This past Saturday night at UFC 181, Phi Brooks, aka CM Punk, made an announcement that managed to reverberate through the inner sanctums of both the worlds of mixed martial arts and sports entertainment. By signing a multi-fight contract with the UFC, Punk will be pursuing his new career for an indefinite amount of time while temporarily putting the kibosh on the hopes of his fans who want to see him perform in a wrestling ring again.
It was an interesting signing by Dana White for a number of reasons. At 36 with no prior fighting/MMA experience and a checkered injury history, Punk is virtually being allowed six months or so to find a camp, decide on a discipline, train, and see what he can do. His lacks of cage skills are a deal breaker for some who view the transaction as a slap in the face to the legit fighters of the world. People are throwing out comparisons to Brock Lesnar, and though Lesnar was also a lightning rod when he joined the company, the guy was a physical freak with a top-flight amateur wrestling background. Comparing the pedigrees of the two men is like comparing apples to oranges.
While Punk’s legitimacy as a fighter will remain a question until his first fight, what this has done immediately for White and the UFC is garner interest and get people talking. If there is this much uproar and discussion based upon this initial news, I can only imagine the coverage that will ensue once we get into the New Year and closer to fight time. White acknowledged that Punk can definitely sell some pay-per-views, and though curiosity alone with bring some new eyes to the product, the ability of Punk to promote events will only enhance buy rates.
For those who have followed his career in the WWE, the one thing that Punk could always do as good as anyone was talk on the mic, work up a hearty disdain for his opponents, and make his matches feel ‘big’. These are qualities that will come in handy when has to produce sound bites for his adversaries in the UFC and get in the type of back-and-forths that people love. Lesnar quickly became one of the biggest draws in the UFC, with the buy rates from some of his fights ranking as the most profitable in the entire history of the company. While Punk might not be on the same fighting level as Lesnar, there is a cross-over interest appeal in him that will lead to successful PPV’s…that combined with the fact that many people want to see him how he handles him in this environment or get the beating that some feel is coming to him. It could be a win-win for the UFC – either Punk proves himself to be a credible fighter and one of their top draws, or after a few fights it’s apparent that he is out of his element and they cut bait with a few big money making events he appeared lining their pockets.
Though he has his share of detractors, you have to give Punk credit for creating such a loyal following and branding himself in such a way that he has remained relevant despite the fact that he hasn’t been seen in a WWE ring since January of this year. The timing of everything couldn’t have worked out better for Punk – from his departure from the WWE, using the time away to rest and get healthy, his appearance on Colt Cabana’s Art of Wrestling podcast a few weeks ago (an appearance that shook the wrestling world, cast his WWE bosses in an extremely negative light, and put his name back in the headlines) to his arrival in the UFC.
Personally, I am anxious to see how Punk stacks up in the brutal world of MMA. There are known tough guys, or ‘shooters’, the world of fake wrestling, and while he was never going to be confused with the likes of Kurt Angle, Tonga Fifita (Haku), or Chris Jericho, Punk always wanted to be seen as a legit fighter. He has routinely portrayed himself as a tough guy (noticeable even recently in his podcast with Cabana), and when it becomes fighting for real he will have the opportunity to showcase his abilities and prove he belongs with those he gets in the cage with. It is unknown at this point whether he will fight in the middleweight or welterweight division. Either way, there will be no shortage of fighters looking to get their hands on Punk and enjoy the coverage and payday it will bring. Whether he makes it in the UFC or embarrasses himself and the company will be one of the more interesting storylines to keep an eye on in 2015.