion in the form of Miesha Tate. She returned to action earlier this year following four years away

‘Cupcake’ decided to hang up her gloves in late 2016 following a loss to Raquel Pennington. To tell the truth, her decision took most fans by surprise.

Tate had won the UFC bantamweight title in the early part of 2016 by defeating Holly Holm in a major upset. However, she then lost it in violent fashion to Amanda Nunes in the main event of UFC 200.

The loss clearly knocked Tate’s mojo badly, and she didn’t look like herself at all in her loss to Pennington. In fact, her performance was so flat that it was perhaps easier to believe her retirement was simply a snap decision in response to a bad loss.

However, ‘Cupcake’ stuck by her decision, and ended up starting a family during her time away from the octagon. Her children were born in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

In the early part of 2021, though, Tate announced her comeback. When she shellacked Marion Reneau in her first fight back, it looked like she’d made an excellent decision.

However, despite being in great physical shape in her recent fight with Ketlen Vieira, she was largely dominated en route to a decision loss. Essentially, she seemed miles away from any potential UFC title run.

We go the distance in a RAZOR CLOSE fight. How did you have it scored? 📝 #UFCVegas43 https://t.co/aS1Ka399vN

Tate’s post-fight interview suggested that she isn’t going back into retirement just yet. However, based on her loss to ‘Fenomeno’ – and the fact that she has got nothing left to prove – that might be the best idea for her.

#4. Urijah Faber – former UFC bantamweight title challenger

Petr Yan seemed to make Urijah Faber regret his return from retirement in 2019.
Petr Yan seemed to make Urijah Faber regret his return from retirement in 2019.

Urijah Faber remains one of the greatest fighters in UFC history to never hold a title in the promotion. However, it’s probably safe to say that his 2019 return from retirement proved to be a mistake.

‘The California Kid’ was clearly beginning to age in 2016 when he lost to Dominick Cruz and Jimmie Rivera. When he beat Brad Pickett in what was supposedly his retirement fight, he appeared to have gone out on a high note.

However, in a decision that seemed to come from nowhere, Faber announced that he’d be returning in mid-2019. He was matched with Ricky Simon in a clash that July.

‘The California Kid’ actually started his comeback well. He knocked out Simon in just 46 seconds and inked a new big-money deal with the UFC shortly after.

However, when he was matched with highly ranked bantamweight contender Petr Yan in his second fight back, the alarm bells began to ring. Yan had already destroyed the likes of Rivera and John Dodson, and probably would’ve been a tricky match for Faber in his prime.

Sure enough, ‘No Mercy’ thoroughly beat Faber in their clash at UFC 245. He knocked Faber down, and hurt him badly on more than one occasion, before finishing him with a third-round head kick.

NO. MERCY. 😤🇷🇺 @PetrYanUFC finishes Faber with a flush head kick in R3! #UFC245Get the E+ PPV ➡️ bit.ly/2YYfYit #UFC245 https://t.co/R5lS7Ugkwo

It was only the second time Faber had been stopped in the UFC. However, this one was a violent and scary finish that probably left him regretting his decision to return. ‘The California Kid’ has not stepped into the octagon since then.


#3. Alexander Gustafsson – former UFC light heavyweight title challenger

Alexander Gustafsson’s return to the UFC was spoiled badly by Fabricio Werdum.
Alexander Gustafsson’s return to the UFC was spoiled badly by Fabricio Werdum.

Alexander Gustafsson famously came within a hair’s breadth of winning the UFC light heavyweight title on two occasions. However, he was edged out by Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier, respectively, in two of the best championship fights in UFC history.

By 2016, injuries and damage had begun to take their toll on the Swedish fighter. ‘The Mauler’ competed just once in 2016 and once in 2017. He was then comfortably defeated by Jones in their long-awaited rematch in his only fight in 2018.

When Gustafsson fell to Anthony Smith – in front of his hometown fans in Stockholm to boot – it seemed that he had simply reached the end of the road.

Following the loss to Smith, ‘The Mauler’ removed his gloves and left them inside the octagon. That was a traditional sign of retirement, which he confirmed after the event.

