Comeback Kids: Athletes Who Rose Up From The Depths Of Hell

Darren - July 20, 2023

Comeback Kids: Athletes Who Rose Up From The Depths Of Hell

Darren - July 20, 2023

Most people in the world think that elite athletes have amazing lives and don’t have real problems. They point at their massive contracts or their lucrative endorsements and believe they have nothing to complain about. But some superstars have had such traumatic experiences that they rose from the depths of Hell.

Some of them had career-threatening injuries that sent them into an existential crisis. Others lost loved ones or even served jail time because they made terrible decisions off the field. So today, we’ll look at the athletes who bounced back from these moments in their lives and competed yet again.


Alex Smith

Smith is one of the athletes who has experienced the most adversity. He rose from the depths of Hell several times in his career. The first time we saw him face problems was when San Francisco fans labeled him as a bust. His rookie season saw him throw one touchdown to 11 interceptions. But he turned it around and became a dependable starting quarterback.


Then came his most trying moment with that atrocious broken leg that saw him fighting for his life. Doctors considered removing his leg after an infection set in. But Smith fought on and finally returned to action with Washington as he won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award. It was amazing and everybody stood up to applaud him (via ESPN).


Michael Vick

There was a time when Vick was the most exciting quarterback in the NFL. He changed the sport with his unbelievable rushing but destroyed his legacy. It emerged that he was the leader of a dogfighting ring and he went to jail for 21 months. However, he returned from the depths of Hell after his release (via Bleacher Report).


NFL franchises don’t care what an elite quarterback has done as long as he’s walking free. The Philadelphia Eagles infuriated animal rights activists across the world when they signed the new free agent. Vick insisted that he had learned the error of his ways and regretted his horrible actions. He successfully revived his career despite everything going against him.


Tyson Fury

Fury was the most talented heavyweight boxer on the planet and defeated the legendary Wladimir Klitschko. But he went into a downward spiral after a failed drug test. The British star ballooned up to a ludicrous 400 pounds as he spent his days drinking, using drugs, and eating kebabs.

Sky Sports

But he managed to turn his life around after he faced his demons. Fury admitted that he considered suicide but the unlikely mental health advocate shed the weight and became a star again. He is a polarizing figure but this was one time when everybody applauded him. Now he’s emerged as the greatest heavyweight of his era and possibly ever (via Daily Star).

The Sun

Aaron Ramsey

Ramsey is another player who rose from the depths of Hell after a horrible injury. The Welsh soccer star was one of the most exciting young players in Europe when Arsenal signed him. He had a decent debut season before an encounter with Stoke City’s Ryan Shawcross. The 18-year-old star suffered a vicious broken leg when Shawcross tackled him.

Irish Sun

This meant that Ramsey faced months of rehab before returning to the field. Many people doubted if he could regain his earlier form because injuries take their toll. But he refused to allow it to define him and continued to enjoy a successful career. It’s an inspiring story because he could have fallen apart instead (via The Sun).

Sporting News

Phil Kessel

Cancer is one of the most terrifying illnesses that humans endure. However, the world is changing and now it’s possible to treat many of them if doctors catch them early. Luckily, Kessel had this experience after a testicular cancer diagnosis. The Bruins star saw his world turn upside down when he received the shocking news (via Prevent Cancer).


But his fortunes changed a week later because the medical team treated it. He was able to continue with his career as if nothing had happened and played a record 1000 straight games. Nonetheless, he knew that he was lucky because this could have been a tragic story. There’s a lesson for all men here because it’s important to check these things out!

The Guardian

Lance Armstrong

Armstrong is one of the most notorious athletes ever because of his incredible doping offenses. The cyclist became a superstar after he won seven consecutive Tour De France titles. He also swept the Vuelta Espana and Giro Italia multiple times. But then he lost them all after World Cycling wiped him from the record books.

