The 18 Most Astounding Athletic Career Comebacks

Published on January 14, 2018
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The following athletes that you’re about to read about have endured the unthinkable and the tragic. Some were shot, hit by a bus, banned from the sport, maimed, scorched, stabbed, and suffered from cancer. And yes, you did read of that correctly, and no nothing we wrote was fiction. There were many who believed that these athletes were done for good, in fact doctors said they would never come back to their respective sports but these 18 athletes did the impossible, not only did they come back but they dominated the sport better then ever.

Bethany Hamilton

Since Bethany was 8 years old, surfing was all she ever wanted to do so she entered in competitions, placing first in many. In 2003, when she was just 13, she was attacked by a tiger shark in the water, severing her left arm just below the shoulder. Despite the trauma of the attack and losing her arm, Hamilton was determined to get back to surfing, and just one month after the attack, she was back in the water. Since then, she has competed in numerous competitions, again usually placing first.

Bethany Hamilton

Bethany Hamilton

Frank Mir

Back in 2004, the Mixed Martial Arts powerhouse Frank Mir won the UFC Heavyweight Championship but he didn’t have long to celebrate his win. Just a few months later, Mir was hit by a truck while riding his motorcycle, the accident caused two breaks in his femur and tore all the ligaments in his knee. Mir wasn’t able to meet fight obligations while he was recovering, so the UFC stripped his title. Mir shocked everyone when he returned to the ring about a year and a half later. In the beginning, he wasn’t winning fights like he used to, but following his first round win in April 2007, Mir walked to the cameras pointing at himself saying “I’m back!”. The MMA world knew it too.

Frank Mir

Frank Mir

Carson Palmer

The knee injury that the former Bengals superstar suffered was a nightmare born to life, a torn ACL, a torn MCL, and a dislocated knee with resulting tissue and cartilage damage. Any one of these alone is a career-ending injury. Palmer vowed to come back and underwent intensive reconstructive surgery. His return drew in large crowds of people, former players praised his mental toughness and the next season he was back, threw for more than 4,000 yards and had a QB rating of 93.9%.

Carson Palmer

Carson Palmer

Greg Lemond

Greg Lemond was no stranger to winning, he won the Road Race World Championship twice (1983 and 1989) and the Tour de France three times (1986, 1989 and 1990). In fact in 1986, he was the first non-European professional cyclist to win the Tour de France, and still remains the only official winner from the United States. In 1987, he fractured his left wrist and went home to recover, while turkey hunting with his family, he was accidentally shot in the back and right side of his body. His injuries were life-threatening, doctors told he had been within 20 minutes of bleeding to death. In the 1989, Lemond thought about retiring after as he struggled in some of the races before the Tour de France but while racing in Tour de France, Lemond surprised everyone when he won the race by being 8 seconds faster then rival Laurent Fignon. LeMond was only the fifth person in history to win both the Tour de France and the World Championship in the same year, the next year, he’d win Tour de France again.

Greg Lemond

Greg Lemond

Tommy John

In the middle of an excellent 1974 season, John racked up a 13–3 record as the Dodgers were en route to their first National League pennant in eight years but then tragedy struck. John was told that his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) had torn away from the bone around his elbow. Yikes. More shocking, doctors gave him only a 1 in 100 chance of recovery. John underwent a revolutionary surgical operation at the time, which is now known as the Tommy John surgery. He made his comeback with the Dodgers in 1976 and his 10–10 record that year was considered “miraculous” and John went on to pitch until 1989, winning 164 games after his surgery. Well over half of his career wins came after his surgery.

Tommy John

Tommy John

Pelé

Commonly referred to as one of the greatest footballers (soccer players) to ever grace the field, Pelé is a legend and there is no doubt about it. By the time his retirement came in 1972, he’d already helped win three World Cups for Brazil. So when he signed for the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League (NASL) in 1975, everyone said he was crazy, he was well past his prime at this point, however it was Pelé that was credited with significantly increasing public awareness and interest of soccer in America. With the stadium always sold out, he would score 37 goals in 64 appearances and took the Cosmos to a championship in his final season in 1977.

Pelé

Pelé

Brett Farve

In a remarkable 15-year career from 1992 to 2007, Farve earned the nickname “The Gunslinger” and took his Green Bay Packers to two Super Bowls, earning three consecutive MVP awards and started every single game between Sept. 20, 1992, and Jan. 20, 2008. Following a bit of controversy, Packers’ management were keen of playing his protégé, Aaron Rodgers, Favre announced his retirement in early 2008. However in training camp, Favre decided that he wanted to play on. But with the Packers totally behind Rodgers as their quarterback, Favre was traded to the New York Jets. His run with the Jets ended without a playoff run. The king of Green Bay retired again at the end of the 2008 season. Then rumors of his return were buzzing in the air again and Farve went to play against his former team’s biggest rivals, the Minnesota Vikings. With the Vikings, in 2011, he officially filed his retirement papers with the NFL.

