8 Sports stars who have come out of retirement

A black and white photograph of boxing gloves hanging up in a gym
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Most of us spend our whole lives waiting and working hard to retire to enjoy our old age and spend more time with loved ones. For others, staying in retirement is simply impossible. Here are eight sports stars who retired and then came out of retirement.

1. Michael Jordan

To this day, basketball and sportswear brand legend Michael Jordan is still one of the most well-known names in sports. Jordan played for the Chicago Bulls, leading them to three consecutive NBA Championship victories from 1991-93.

At the end of the basketball season, Jordan shocked the basketball world by retiring at the age of 30, saying he ‘lost motivation for the sport’. In 1994, Michael played minor league baseball for the Chicago White Sox as a tribute to his father, who died in 1993.

The basketball legend was not done with basketball because, in 1995, Jordan returned to the court with the Chicago Bulls, where he went on to win three more NBA championships before retiring again in ‘99. In 2001, he returned to the game for two more NBA seasons as a member of the Washington Wizards, and he ultimately ended his basketball career in 2003.

2. Tom Brady

NFL quarterback superstar Tom Brady is one of the world’s most famous and talented quarterbacks, winning seven super bowls – more than anyone in history. He played with two teams, the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, over his twenty-two-year-long career.

Apart from being a complete beast on the field, Brady is known for one other thing—just how long he has played the game. Brady earned himself the title of the oldest active player in the league. The megastar is forty-six and only retired this year, whereas most quarterbacks would stop playing around the age of twenty-seven due to the physicality of the sport.

On February 1st 2022, Brady officially announced he would retire to focus on family time but quickly changed his heart. He returned to professional football only six weeks later, claiming he had “unfinished business”. However, in a complete U-turn once again, a year later, Brady announced he would be leaving the NFL, with the promise it would be “for good”.

3. Tyson Fury

He is also known as the Gypsy King and is the current undefeated heavyweight champion of the world.

Fury has already retired twice in his career, in 2015 when he defeated Wladimir Klitschko, winning the unified heavyweight titles, with his second retirement coming last April after he knocked out Dillian White. After his win against Klitschko in 2013, Fury faced many mental health issues, prompting his return to boxing in 2018.

The new Netflix documentary, ‘At Home With The Furys’, stars the heavyweight champion, his wife Paris, their six children, Tyson’s brother Tommy Fury, and girlfriend Molly-Mae. We see the aftermath of The Gypsy King’s second retirement and his struggles to transition into full-time family life. In the documentary, Tyson, despite being retired, travels to Iceland to challenge the former World’s Strongest Man, Hafthor ‘Thor’ Bjornsson, to a fight and call out long-time rival Anthony Joshua. Fury could not hang up his gloves for good and ended up changing his mind once again, saying, “Boxing is really the only thing that gives me purpose”, going on to fight Dereck Chisora in December 2022.

Tyson Fury is set to fight former UFC champion Francis Ngannou in Saudi Arabia on October 28th.

4. George Foreman

The George Foreman name is very well known for world-famous grills, but before that venture, he was a boxing phenomenon and is still one of the most known names in boxing. He initially wanted to be an American football player but decided to try out boxing and, after only a year, won a gold medal in the 1968 Olympics.

He won the world heavyweight title second-round knockout of then-undefeated Joe Frazier in 1973; he defended his belt twice before his first professional loss against Muammed Ali in the iconic The Rumble in the Jungle match. Foreman went on to lose again in 1977 in an intense fight against Jimmy Young, and after what he referred to as a religious epiphany, in 1977, Foreman retired.

But ten years later, at thirty-eight, he was back. Foreman expressed his reasons for his return, saying he wanted to prove forty was not a “death sentence,” he was undoubtedly correct; he returned to a TKO win over Steve Zouski in his 48th professional fight.

George, nicknamed Big George, managed to have a very successful second professional boxing career; he made his way back up through the rankings and, in 1994, at forty-five, became the oldest fighter to win a world championship by defeating Michael Moorer.

Forman hung up his gloves at nearly fifty, with his final record being 76-5.

5. Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali Is thought to be the greatest boxer of all time, as well as being exceptional at boxing; Ali was also known as an activist, author and poet. He is still regarded as one of the most significant sports figures of the 20th century and considered the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time.

Muhammad, nicknamed ‘The Greatest’, began boxing at the age of twelve and by the age of eighteen had already won a gold medal in the light heavyweight division at the 1960 Summer Olympics and later that year went professional.

He won the heavyweight title after defeating Sonny Liston in 1964. After refusing to be drafted into the military due to his religious beliefs, he was stripped of all his titles and, although the conviction was overturned in 1971, he did not fight for almost four years in which he lost some of his prime years as an athlete.

Ali fought in several iconic fights in his lifetime; he fought and won in 31 professional matches before losing his thirty second to Joe Frazier in the battle of the century–deemed the biggest boxing event up until that point; the fight was rematched twice, Ali winning both matches. He went on to fight many other greats, such as George Foreman and Jimmy Young.

