2014 Comeback Fighter of the Year: Dominick Cruz and Matt Grice Take Co-Honors

December 29, 2014
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Like any other year-end award, “Comeback Fighter of the Year” is subjective. The distinction usually goes to a fighter that overcame the odds to resurrect a spiraling career, or an athlete that returned from a debilitating injury in impressive fashion. It could go to a veteran putting together their last run at a title shot.

For the first time, MMAWeekly.com is recognizing two fighters in 2014 for fighting through adversity to achieve what many said they couldn’t accomplish.

Former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz returned to action for the first time in three years at UFC 178 in September against top-five ranked Takeya Mizugaki. The former titleholder was in top form as he scored a first-round knockout that earned him a $50,000 Performance of the Night bonus and half of the MMAWeekly.com 2014 Comeback Fighter of the Year honors.

Dominick CruzCruz (20-1) became the UFC 135-pound champion when the WEC fight promotion was merged into the UFC in December 2010. He defended his UFC belt twice, against Urijah Faber and Demetrious Johnson, before suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament while preparing to rematch Faber in May 2012. He underwent a cadaver replacement surgery, but his body rejected the foreign ligament. He underwent a second procedure in December 2012.

After more than two years of surgeries, rehabilitation and recovery, Cruz was set to come back in February at UFC 169 in a unification bout with interim champion Renan Barao. Cruz tore his groin while training for the title fight and was sidelined for another seven months, resulting in the organization stripping him of his title.

Finally, after two surgeries and years of recovery through hard work, Cruz stepped back into the cage at UFC 178 against a highly ranked and dangerous opponent. The 29-year-old sent a message to the division with the quick finish. He didn’t lose the title to an opponent. Injuries and the inability to defend his crown caused the title to change hands.

The win over Mizugaki earned Cruz an opportunity to reclaim his title. UFC president Dana White said during the UFC 178 post-fight press conference that Cruz would face champion T.J. Dillashaw in his next outing. Unfortunately, Cruz recently suffered a torn ACL to the knee that hasn’t given him problems in the past. He’s expected to be out of action for much of 2015.

SEE ALSO: Dominick Cruz Vows to Make UFC Return in 2015

While Cruz returned as if he had never left, there’s another comeback story of a fighter that took place outside the cage in 2014 that deserves recognition.

While preparing for a match-up against Jeremy Larsen for UFC 166 in October 2013, the life of UFC featherweight Matt Grice took a dramatic turn. In addition to his mixed martial arts career, Grice was also an Oklahoma City police officer. While the off duty officer and mixed martial artist sat idle at a traffic light in Shawnee, Okla., on Sept. 8, 2013, his vehicle was struck from behind at 65 miles per hour by a distracted driver causing life-threatening head injuries.

Doctors were not initially optimistic Grice would survive the brain trauma, but the fighter fought his way back from death’s door. He was rushed to the Oklahoma University Medical Center where he underwent brain surgery that night and surgeons removed a large piece of Grice’s skull. He underwent a second surgery in December 2013 to reconstruct his cranium.

Matt Grice Returns to OKCity PDAlmost a year to the day of the accident, the 33-year-old took a significant step in reclaiming the life that was nearly taken from him. He returned to work at the Oklahoma City Police Department on Oct. 2 after a year of piecing his shattered life back together, becoming a more than well-deserving recipient of MMAWeekly.com’s honors for Comeback Fighter of the Year.

SEE ALSO: Matt Grice Returns to Work as Police Officer

UFC heavyweight Andrei Arlovski gets an honorable mention nod. The former UFC champion returned to the Octagon for the first time since 2008 when he faced Brendan Schaub at UFC 174 in June. He left the organization on good terms following a second-round win over Jake O’Brien at UFC 82 in March 2008.

The Belarusian competed in several organizations after leaving the UFC with mixed results. From 2009 to 2011, Arlovski lost four consecutive fights. He’s gone 8-1-1 in his last ten fights, including knocking out Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva in his last outing in September. Once a champion, Arlovski has gone from being written off to a contender in the UFC’s heavyweight division fourteen years after making his promotional debut in 2000.

