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Worst Comebacks in Sport

  • Some top athletes decided to come back after their retirements
  • Muhammad Ali lost both his games after his return
  • Borg and Spitz couldn’t compete with younger athletes on their return
worst comebacks in sport

After a successful sports career some athletes decide to return back to professional sports. But these comebacks didn’t always prove to be successful as we can see in the following examples. Even the Greatest, Muhammad Ali’s return was disappointing and belongs to the worst comebacks in sport. 

The former UCF champion, Conor McGregor lost against Dustin Poirier in his first match after his return from retirement. Looks like he can’t get back to his previous form now and might choose boxing instead of MMA in the future. But he is not the only athlete who couldn’t perform on the same level as before. As it is very difficult to return back to training and regular competitions/games after a long break. And it is just as tough to get back to it mentally as physically. So even the best athletes had trouble after their comebacks, with some of them producing a really disappointing end of their careers. 

The return of Muhammad Ali is in the worst comebacks in sport

Muhammad Ali was the greatest boxer of all time, at least until his first retirement in 1979. But a year later he returned to fight against Larry Holmes and win the heavyweight championship title for the unprecedented fourth time. He was 38 at the time and already showed the signs of early Parkinson syndrome. The fight still went ahead but was stopped in the 10th round. It became Ali’s only fight to lose with a TKO. He had one more last fight in the following year which he also lost against Trevor Berbick. It was a sad and disappointing end of an amazing career which shocked boxing fans all around the world. 

Similar things happened earlier with another great boxer, Joe Louis, who was the heavyweight champion between 1937 and 1949. He also returned a year after his retirement and lost the fight against Rocky Marciano. While in modern days Mike Tyson’s comeback didn’t prove to be too successful. Tyson lost the heavyweight title match against Evander Holyfield. Just like the rematch when he bit his opponent’s ears. Another title match against Lenox Lewis also ended with a loss in 2002. Online sportsbook news in the US were reporting about his latest comeback, at the age of 54. Tyson did an exhibition match with Roy Jones Jr, with both boxers showing some signs of their great talents.  

Bjorn Borg’s disappointing return

worst comebacks in sport
Björn Borg – Roland Gerrits / Anefo, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One of the best men’ tennis players in the 1970s, Bjorn Borg retired suddenly at the age of 26 as we discussed here. But the 11-time Grand Slam winner decided to come back in the early 1990s at the age of 35 and produced one of the worst comebacks in sport. In his first nine matches he couldn’t win even a single set. He couldn’t compete with the young athletes and still using a wooden racket didn1t help him either. Borg improved a bit in the following year, but gave up at the end in 1993 and retired for good. 

In women’s tennis, Swiss five-time Grand Slam winner Martina Hingis chose to retire due to her numerous injuries in 2003, at the age of 22. She decided to come back three years later but only played doubles. Her comeback was quite successful until she tested positive for cocaine in 2007 and was suspended for two years. Hingis came back again in 2013 which was a much better attempt after winning 10 more GS titles in doubles. Now online gambling sites in the US hope for an American victory in the 2021 Australian Open with Naomi Osaka being the favorite. 

Mark Spitz’s and Ian Thorpe’s Olympic attempts

US swimmer Mark Spitz had already won 9 Olympic gold medals by the age of 22, when he suddenly said goodbye to the sport. But amazingly he decided to come back almost 20 years later, at the age of 41. Spitz tried to win a place in the US team for the 1992 Olympics, but he was two seconds behind the qualifying time. 

Meanwhile another great swimmer, Australian Ian Thorpe had the same motivation in 2011. The 5-time Olympic champion announced his retirement in 2006, but wanted to race again in the 2012 London Olympics. Well, he was just not fast enough then and could only be present at the Games as a commentator. After a shoulder injury Thorpe finally retired in 2013. 12-time Olympic medalist Ryan Lochte is set to return in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics after his long suspension. But his comeback doesn’t look certain now after limited training and competing facilities. 

Lance Armstrong, a return attempt before his doping scandal

Lance Armstrong won seven Tour de France titles between 1999 and 2005 when he decided to retire. But in 2009 he announced his return with the Astana team and took part in the 2009 Tour de France, finishing third in the overall standing. He switched to Team Radio Shack in the following year and took part in his last Tour. Where he finished 23rd at the end. In 2011 he announced his final retirement during a US federal investigation into doping. The rest is history, Armstrong received a lifetime ban from all sports and was stripped from all his achievements after 1998. 

File:Lance Armstrong 2005.jpg
Lance Armstrong – Bjarte Hetland, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Michael Jordan’s poor last seasons at Washington Wizards

Even the greatest NBA player of all time, Michael Jordan’s second return is one of the worst comebacks in sport. Unlike the earlier one, when he left Chicago Bulls to retire after 18 months, his second return involved a much weaker club. Jordan came back in 2001, at the age of 38 to play for Washington Wizards. He had to miss most of his first season due to a knee injury but the following season wasn’t much better either. He scored his career-low 20-points per game. It was an average performance from the man who dominated the sport for so many years. Jordan retired at the end of the 2002-03 season still receiving standing ovations in Chicago and in his last game in Philadelphia. 

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