So this weekend, the internet broke. Again. No, this time it was not down to the rear end of Kim Kardashian, but about the announcement former WWE superstar Phil Brooks AKA CM Punk made to the world during the UFC 181 event held in Las Vegas.
Yes, that’s right. Another crossover from the world of professional wrestling to mixed martial arts has been made. CM Punk follows the likes of Brock Lesnar, Bobby Lashley and Batista to dabble in what life is like inside the Octagon, signing a multi-fight deal. Batista’s MMA run was short lived, winning his only fight and currently Lashley is plying his trade in Bellator (MMA’s second tier), CM Punk has stunned the world by signing with the best promotion in MMA history.
This has already drawn lots of comparison to what current WWE Champion Brock Lesnar did back in 2007. Even when Lesnar started out, he had to earn a shot with the UFC, by dominating Korean journeyman Min-Soo Kim before being granted a shot at Frank Mir, one of the UFC’s best back in 2008. Yet, he lost that fight. While damaging to his image, the UFC marketed Lesnar perfectly and by the end of that same year, he was the UFC Heavyweight Champion. By all means, if CM Punk is going to be compared to somebody who was considered one of the best in the world, I believe he would take that.
The fact Punk has managed to draw this deal without having a single mixed martial arts match behind him shows how much faith the UFC have in his pulling power. In the UFC 181 media scrum that was held so CM Punk could field some questions, it was brought up that it was interesting that Punk was diving head first into the world class elite. Punk retorted by saying that Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta thought that the big business would be his first fight.
Being the prudent businessmen they are, Dana and Lorenzo are correct in saying this. The all important factor is who Punk will end up facing in his debut bout. At the moment, Punk said he is walking around at about 200 lbs. He has stated that he would either be competing at middleweight (185 lbs) or welterweight (170 lbs). If Punk tried to get down to 170, I believe that would be a struggle, and that 185 would be a lot more manageable for him. This leaves him in a precarious position though. The middleweight division doesn’t have a mid-card set of fighters – they are all either incredibly talented or up and comers. Even the superstars veering towards the twilight of their careers, the Michael Bispings, the Vitor Belforts, the Anderson Silvas would likely be seen as too much for Punk at this young stage of his new career. Going the other way though, if the UFC does want to drum up big business, they can’t start him off as they would a regular fighter. Punk will not draw the PPV buys if he’s placed on the undercard with somebody like Bubba Bush (yes, that is his real name).
So if the UFC want to draw the views from acquiring CM Punk, they are likely going to have to place him in a match where he is outgunned. I’d say the list of fighters Punk would be expected to pick from if he does indeed fight at middleweight would be limited to C.B. Dollaway, Mark Muñoz or even Michael Bisping. Dollaway would be scrapped from that list if he beats Lyoto Machida on December 20th though, in what would be a major upset. If that did happen, I’d say the likelihood would be for Punk to fight Michael Bisping. It’s the most likely in the first place, as Bisping has already called out Punk.
— michael (@bisping) December 7, 2014
The problem with Punk is that it’s an unnerving fight for anybody to take. Assuming that the UFC do want him to face a recognisable name, it’s risky for any fighter to be paired in a “freakshow” match as Dana once referred to them. MMA fans tend to look down their noses at wrestling due to it being scripted and “not real”, so imagine when one of them crosses over and could well be an unknown commodity. Brock Lesnar had his college wrestling career behind him when he entered the WWE, and subsequently the UFC. Every other wrestler that has crossed over into MMA has been a “big guy” – muscles rippling from every orifice and they have the power to prove it.
Punk is completely the opposite. Punk was well aware that when he was in the WWE, he was in the land of the giants, but not any more. Now he will be competing with guys of the same stature, but those who are much more experienced than him. If he does end up fighting Bisping, he will be fighting a veteran who has competed more times than any other middleweight in the division. If Bisping (or whoever Punk may face) does end up losing to him, then his credibility among the MMA community would be shot and retirement would be looking likely.
There are so many facets surrounding Punk’s introduction to the world of mixed martial arts. Mostly, people have been wondering where Punk will end up training. Punk also addressed this in the media scrum, stating that any decision about where he would end up training would be a discussion between him and his wife, WWE Diva AJ Lee.
Punk will likely end up having the main part of his camp at Gracie Jiu-Jitsu out in California, training with his close friend Rener and his wife, former WWE Diva Eve Torres. Punk should be aware that he will need to improve his striking before he enters the Octagon though. He may have had basic training with the Gracies, but will need to be at the top of his game if he is going to have any form of discernible offence in the striking department. Punk has said he will go anywhere and do anything that it takes to be able to get to the level he needs to be at before he competes, so he could end up training all over if necessary.
But Punk knows that he has a target on his back regarding who he could end up sparring with. If some no name fighter comes along, causes him an injury and then lauds it in the media, that person could end up getting Punk’s shot. Very much a WWE mentality there I have noted from the former WWE Champion. Most MMA practitioners are not violent, and most are as welcoming as a family would be. Wise move from Punk though knowing that he needs to train with people he can trust.
Speaking of injuries, even one major injury could completely stop Punk from pursuing his dream of fighting for the UFC. At 36 years of age, Punk is no spring chicken, but entering the middleweight division over the welterweight division would be a better move for him as most contenders in the division are a bit older. Punk’s age is comparable to the likes of Anderson Silva, Vitor Belfort, Nate Marquardt, Lyoto Machida, Michael Bisping and Ronaldo Souza, even if his skill is not. Being aware that Punk is entering the sport later than Randy Couture did makes it all the more evident that he has to make an instant impact. With the wear and tear that comes from being a WWE wrestler, it’s hard to imagine that Punk would end up fighting until he’s in his late forties. In reality, Punk has a maximum of five years before he would have to call it quits.
Punk has entered the sport just as the UFC has announced a new sponsorship deal with Reebok. While many other up and coming fighters would be concerned with this new development, I don’t imagine it would affect Punk too much. As per the new rules with the sponsorship deal, the higher ranked you are, the more money you make. If you’re outside the top 15, you make a basic sponsorship commission on top of your fighting paycheck.
Going back to his comparison with current WWE Champion Brock Lesnar, it would be interesting to see if Punk gets the same preferential treatment that Lesnar got when he had his run with the company. If Punk did beat somebody like Bisping, would that lead to an automatic title shot? Would he be able to skip past the likes of Luke Rockhold, Yoel Romero, Ronaldo Souza, Lyoto Machida et al.? The UFC must realise that the money would lie with Punk, and with the sport being bigger than it has ever been, will a CM Punk-Chris Weidman title fight bring a lot of WWE fans to the UFC PPV business?
Punk also isn’t coming into this game as a nobody – he has a lot of money behind him from his WWE career. Punk has always said that he had saved and not spent on many things that were too luxurious, so this could mean that he will be spending some of that hard earned money on the best training facilities possible, so let’s hope he doesn’t end up like this guy:
The big question is before his first fight is – will he come out as Phil Brooks or CM Punk?