How does one critique a performance that only lasted two minutes and 14 seconds in an article that is going to be over 2,500 words long? In that short amount of time, there should be something worth talking about, but unfortunately in the fight between CM Punk and Mickey Gall at UFC 203, Punk received an utter thrashing. The entrances and pre-fight hype package, individually, were longer than that actual fight itself. It would be great if there were fireworks with tons haymakers coming from both sides, but that’s not what happened at all.
After living the world of pro wrestling for so long, Punk needed a new challenge, it was something that enter his mind back in 2009 when he initially thought about giving MMA a chance, if the opportunity presented itself. Once things went sour with the WWE, Punk suddenly had enough time and resources to pick a proper training camp and give MMA a shot. Knowing what we do now, it would have been more beneficial to him to start slower, possibly at a smaller promotion, working against guys at his level. Instead, he got a chance in the biggest mixed martial arts promotion against a younger (and hungrier) fighter that had a couple fights under his belt.
Those could fights made all of the difference as Gall put down Punk worse than Hughes over Gracie and Couture over boxer James Toney. The fight itself is not enough to fill this article, so let’s start towards the beginning of last weekend and check out what we learned about CM Punk’s UFC debut.
15. Can Still Please A Crowd
Days before the fight, Ariel Helwani interviewed CM Punk and asked how the weight cut was going. Punk really played up how tough the cut was for him as it was the first time he had done it, with no dietitian to help with the process. Now, it’s entirely possible he was exaggerating to get people (including his opponent) to think he was going to miss weight, but when it came time for the official weigh-in, he nailed 170 (not needing the extra one pound that’s granted for non-title fights).
UFC now actually does official weigh-ins during the morning, so the evening session that’s put on for a crowd goes a bit smoother and quicker. At this event, Punk was able to get the second biggest pop of the night (hometown favorite Stipe Miocic was first) by playing to the crowd; he also didn’t shake Gall’s hand, stared him down, and then went back to getting the crowd amped up.
14. AJ Is Terrified Of Punk Fighting
From his Evolution of Punk mini-series, we learned that Punk’s wife and former WWE wrestler, AJ Lee (Brooks) was not really into mixed martial arts. She hadn’t watched much previously and wasn’t exactly pumped for her husband to go into the cage and fight someone else. Punk said she supported his venture one-hundred percent though. Even after they moved closer to Punk’s training camp, she barely watched him train minus the one trip when she watched a sparring session.
For the whole session she could barely watch and was tense the entire time, AJ seemed quite relieved when it was over and her husband was still standing. For the actual fight, she stayed in the back, possibly because she couldn’t deal with being so close to the fight, but Punk also said he didn’t want people to be “cat-calling” her in the crowd, being a familiar face and all. During the post-fight press conference he was asked what she said to him and with tears in his eyes, he said “She was proud of me.”
13. Can Go From Drained To Healthy In A Day
During the pre-fight press conference, two days before the show, he wore a somewhat loose fitting plaid suit that just looked strange on him as he faced off against Gall and posed for pictures. It made him look old, he looked drained, and a bit haggard, which the internet really jumped on. Again, it’s possible Punk was trying to play some mind games with his opponent, but it’s tough to really say.
Fast-forward to the weigh-ins and he looked much better, overall he didn’t look so bad; he nailed the weight without issue and it looked like at 37 years old he was ready to fight for the first time. Billed at 220 pounds during his WWE days, people wondered if 170 was too far of a drop as initially his camp considered putting him at 185, which probably would have been just as disastrous considering how much bigger those guys would have been.
12. Starting Where It Ended
Punk’s UFC debut came at the Quicken Loans Arena which was the same arena he decided to quit the WWE after having a meeting with Vince McMahon and Triple H. Thanks to not being able to receive the proper time off to heal up and not receiving a WrestleMania main event spot, Punk felt it was time to move away from WWE. A few days before his debut, he actually stopped in the same room in which this meeting occurred, a random fact, but interesting how things can circle around in life.
Punk’s exit from WWE was not pretty, although Vince didn’t harbor resentment towards him; Triple H may have been a little more on the bitter side as he was going to be Punk’s original WrestleMania opponent. If it wasn’t the main event, Punk wasn’t happy, which to Triple H was a major diss as almost any wrestler would jump at the opportunity to face him at WrestleMania. It seems unlikely Punk will ever return to WWE, although it wouldn’t be a surprise if he joined up with Ring of Honor or NJPW once he finishes up with MMA.
