The WWE story of the weekend is AJ Styles winning the WWE Heavyweight Championship for the first time. Styles gave Ambrose perhaps the best match of his career in a near perfect main event leading to AJ’s first title reign. The significance of that is not lost on me, but neither is the significance of CM Punk’s first UFC fight.
I promised myself that I would try my best not to write about the UFC and focus more on WWE news, but there is sports entertainment relevance in Punk’s crushing defeat. Besides Smackdown’s Backlash, there is a psychological backlash that goes along with the humbling of CM Punk at UFC 203 by the hands of Mickey Gall. There’s something to be said about legitimacy, and in the minds of the fans of both combat sports and sports entertainment, there is still a large rift.
Anyone who simultaneously enjoys pro wrestling and MMA will know that CM Punk’s loss was not very shocking, nor SHOULD it affect any perception of either product. But there will certainly be a large majority of fans who will look at this fight as a victory for MMA. On the other hand, it was a circus act. Surrounding the fight itself was a pro wrestling sideshow. Punk attempted to become a bonafide fighter in a very short period of time, but you can’t teach experience. Outside of plugging in a Matrix-esque cord into Punk’s skull and downloading MMA into his brain, there was no way Punk was winning that fight. And no, Punk doesn’t belong in UFC, and certainly not on the main card of a pay-per-view. It was clearly just using a big name to draw buys.
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So, do pro wrestlers come out of this looking weaker? Luckily, we still have Brock Lesnar to protect the business. Like a monster out of Stranger Things (which I just watched, thank you), Brock Lesnar is the only beast who can traverse the alternate dimensions of UFC and WWE. CM Punk, however, shows us a reality where a pro wrestler gets expectedly destroyed in the octagon. Because after all, CM Punk is not a fighter.
Decades ago, a guy like Punk wouldn’t even be welcome in the world of pro wrestling. He’s too small to be a believable threat in pro wrestling universe of old where kayfabe is still of the utmost importance. Growing up, he wasn’t an athlete. He has no sports background, in fighting or otherwise. There are guys in sports entertainment who need that athletic background to get over. A smaller guy like Dolph Ziggler, for example, has said in interviews that he wanted to become a Kent State hall of fame caliber wrestler just so he could have credentials to become a believable pro wrestler. Guys like the Iron Sheik and Kurt Angle, who won gold medals in wrestling, could have been potential contenders in UFC. The Steiner Brothers; Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas; and currently, American Alpha are all proven threats if they had chosen the path of MMA.
But in the modern pro wrestling mindset, those credentials aren’t entirely necessary, albeit recommended. CM Punk is one of the least believable fighters to enter the squared circle, never mind the octagon. Choosing a better representative wasn’t up to WWE, unfortunately. This is but a vision quest for CM Punk (Note: The guy from Vision Quest was also in Stranger Things).
Punk’s opponent, Mickey Gall, is a natural performer. Phil Brooks may have regressed to his high school self as an outcast being publicly humiliated by the cocky, Tiger Beat jock that is Mickey Gall. Entering to “Oh Mickey” by Toni Basil, the Taylor Lautner looking Gall strutted and winked at the camera in perfect pro wrestling heel fashion. Much more than being CM Punk’s first MMA fight, this fight had a gimmick. Mickey Gall has the look of a pop idol heartthrob. I mean... what a hunk! I want a picture of him on the inside of my locker. The only thing missing was a cheerleader carrying her books out to the octagon with him.
Whether or not this cultural dynamic was intentional, Mickey Gall delivered as a sports entertainment storyteller. It’s no secret that Dana White takes pages out of Vince McMahon’s playbook now and again. CM Punk, after getting taken down, pummeled, and choked out by a kid who undoubtedly played shortstop on his Dad’s Little League team, never stood a chance.
But alas, it was never Punk’s intention to fight on that level. Much like Batista in the past, he originally just wanted to train and maybe have some low level MMA fights. Ever the promoter, Dana White saw money, and he certainly got mine. CM Punk isn’t one to turn down a good offer and a challenge, and to his credit, he took his beating like a man. If anything, maybe UFC fans will have a little respect for Punk showing some guts. If Punk ever does choose to return to wrestling, he has the ability to spin this experience whatever way he wants with a well executed pipebomb. But as far as legitimacy is concerned, it’s unlikely that the unforgiving wrestling fan will be able to forget when the star quarterback, Mickey Gall, gave the new kid, the straight edge Punk, an atomic wedgie on the first day of school.