The most famous sports stars have wealth, celebrity, and incredible lifestyles. However, in truth, it’s not always so easy being a professional athlete. First, they have to be consistent. It takes a lot of commitment to achieve success over the course of many seasons. So eventually there comes a point where athletes just want to step down from their respective sport. However, it’s not that easy to walk away from the sport that made you famous.
So today, we’re going to look at 30 sports stars who walked away but then chose to come out of retirement. They all had their reasons, and some were more successful than others. The longest retirement on this list was 10 years, while the shortest was a mere three days. Read on to find out these varying degrees of comeback success below.
30. Lance Armstrong
The infamous cyclist is one of the most notorious figures in all of sport. He was on top of the world until he wasn’t. Armstrong was the leader of cycling’s worst doping scandal. That put an irreparable stain on his name and reputation. But it wasn’t always like that. There was a time when Armstrong was a hero to millions around the world.
Armstong came back strong from cancer but retired in 2005. However, three years later he would climb back on his bike after feeling the sport call to him. But he would only last for another two years as a federal investigation had already begun. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Brazilian left-back is legendary for his ferocious freekicks. That infamous goal against France is a fixture in highlight reels. Carlos is a Real Madrid legend. He was a consistent attacking threat. With World Cups, Champion’s Leagues, and numerous league wins, Carlos was extraordinarily successful.
Carlos spent 11 seasons at Real Madrid. He also made 125 appearances for Brazil, representing his nation in three World Cups. But after leaving the Bernebeu, Carlos embarked on a nomadic career. He played in Turkey, Russia, and Brazil before retiring. After three years on the sidelines, he came back to play only three games for the Delhi Dynamos.
Seau had one of the shortest retirements on this list. He was a 10-Time All-Pro and 12-time Pro Bowl selection. Incredibly passionate, he played 13 seasons for the San Diego Chargers. However, he would narrowly fall short of Super Bowl glory. Despite this, Seau was an immense talent.
He announced his retirement in 2006 but returned to football a mere four days later. Some people just can’t walk away, although Seau took this to the extreme. He spent three seasons with the New England Patriots. Seau later tragically took his own life at the age of 43.
The Belgian tennis superstar is a true great of the sport. She won a total of six Grand Slam tournament titles, four in singles and two in doubles. Meanwhile, Clijsters was also the world number one in both singles and doubles. In short, she was an outstanding player and immensely popular in the tennis world.
But after a series of injuries, Clijsters retired at the age of just 23 to focus on raising her daughter. Two years later, she decided to come back and managed to win the US Open. Now, she holds the record for the most Grand Slams won as a mother. The Belgian retired again in 2012 but announced she’ll play again in 2020.
Boxers tend to come out of retirement more than other athletes. There’s something about the lure of fame, a quick paycheck and the adrenaline of being in the ring that they can’t keep away from. Holmes is no exception. The heavyweight champion is famous for having one of the best jabs in the sport and for constantly coming back.
Holmes made a whole series of comebacks after retiring. This led to three unsuccessful attempts to regain the heavyweight title. After successfully defending the belt 20 times, you can see why he felt it was his. His final comeback fight was a victory over the massive Eric ‘Butterbean’ Esch.
Hockey hero Howe played an incredible 26 seasons in the NHL. The Canadian was around for so long that he was actually teammates with his sons Mark and Marty on the Houston Aeros. Howe’s power and scoring prowess made him the most feared forwards in the game during his heyday.
The former NHL ace retired twice during his career. He retired first in 1971 but would return two years later to join his sons in Texas. Then, in 1979, he played a final season with the Hartford Whalers. Howe is the most complete player in all of hockey history. The ‘Gordie Howe Hat Trick’ is now a common term in hockey vocabulary.
‘Money’ is arguably the best defensive boxer of all-time. He has an insane unbeaten record of 50-0 and became the wealthiest athlete on the planet. Yet after 49 fights, ‘Money’ announced to the world that he was hanging up his gloves for good.
But Conor McGregor changed everything. The volatile Irishman managed to lure Mayweather out of retirement for another massive payday. This was a major promotional circus between an MMA fighter and a boxer. Of course, Mayweather won by TKO in the tenth round of their fight to further his legend.