11. Used “Cult of Personality” As His Entrance Music
One of the big question marks was which song CM Punk would use for his entrance music at UFC 203. Most wrestling fans will remember he used “Cult of Personality” during his last few years with WWE, but would he move on from that song? Somewhat surprisingly he decided not to change up his song and went with what most fans would be familiar with. Cameras cut to him as he walked from the back, a huge smile came over his face as he realized he was actually going to get a fight in the UFC.
Once he got out to where the crowd was, he yelled out “Let’s go Cleveland” and got fairly serious as he approached the octagon. There’s no way he wasn’t nervous, but the big crowd didn’t seem to phase him much as he’s wrestled in front of much larger in the past. At the post-fight presser, he was asked about the song choice and his response was simply “It’s an awesome, awesome song.”
10. Crowds Still Love Punk
If you missed out on the show, the Cleveland crowd was fantastic for much of the night, they not only were loud, but got there much earlier than most crowds to watch all of the fights. It’s possible the live crowd was pumped up by the song choice, but Punk received a nice pop from them as he walked to the octagon. The cheers continued as Bruce Buffer gave Punk his introduction, Punk was appreciative and actually gave Bruce a fist bump right after he finished up.
Throughout his interviews and conferences, Punk has remained very classy towards the organization, the other fighters, and to MMA in general. He had his usual confidence and vibrato going, but it was clear he knew he was getting into a brand new world and he better get ready for a battle. Side-note (which is probably obvious at this point) but UFC promoted him simply as CM Punk, his real name, Phil Brooks, was never used in any capacity.
9. Came Out Aggressively
At this point, we should probably talk about the actual fight between Punk and Gall. Once the bell rang, Punk immediately went across the octagon to put pressure on Gall. His stance looked a bit stiff as he didn’t even get a punch off before Gall instantly took him to the mat. Punk said after the fight the plan was to charge him and hope he could get something going right from the start.
It’s possible Punk’s cardio was not going to last for three rounds so his coaches wanted him to try and get a quick start for a potential finish or at least to win round one. This was not to be as Punk was dropped and wasn’t able to recover from then on. It’s a shame because this would be a great place to talk about his stand-up skills and critique his power, speed, and combinations. For now, we have absolutely zero to go on and will have to wait until his next fight to potentially find out.
8. Had Zero Answers On The Ground
Once taken to the mat, Punk was absolutely mauled by his opponent for a good two minutes. Pretty much any position Gall wanted, he could get, at one point even trapping down one of Punk’s arms with his leg to land a few punches to Punk’s head. Gall attempted a number of submissions (mostly rear naked chokes) and when those didn’t work, he would start throwing bombs to Punk’s head, landing a large number of them.
Punk continued to scramble, trying to work his away to his feet, but there was just no getting away from Gall. Punk put his feet on the cage in an attempt to leverage himself into a better position, unfortunately for him, that is no longer allowed in the UFC and the referee swatted his feet away from the cage. To put it quite simply, Punk was in survival mode from the moment the fight started.
7. Could Take A Punch
Even though this isn’t really a skill that can be acquired, Punk was able to take a number of shots while still maintaining some semblance of composure. Gall landed some heavy bombs that could have put Punk out and yet it took a rear naked choke to end the fight. For another point-of-view, here’s play-by-play by Chuck Mindenhall of MMAFighting.com:
“Round 1: It’s time. Keith Peterson is the third man. [A] crazy pop for Punk when he rolled out. He glared at Gall. He comes in and charges, and Gall lowers and immediately starts pounding away at Punk on the fence. Whoa! Crazy start, now as Punk tries to get up Gall snatches his neck for a moment. Side control. Gall simply overpowering the 37-year old former pro wrestler. He postures up and tries to take Punk’s head off. Now he has his back, and he flattens Punk out. [Gall] tries to get his neck, but now laying waste to him with punches. Again, he postures up and lets a bunch of punches fly. Punk [is] trying to survive [Gall’s punches]. Now Gall trying to get a choke, and he sinks a rear-naked…and that’s it! Punk taps. Not much of a fight in the end. Punk charged in and once he got taken down, it was ten varieties of a** whooping. “
6. Embraced With Gall After The Fight
Once the fight was over and Punk went over to Gall and spoke to him, at length. Punk was very serious about the fight and so was his demeanor towards Gall before the fight, but it was clear he was appreciative that Gall took this fight. When asked about what he said to Gall, Punk responded that in many interviews Gall had talked about how he shouldn’t be in the UFC or on the main card at this point in this career.
So with that in mind, after the fight Punk said; “Don’t ever put yourself down, even if you think you don’t belong on the main card, you’re on the main card, shut the f*** up, fake it until you make it, don’t sell yourself short.” Punk continued that a lot of other people will say those things enough times during a guy’s career, and that Gall shouldn’t do that to himself.
