Pros And Cons – CM Punk in the UFC

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When the news broke last night that former WWE champion CM Punk had signed for the UFC a mixture of joy and condemnation, depending how you felt about the news, swept over the world of MMA. And although they were differing emotions to feel both were equally correct and understandable.

If you look at it purely in sporting terms, the signing of Phil Brooks is absolutely ridiculous. He is a 36 year old man who has barely ever trained in combat sports. He has a body heavy with depreciation from a solid decade of punishment, he isn’t that athletically gifted, has no base in any competitive sport and has no prospects of ever becoming a top fighter.

Brooks has a 0-0 record and signs for the UFC on probably a huge monetary contract while the likes of decorated mixed martial artists Jake Shields and Ben Askren have to find work elsewhere. Phil Brooks clearly shouldn’t be in the UFC.

But Phil Brooks isn’t just Phil Brooks. Phil Brooks is CM Punk. And CM Punk is a huge star. From that point of view the signing makes total sense. CM Punk is probably the most beloved professional wrestler since Stone Cold Steve Austin and is sure to bring a whole new fan base to the UFC as well as recapturing some of the Brock Lesnar-era fans who have fallen away from the sport. With profits down 40% from last year, the UFC need every fan they can get.

Although everyone is making them, comparisons between Punk and the aforementioned Brock Lesnar are not very appropriate. Lesnar was a decorated wrestler and a freak athlete who excelled at everything he set his heart to – CM Punk simply is not that guy. What they do have in common, though, is that they both entered the Octagon with something to prove to WWE fans and UFC fans alike. Although Punk and Lesnar are on completely different levels they will be judged on their wins and losses against whoever is put in front of them. That alone is enough to get people to tune in. People took great joy in seeing Frank Mir submit Brock Lesnar. Imagine the joy MMA fans will feel when some 1-4 jobber beats CM Punk in his debut? And even if they find someone so bad that he can beat eventually his time will come and people won’t want to miss it.

That brings us to the next debate. CM Punk fighting someone with little or no experience in MMA is an old fashioned freak show fight. In an ever growing professional and sporting promotion, the UFC has been shying away from those sort of match-ups lately. And whether we like it or not, that hasn’t worked out all that well. People like weird match-ups and those who don’t will watch anyway just to complain. The early days are some of the most talked about fights ever while James Toney and Kimbo Slice in more recent years have also set the sport on fire. The mere mention of Shaq or Tyson Fury fighting in the UFC gets people talking about being happy to see them get their ass kicked. What makes CM Punk different is that he is a “fake-wrestler”. The fact he spent years pretending to fight and now he wants to do it for real seems to really irk people.

Another issue is how a fight between CM Punk and another fighter of his level being on a UFC broadcast makes the company look. You wouldn’t see Ferrari releasing a 5 seat family car which costs €9,000. Ferrari sticks to making the €200,000 supercars to fulfil the premium product market while they leave Fiat to make the economy models. And five years ago, that would have been comparable to the UFC – but not anymore.

The UFC is no longer just the premium MMA product. The UFC is now a company which has Jon Jones and a yoga instructor from China on the same roster. With the global expansion the UFC has opened itself up to fighters at a level not much above that of CM Punk right now. I mean, Takenori Sato’s whole UFC career was two single leg takedowns which both ended in knockout. CM Punk will probably get more favourable matchmaking than Sato but it would be hard to see him doing any worse. We may like to see only the very best in the UFC but if we are real with ourselves that’s no longer a reality.

No matter how he fairs in his UFC career, CM Punk will always divide opinion. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. From the moment he was announced as a new signing last night the storm began and it’s not going to stop anytime soon. So, instead of running from the clouds you’re probably better off learning how to enjoy dancing in the rain.

Podcaster, lead MMA writer and analyst for SevereMMA. Host of the SevereMMA podcast, out every Sunday. Economics and Mathematics graduate from UCC. Also write for Sherdog. Previously of hov-mma and fightbooth. As heard on 2FM, Red FM, Today FM and more. Follow me on twitter for updates @SeanSheehanBA and on Facebook Facebook.com/seansheehanmma