Brett Farve

Brett Farve

George Foreman

Growing up, George Foreman didn’t have it easy so he became a boxer and won a gold medal in the heavyweight division at the 1968 Summer Olympics. He turned pro the next year, won the world heavyweight title with a second-round knockout of then-undefeated Joe Frazier in 1973. After two successful title defenses, Foreman’s first professional loss was to Muhammad Ali in “The Rumble in the Jungle” in 1974. Then in 1977, he officially retired and became an ordained Christian minister. Then 10 years later in 1994, at age 45, he made a comeback and shocked the world when he knocked out 27-year-old Michael Moorer to win the unified WBA, IBF, and lineal titles. Foreman still remains the oldest heavyweight champ in history, he retired in 1997 at the age of 48, with a final and incredible record of 76 wins, 5 losses, and 68 knockouts.

George Foreman

George Foreman

Andre Agassi

From 1994 to 1997, Andre Agassi had highs and the lowest of lows. He was the world number one and won a gold medal at the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996. However his performance became extremely poor as his losses outweighed his wins, he was in a failing marriage with actress Brooke Shields, suffered a wrist injury, he also started using crystal methamphetamine at that time. On top of it all, his ranking sank to a shocking world no. 141. Everyone said he was done but in 1998, he started a rigorous conditioning program and returned to top mental and physical form. That year, he won five titles and leapt from the world no. 110 to no. 6, which was the highest jump into the top 10 made by any player during a calendar year. He went on a frenzy, beating other athletes like he was a man on a mission, and he was also the oldest player (age 31) to finish in the top three.

Andre Agassi

Andre Agassi

Joe Simpson

Back in 1985, Simpson and his climbing partner Simon Yates, made a first ascent of the previously un-climbed West Face of Siula Grande (6,344m) in the Andes. However, following bad weather, their descent, Simpson fell and broke his right leg. In order for both of them to survive, Yates had to cut the rope that tied the pair together. After this, Simpson plummeted some 150-foot down the cliff and into a deep crevasse. In order to live, Simpson crawled deeper into the crevasse, found an opening, hopped and crawled to base camp where amazingly, Yates was. Following six surgical operations, Simpson was told he’s never climb again and would have problems walking in general for the rest of his life. After two years of rehab, however, he incredibly returned to mountain climbing. What a legend.

Joe Simpson

Joe Simpson

Michael Jordan

In 1993, “His Airness” announced his retirement, he had lost the love of the game and was crippled with grief over the murder of his father. From 93-94, he shocked everyone by going into minor league baseball but after one season, he quit and announced his return to the NBA in 1995 through a two-word press release, “I’m back. Jordan wore jersey number 45, as his familiar 23 had been retired in his honor following his first retirement. Jordan would go on to score 19 points against the Indiana Pacers, a game that held the biggest TV audience for a regular-season NBA game since 1975. With Jordan back, the Bulls pulled off another three-peat between 1996-98. Still, he wasn’t done. He became part owner and president of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards, and a frustrated Jordan reactivated himself in 2001, he donated the playing part of his salary to the victims of the 9/11 attacks. His final game eventually came in 2003 in Philadelphia. When he returned to the bench for the last time, he received a three-minute standing ovation from his teammates, opponents and the crowd. He hasn’t dunked a basketball professionally since.

Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan

Josh Hamilton

Hamilton had it all, he was a rookie that everyone loved and everyone knew he would make his mark in the sporting world. Just before the 2001 season, Hamilton was in a horrible accident and shortly after he was experimenting with drugs and alcohol. According to a June 2006 article in USA Today, he confessed to trying every drug out there. With his self-loathing full blown, he burned his own hand with cigarettes, he also tried to overdose several times, he blew through his millions and covered himself in tattoos. For two years, he actually played no baseball at all. His recovery was slow and late, but it did come. Now he’s in the majors living up to the player he was meant to be.

Josh Hamilton

Josh Hamilton

Monica Seles

Back 1990, Seles became the youngest-ever French Open champion at the age of 16 and in 1991, she was the youngest Number 1 in World Rankings at that time. Over the next couple years, she would only get better, she even won eight Grand Slam singles titles before her 20th birthday. Then in 1993, while she was at her peak, a deranged man reached over a court side railing and stabbed her in the back. For two years, Monica stayed away from tennis. When she did return, she wasn’t the same fierce player but she did go on to win the Canadian Open in August of 1995, and the Australian open in January of 1996.

