In very few instances can you actually call a professional wrestler — or to pacify Vince McMahon, a “sports entertainer” — tough.
Since the start of professional wrestling as we know it early last century, promoters of the sport-turned-spectacle have wanted to entertain the crowd with big strong men in a drama-filled exhibitions, acting tough. In the years since the simple exhibitions were ratcheted up to full-scale productions geared for television cameras, the perceived dangers in matches involving steel cages, barbed wires and un-protected tables, ladders and chairs becoming less easy to ignore.
Still, at its most basic, wrestling crowds are lead to suspend belief at relative levels that simple body slams could be so debilitating that a grown man would be knocked unconscious and be pinned for a count of three seconds. An even greater suspension occurs occurs regarding the actual hate that’s supposed to motivate each man in the ring when they engage in battle.
Part of the life blood of professional wrestling is the credence that two men who play act beatings from hell on each other can, as soon as they transfer themselves to the other side of the curtains, have a beer or two, make travel plans and compete in another match with the same outcome in the next town over.
Now, I don’t want to diminish the hard work wrestlers put in to reach sports entertainment’s highest levels or to disregard the serious injuries that can happen in matches, but fans today are “smart” and know to what lengths the performers in front of them go to put on a show and not hurt each other. Now with all that being said, WHAT THE HELL IS CM PUNK THINKING?!?!
For most pro wrestling fans across the world, CM Punk (or Phil Brooks, feel free to take the risk of calling him that in the street if you like…) this month’s revelation that he has signed on with the Ultimate Fighting Championship to become a professional MMA fighter was a wild surprise but also a suitable follow-up after his revealing podcast appearance with friend and fellow wrestler Colt Cabana in November.
Just to make sure we’re all on the same page at this point — the reason why all this fuss is going on is that CM Punk is one of the most decorated, beloved and controversial professional wrestlers in professional wrestling history and earlier this year he abruptly left the WWE, where he helped define sports entertainment’s current “reality era,” and didn’t offer any explanation until the podcast.
Punk is also an avid Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner and has trained with the renowned Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy but his fighting abilities and experience are rooted in professional wrestling, which is part show.
Punk’s in-ring demeanor, his no-nonsense promos and facts like those stated above have allowed him to gain a reputation to be a tough guy in general without really having to prove it. That would change as soon as he steps into a UFC octagon.
As you can probably tell, I’m not a big fan of Punk’s new venture into the UFC because I’m a HUGE mark for Punk as a professional wrestler. I know he’s into Jiu-Jitsu, I know he is “tough” in a marketable way and I know he will bring WWE fans, pop culture eyeballs, and added money to the UFC for his debut fight. The only thing I think not enough of us are stressing is the fact that the man known as CM Punk is 36 years old, with about half of that time spent logging miles in kayfabe factories, putting various damages on his body.
Just listen to the battery of ailments he goes over with Colt Cabana and more importantly listen to how they were treated — not well — who knows what pre-existing conditions could flare up for him in a real fight. If not those, maybe new injuries could surface due to overcompensating.
Now I’m not calling Punk old, he is only a few years older than me, but for a 36 year old man that has never had a true professional MMA fight in his life coupled with the unfair expectations he’ll carry with him into MMA, he’s in a position not unlike the best Harlem Globetrotter trying to guard LeBron James on a fast break. Trouble is coming!
In his biggest challenges in WWE it was easy to tell which way the wind was going to blow for Punk — we knew CM Punk was going to beat John Cena at the 2011 Money In The Bank WWE pay per view, in his hometown of Chicago, represented by a rabid crowd that held up signs including the classic “If Cena Wins, We Riot.” But no search certainties will be afforded to Punk in UFC, he won’t just be telling stories anymore, he’ll have to fight to win, maybe even survive, even if he ends up standing across from the OG Green Power Ranger.
Punk does have the benefit of seeing a contemporary do the wrestling to fighting transition — current WWE World Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar is also a former UFC Heavyweight Champion and his short career in the UFC exhibited physical challenges that he’s yet to see in the WWE, where he is considered “The Beast Incarnate” and rightfully so.
Due to his intimidating physical stature and his distinguished background in amateur (read: technical) wrestling, Lesnar holds a toolbox of physical and mental strengths that allow him to intimidate whether his opponent knows he’s playing or not. In the WWE Lesnar has demolished the likes of John Cena, Hulk Hogan, The Undertaker, Mark Henry and, oh yeah, CM Punk but in the UFC Alistair Overeem KO’d him and Frank Mir made him tap out (though Lesnar got revenge in a second match).
Now I wish only the best for Punk, I really I hope Punk goes IN in the octagon, makes someone tap from the Anaconda Vice, or better yet knocks someone out with the Go To Sleep and becomes instantly the most charismatic and crossover UFC Champ ever. Unfortunately, I doubt that will happen. To tell you the truth, I’m pretty worried for Punk when he steps inside the cage. Whomever he fights would had years more training for UFC fights, actual fights, not just karate practice.
If he fails, Punk will be merely looked at as a guy who is a professional wrestler that got his ass kicked FOR REAL in the UFC. His brand will probably suffer and people will really beg for him to go back to the WWE. This is a huge risk for him and I’m sure he knows it.
CM Punk has been always been one to do what he wants to do it but this time it won’t just be backstage politics at work if he doesn’t know how to deal with a challenge. To be the Best In The World, you’d figure he’d have to prove it eventually. That time will come the first time he’s in the octagon and can’t get out.