New York Times

Nonetheless, Armstrong deserves some credit after he recovered from cancer. He had a life-threatening illness but didn’t succumb to it. Then he fought hard to return to the sport he loved. Yes, he took copious amounts of performance-enhancing drugs and this probably helped him. But there is still something to admire in this sordid story (via Reuters).


Oleksandr Usyk

Usyk is one of the top heavyweight boxers in the world. But the Ukrainian champion experienced the darkest traumas when he volunteered to defend his country from Russia’s invasion. He rose from the depths of hell to defeat Anthony Joshua as he defended his title. But he faced some horrors that no human should ever witness.


In an interview with The Guardian, he revealed his thoughts on the frontline. He said: “Every day I was there, I was praying and asking ‘Please, God, don’t let anybody try to kill me, please don’t let anybody shoot me and please don’t make me shoot any other person’.” It’s impossible to imagine the horrendous things that he faced.

Golf Channel

Tiger Woods

Nobody can accuse Woods of being an angel but they can respect him for one of the greatest comebacks ever. The legendary golfer was on top of the world before it all came down around him. His sex addiction and prescription drug problems came to the fore in a massive scandal. In the end, his wife left him with their children after it emerged that he slept with dozens of women.

Golf Digest

Meanwhile, this coincided with an increase in injury problems including stress fractures and a torn ACL. These turned him into a shadow of his former self for most of the 2010s. It was incredibly frustrating for arguably the greatest golfer ever. But Woods turned back time in 2019 when he won the Masters (via Reuters).


Floyd Mayweather

Not many athletes go to jail and come out the other side. But that’s exactly what Mayweather did after he emerged from the depths of Hell. He deserved his incarceration after he violently assaulted his girlfriend. This is inexcusable and he enjoyed two months of Nevada penitentiary hospitality.

Bleacher Report

It would have been easy for Mayweather to go down an even darker path but he didn’t. He returned to boxing and became one of the biggest stars on the planet. The fighter also topped the Forbes Richest Athletes list for several years before he retired in 2017. We don’t need to respect him but this deserves acknowledgement (via Essentially Sports).


Petr Cech

Cech is a Chelsea legend and one of the Premier League’s greatest-ever goalkeepers. But the Czech star overcame one of the toughest moments of his career in 2006. Chelsea played Reading on a sunny day that turned dark very suddenly. The goalkeeper came out to collect a ball but didn’t expect Stephen Hunt to run into him.

Football London

Hunt’s shin collided with Cech’s head and almost killed him. It left him with a depressed skull fracture and Cech spent three months on the sidelines. He feared that he would never play again but doctors cleared him if he played with a rugby-style helmet. This gave him a distinctive appearance on the playing field (via All Football).

Five Thirty-Eight

Mario Lemieux

It’s insane that Lemieux is arguably the greatest hockey player ever because he battled incredible odds. There’s no doubting his indisputable talent but his body was his worst enemy. A back injury caused him severe problems for most of his career but he still performed at an elite level (via The Hockey Writers).

Five Thirty-Eight

But the main reason why he’s on this list is because of his battle with cancer. Remarkably, he even played on the same day as his final chemo session because he was made of something different. There’s nobody more inspiring than Lemieux because he didn’t allow his health issues to hold him back.


Damar Hamlin

Every young athlete thinks that they’re invincible but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality is that humans have fragile bodies and disaster can strike instantly. Hamlin discovered this in 2023 when he collapsed on the field. Everybody knew that something was seriously wrong because the Bills’ safety lay silently prone on the field.


Luckily, the Bills and Bengals’ medical teams worked together to save his life. It was touch-and-go but in the end, he survived the biggest battle of his life. This was also a harrowing experience for the other players on the field because none of them expected this. However, it was a stark reminder of their mortality (via People).


Naomi Osaka

One of the most lucrative female athletes on the planet, Osaka inadvertently became a polarizing figure. That’s because she refuses to do press conferences at tournaments. She explained on Instagram: I’ve often felt that people have no regard for athletes’ mental health and this rings very true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one.”