However, one year later, the Swede got the itch to return. In a surprising move, he decided to bulk up to heavyweight for a clash with former UFC champion Fabricio Werdum on the UFC’s third event at the Fight Island facility.

Werdum had looked miles past his prime leading into the fight. He had lost his last two bouts in disappointing fashion. However, he quickly looked back to his best against Gustafsson, who looked a shadow of his former self.

Vai Cavalo! 🇧🇷@FabricioWerdum submits Gus in RD 1! 📺 The card finishes next on @ESPN / E+ https://t.co/5O336mRWBW

‘Vai Cavalo’ grounded the Swede early in the first round. He then wrapped up a textbook armbar to force him to tap out in just over two minutes.

The loss was a devastating one for Gustafsson, who was clearly hoping for a resurgence at heavyweight. He has not fought since then, although he hasn’t yet returned to retirement either.

#2. Carlos Condit – former interim UFC welterweight champion

Carlos Condit struggled throughout his return from retirement
Carlos Condit struggled throughout his return from retirement

When Carlos Condit announced his retirement following his 2016 loss to Demian Maia, most UFC fans could hardly blame him.

‘The Natural Born Killer’ had been involved in some of the craziest wars in UFC history. After returning from a serious knee injury in 2015, he began 2016 with probably his wildest fight yet.

He fought Robbie Lawler for the UFC welterweight title. Despite leaving everything in the octagon, he came up inches short, and failed to claim the gold. To see him fall so easily to Maia after that was hardly shocking. It appeared he simply had nothing left following his war with Lawler.

However, after just over a year of retirement, Condit announced his return to the UFC. He made his comeback at UFC 219 in December 2017. However, despite having over a year of recovery under his belt, he struggled just as badly as he’d done against Maia, falling to a loss to Neil Magny.

From there, ‘The Natural Born Killer’ stuck around, but lost his next two fights, taking his run of losses dating back to the Lawler clash to five.

Michael Chiesa locks in the nasty kimura and finishes it with one arm!A huge win over Carlos Condit, top quality grappling on display 🙌#UFC232 https://t.co/e5157StYN5

Condit did manage to stem the tide in 2020, beating both Court McGee and Matt Brown, but flashes of the old ‘Natural Born Killer’ were few and far between.

This September saw Condit suffer another defeat, this time at the hands of Max Griffin. He has since announced his return to retirement. Essentially, he would probably have been best to stay there in the first place.


#1. BJ Penn – former UFC lightweight champion

BJ Penn damaged his UFC legacy with a string of ill-advised returns from retirement.
BJ Penn damaged his UFC legacy with a string of ill-advised returns from retirement.

When BJ Penn initially announced his retirement following his loss to Nick Diaz at UFC 137 in October 2011, it felt like a smart, if curious decision to make.

Penn had begun the year by taking one of the UFC’s best welterweights – Jon Fitch – to a draw. However, his loss to Diaz was soul-destroying, to the point that the Hawaiian vowed he couldn’t return to his family looking so badly beaten up.

Unfortunately, ‘The Prodigy’ then made three returns from retirement – each one worse than the last. He has now damaged his legacy badly, despite being recognized as an all-time great.

His first return took place in December 2012, but ended after he suffered a one-sided beating at the hands of Rory MacDonald. That seemed to be that for his career, but surprisingly, 2014 saw him return for a run at 145 lbs for the first time.

That run started badly with a loss to Frankie Edgar. Again, Penn appeared to head into retirement after the loss. Two and a half years later, though, ‘The Prodigy’ returned again. This time, the UFC seemed to realize the diminishing returns of his comebacks, and seemed content to use him to build younger fighters.

Sure enough, the Hawaiian suffered a one-sided loss to Yair Rodriguez in his return bout. Since then, he has stuck around for three more losses before the UFC released him in 2019.

Ryan Hall with the flash submission victory over BJ Penn in round one 😳DO NOT let him grab that leg, or he'll just take it clean off...#UFC232 https://t.co/AMa24ZMeQ6

Penn ended his UFC tenure with an insane seven losses in a row, doubling the number of defeats he had suffered in his career before that. He remains a legend, but he would have been far more respected had he just stayed away from the octagon following the loss to Diaz.

Edited by Bhargav

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