5 Fighters That Successfully Returned From a Major Injury

5 Fighters That Successfully Returned From a Major Injury

Liam Mooney|
August 16, 2023|

The sport of MMA is as unforgiving as they come. Fighters deal with injuries on a daily basis and, more often than not, go into fights without being 100% healthy. With the grueling schedules, training, and fight preparation taking a toll on the human body, all tied in with just how dangerous the sport is, many fighters sustain horrific injuries inside and outside the octagon. Such injuries substantially impact their bodies, some of which are altered for life and cause complications for many years. But also, the psychological impact they can have is tremendous. The psychological toll of shock, fear, anxiety, and isolation can be as challenging as physical rehabilitation. With this being said, here are five fighters who successfully returned after sustaining a major injury.

Michael Bisping - Detached Retina

Credits to: Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty.
Credits to: Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty.

In 2013 at UFC on FX, Michael Bisping sustained one of the sport's most destructive and well-known injuries. After having his four-fight winning streak broken in a close fight with Chael Sonnen, Michael Bisping was looking to restart his climb to the top and a Middleweight title shot. So after defeating Brian Stann in September 2012, Bisping had set himself up for a massive fight with Victor Belfort, headlining the card in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Many believed a win here could set up a title fight with the then-champion Anderson Silva.

However, in the second round, Belfort landed a devastating head kick followed by unforgiving follow-up punches, leading to the fight's abrupt end. The kick from Belfort detached Bisping's retina in his right eye, and according to Bisping, he has since also suffered from glaucoma and cataracts. Bisping would amazingly fight three months later and defeat Alan Belcher via technical decision in the third round. Not only did Bisping return to the win column in his very next fight, but the Manchester-born fight would fight 11 more times with essentially one eye. In these 11 fights, Bisping would defeat some of the Middleweight greats, including Anderson Silva, Luke Rockhold, and Dan Henderson, becoming the first UK-born fighter to win a UFC world title along the way.

Bisping has been very open about his injury and its effect on his life and career. The fan favorite and UFC commentator proved that you can bounce back from a horrific injury and proved the importance of never giving up on your dreams. Michael Bisping will forever go down as one of the toughest fighters to ever grace the sport.


Tim Sylvia - Broken Arm

"Credits to: Zuffa LLC via Getty Images.")

Fighting the vacant Heavyweight championship after his first successful defense was overturned due to failing a drug test, undefeated 16-0 Tim Sylvia was going into the title fight against 7-1 Frank Mir. With four of his victories before the fight coming from the way of submission, Frank Mir was undoubtedly making a name for himself in the UFC as a submission specialist. Not to mention he was fighting for his first world championship, and Tim Sylvia was looking to regain his title meaning the stakes were incredibly high going into the fight.

Just 50 seconds into the first round, Mir caught Sylvia in a deep armbar, during which he refused to tap, resulting in one of the most gruesome injuries in the UFC. Fresh-faced referee at the time, Herb Dean, has said that he heard the snapping of Sylvia's arm causing him to call an end to the action, Sylvia even disputed the stoppage until the replay was shown on the big screen, and in reality, Herb Dean very likely saved a lot of years on Sylvia's career. Amazingly Sylvia would compete five months later and win via first-round TKO against Wes Sims at Superbrawl 38. Even though Sylvia has said he still has issues with his arm today, 19 years later. He did in fact recapture the UFC Heavyweight Championship in 2006 against Andrei Arlovski and defended the title twice.

Frank Mir - Motorcycle Accident

Credits to: Jeff Chiu/Associated Press.
Credits to: Jeff Chiu/Associated Press.

Coming off his victory against Tim Sylvia, as mentioned above, just three months after he won UFC gold Frank Mir was involved in a horrific motorcycle that almost ended his MMA career. The accident resulted in Frank Mir breaking his femur in two places and tearing all the major ligaments in his knee. The doctors told Mir that he would never be able to fight again. Due to the nature of the injury, Mir was stripped of his title and didn't return to the octagon for another two years. Although his immediate return didn't go to plan, as he lost via first-round TKO against Marcio Cruz, Mir would have a very successful UFC career, including victories over Brock Lesnar, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Roy Nelson, Mirko Cro Cop, and Antonio Silva. Mir would capture the interim Heavyweight title later down the line and will undoubtedly always be remembered as one of the greats.


Tom Aspinall - Torn MCL and Meniscus

Credits to: Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports.
Credits to: Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports.

In more recent history, Heavyweight prospect Tom Aspinall was on top of the world, coming into his fight with Curtis Blaydes at UFC fight night in London on July 23rd, 2022. Aspinall was 12-2 with five straight finishes in the UFC and on everybody's lips as the next star in the Heavyweight division. Fighting in front of his home supporters, a win over Curtis Blaydes could have led to a title fight, but the fight ended abruptly after just 15 seconds.

Aspinall threw what looked to be a routine outside leg kick but instantly went down, holding his right knee resulting in a TKO loss via injury. Later it would become clear that Aspinall tore his MCL and meniscus while also causing damage to his ACL. Such an extensive injury required serious surgery and would leave Aspinall sidelined for a year and wouldn't return until July 22nd, 2023 when he faced off with Marcin Tybura.

Aspinall would make quick work of his opponent, getting the TKO finish in just 1:13 of the very first round. Aspinall has spoken openly about his struggles while being away due to his injury and the doubts it caused about ever returned to the octagon. With his win over Tybura, Aspinall looked like he had never been away putting himself into an influential position in the Heavyweight division, and is now somebody we could see challenge for the title very soon.

Dominick Cruz - ACL

Credits to: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images.
Credits to: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images.

Dominick Cruz has one of the best Bantamweight resumes and is among the discussion as one of the best Bantamweights of all time. However, it has not all been smooth sailing throughout his career, and Cruz has had to deal with multiple severe injuries. Cruz has suffered torn ACLs in both knees, a torn groin, a broken arm, and an injured shoulder throughout his UFC career. He was also afflicted by plantar fascia tendonitis during his training camp for his fight with Cody Gardbrandt.

After defending the Bantamweight title against Demetrious Johnson in 2011, Cruz was forced to vacate the title due to his injuries and would only fight twice in the next five years. He defeated Takeya Mizugaki three years later, in 2014, in impressive fashion, coming away with a first-round KO. Cruz would again be sidelined until January 2016, when he would return to fight TJ Dillashaw for the Bantamweight title, where he would successfully regain the championship.

Still fighting seven years later at the top of the division against the very best, credit has to be shown not only to Cruz's incredible athletic ability but his mental fortitude to overcome such a career riddled with multiple potential career-ending injuries and still be one of the successful Bantamweights in history.

Fighters are often overlooked for their commitment and sacrifices they make throughout their career, not just in their personal lives but with their bodies and the risks they take on a daily basis. Coming back from such substantial injuries shows the magnitude of these athletes' mental strength. If any fighters didn't make the list, please leave a comment below with your thoughts!

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