The Japanese star pulled out of Roland Garros after French Open organizers refused to back down. She also faced a barrage of abuse when critics called her “mentally weak” and “entitled.” However, her logic is reasonable and she spoke her truth to the world. Nobody can call her a liar or say she’s being a diva (via Self).

New York Times

Adrian Peterson

2012 saw Peterson pull off one of the most unbelievable athletic feats ever. The running back won the NFL Offensive Player of the Year and MVP Awards. This was remarkable but the context is even crazier. He returned to action after he tore his ACL and MCL. This devastating injury threatened his career because it can seriously affect a player’s pace (via The Athletic).

Sky Sports

That’s not ideal for running backs because they depend on their speed. But Peterson made a mockery of predictions as he had one of the greatest seasons of his career. He emerged from the depths of Hell like a demon with a sense of vengeance. Arguably, he also deserved the Comeback Player of the Year Award too but Peyton Manning won it.


Ched Evans

Evans is another massively polarizing figure who came through the depths of Hell. The British soccer player was one of the highest-paid players on the Sheffield United roster. But he made massive headlines when a court convicted him of raping a 19-year-old woman. He spent two and a half years behind bars before a huge development.

Lancashire Evening Post

The case went to retrial and this time the judge controversially acquitted him. Women’s rights groups protested because the jury took the alleged victim’s sexual behavior into account. In the end, Evans returned to the soccer field after he cleared his name. Some fans continue to verbally abuse him because it’s hard to shake off the stigma he carries (via The Guardian).

Sky Sports

Alexandre Pantoja

Pantoja became the UFC flyweight champion in 2023 after he defeated fan-favorite Brandon Moreno. But he instantly captured the hearts of the audience when he called out his father. The Brazilian’s dad abandoned him and his family when Pantoja was a child and this traumatized him. But he rose from the depths of hell to become the best version of himself.

BT Sport

The new champion told the MMA Hour: “What I say in the cage is something like I just want the love of my dad, you know. I just want like feel him. In the week of the fight, I think about the call to my dad and to cover all the scares because when I go to the fight, I want to make like a beautiful moment and I don’t have more bad times (via Sportskeeda).”


Mike Tyson

Tyson has one of the most dramatic stories on this list because he rose from the depths of Hell several times in his life. The former heavyweight champion had a rough childhood and endured bullying. However, he became a relentless machine after someone tore the head off his favorite pigeon.

NBC 29

Later, he endured Don King’s manipulation but the worst was yet to come. He went to prison after a rape conviction that still polarizes the masses today. Some people think he’s inhuman but others believe it was a setup. Nonetheless, Tyson bounced back in astonishing style and remains a massive star today (via The Ring).


Andy Murray

Murray is a UK tennis legend but he has had his fair share of problems over the years. The Scottish star won Wimbledon twice and also has a U.S. Open title to his name. But arguably, he never reached his full potential because of problems with his body. He had an ongoing hip issue that almost caused him to retire several times.

Sky News

Finally, in 2018, he emerged from the depths of Hell when he had a life-changing operation. This prolonged his career by several years when he expected to quit. Murray opened up about living with pain and struggling to perform at a high level. Amazingly, he achieved what he did despite everything (via American Hip Institute).

Sporting News

Drew Brees

Brees was one of the best pure passers that the NFL ever saw. The former Saints quarterback enjoyed the bulk of his career in New Orleans and set many records. However, life wasn’t always easy for the Dallas native because he endured cruel bullying as a child. Brees had a birthmark on his face and it made him an easy target.

NBC Sports

Some children would wilt but Brees was made of sterner stuff and turned it into something positive. He channeled the negative energy into his football and became a massive star. Meanwhile, Brees also returned from the depths of Hell when he suffered a near career-ending injury in San Diego (via The Sporting News).