Another fighter who deserves recognition for turning the tide in 2014 is Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, who also returned to the UFC.  Having battled issues with his weight – both at welterweight and middleweight – during his prior run in the Octagon, Johnson returned as a light heavyweight. He has since racked up wins over Mike Kyle, Phil Davis, and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, putting him in a bout with Alexander Gustafsson to earn a shot at the UFC light heavyweight title currently in Jon Jones‘ possession.

Be sure to weigh in with your top comeback fighters of 2014 in the comments below!

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  • shakejunt

    grice is on here for no reason, doesn’t even have a fight booked. dom came back in spectacular fashion, but he’s hurt again so he should be taken off this list too. arlovski and rumble absolutely deserve to be on here and i’m not sure how you leave out robbie lawler and pettis.

    • Darin

      Grice and Cruz both had huge come backs and deserve to be commended.

      Let me ask you something: what is the point of ending your sentences with periods then not capitalizing the first letter of the first word of a sentence? I get the people that use no punctuation whatsoever, they’re just really stupid/lazy. But using periods while capitalizing nothing is just weird.

      • shakejunt

        i “like” grammar, but i’m not as interested in being proper. capitalizing is something i do at work, not at home.

      • Marty M

        Using proper grammar on the Internet is like wearing a tuxedo to McDonalds, totally unnecessary.

  • Seth

    So…you come back from 3 years vacation that you CAUSED YOURSELF by fu**ing wrestling around with pro mma fighters in your gym 3 weeks after ACL INJURY and that’s the same as coming from near-death state? Since when comeback is equal to overcoming your own stupidity and lack of brain?

  • Darin

    Did you guys get a new writer? This is probably the most well written thing I’ve ever read here. I love this piece for more reason than one.

    P.S. The hateful, negative commenters may suck my ass.

  • Jay

    Very well written piece, but I must say Anthony Johnson’s comeback at LHW & HW, after a so-so career at WW, is one of the best ever comeback turn arounds in combat sports. He started with a can, and ended up destroying a top #10HW in arvloski, earning his way back into the UFC, almost killing lil nog with one punch, and now facing Alex in a main event to be recognized as the number #3 or the #4 LHW in the world. (Sorry, but DC n JJ got 1 n 2 on lock) That is a lot bigger a deal than Grice, who I would never have heard of if it wasn’t for the car accident, and Cruz’s [spectacular] 90 seconds in the ring before getting hurt for a 4th year in a row. Yes, Cruz’s performance was legendary, but it really isnt much of a comeback being that he got hurt 7 seconds after the fight was over, but no one could argue that it would make one hell of a career encore, going out the Chris Lytle way, instead of the Chuck Liddell, on my shield and a stretcher way. IMO, he should fix his knee up, stick to announcing, maybe a little coaching, and retire on his first UFC finish against Mizugaki. He has nothing to prove to himself, the fans, or any other fighter, and I know from personal experience, life after sports sucks when you have 2 metal knees and a blown out neck. Looking back on his career it is hard not to consider him the best 135 of all time. He avenged his only career loss against his biggest rival, became the first and the only bantamweight champion until he relinquished, not lost, but relinquished his title, and right as his injury misfortune began, on one leg, he WWE rag dolled the 125 champ and current #1 or #2 p4p in the world, who will no doubt be moving back up to 135 soon and probably taking the title after closing the 125lb book on McCall and Dodson. Cruz is encore of the year, performance of the year, and should entire the hall of fame as soon as possible, but Anthony Johnson is easily comeback fighter of the year. Hell, if AJ beats Gustaffson, and Jones beats DC, Jones will have no reason to stay at LHW anymore, and vacate that belt to fight HW. If that happens, and Rashad shakes off the dust against Glover, no doubt AJ would be facing Rashad for the LHW championship and that would definitely make Anthony Johnson one of the best comeback stories of all time. Sorry, I’m drunk, thoughtful, and got on a rant. Hope y’all agree and enjoy my opinions 😀