Cunningham had a lengthy 16-season career in the NFL. He represented four teams along the way, most notably the Philidelphia Eagles. The College Football Hall of Famer was a seasoned and consistent quarterback. He won a number of individual awards during his career in the NFL.
After 11 seasons with the Eagles, Cunningham retired from football. But the Minnesota Vikings were able to lure him out of retirement. In short, it was an inspired decision. He had a record-breaking season where he scored the most points in a regular-season at the time. Not bad at all.
Imagine being an All-Star for 10 consecutive seasons. How about winning nine consecutive Gold Gloves? If you’re Sandberg, that’s no crazy dream, it’s a reality. The second-baseman achieved all of this and more in a distinguished career. Sandberg spent the majority of his career with the Philidelphia Phillies and the Cubs.
The Phillies legend explained why he initially retired. Basically, he lost the desire and hunger to play as he had before. But that’s not the end of this story. Only two years after his retirement, Sandberg returned. He’d play for another two seasons before walking away for good.
Despite his name, Lemieux is no relation to his fellow hockey player Mario Lemieux. But he was a great player in his own right. The Canadian is one of only 11 players to win the Stanley Cup with three or more teams. That’s right, he got his hands on the trophy an incredible four times. The right-wing was a prolific goal scorer.
Lemieux retired in 2003 after achieving a lot of success. But of course, he wanted to return and did so with the San Jose Sharks. You wouldn’t want to mess with him either. He had a well-earned reputation as a dirty player. Once, Lemieux broke opponent Kris Draper’s jaw, nose, and cheekbone.
Kalil has been playing in the NFL since 2007. Kalil played for 12 seasons with the Carolina Panthers. However, injuries stalled his later career with the Panthers and he only played six times in 2017. He made the tough decision to retire from the sport he loves.
But it only lasted for a year. Kalil couldn’t keep away from the sport and signed a contract with the Jets. However, his comeback hasn’t gone well so far, with injuries once again stalling his impact. Furthermore, he missed the entire preseason. It looks like his decision to return is already a massive mistake for both parties.
Johnson was a phenomenal basketball star. The LA Lakers legend won five NBA titles and was a 12-time All-Star. He played point guard for 13 seasons and led the Lakers to tons of success. What’s more, he was a three-time NBA MVP. Johnson was undoubtedly one of the best players of his generation.
After his diagnosis of HIV, however, Johnson made the decision to walk away from the game. However, he chose to work as an awareness advocate and gained hero status. He returned for a single season in 1996 before leaving the game again on his own terms. In 2007, ESPN named him the greatest point guard ever.
If not for his well-documented health problems, Lemieux would have achieved even more in hockey, yet he’s still one of the all-time greats. When you look at his record, you suddenly realize we’re talking about a potential all-time great contender. Le Magnifique starred for the Pittsburgh Penguins over the course of 17 NHL seasons.
The Hall of Famer won five Stanley Cups and was a very exciting attacker despite his size. After recovering from cancer, Lemieux continued to play for the Penguins until he retired for the first time in 1997. Then he ended up becoming the owner of the Penguins and three years later took up the rarely-seen role of player/owner for six more seasons.
The second female Belgian tennis player on this list, Henin was superb. She spent a total of 117 weeks as world No. 1 and along with Clijsters helped put Belgian tennis on the map. Henin is also notable for her use of a single-handed backhand. She won seven Grand Slam titles, so it obviously worked for her.
After a rough 2008, Henin decided to retire and focus on her charity and tennis school. However, her retirement lasted 16 months. She was back in action in 2010 and went on to win the WTA Comeback Player of the Year Award. Unfortunately, an elbow injury cut her comeback short in 2011.
Former Germany goalkeeper Lehmann went to three World Cups with his country. He’s one of the best keepers to play in the Premier League, playing every game of Arsenal’s ‘Invincible’s’ season. The German also holds the record for most consecutive clean sheets in the Champion’s League. Arsenal didn’t lose once in 10 games with him minding the nets.
