Do Combat Sports Returns Ever Pay Off?

February 6, 2024
2 weeks

Kevin Lee has announced that he will be returning to MMA after only stating that he was retiring in July 2023. Does coming back from retirement ever work in MMA or boxing? Sometimes, staying away is better, while some can seize the opportunity.

Lee Hasn’t Been Away for a Long

At the time of Kevin Lee’s announcement, the story was MMA breaking news as a top-rated fighter in the UFC stepped away from the sport despite being one of the best-respected combatants in the promotion. His 19-8 overall record might not be the most impressive, but he’s put in the hard yards. The past 12 months have been a befuddling period for Lee. Last February, he re-signed with the UFC (having fought one fight with Eagle FC, Khabib Nurmagomedov’s promotion) only to retire in July after losing a battle. Is it a retirement if you were out for less than a year?

Fury Defined Epic Comeback

Tyson Fury’s first retirement was a legitimate time away from the ring. He vacated his WBA, IBF, WBO, and IBO heavyweight titles and, for almost three years, didn’t fight at all. It took some convincing, but Frank Warren made the Gypsy King believe he could make excessive money and become a heavyweight champ again.

He did it the hard way, too. He didn’t just return or turn up at the main event scene; he defeated those above him in the rankings to legitimately earn a shot at the titles. Afterward, he ended up in a trilogy series with Deontay Wilder, becoming a WBC heavyweight champion. As such, he’s become a better champion by returning to the sport.

Tate’s Struggles After First UFC Run

Nobody can take away Miesha Tate’s accomplishments in the first UFC run. She defeated Holly Holm for the Bantamweight championship and fought some of the world’s baddest women like Ronda Rousey, Liz Carmouche, and Jessica Eye. Yet, she was never the same when she left the UFC in 2016.

When she returned to the Octagon in 2021, she struggled to get into big fights and perform in those for which she was commissioned. Losing by decision to Ketlen Vieira and Lauren Murphy has stumped her progression going forward in her second run, leaving her fans with more questions than answers. Her overall record is now 20-9, but if she picks up any more losses, she could quickly become a footnote in UFC history.

Tate might be joined back in the UFC by two more women rumored to step back into the cage, as Ronda Rousey and Amanda Nunes have been reported to be very interested in resuming their MMA careers.

Does St-Pierre’s Return Stack Up?

While not to be contrary, there’s a general theme amongst MMA news websites to praise Georges St-Pierre and his return to the UFC in 2017. The Canadian had initially put his gloves down in 2013 at UFC 167 after defeating Johny Hendricks and defending the UFC welterweight championship.

Four years on, he came back and won the middleweight championship as he made Michael Bisping tap out at UFC 217. It was an incredible feat to come back and stop a fight in a weight class he had never fought in before. However, it was only one fight, so as such, it was more of a one-night stand and not a return of any substance.

Gustafsson Wishes He’d Never Come Back

It is commonly noted that the Scandinavian combatant Alexander Gustafsson is one of the greatest MMA fighters to have never won a UFC championship and, subsequently, one of the unluckiest. Yet, it’s not all luck at this point in his career. He chose to come out of retirement, and it’s not gone well, as many MMA news sites commented.

Sensing that something was amiss after losing to Antony Smith, the Swedish fighter announced in June 2019 that he was done with MMA. He’d lost two on the spin, and nothing seemed to work. Whether the decision was taken in anger or haste, fans only had to wait 13 months to see in the UFC again as he stepped up to heavyweight. That went as well as a chocolate fireguard, as he was forced to submit in his big comeback fight in the first round. He returned to the light heavyweight division to lose to Nikita Krylov within 67 seconds.

Smoke and Mirrors Retirement?

One of the basic principles of business is that you need people to want the item or service. To want it, it has to be somewhat out of reach. Boxers and fighters accomplish this by being elusive. If they only fight once a year, the fights become bigger spectacles. It’s a massive marketing trick to feign retirement and sit out of the limelight for a few months to stimulate interest amongst the wider community.

Tyson Fury famously ’retired’ for the second time in August 2022, only to fight Derek Chisora (for the third time in his career) in December of the same year, with many doubting the legitimacy of his second retirement. Ryan Garcia did a similar thing in 2021, citing he had mental health issues, only to return just a few months later. Could Kevin Lee simply be doing the same as Fury and Garcia?

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By Dean McHugh.