DeShaun Watson

Not every athlete deserves to return from the depths of Hell. Watson emerged from a dark pit when he signed for the Cleveland Browns. The polarizing quarterback became an instant hate figure after he molested dozens of masseuses. He settled civil suits with his victims and received a heavy NFL suspension.


But this didn’t stop the Browns from going down the Philly-Michael Vick route. NFL franchises don’t care if their stars commit genocide as long as they’re walking free. Watson didn’t perform well when he stepped onto the field after months away. But they’ll give him the chance to be their starting QB (via New York Post).

Sporting News

Peyton Manning

Everybody thought that Manning was finished when he missed the entire 2011 injury with a neck injury. First, the Colts tanked before they drafted future franchise QB Andrew Luck. They decided to move on from Manning because they didn’t think he’d reach the same levels. In the end, their loss was Denver’s game as Manning produced a fairytale.

AP News

The Broncos knew that they were a top quarterback away from Super Bowl contention. Manning wasn’t at the peak of his powers but he did enough to help them win the Vince Lombardi Trophy. He didn’t play well in that game but it didn’t matter because he sealed his legacy with a second ring (via CBS News).


Chris Bosh

It’s amazing to think of anybody bullying Bosh because the giant NBA star was so good. But children can be incredibly cruel as he discovered as a youngster. His classmates verbally abused him because of his height and this had a profound impact on him. In the end, he had the last laugh because he became a sporting icon.


They told them that he would never achieve his dreams of playing in the NBA. He proved them wrong because he didn’t just make it through the Draft. No, he went on and became a two-time NBA Champion. Now he’s in the Hall of Fame because he had such a brilliant career and spectacular legacy (via Basketball Network).

Denver Post

Andres Galarraga

This MLB star’s story is one of the most inspiring and inexplicable in sports history. The Venezuelan won the MLB Comeback Player of the Year Award after he beat cancer. But he also produced All-Star form as he showed that the brutal disease didn’t rattle him. It was magnificent as he made a mockery of the illness.

Denver Post

He went from fighting for his life to being one of the top players in the league. It’s easy to criticize baseball because there are so many dark stories. But this one is impossible to hate and Galarraga deserves the utmost respect. He emerged from the depths of Hell with a chip on his shoulder and a bat in one hand (via

Detroit Free Press

Marvin Jones

Jones is a popular wide receiver with a decent NFL track record. The veteran rejoined the Detroit Lions in 2023 after a short spell in Jacksonville. Many football players think that life will be easy after they make it to the pro level. But Jones will tell them that heartbreak can be around the corner.

Detroit Free Press

The father-of-six lost his youngest son Marlo when the baby was just six months old. Naturally, this tragedy had a profound impact on Jones. No parent thinks that they’ll outlive their children and losing an infant was heartbreaking. He rebounded from this cataclysmic event but he’ll never forget it (via NBC Sports).

New York Post

Simone Biles

Biles was one of Team USA’s biggest stars ahead of the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. Many analysts confidently predicted that she would be a gold medalist because she is arguably the greatest gymnast of her era. However, the pressure was incredible and Biles struggled to cope with the expectations.

The Hollywood Reporter

The horrific Larry Nassar case also profoundly affected her and she endured a case of the ‘twisties.’ Some people also criticized her and called her mentally weak. But the 19-time Champion won bronze and silver as she bounced back. It was inspiring because she stepped up when she was in her darkest place (via The Guardian).


Yaroslav Amosov

Many MMA fans don’t Amosov but he’s arguably the best welterweight fighter on the planet. The Ukrainian star possesses a devastating style that overwhelms his opponents. But he put his career on hold because he wanted to help defend his country. Bellator agreed and eventually, he returned to defend his title (via Daily Star).


He fought Logan Storley in Dublin in an inspiring performance. Initially, he wanted to stay with his unit but they encouraged him to fight. He said: “When I went to war I knew that my career might’ve been over. If it wasn’t for the Ukrainian people telling me to defend my belt then I might not be here at all. It’s been a long time without fighting and now I understand that it’s my duty.”


