CM Punk is having himself quite the holiday season. After dropping multiple pipebombs during an appearance on the “Art of Wrestling” podcast hosted by his good friend Colt Cabana, Punk announced at UFC 181 that he had signed with the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Punk, who will go by his real name Phil Brooks during his UFC tenure, signed a multi-fight deal with the mixed martial arts company. While not an amateur wrestler, Punk has experience training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. His professional MMA debut is expected to occur during the second half of 2015, and many experts believe that it will not go well for the former wrestling superstar.
As Punk thoroughly explained during what has become one of the most talked about wrestling podcast broadcasts in recent memory, being a World Wrestling Entertainment independent contractor is no easy task. Wrestlers are asked to perform inside of rings even when they are sick or injured. The travel alone is exhausting. While the outcomes of matches are scripted, there is nothing fake about the bumps and bodily damage that WWE wrestlers have to endure on a weekly basis. It is no wonder why some such as Punk would consider making the switch to UFC if they believe that they could, after extensive training, hang with decent MMA fighters.
Nobody can say for sure how well or how poorly Punk will do in UFC, but he is hardly the only former or current WWE performer who could reasonably have a go as an MMA fighter. One of the all-time greats who is a legend in North American professional wrestling likely would not have made his name in the business had UFC been as popular in the 1980s as it is today. The list begins with a man who is an athletic marvel, a performer who has been a champion in both UFC and WWE. That individual could have one final run in UFC if the right offer is presented to him.
10. Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar doesn’t have anything to prove as it pertains to any UFC career. The former NCAA wrestling champion is a former UFC heavyweight champion, and it has been rumored that Lesnar could have a few more MMA fights in him for the right price. Lesnar is a unique athlete, a giant of a man with the speed and agility that isn’t even seen in some middleweights. That he isn’t keen on taking punches to the face has been exposed, yes, but remember that Lesnar enjoyed what is, when compared with full-time fighters, a brief stint in MMA. Oh, what could have been had Lesnar gone all-in on being a UFC competitor right out of college.
9. Kurt Angle
Kurt Angle is currently a performer for TNA Wrestling, but his eventual return to WWE has been rumored for years. The winner of a gold medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics with the reputation for being one of the best amateur wrestlers in USA Wrestling history, Angle is a noted MMA fan who has, in the past, attempted to work for UFC. His body is now a shell of what it once was due to the wear and tear that comes with being a pro wrestler for nearly two decades, but there is little doubt that Angle, in his prime, could have evolved into a top-tier UFC fighter.
8. Titus O’Neil
O’Neil will likely never be WWE Champion, as he has often been used more as a comedic performer than as a dominant in-ring force. A man billed to be 6-foot-9 and around 280 pounds, O’Neil was a standout high school football player who was accepted to the University of Florida during his younger days. O’Neil also spent time as a professional football player, albeit one who never made it past the Arena Football League. Perhaps O’Neil would have found more success and higher profits for himself had he abandoned any and all dreams of being in the NFL and instead focused on fighting when he was in his twenties.
The Bulgarian Brute is similar to Lesnar and O’Neil in that he is a marvelous athlete for a man with his frame. He is billed to be 6 feet and around 300 pounds, and yet Rusev is able to pull off wrestling maneuvers such as a spinning heel kick with ease. At 28 years old and having a history of MMA training, Rusev could realistically eye a career change at the end of 2014 and still have the potential to be a UFC star for years to come. He is not as big a name as the likes of Punk or Lesnar, however, and thus odds are that UFC will not be offering him any kind of deal in the near future.
6. Jack Swagger
Before his “We, The People” days and before he won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, Swagger was a two-sport athlete in college while at the University of Oklahoma. Swagger was more of a success as a wrestler than as a football player during his collegiate days, and those experiences on the mat helped prepare him for a pro wrestling career. Swagger is in his early thirties, and logic suggests that he won’t be dabbling in MMA unless he and WWE part ways. With his natural athleticism and background as a talented grappler, Swagger could possess the goods to have some success in UFC or a different promotion if he were to decide today that he no longer wants to wrestle.
5. Daniel Bryan
The undersized leader of the “Yes Movement” has overcome adversities throughout his professional wrestling career, making it to the top of the WWE mountain when many within the business doubted that he would ever even get the chance to do so. Bryan is an underrated athlete who is known to be one of the most dedicated performers in the wrestling business. Imagine a scenario where Bryan chooses to train for MMA and not wrestling while in his teens. He could have been a star in UFC had he dedicated himself to achieving that goal, but alas that was not his dream.
Cesaro is similar to Bryan in that both were darlings of the independent professional wrestling circuit before being signed by WWE, and both have gone through up-and-down runs while with the North American wrestling company. The Swiss wrestler is much bigger than Bryan, and he is also regarded as being one of the physically strongest performers in WWE. Had he trained for UFC at a younger age while remaining in the shape that he has been in throughout his wrestling career, Cesaro could have evolved into an MMA fighter with strong enough grappling skills to earn victories while competing inside of The Octagon.
3. The Big Show
You have to think back to his World Championship Wrestling tenure to have even an imagination of Big Show competing in UFC. He was, in his younger and leaner days, extremely mobile for a man with his height and weight, and Show would, at times, even fly off of the top ropes during matches. Limited by a lack of elite speed and by his size, Big Show’s UFC career likely wouldn’t have lasted all that long had he ventured into MMA in his twenties. He would have been a UFC fighter unlike any other, however, and Big Show taking part in actual fights would have been must-see sports television.
2. The Undertaker
WWE and the annual WrestleMania event would both be very different had Undertaker been born a couple of decades after he entered this earth. An avid fan of boxing and of MMA, Undertaker has stated during interviews that he would have been enticed to choose training for UFC over becoming a WWE performer had MMA been more popular during his youth. Think about the WWE without all that ‘Taker has meant to the company, most notably his undefeated WrestleMania streak that came to an end earlier this year when he was defeated by Brock Lesnar. Undertaker’s size alone could have made him an intimidating MMA fighter, assuming he would have completed the proper training.
1. The Rock
Rock is the prototype of the performer both WWE and UFC covet. He possessed, while in his physical prime, a unique combination of size, power, speed and agility. He has an uncanny ability to draw attention to himself when cutting on-air promos. Nobody questions Rock’s work ethic, and anybody who follows him on social media knows how well he keeps himself in shape even when on the road while shooting and/or promoting movies. Rock has the so-called “it factor,” and it isn’t difficult to imagine him as a UFC champion had he taken that route upon the demise of his dreams of making it as a football player.