Tonight is the night. It’s September 10, which means it’s time for UFC 203 in Cleveland, Ohio and CM Punk (real name Phil Brooks) competes in his first fight for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The fight is taking place at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, which is the same building where Punk last appeared at a WWE event when he chose to go home one night after the 2014 Royal Rumble. Funny how that works, huh?
Ever since then, WWE fans have had mixed emotions about a man that meant a lot to those of us that watch WWE regularly. Some people hated him for being a quitter and doubted that he would ever compete in UFC because it took two years for it to happen. Others are always going to support him because they respect the man for what he did in professional wrestling and also for standing up for what he believed in by walking away from WWE when he did.
Was I angry that he left WWE? Absolutely I was. It’s because I’m a huge fan of him as a performer. I miss him in a WWE ring. From 2009 to 2013 I thought he was the best overall wrestler in the company. Of course I had a bit of anger that he left. It’s different when a guy has a contract up and they choose to move on like Jeff Hardy or John Morrison, for example. In Punk’s case, he just left because he wasn’t happy.
When you think about the reasons for Punk leaving WWE, it actually makes a lot of sense to me. Like I said, he was the best performer in the company for that five year period from 2009 to 2013 and he had a WWE Title reign for over 400 days, yet the company didn’t believe in him enough to say “you get to headline WrestleMania.” He was vocal about guys like The Rock coming back to take the main event spot in 2012 and 2013 from others. It’s easy to see why WWE did it because of The Rock’s star power, but they still could have included Punk. Why not make it a three way match at WrestleMania 29 in 2013? Maybe if they did that it would have made Punk happier and he wouldn’t have left the company a year later.
The physical wear and tear obviously took a major toll on him too. He documented on Colt Cabana’s podcast on Thanksgiving 2014 and he was so honest about it that WWE’s own Dr. Amann ended up suing it because of what Punk said. After hearing him talk about it, what I came away with is that he was mentally and physically exhausted from being a WWE Superstar. He had enough of it, so he moved on.
I’ve written so much about Punk’s WWE departure that when I think back two years, both he and WWE are at fault. Their divorce, if you want to call it that, never should have happened. The same can be said about so many other wrestlers that left WWE on bad terms like Bret Hart, Ultimate Warrior and Bruno Sammartino, yet those three guys did come back later in their life. Will Punk do the same? Maybe. We may not know for a decade or even longer.
I’m not going to tell you what to think about CM Punk. You probably have your own opinion as you should, but I’m not the type of person that is going to hate a man for doing what he thinks is best for his life. More people should be that way. We all know people that bitch and moan about their job, yet they stay there because they have nothing else they can do or maybe they lack the skills to do something else. It can be viewed as “quitting” to some, but in this case I think it took some guts.
There are lot of haters out there that will say that it’s ridiculous that Punk is getting to fight in the UFC in his first MMA fight. I actually agree with that line of thinking to a degree, but also realize it’s a business. He’s going to be a draw in that setting because he was a top guy in WWE and UFC knows that. If Punk gets destroyed in 30 seconds then it’s embarrassing for UFC because they are letting a guy fight who has not proven he can fight. However, they know he put in the work because he’s been training for two years at a respectable training camp run by Duke Roufus in Wisconsin. Injuries set him back and delayed things, yet he still made it to this fight at 170 pounds looking as skinny as he’s been in the last 15 years. He’s determined to show what he can do. I have to admire that.
I don’t know a thing about Punk’s opponent, Mickey Gall, except that he’s the guy that Punk is facing tonight and that he doesn’t have that much experience. It’s a big opportunity for him and for all we know, by the end of the fight we may be talking about him more than Punk.
I’m a casual MMA observer that will watch most PPVs, but not all of them. I have watched UFC since day one although I’ve taken some breaks too. I remember watching the first UFC PPV on our illegal cable box in 1993. I watched UFC for many years in the 1990s, took a break and marked out when UFC star Ken Shamrock showed up in WWE in 1997. He was a favorite of mine. I took a break in the early 2000s because it just wasn’t evolving enough. I came back to watching UFC in the mid-2000s when the Ultimate Fighter reality show in 2005 brought a lot of people to the sport either for the first time or back to it. I even wrote reviews of every episode of the first season of Ultimate Fighter. I remember Chris Leben being an asshole, Josh Koscheck being a cocky jerk at times, Diego Sanchez being quirky and that epic final fight with Forrest Griffin beating Stephan Bonnar. I’m very familiar with the sport even though I don’t watch it every weekend.
In Punk’s case, I truly believe him when he says he wanted to do MMA for many years because he has talked about it for a long time. I know because I’m a fan of his and I’ve watched countless interviews as well as read a lot about him. If he didn’t have a passion for Mixed Martial Arts the way he does then maybe he would wrestling at Backlash on Sunday instead of fighting at UFC 203 tonight.
I’ve never met CM Punk in person and maybe I never will, but if I could talk to him I would tell him I’m proud of him for doing something he wants to do. I would also tell him that the wrestling fan in me would love to see him in a WWE ring so he can have matches with the likes of AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn and his old buddy Samoa Joe to name a few. That’s me being selfish, though. It’s not the way we should be as fans of athletes whether they are in WWE, UFC or some other professional sport. We should support them for putting their bodies on the line and performing at a high level. It’s not easy. That’s for damn sure.
As for the fight tonight, I have no predictions except that I hope Punk wins. Why would I root against him? He’s entertained me for many years, he’s given me a lot to talk about (and write about), so I’m grateful for what he did in his professional wrestling career. I’m a CM Punk fan. I always will be.
Whether he wins or loses, I agree with Punk when he said recently that he’s already won just by taking this step in his life. It takes a lot of guts to do what he’s doing. I respect him a lot.
Like he’s yelled so many times before, “It’s Clobberin’ Time!” Good luck, Punk.