Even though each day the Ultimate Fighting Championship surprises us all by releasing ranked fighter after ranked fighter, it may be what’s best for business, best for the fans, and even best for the fighters released. History has even shown that many fighters that venture outside of The UFC for any number of reasons will one day end up back inside the octagon. Some may even compete for the UFC belt in the years to come.
Rory MacDonald, Matt Mitrione, Nikita Krylov, Kyoji Horiguchi, (and potentially) Ryan Bader and Lorenz Larkin have parted ways with the Ultimate Fighting Championship in recent times, but should they continue to be successful in the cage, will be back in the UFC as serious contenders down the line.
Dan Henderson for example left the Ultimate Fighting Championship to go to Strikeforce fresh off of his knockout win over Michael Bisping at UFC 100.
Even though ‘Hendo’ lost in his SF debut to Jake Shields in what was a huge upset — he went on to win the Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Championship, defeat Fedor Emelianenko, and secure himself another big contract with the UFC after ZUFFA decided to close the doors of Strikeforce for good in 2013. Henderson made another successful run in the UFC that just recently concluded at UFC 204 as he nearly won the UFC Middleweight Championship in his final career fight.
Though Nick Diaz was already an established veteran when he left the UFC for the first time back in 2006, he definitely wasn’t the same big name superstar he is now. Diaz also arguably built his superstar in the Scott Coker-led Strikeforce as the promotions Welterweight Champion.
Despite only having a single win against B.J. Penn since his octagon return back in 2011, Nick Diaz has been granted an Interim UFC Welterweight Championship opportunity against Carlos Condit, a Welterweight Title fight against Georges St-Pierre, and a main event headlining slot against Anderson ‘The Spider’ Silva back at UFC 183.
Then there’s Josh Barnett, the former UFC Heavyweight Champion that had his title stripped after being popped for steroid use back in 2002. Barnett continued to win most of his fights outside of the organization, and only lost to Pride Legends Mirko Cro Cop (x3), Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, and Strikeforce GP winner Daniel Cormier.
Although Barnett is likely through with the company after he was notified of a fourth potential anti-doping violation in recent months he made a successful UFC return — going 3-2 against some of the best heavyweights in the world since 2013.
Fabricio Werdum was also a UFC outcast that made his way back into the octagon after several years in Strikeforce. After going 2-2 in the Octagon and getting knocked out by Junior dos Santos at UFC 90, Werdum was cut from the UFC, but it may have been the best thing that ever happened to him.
Three fights later in San Jose, California, at Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Werdum, ‘Vai Cavalo’ made history by making ‘The Last Emperor’ tap out. Fedor Emelianenko hadn’t lost a fight since 2000, and went on a legendary that saw him improve his career record to 33-1(1 NC), but on June 26, 2010, Werdum did the impossible by locking Fedor in a Triangle, forcing him to submit:
Werdum would return to octagon in 2012 and go on a six-fight win streak to capture to the UFC Heavyweight Championship from Cain Velasquez at UFC 188.
There are many more examples (honorable mention to Tim Elliott), but these were some of the most notable names to make a UFC return after some time outside of the organization. Precedent has been set for the most successful mixed martial artists to have prosperous careers outside of the UFC, and there is no reason to believe some of these fighters won’t be back in the octagon in the future. MacDonald (27), Krylov (24), Horiguchi (26), Bader (33), and Larkin (30), all have plenty of time to become the UFC Champion, even if their next few fights come outside of the octagon.