CM Punk’s name is being floated for an appearance at UFC 225, and people are up in arms like the seventh seal has been broken. Why?
It’s sometimes hard to leave personal bias at the door in MMA. Never has that been the case more so than with one CM Punk, real name Phil Brooks. Brooks, the disgruntled WWE Super Star turned mixed martial artist, was signed by the UFC in late 2014. After spending over a year training, learning the sport, living his dream, and working with one of the top gyms in the business (Roufusport), Punk made his debut against Mickey Gall at UFC 203 in September 2016.
Naysayers said Punk hadn’t earned it, that he was taking a roster spot from a more worthy fighter. Supporters were optimistic: perhaps Punk’s jiu-jitsu was better than we thought. Maybe he’d elevate a card, draw extra eyeballs, help out some younger fighters.
Few people with any experience in the sport gave him much of a chance to win, outside his own team anyway. The popular theory was that he’d wind up steamrolled.
For once, the general consensus was right.
Punk did not acquit himself well at UFC 203. Against Gall, he was taken down, flattened out, and choked until the inevitable tap came. Offense, essentially non-existent. Defense sub-par. Yet despite the loss, CM Punk did something that actually won himself a few extra fans: he held his head high, and was gracious in defeat.
After that, however, it seemed as if the CM Punk experiment was over for the UFC. Dana White downplayed him fighting again, suggesting a trip to the regionals. Month after month went by. Part-time fighter Mike Jackson, who was brought into the UFC to allow Mickey Gall to pick up a win in the promotion before facing Punk (why this was necessary has never been fully explained; Gall got enough exposure after calling out the former pro wrestler on Dana White’s Looking for a Fight that it shouldn’t have mattered) campaigned hard for the bout. Both fighters were 0-1 in the UFC, after all.
Yet it never materialized. Flash forward to 2018, however, and we’re in another era. Post-Super Star UFC. The promotion has zero bankable stars at the moment. Ronda Rousey has departed for the WWE. Conor McGregor is off counting his millions. Georges St. Pierre came and went (at least unclogging the middleweight division in the process after Michael Bisping opted not to defend his title against any of the top ten, though injuries have now fouled things up once more). Brock Lesnar has USADA troubles, Anderson Silva has USADA troubles, Jon Jones has USADA troubles and is trouble, period.
And so the UFC resorts to stacking cards with one, two, three title fights (say it in the voice of The Count from Sesame Street, ah-ha-ha-ha). Because they have little else to capture the imagination of fans at the moment, until old favorites return or new stars emerge.
So CM Punk, in his home town of Chicago, against the only other fighter in the modern era to be both 0-1 in the UFC and as a pro? Well, why not? CM Punk vs. Mike ‘The Truth’ Jackson. Book it.
To play Devil’s Advocate, maybe giving Punk another shot in the UFC isn’t such a bad idea. The worst thing that’s going to happen is a few extra PPV buys for the Chicago card. A few of his fans will pony up the cash, as will some of his detractors. It’s fun getting a chance to see someone you revile get squashed, right? Of course, why folks take these things so gosh darn personally is another matter. Do we hate on a bad artist who keeps going back to the drawing board, and sells off a painting or two to a rich jerk with zero artistic taste? Punk’s also the one getting punched in the face, so maybe cut the guy some slack.
As for Punk taking a roster spot: Most lesser known fighters are better off on the prelims anyway. Especially given that in most cases, the live television audience for the prelims will be higher than the main card, which requires fans fork over $60, or whatever it is these days to purchase a UFC PPV. Is CM Punk overpaid based on his skill level in mixed martial arts? Sure, but you don’t hire The Rock because he’s the greatest thespian of all time. Punk is paid to draw eyeballs, and if he can do that at least once more, maybe it’s worth it.
Is it spectacle over sport? Absolutely, but that ship sailed a few years back.
A bigger concern here is, what happens if Punk wins? With a win over Jackson, do you suddenly start booking him like a regular roster member? A 39, the pro wrestler turned MMA welterweight has little to no upside outside of a freakshow attraction. So one more fun fight in his home town, sure. After that, it’s time to shake his hand, and send him on his way.
To where? Apparently Punk’s comic book efforts have been quite solid. Though a hosting gig on FOX might give decent return on investment, honestly.
Believe it or not, the end times are not nigh. Maybe we’ve just resigned ourselves to the fact that it’s going to happen, but in the end, does it even matter? It’s a “why not?” fight if there ever was one. Have fun with it. Root for the man, root against him, just don’t get too worked up over this particular spectacle.