He was famous for trash-talking and became an eternal icon for his poetic catchphrases like ‘float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’.

After becoming the three-time heavyweight champion–making him the first heavyweight champ to do so, Ali decided to leave boxing and retire, but that was short-lived as he came back to fight Larry Holmes for the chance to win the heavyweight championship for an unprecedented fourth time. However, at this time, Ali was suffering severely from Parkinson’s disease, and after the tenth round, the match was stopped. He went on to have one more fight against Trevor Berbick in the Bahamas as Ali could not attain a boxing license in the United States, which he lost due to his ongoing illness.

Muhammad Ali retired in 1981 at the age of thirty-nine.

6. Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps is a world-famous competitive swimmer; he carries the most Olympic medals out of anyone in the world. Phelps began swimming at a very early age. Like most, the hobby started when his mum wanted him to learn the life-saving skill, but he developed a massive passion for it.

At the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Phelps won six gold and two bronze medals and was still only a teenager. When he returned for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, he won eight gold medals and set a world record for seven of them. After he won his eighth gold medal in the 4×100-meter medley relay, he broke the record for the number of gold medals won in a single Olympic game–previously held by Mark Spitz with seven.

In the 2012 Olympics in London, Phelps won five gold medals and two silver, consecutively making him the most successful swimmer for the third Olympics. During the 2012 Olympics, Phelps broke Larisa Latynina’s record as the all-time record holder for the most Olympic medals ever won.

Following the 2012 Olympics, the record holder announced his retirement, stating, “I’m done. I’m finished. I’m retired. I’m done. No more,” and “I just wanted to be done with swimming and didn’t want anything to do with the sport anymore.” Phelps back-pedalled and came out of retirement only two years later, competing in the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships–winning three gold and two silver medals. Phelps competed in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, winning five gold and one silver medal. He won twenty-three gold and twenty-eight overall Olympic medals throughout his career, and after succeeding in the 2016 Olympics, Phelps retired once again, stating, “I’m ready to retire. I’m happy about it. I’m in a better state of mind this time than I was four years ago. And yeah. I’m ready to spend some time with (baby son) Boomer and (fiancee) Nicole.”

7. Floyd Mayweather

Floyd’ Money’ Mayweather, also known as ‘pretty boy’–the nickname arising from his quick and smooth defensive fight style in which most opponents find it hard to hit him. He has won fifteen major world championships, from super feather to light middleweight and remains undefeated.

Mayweather has collected many accolades during his career; he has been ranked the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world by numerous boxing outlets such as The Ring, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, BoxRec and multiple others. He is considered the best defensive fighter in history, the most accurate puncher, has the highest plus-minus ratio of all time, and has been named the highest-paid athlete in the world on multiple occasions, according to Forbes.

In May 2007, after fighting Oscar De La Hoya, Mayweather contemplated retirement, saying “he had nothing left to prove in the boxing world”. However, that was short-lived as only a few months later, the phenom stepped into the ring with Ricky Hatton – deemed the biggest welterweight fight to date, after Mayweather called Hatton one of his most challenging, most tenacious opponents, Mayweather decided to retire to focus more time on his promotional company. But only after twenty-one months he made his return to fight Juan Manuel Marquez, Shane Mosley, Victor Ortiz, and Miguel Cotto, to name a few, and of course, the iconic fight against long-term rival Manny Pacquiao. After beating Andre Berto in 2015, the welterweight champ announced his second retirement. However, Mayweather was not quite finished in the ring just yet as he fought MMA star Connor McGregor two years later.

Mayweather still often fights in exhibition matches.

8. Dara Torres

Professional swimmer Dara Torres had the longest career of any Olympic swimmer and was also the first swimmer to represent the United States in five Olympics and the oldest swimmer on a US Olympic team.

Torres competed in 1984, where she won a gold medal in the 4×100 freestyle relay; in 1988, she added a silver and bronze medal to her belt in relays; and in 1992, she won another gold medal in the 4×100 free relay. After she competed in her fourth Olympics, Torres took a break from swimming and explored other ventures. She went into television reporting and hosted the golf show The Clubhouse; she also started modeling and was the first athlete to appear in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue.

After seven years, Torres returned to competitive swimming for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Despite having minimal training, she won five medals – including two golds in relays, three individual bronze medals in the 50 free, the 100 free, and the 100 fly.

Torres retired after the 2000 Olympics but was not ready to hang up her swimming cap just yet as she returned to compete in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where she won a silver medal in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay in which she became the oldest swimmer to win a medal in Olympic history. Due to reconstructive knee surgery, Torres continued to swim competitively but missed the chance to compete in the 2012 Olympics in London. After missing the London Olympics, she decided to conclude her swimming career and retire.

In conclusion

While most of us would not choose to come out of retirement, it seems athletes do find it a little harder to do so – mainly because most have dedicated a great deal of time training or playing the sport they love. Their whole lives have been a regimented schedule and diets – some simply do not know how to live without this and will only retire if forced to.