After leaving Arsenal, Lehmann returned to the Bundesliga and played for a couple of seasons with Stuttgart. Then he hung up his gloves and entered a coaching role back with Arsenal. However, a goalkeeping injury crisis in 2011 forced his hand and returned to play one game for the Gunners.
Lynch made four Pro Bowls and won Super Bowl XLVIII with the Seattle Seahawks. The running back was a tremendous player. His powerful runs earned him the nickname ‘Beast Mode.’ The Oakland native’s NFL career lasted for 11 seasons and he played for three teams across that time.
However, in 2016, he decided to retire from football after an excellent career. Lynch changed his mind very quickly. Following his move home to Oakland, he decided to join the Raiders because he wanted to give local children the chance to see a homegrown star play for them.
Holyfield is the only four-time heavyweight boxing champion in the history of the sport. An Olympic bronze medalist, he is one of the best fighters of his day. He fought the best of several generations including Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis and George Foreman. To sum up, he had a granite chin and ferocity that never stopped.
In 1994, Holyfield retired after medical advice. But just a year later, he was back in action and he went on a tear to beat Mike Tyson, winning the WBA championship in the process. Of course, this would lead to the infamous rematch where ‘Iron Mike’ literally bit a chunk out of Holyfield’s ear.
Everybody knows Favre. The Green Bay Packers legend was the first NFL quarterback to pass for 500 touchdowns, throw for 70,000 yard and complete 6000 passes. The 20-year NFL veteran was a Superbowl champion. Then in March 2008, he announced his retirement.
However, Favre then decided that he still wanted to play. After intense negotiations, he returned for the following season with the New York Jets. Finally, he played a single season with the Minnesota Vikings. Favre officially retired again for good in 2010. Afterward, he admitted that playing for so long definitely wasn’t good for his health.
‘The California Kid’ is one of the most popular MMA fighters never to win a UFC title. The founder of Team Alpha Male was a WEC bantamweight champion. Faber challenged for the UFC belt four times but fell short every time. The 40-year-old was also a coach on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) series opposite Conor McGregor.
Faber has a tremendous wrestling base that has proven highly effective against his opponents. However, in 2016 he decided to retire from fighting. This wasn’t the end, and he came back in 2019 to knock out Ricky Simon in the first round. That’s a true fairytale story. Only time will tell if he finally mounts MMA’s highest peak.
The Manchester United icon was one of the best and most underrated soccer players of his generation. He’s one of the most successful midfielders to play the game. Scholes had incredible vision and a brilliant range of passing. Furthermore, he scored in 16 consecutive Premier League seasons.
Scholes spent the entirety of his career with United. He scored over 150 goals in more than 700 appearances between 1993 and 2013. Although he retired in 2011, he reversed that decision in the middle of the next season. Finally, Scholes retired for good in 2013. He made 499 appearances in the Premier League.
The President of Pakistan is also one of cricket’s most famous players ever. Khan was the captain of Pakistan’s 1992 World Cup-winning team. This catapulted him to superstardom in his home country and even made him famous around the world. But amazingly, it could have been very different for Khan and his nation.
In 1987, Khan made the decision to retire from international cricket. He had just taken part in a World Cup and had had enough. But the President of Pakistan actually personally intervened and asked him to continue. Khan agreed and would go on to lead his nation in its most glorious moment.
Including the Irishman on this list is somewhat questionable because neither of his retirements has lasted for any length of time. McGregor broke onto the scene in 2013 and soared into the mainstream. After feuding with the UFC in 2016, he briefly retired after refusing to attend media duties for his massive rematch with Nate Diaz.
However, that power play only lasted for a couple of days. Then in 2019, McGregor ‘retired’ again after staining his reputation in the media. But that’s turned out to be bogus, too. He’s looking to fight again at the beginning of 2020. Basically, ‘The Notorious’ likes to be the center of attention.
White is one of the most decorated players in football history. The defensive end played for a grand total of 15 seasons. He won the Super Bowl in 1996 with the Green Bay Packers. Meanwhile, he was a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He played in 13 Pro Bowls and had 13 All-Pro selections. In short, he was a brilliant player.