5. What Did We Learn From This Fight?
So what did we really learn from this two minute and 14 second fight? Well, not a whole lot. It did show that not just anyone can train for awhile with a decent camp and perform well in the biggest MMA promotion in the world. Brock Lesnar is a different type of animal and shouldn’t be compared to Punk in any way. It also showed that having name recognition can go a long ways in this world, as quite honestly, Punk should not have been anywhere near the main card of a UFC PPV.
For UFC, it’s still a question mark if this experiment was a hit or not, website are reporting flat traffic from the event, although Twitter was ablaze with Punk talk from fans, fighters, and wrestlers alike. Speaking of Twitter, the overall sentiment was that he went after a dream and respect for jumping in the cage, despite his performance. The second most popular was that he was a popular rich guy that was able to get a big fight based solely off of that, rather than his skills. Dana White is trying to sell PPVs and will do whatever he can to help pump up an event, plus, fights like these remind fans of how tough this sport really is and how good the professionals really are.
4. Go Big Or Go Home
After the fight, Joe Rogan interviewed Punk, here’s what he said:
“Yeah, you know, in life you go big or you go home. I just like to take challenges. This was a hell of a mountain to try to climb, and I didn’t get to the summit today, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to give up, that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop. I appreciate all the support from everybody. Obviously, Mickey is a hell of a fighter. I will be back, believe it or not. This was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life, the second best night of my life besides marrying my wife, obviously.
I know there’s a lot of doubters but listen, life’s about falling down and getting up. It doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked down, it’s about getting back up. So, if there’s any kid out there that’s told by a parent or a coach or a teacher or somebody that they look up to, somebody that’s supposed to push them and believe in them and they’re told no, don’t listen to them. Believe in yourself. Sometimes the outcome isn’t always what you desire it to be, but the true failure in life is not trying at all. I know that sounds preachy and kind of weird for a guy who just got beat up, but f*** it, this is the time of my life. Thank you, Cleveland.”
3. Words That Inspire
Sure, people will probably find something to rip on with Punk’s post-fight interview, but what else is he going to say after getting destroyed in all facets of the fight? He kept it about as classy as he could, thanked the live crowd, and put out a nice message about never giving up. It’s clear this was a bucket list item for Punk, and honestly what’s wrong with that? Most people just trudge through life, never doing something different, daring, or outside of their comfort zone.
Punk may have bitten off way more than he could chew, but he got paid well and I’m sure those dollars will help make up for the beating he received. Who wouldn’t take a million or two to get trounced in a fight, you know you would! Anyways, if you caught the fight after Punk/Gall it was a mess, both during and after the fight, a coach got front-kicked to the chest for talking trash to the other fighter and the crowd booed the winner throughout his entire post-fight interview. In comparison to this, Punk did well.
2. Post-Fight Press Conference
The media had plenty of questions for Punk and here’s what he had to say to them:
“My initial venture into this was gonna be at the lowest level and this opportunity just got presented to myself and I would have been a fool to say no. I don’t know what happens from here on out. What if I get cut? I don’t know. I think that’s a possibility. Do I want that to happen? No. But who’s to say where I go from here? I don’t know. I definitely want to keep going.”
At this point, fighting back tears:
“There’s probably an alternate reality somewhere where I win and I’m still disappointed in myself, that’s just who I am. I’m just really, really hard on myself. I lost and it sucks and it was lopsided and it’s upsetting. But I know I’m better than that. People can say I didn’t belong here, they said I wasn’t gonna make it to the Octagon and they said I wasn’t gonna make it after the back surgery. Then it was I wasn’t gonna make weight. I was happy I did it, I’m beating myself up way more than I got beat up. I’m supremely disappointed. I wanted to win. I wanted to perform. It didn’t happen.”
1. So, What’s Next?
Thanks to his bumps and cuts, he’ll probably have to sit out for a little bit until everything is fully healed. Once that day comes, he’ll be jumping back into training with Duke Roufus and waiting to see what the UFC wants to do next. He signed a multi-fight deal and depending on the numbers of the PPV, UFC will most likely move him to a lower spot, possibly a TV fight to again cash in on the crossover appeal.
There’s always a chance of including him in The Ultimate Fighter in some capacity, going up against more guys near his level while also helping to promote a show that has dropped in interest over the years. It’s also possible that UFC will just cut him loose after a miserable performance that would get most guys axed from the company. If this chapter does come to an end, there’s always wrestling to go back to; he doesn’t need the WWE, there’s plenty of opportunities outside of that company for someone like CM Punk.
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