Michael Jordan

Return of the kings: The greatest comebacks in sports

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These icons came to the end of their careers but simply had to return to the big stage. Which comeback did you enjoy the most?

Whether it’s the money or the fame, the reasons some of the greatest athletes of all time choose to return after their careers had supposedly ended could not be more different. But one thing the likes of Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan and Alex Zanardi all had in common; they could not get enough of the big time. 

Is Floyd Mayweather Jr. about to follow in their footsteps? The rumour mill is in overdrive that “Pretty Boy” (winner of all of his 49 bouts) could be lured again from retirement for a global megafight. His 50th opponent might not be a boxer but none other than UFC megastar Conor “Notorious” McGregor.

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These are Floyd’s prominent predecessors:

Muhammad Ali

At the height of his career Cassius Clay was involuntarily sent into boxing retirement. In 1967, he was stripped of his title when he refused to be drafted to military service for the Vietnam War. “I have no quarrel with the Vietcong,” said Ali.

The state showed little understanding and sentenced him to imprisonment though he remained free as he appealed the verdict. Although his conviction was eventually overturned, Ali’s boxing license and passport had been suspended. Only after three years of inactivity could “The Greatest” return to the ring. His subsequent fights against Joe Frazier (“Thrilla in Manila”) and George Foreman (“The Rumble in the Jungle”) became legendary.

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George Foreman

While Ali emerged as a big winner from the fight in Zaire, it was the beginning of the (first) Foreman-end. In 1977, “Big George” hung up his boxing gloves and became an ordained minister. Then in 1987 Foreman returned to the ring fists flying and in 1994, at 45 years of age, he became World Heavyweight Champion again.

To date, no champion was older at heavyweight. Despite retiring for a second time, if it were up to Foreman he would have fought again at the age of 55. Training for a final comeback bout, it’s believed Foreman’s wife talked him out of one more chance at a knockout.

Michael Jordan

Basketball fans were rubbing their eyes in amazement as MJ announced the end of his career in 1993. The “GOAT” (Greatest of All Time) shocked the sports world by opting to play professional baseball. The then 30-year-old played for two years but never progressed beyond the farm team of the Chicago White Sox.

Jordan quickly returned to what he did best: shooting hoops. His comeback press statement was as short as it was legendary: “I’m back”. He added three more rings thanks to three further NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls. Jordan retired for a second time in 1999 but, proving that he just couldn’t stay away from the game, the icon was back on the court in 2001 playing for a final two years with the Washington Wizards.

55 in 45 = 💯

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Hermann Maier

Two-time Olympic champion, three-time world champion, a total of ten medals at major events, 54 World Cup victories and four-time winner in the World Cup; the Austrian is one of the most successful alpine skiers of all time. But it almost didn’t turn out that way.

After a motorcycle accident in 2001, Maier was threatened not only with the end of career, but also a leg amputation. Two years passed before Maier celebrated a mega comeback to the sport, and in his first full season reclaimed his alpine skiing overall title. ‘The Herminator’ finally showed some human traits when he announced his actual career end at the age of 36 and allowed a few tears to fall.

Alessandro Zanardi

Where there’s a will, there’s a way – nothing can better describe the life and ambition of Alex Zanardi. In 2001 the former Formula 1 driver lost control of his car in a Champ Car series race and was hit by Alex Tagliani. The speedometer of the Canadian stood at 320 km/h at the time of impact. 

It is almost a miracle that Zanardi survived. Seven rescuers resuscitated him but the Italian lost both legs. Unbowed, Zanardi was determined to return to racing and two years later symbolically finished the race at the Lausitzring. From there he drove touring cars and was again behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car at a BMW Sauber test event. If that wasn’t enough, Zanardi became a two-time gold medallist in handcycling at the 2012 Paralympics Games.

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