Monica Seles

Monica Seles

Muhammad Ali

“The Greatest of All Time,” is there anyone disputing that claim? Probably not. After Ali refused to serve in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, he was stripped of his title and had his boxing license suspended from 1967 to 1970. For three years, we all waited for his triumphant return while we watched as Joe Frazier and George Foreman rose up in the ranks as the greats too. Ali’s comeback was against the undefeated Joe Frazier in the match dubbed, “The Fight of the Century”, however they both went the distance until Frazier floored Ali in the 15th and final round, retaining his title and handing Ali his first ever professional loss. Ali would go on to beat Frazier in a re-match but it wasn’t the same ferocity as the first, he also beat Foreman that year. So when the Thrilla in Manila in 1975 came to life, everyone was ready. Frazier and Ali were both hungry for a win, Frazier desperately need a win for his comeback but Ali would not be denied by him a second time. Ali went on to win that dramatic 14 round fight (the 15th was stopped as Frazier’s eyes were swollen shut and he was badly beaten) and Ali kept fighting until 1981. Sadly, the legend that is Muhammad Ali passed away in June of 2016.

Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali

Niki Lauda

Niki Lauda is the Austrian former Formula One driver and a three time F1 World Drivers’ Champ, winning in 1975, 1977 and 1984. Currently, he’s the only driver to have been champion for both Ferrari and McLaren, the sport’s two most successful constructors. However in 1976, in his second World Championship Title in Formula One racing, his Ferrari swerved off the track, hit an embankment, burst into flames and made contact with Brett Lunger’s Surtees-Ford car. Unlike Lunger, Lauda was trapped in the wreckage and suffered severe burns to his head and inhaled hot toxic gases that damaged his lungs and blood. Although Lauda was conscious and able to stand immediately after the accident, he later fell into a coma. Six weeks later, he was behind the wheel at the Italian Grand Prix. Lauda would go on to win two more championship titles before retiring.

Niki Lauda

Niki Lauda

Magic Johnson

Before Johnson’s physical of the 1991–92 NBA season revealed that he had tested positive for HIV and he immediately retired to deal with the disease and be with his family, he made a huge mark on the court. In 79-80, Johnson became the only rookie to win the NBA Finals MVP award and his performance is still regarded as one of the finest in NBA history. He also became one of four players to win NCAA and NBA championships in consecutive years, trust me, the list goes on from his rookie season. He was a part of the 92 Summer Olympic Gold winning team and became a huge advocate of HIV/AIDS awareness. He thought about making a comeback but backed out and went into coaching instead, but he just couldn’t shake that he had more to do on the court. Finally after a four-season hiatus, he came back as a player in the 1995-1996 season, averaging 15 points, 7 assists, and 6 rebounds per game.

Magic Johnson

Magic Johnson

Ben Hogan

Between 1938 through 1959, Hogan had won 63 professional golf tournaments. Then in 1949, Hogan and his wife, Valerie, survived a head-on collision with a Greyhound bus on a foggy bridge. The accident left him with a double-fracture of the pelvis, a fractured collar bone, a left ankle fracture, a chipped rib, and near-fatal blood clots – doctors told him he might never walk again, let alone play golf. Not only did Hogan regain his strength by extensive walking, but he also resumed golf activities and returned to the PGA Tour to start the 1950 season. In 1953 he was the only player, until Tiger Woods, to win three major PGA tournaments in one year.

Ben Hogan

Ben Hogan

Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong is of course the 1993 pro world champion. He had won the Tour de France a staggering seven consecutive times from 1999 to 2005, before all results from August 1998 were voided as a result due to a doping case. Despite that, no one can ever deny his comeback has that of legends. In October 1996, at just 25 years old, he was diagnosed with (advanced) testicular cancer, the cancer spread to his brain, lungs and abdomen. Initially, he had a 20 to 50% chance of surviving. After undergoing treatment, in February 1997, he was declared cancer-free. Having been dropped from his sponsor, he got a new one and from 1998–2005, Lance raced multiple times, winning his seven consecutive Tour de France races. But not even cancer was going to stop him, he returned victorious despite how many races he won or not.

Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong

Ronda Rousey

“Rowdy” Ronda Rousey was the first ever U.S. woman to earn an Olympic medal in judo (Bronze), which she won at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. She is the former UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion, as well as the last Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight Champion. She also won 12 consecutive MMA fights, six in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), before suffering her first loss to Holly Holm in November 2015. After almost over a year away from the sport, Rousey made her big return to fight the current champion Amanda Nunes. The main event occurred just on December 30, 2016 at UFC 207. Ronda lost the fight by TKO due to punches at just 48 seconds into the first round, she’s now pondering retirement.

Ronda Rousey

Ronda Rousey