Weird History Readers Share The Athletes They Think Had The Best 'Unretirements'

List Rules
Vote up the best athletic comebacks.

Retiring from professional sports has a different meaning than most retirements. There's no party in the breakroom and no golden watch. Most athletes retire many years before their social security kicks in. Some of the most iconic moments in sports history were when people took a break from retirement and blew the world away with epic comebacks. 

We gathered Ranker fan comments from Facebook about the best comebacks of athletes who "unretired," and compiled them in one handy list. Which "greatest of all time" boxer stepped back in the ring to fight a YouTuber 20 years his junior? Which athletes left a life of leisure just to play on their sons' teams for another season? Which figure skaters came out of retirement to snag one more Olympic gold medal

Find out in this list of the most noteworthy times people engaged in "unretirement" to make a comeback in the world of sports. 

  • Michael Jordan
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    By Facebook commenter Mike Vodin: Jordan, win 3 titles, retired, then won 3 more titles. 

    Context: In 1993, Michael Jordan, possibly the most famous basketball player of all time, announced his retirement from the Chicago Bulls after playing a large role in the three championships they won. He left the NBA for 21 months, trying his hand at baseball and joining the minor leagues. On March 19, 1995, Jordan announced his return to the NBA.  

    The day before his returning game, he released a statement that consisted of just two words: 

    I'm back. 

    Jordan swapped his original number of 23 to 45, thus marking the new chapter in his career. He struggled in his first few games back. After one of those games, Nick Anderson of the Orlando Magic - who stripped the ball from Jordan and dunked the winning shot - commented on the shift:

    No. 45 doesn't explode like No. 23 used to. No. 45 is not No. 23. I couldn't have done that to No. 23.

    By the next game, Jordan was back to wearing his No. 23 jersey. That night, he scored 38 points, leading the Chicago Bulls to victory. He went on to win three more championships with the Bulls from 1996 to 1998, announcing his retirement once again in 1999. His NBA career ended with six championships under his belt, leading some to consider him the best basketball player ever

    • Birthplace: New York City, New York, United States of America
    • Nationality: United States of America
    • Team: Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards
    • Position: Shooting guard, Small forward
    55 votes
  • By Facebook commenter Samantha GuinnStone Cold Steve Austin.

    Context: "Stone Cold" Steve Austin is a World Wrestling Entertainment superstar, holding 19 championships as a wrestler. His career ended with his defeat in a 2003 match with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. But 19 years later, Austin announced his return to wrestling at the age of 57. In a video for WWE, he explains his return

    Nineteen years ago, I wrestled my last match in a WWE ring. After three rock bottoms, one, two, three, I lost the match. And for 19 years, I’ve had to live with that defeat, knowing my time was up. Kevin Owens, I want to thank you. I want to thank you for waking something up deep inside me that I’ve kept buried for 19 years.

    • Birthplace: San Antonio, Texas, United States of America
    • Nationality: United States of America
    51 votes
  • Georges St-Pierre
    Photo: Bad intentionz / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

    By Facebook commenter Jesse Langeslay: Georges Saint-Pierre. Retired on top as the arguable GOAT [greatest of all time] and undisputed Number 1 welterweight ever, then after many years he came back and dethroned then Middleweight Champion Michael Bisping, to become a two-weight champion.

    Context: Georges St-Pierre, a Canadian mixed martial arts fighter, is often touted as one of the greatest in MMA history. He retired in 2013 after being named the Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight champion three times, breaking the record for the most wins in title fights in UFC.

    In November 2017, St-Pierre left retirement to defeat Michael Bisping in the middleweight title fight, making him only the fourth fighter to champion multiple divisions in all of MMA history. 

    • Birthplace: Saint-Isidore, Montérégie, Quebec, Canada
    • Nationality: Canada
    35 votes
  • Sugar Ray Leonard
    Photo: Soulremake / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0

    By Facebook commenter Eric Bush: Sugar Ray Leonard came back and won the middleweight title. Even though I think he lost.

    Context: Ray Charles "Sugar" Leonard was the leading welterweight champion of the 1970s and early '80s and was nearly undefeated, with more than half his fights ending in knockouts. 

    After Leonard defeated Bruce Finch in 1982, he began training for his bout against Roger Stafford, which was about a month away. During this time, Leonard started seeing floaters, or small visual obstructions, and discovered he had a detached retina that required surgery. He canceled his fight with Stafford, and shortly after, announced his retirement. 

    A little more than a year later, Leonard announced his return, revealing that he planned to fight a number of the top middleweight contenders, including Milton McCrory, Donald Curry, and his biggest competitor, Marvelous Marvin Hagler. The industry and his fans protested over the fear of him permanently damaging his eye. 

    On April 6, 1987, Leonard faced off against Hagler in what would become one of the most widely debated fights in boxing history. It went 12 rounds, ending in a split-decision win for Leonard and the title of middleweight champion. In an interview about the fight for The Ring, he said: 

    [Hagler] was a major part of my career. I’d fought Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns and Wilfred Benitez, so there was that line of talent during an incredible era. All those moments, those fights, were exciting, but Hagler definitely brought out the best in me.

    He was looked upon as unbeatable, especially in the '80s, he was such a dominant guy. Check out what he did with Thomas Hearns [in April 1985]. I was at that fight, doing commentary [for HBO], and I was contemplating making a comeback. I saw that fight and said, "No, I’m okay!"

    Leonard officially retired in the 1990s and was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1997. 

    • Birthplace: Rocky Mount, North Carolina, United States of America
    • Nationality: United States of America
    14 votes
  • George Foreman
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    By Facebook commenter Mortaza Jaan: Easily George Foreman, retired for 10 years and came back to win the heavyweight title eventually.

    Context: George Foreman was the American heavyweight boxing champion until 1974, when he lost to then-underdog Muhammad Ali. Foreman retired in 1977 because of a religious awakening and spent the next 10 years building a youth center and working as an ordained minister.

    He made his comeback in 1984 at the age of 38, and became the oldest heavyweight champion in history when he defeated Michael Moorer in 1994. 

    • Birthplace: Marshall, Texas, United States of America
    • Nationality: United States of America
    23 votes
  • 6
    22 VOTES

    By Facebook commenter Frank Ansilio: Eric Weddle. Retired, came back after a year and helped win a Super Bowl. 

    Context: Eric Weddle was an American Football Safety for 14 seasons after being a standout as a college football player at the University of Utah. He was drafted into the NFL for the San Diego Chargers in 2007, then moved to the Baltimore Ravens, and after three seasons, played the rest of his career with the Los Angeles Rams.

    He announced his retirement from professional football in 2019, but made a short return two years later, leading the Rams to victory at the 2021 Super Bowl LVI, thanks to Weddle's nine tackles. 

    • Birthplace: Fontana, California
    • Nationality: United States of America
    • Team: San Diego Chargers, Los Angeles Rams
    • Position: Safety
    22 votes