After his retirement in 1998, he spent a year with his feet up. But he came back in 2000 to play for the Carolina Panthers. White played in all 16 of their games that season before finally retiring for good at the end of the year. Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack at the age of 43.
It’s always dangerous coming out of retirement as a combat sports athlete. Time passes and you don’t get any faster or stronger as age begins to take its toll. But sometimes, a break is just the ticket. In the case of Robert Guerrero, that’s exactly what happened. After winning just two of his final six fights, the boxer retired in 2012.
The former IBF featherweight and junior featherweight champion came back after six years of retirement in 2018. He fought on the undercard of Wilder vs. Fury against Adam Mate. Guerrero went on to win the fight by second-round knockout. It was his first knockout win since 2010, stretching back 13 fights.
This former baseball pitcher played for 18 seasons in the MLB. A three-time All-Star, Pettite won five World Series championships with the Yankees. He’s such a legend that the Yankees retired his number 46 when he walked away from the sport. Furthermore, he ranks as MLB’s all-time postseason wins leader with 19.
After a tremendous career with the Yankees and a couple of seasons with the Houston Astros, Pettite retired in 2010. Yet he only spent a year away from professional baseball. First of all, he worked with the Yankees as a guest instructor. Then he signed a minor league contract before getting back into the majors and playing until 2013.
One of Brazil’s best ever goalkeepers, Dida is also an AC Milan legend. He is one of only nine players to win both the Copa Libertadores and Champions League. Dida was particularly brilliant at saving penalties. Furthermore, he was Brazil’s first-choice goalkeeper over the course of 11 years. That’s consistency.
After two years out of action, Dida returned to Brazil to resume his career. He played for Portuguesa for a season, before spells at Gremio and Internacional. Finally, he retired for good in 2015. Then, he moved to China to pursue a coaching role with Shenzhen.
Sometimes you just shouldn’t come back. Liddell is one of the greatest fighters to step into an MMA cage. With ferocious power and brutal aggression, ‘The Iceman’ was a force of nature in his prime. Liddell became one of the biggest stars in the UFC and helped break it into the mainstream.
But he did end his career with six KO losses in seven fights. Liddell stunned the MMA world by returning after eight years of retirement. The 48-year-old fought Tito Ortiz under Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy MMA. But it ended with him seeing stars again. It was hard to watch.
Foreman is the oldest heavyweight champion of all-time. He first captured the title by knocking out Joe Frazier and would defend it twice before running into Muhammad Ali. ‘The Rumble in the Jungle’ was a major turning point. ‘Big George’ decided to walk away from the sport. He had a religious epiphany and became an ordained minister.
But Foreman came back 10 years later. He’d work his way back up to a title shot at the grand old age of 45. After knocking out Michael Moorer to win the WBA, IBF, and lineal titles, he became the second-oldest champion ever after Bernard Hopkins. Eventually, Foreman retired at 48 with a professional record of 76 wins and five losses.
The legendary German racing driver is statistically the greatest ever. First of all, he’s the only driver in history to win seven Formula One World Championships. Meanwhile, he holds the record for most Grand Prix races won with 91 victories. In short, he was unstoppable in his prime.
Schumacher is a Benetton and Ferrari legend. Despite retiring in 2006, the German decided that he had more to give to the sport. After four years on the sidelines, the German returned in 2010. He raced for three years under the Mercedes banner breaking more records along the way. Schumacher finally retired for good in 2012.
Jordan is arguably the most iconic basketball player in history. He played 15 seasons in the NBA, winning six championships with the Chicago Bulls. Furthermore, he was one of the first heavily-marketed athletes. The 14-time All-Star was a true basketball giant. He literally changed the game.
After the death of his father, Jordan retired in 1993. He played for years in Baseball’s minor leagues with the Chicago White sox. But he returned to the NBA in 1995, ready to go. That was when his ‘Airness’ won his second three-peat with the Bulls. He’d retire again in 1999 but came back in 2001 to play for the Washington Wizards for a season. His intention was to donate his wages to 9/11 victims.