There are two welterweight bouts scheduled for UFC 225 tonight: Rafael dos Anjos vs. Colby Covington for the interm Title and CM Punk vs. Mike Jackson for… reasons?
Both Jackson and Punk are receiving a second chance to prove that they belong in the octagon. This match has created waves in the MMA/UFC community, and in the worst way possible. Many believe that the match should be nowhere near a pay-per-view, specifically targeting CM Punk, saying he has no business near the sport itself.
When Punk’s first professional fight was scheduled for a PPV back in 2016, many protested. People said his level of ability was not fit for the main card bout. And boy were they right. Punk was exposed at UFC 203, losing in 02:14 by submission to Mickey Gall. Punk would then go on to receive massive criticism, as many claimed it was clear that Punk was in over his head, and not prepared for the octagon.
With all this said, why does Punk, real name Phil Brooks, want to so badly fight again? Money? For namesake? Embarrassment? Well to answer this question, we first have to look at Punk’s past.
Punk’s success in combat sports comes solely from his professional wrestling career, most notably for WWE. In WWE, he has seemingly won it all and faced some of the best in the business. Punk’s departure from WWE is well documented. He left the promotion for a multitude of reasons, ranging from creative differences, anger with upper management to misdiagnosed health problems.
Punk’s character was one of an outcast, a fridge-intellectual who rejected all the predetermined notions of what a WWE superstar had to be. He will be remembered most famously for his infamous “Pipe Bomb” promo, where he ran down the WWE brass pointing out inconsistency in talent, opportunity, and quality of programming. Even going as far as to say that “WWE will be better off when Vince McMahon is dead”.
While Punk’s work on the mic was superb, it was his work in the ring that set him apart. Punk put out constant blockbusters with the likes of John Cena, Randy Orton, The Undertaker, Brock Lesnar, Daniel Bryan, Triple H and many more. However, Punk never seemed to be able to get over the hump of the feeling that part-timers were getting more respect than he was. And more importantly, were getting the big money spots and pay. No matter which titles he won, and no matter how good his matches were, Punk was never seen as “The Guy”.
In 2014, Punk would leave WWE and from that point on, his relationship with the WWE has only soured. Especially with the recent lawsuit against WWE doctor, Dr. Christopher Amann, which Punk won just this week. At this point in time, Punk has expressed that most of the passion for the wrestling industry is gone and that while you can never say never, he’s finished.
Fast forward to today, Punk has found a new passion in MMA and wants to be legitimized in the sport. UFC is more than just a new challenge to him. Punk wants to prove to all of the critics in WWE that he is the main event attraction. That he can be “The Guy” of a company, and that he is the “Best in the World” and the master of any craft he sets his mind to. The UFC was the perfect thorn to stick in McMahon’s side. UFC is competition for WWE, and Dana White was at the time an outspoken critic of WWE, calling it “fake sh*t” on Twitter.
Going to UFC to prove he can be a “real fighter” and showing that he could be a major draw was just as much about Punk proving it to himself as it was to WWE. However, his desire to put the doubts in himself and others to rest has possibly made Punk bite off more than he could chew.
However, Punk signing with the UFC and writing off WWE as he has done has put him in a bind career-wise. His legitimacy, and his entire legacy for that matter, rests on his success in the octagon. Past WWE accomplishments don’t matter. So far, in two years since Dana White signed him, Punk is 0-1-0.
The only way that the UFC community will embrace Punk is by Punk actually winning. Unlike WWE, fans of UFC don’t care about your story, your mic-talk, or your feelings… unless, of course, you’re a serious contender. No matter how much work he puts into this venture, there are zero guarantees that he will win or even have a decent showing this time around. And unlike WWE, there is no such thing as ‘looking good in a loss’ in UFC.
So what happens if he loses? What happens if he is embarrassed again? Even in victory, does he fully legitimize himself? Time and match quality will tell.
Tonight, Punk will face Mike Jackson, another victim of Mickey Gall’s rear-naked choke submission. Just like Punk, Jackson is hell-bent on proving his worth in the eyes of the UFC brass and the audience at large. As far as many are concerned, the younger Jackson is the odds-on favorite. Punk will have the advantage of a home crowd, but crowd reception means nothing when you’re getting hit in the face.
- Sports Illustrated