In June 2014, the WWE released one of the most controversial wrestlers in their history. CM Punk, the ‘pipebomb’ slinging extraordinaire, was finally let go by the wrestling industry leaders after months of turmoil in their relations. Many questions arose around the future of Punk (or Philip Jack Brooks), with his value inside the world of wrestling still at a huge level.
However, a stunning development came six months after Punk’s departure from WWE. On December 6, 2014, the UFC signed the Chicago native to a multi-fight deal. The announcement sparked critique. Brooks’ signing was immediately labeled as a circus act by many, as they stated that someone with his level of talent had no place in MMA’s premier promotion. There were worries about preserving the integrity of the sport of mixed martial arts, especially if the former professional wrestler was to secure any victories with little to no combat sports experience under his belt.
Phil began training in January 2015. He joined RoufusSport MMA Academy in Milwaukee and has trained there ever since. He is now a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but his three-and-a-half years of MMA training has been cut into by a series of injuries, which include a shoulder problem in 2015 and a herniated disc in 2016.
CM Punk’s UFC debut; a fight with Mickey Gall
Despite doubts surrounding Punk’s willingness to compete, he made the walk to the Octagon at UFC 203 on September 10, 2016. His opponent would be Mickey Gall, a skilled young grappler with two wins to his name in a budding MMA career.
Both fans of combat sports and professional wrestling tuned in to the bout, which controversially took place on the pay-per-view portion of the card as the UFC sought to justify Brooks’ $500,000 purse by cashing in on their obscure attraction.
The worries of mixed martial arts fans were snuffed out emphatically. Brooks showed his lack of experience in round one when he charged ungracefully towards his 24-year-old opponent, who swiftly took the former WWE star to the mat and had his way with him. Despite Punk being significantly older than Gall, the gulf in class on the ground was apparent straight away. Gall, a brown belt in his own right, cut through Punk’s defense and finished the bout in the first round via rear-naked choke.
It was an embarrassing night for CM Punk. However, the outcome kickstarted Mickey Gall’s MMA career on the big stage, and he soon fought and defeated “Super” Sage Northcutt in his next fight, solidifying himself as a top prospect in the welterweight division.
Meeting Mike Jackson
Some expected the UFC to release Phil Brooks after the poor outing, but they were wrong. The promotion would place him on the UFC 225 bill in his hometown of Chicago, the location where Punk received a rapturous reception at WWE Money in the Bank in July 2011, almost seven years ago.
He did not receive quite as loud a reaction this June, but Punk still managed to win over a large number of fans in his fight with Mike Jackson, who shared a 0-1 record with Brooks heading into the event.
Despite a close opening round where CM Punk found some success, the 39-year-old tasted defeat for the second consecutive time in MMA. He showed a lot of heart in the fight, but the final ten minutes of the contest was nothing short of a beatdown. At the end of it all, Dana White blasted Jackson for his seemingly disrespectful in-fight actions and apparent lack of willingness to finish a battered and beaten Punk as the fight drew to a one-sided conclusion.
What were they thinking?
In a land where many non-fighters consider themselves good enough to step foot in the Octagon and leave victorious, CM Punk is a reminder that mixed martial artists are amongst the most skilled athletes in the world, and a wealth of fight experience and knowledge is required if you are to compete at the highest level in MMA.
He is currently in way over his head in terms of competition, and while his first two outings have been a huge negative for the aspirations of CM Punk, it is important that a mainstream audience understands what happens when inexperienced fighters try their hand in the fiercest combat sport in the world.
And if you are amongst the crowd who feel that Punk was unworthy of a place on pay-per-view, these two fights will do a lot in the way of preventing such a situation from occurring again. While I do believe that Brooks boosted the UFC 203 buy rates a decent amount, early estimates broadcast a miserable night of business for the viewership of UFC 225, and it is possible that some hardcore fans were turned away from purchasing the card because of Punk’s presence in the main card opener.
The negative backlash will likely deter the UFC from allowing a celebrity to make their professional debut in the Octagon again, and Punk’s failure to win either of his contests will most certainly damage the value of any future ‘circus’ attractions. Brooks’ fight with Jackson was one of very low quality in comparison to what the UFC’s viewers are used to, and the words of UFC President Dana White indicate that CM Punk will certainly not be appearing on a pay-per-view card anytime soon. In his post-fight press conference interview, White commented:
“I couldn’t wait for that fight to end. I regretted not putting it on Fight Pass. That’s how I felt about it.”
The UFC did what they could to find suitable opposition for Punk, but both of his losses were one-sided and have killed his future value for the company. On the UFC’s end, the CM Punk experiment has been a failure for this reason alone. It is difficult to gauge whether their large investment in the retired wrestler has been profitable in his two fights for the company, but the frustration caused within the core audience for their decision to sign Brooks leads me to believe that those who chose to acquire Punk’s services are now regretting their decision. In a time where there are many long-term fans feeling turned away from the UFC’s product for a host of reasons, the bad press gained from this situation has come at a terrible time for the promotion.
But, as I mentioned before, the sport itself has greatly benefited. Punk’s severe lack of success has most certainly garnered respect for MMA from people who did not appreciate the sport’s skill requirements before his UFC 203 and UFC 225 outings. Freak shows have been shown to have no place in high-level mixed martial arts, and their presence will hopefully be lessened going forward as the sport continues to evolve.
It is somewhat of a shame that the UFC didn’t capitalize on the extra eyes on the product by putting another exciting young prospect against Punk the second time around, but now that this irregular chapter in their history seems to have drawn to a close, more time can be placed into promoting the talent that will shape our sport for years to come.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.
Follow David Murphy on Twitter.