Jessica Breland

Breland is another athlete who emerged from the depths of Hell. But she did so at a younger age than many of the other stars on this list. The college star faced unbelievable adversity when doctors diagnosed her with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. This put her career with the Tar Heels on hold because she had to undergo chemotherapy.

Chapel Boro

She was battling for her life, never mind her dreams. But she made a full recovery and became an inspiration for many other women across the world. Meanwhile, Breland even made it to the WNBA and enjoyed a successful career. She never could have imagined this from her hospital bed (via Sports Illustrated).

Sky Sports

Vasily Lomachenko

Lomachenko is one of the greatest technical boxers ever. The Ukrainian star made multiple opponents retire on their stools because he bamboozled them. He has outstanding footwork and an unbelievable understanding of the sport. But he also emerged from the depths of Hell because he helped to defend his country.


‘Loma’ is the third Ukrainian athlete on this list and he also enlisted in the country’s military. But he took time to box and inspire his countrymen on the front lines. Amazingly, he went from the front lines of a global conflict to fighting for titles in Las Vegas. However, he possesses a special mental strength and this helped him (via SBNation).


LeBron James

James is in a different situation from most of the athletes on this list. That’s because he endured intense psychological pressure during the final days of his first spell in Cleveland. The local icon became a hate figure in his city after he abandoned them for the Miami Heat. He wanted to win rings but didn’t think that the Cavaliers could do it.

Sky Sports

However, James earned redemption when he returned to Cleveland after he quit Miami. Then he achieved a fairytale ending to his time in Ohio when he helped them to their first NBA title. This was a massive turnaround because some fans burnt his jersey when he signed for the Heat (via Bleacher Report).

Sky Sports

Eric Abidal

Abidal has one of the most dramatic stories on this list because he recovered from cancer and won the Champions League in 2011. The French star even lifted the trophy first because his Barcelona teammates thought that he deserved it. But that wasn’t the end of Abidal’s problems because his health problems returned.

Sports Illustrated

Next, he required a liver transplant and nobody thought that he would play again. Nonetheless, Abidal showed his toughness and determination as he recovered again. He returned to Barcelona before playing in France with Monaco. It’s a legendary story because he rose from the depths of Hell (via Sky Sports).

The Guardian

Brittney Griner

It’s safe to say that Griner never expected to spend time in a Russian jail. The WNBA star has spent her career with the Phoenix Mercury. But she also played in China and Russia during the offseason. Then the Russian government turned her into a political pawn as they incarcerated her on drug charges (via The Athletic).

ABC News

Griner foolishly brought cannabis oil into the country for personal use. The Russians leaped at this and threw her into jail for four months. It became a major international incident but in the end, the U.S. government brought her home. They swapped her for a convicted arms dealer and she resumed her career with aplomb.

Ed Mulholland

Kassim Ouma

Nobody has a story like Ouma’s because he rose from the depths of Hell. The former boxer had a decent career but his rise to stardom was insane. He grew up in Uganda but then mercenaries kidnapped him before forcing him to become a child soldier. It was a horrific ordeal for a youngster and he admits that he killed people.


Ouma escaped the army and entered the boxing world. He won the IBF Light-Middleweight title while he also fought for WBC belts. Some people will disparagingly say that he had an average record but they’re missing the point. He overcame the odds to transform his life and become a functioning human being (via Medium).


Francis Ngannou

Ngannou has one of the most iconic stories in sports history. The Cameroonian MMA fighter worked in sand mines when he was young. But he wanted more from his life and decided to travel to France to become a boxer. He crossed the African continent and went to Morocco where he faced police brutality.


The future UFC champion risked his life as he crossed deserts and waterways. When he arrived in Europe he sheltered in car parks before Fernand Lopez welcomed him to his gym. Then he evolved into the most frightening heavyweight on the planet as he rose from the depths of Hell (via The Mirror).