The UFC debut for CM Punk went as poorly as Punk could have feared. Upon leaving WWE and the wrestling business, Punk took on the difficult challenge of trying his luck in the MMA world. Punk made the jump into the new field in his mid-30s. Everyone expected disaster and his first round tap-out loss to Mickey Gall proved the world right. The fact that Punk got in basically zero offense on Gall made him look completely outmatched with no chances at succeeding in UFC. Maybe it would work out better if he fought in smaller promotions, but Punk is nowhere near ready for the top competition in the MMA world.
Aside from the age and lack of experience, Punk had many other things working against him. The tremendous WWE star made his name due to having one of the loudest personalities to match his wrestling intelligence. Despite the great matches being frequent, Punk wasn’t a great athlete compared to his peers and had no background in fighting. There are quite a few WWE stars with better chances to thrive in the MMA world due to their experiences and strengths. We’ll likely never see them do it, but these are fifteen current WWE superstars that could do much better in UFC than CM Punk.
The athleticism and strength of Cesaro puts him at the top of the pro wrestling world. Cesaro has the physical skills to shine at anything he puts his mind to. Wrestling is lucky to have him, but the athletic ability of Cesaro could make him a very competent UFC fighter. The freaky strength of Cesaro would give him an advantage heading into fights with opponents on the same experience level as him.
WWE refuses to give Cesaro the top position he seeks due to his accent and the lack of charisma in their eyes. Things are different in the UFC with non-scripted results defining who moves into the more important positions in the company. Cesaro’s work ethic would see him learn the craft of MMA to find success in UFC if he had enough time to train. The pure athleticism gives Cesaro something CM Punk never had for his journey into the MMA world.
14 Alberto Del Rio
Alberto Del Rio recently left WWE after a brief return and there are already rumors of him trying to transition back into MMA. Before his WWE career, Del Rio had an interesting stint in the MMA world. Del Rio had fights in Mexico, Japan, Honduras and Spain. The official record was 9-5 for Del Rio, but he won 6 of his final 7 fights. He had talent and appeared more competent in the octagon than CM Punk can even dream of.
The wrestling career of Del Rio is continuing with hopes to work all over the world making good money on the independent level. Big names like ADR make big money as a free agent on the wrestling market these days, but the temptation of MMA is still there. Del Rio claimed he in talks to be President and lead commentator for an MMA organization. With the position there being close to the fights, you have to wonder if he’ll try to make a return. Del Rio would stand a better chance to compete in UFC than Punk.
13 Daria Berenato
WWE’s Performance Center is meant to find athletes from all over the world with different backgrounds and test them to see who can make it in the pro wrestling world. Daria Berenato signed a developmental contract with WWE after impressing in the Tough Enough reality show competition. Along with Mandy Rose, Daria is one of the rare members of the cast to excel in the Performance Center and make it to NXT. Her background in MMA gives her an edge in the presentation aspect.
Daria has formal training in mixed martial arts and judo to make her one of the most dangerous women in WWE today. If WWE didn’t sign her to a contract following the Tough Enough elimination, she was going to commit fully to succeeding in MMA. UFC allowing the women stars to shine has opened the field for talents of both genders to crossover into the MMA world. Daria is one woman that could thrive with enough time training.
12 Kofi Kingston
Kofi Kingston does not have the reputation of being a fighter and has never trained in MMA, but the guy is a freak athlete. All you have to do is remember the ridiculous feats he's shown when avoiding eliminations in the Royal Rumble match every year. Kingston’s God-given gifts could easily be transitioned into another athletic field such as MMA. The social media feeds of Kofi have shown a glimpse into his fandom of UFC during the big fights.
In a bizarre story, MMA fighter Kevin Randleman once publicly challenged Kingston but not to a MMA fight. Randleman wanted to face off with him with a corner jumping contest. That was the closest Kingston ever came to anything MMA related. The talent however could materialize if he had any drive for the goal of UFC. Kofi would absolutely be more capable of holding his own than CM Punk was in his UFC debut.
11 Sin Cara
The choice of Sin Cara having a better chance to reach success in MMA than CM Punk is not due to any athletic achievements like his peers. Sin Cara just happens to be one of the best members of the roster at winning fights. The masked afterthought on WWE television has delivered his greatest wins behind the scenes in real life fights with his fellow wrestlers. A recent story saw Sin Cara beat down Simon Gotch after the latter started a fight.
Another incident confirmed by Konnan stated Sin Cara took down the bigger man Sheamus during a fight in the trainer’s room. Apparently, Sheamus tried big-timing Sin Cara by letting him know who was higher on the totem pole. That meant nothing in the backstage environment as Sin Cara laid out Sheamus to earn even more respect in the locker room. Sin Cara may not win or practice the MMA fundamentals, but you better believe he would get in more shots than Punk did before going down.
10 Roman Reigns
Roman Reigns is another example of a tremendous athlete currently working in WWE. The Samoan star could utilize his skills in the MMA world with the right training and work ethic. Reigns would obviously fight in a heavier weight class due to his size but his athleticism gives him an advantage in other aspects of the game. Not only is he jacked as a large dude, but Reigns has great speed and agility on his side.
The stability and family ties to WWE made pro wrestling the right choice for Reigns following the end of his NFL career. If he wanted to try UFC, they would likely give him a chance considering he fits the bill much better than CM Punk did. Reigns would enjoy the chance to outdo Punk, considering the slight insults exchanged between the two. Roman is young enough to pull off a career change, so maybe we should keep an eye on him if his WWE run starts to go downhill.
9 Samoa Joe
Another Samoan wrestler that could hold his own in the octagon is Samoa Joe. NXT’s former world champion has a background in training with various forms of fighting such as mixed martial arts and judo. Joe actually was a California State Junior Judo Champion in his teenage years before committing his time to learning the craft of pro wrestling. The in-ring style of Joe in the early days of Ring of Honor showcased an MMA side to wrestling that was quite uncommon at the time.
Fans enjoyed Joe implementing the mixed martial arts into his matches. TNA went as far as to have a MMA style match between Joe and Kurt Angle at Lockdown 2008 that would go on to be their most financially successful PPV. The background and talent of Joe would allow him to have a fighting chance of at least lasting a few rounds in a UFC fight. Joe would easily outshine his good friend CM Punk when it comes to MMA.
The story of Charlotte is unlike the rest of the WWE stars on this list. Despite being the daughter of Ric Flair, she had zero intentions of becoming a wrestler. Charlotte didn’t show interest in fighting professional, real or scripted, and rather focused on team sports. Volleyball was the top choice with great success before reaching an end. WWE offered her a developmental contract and she wanted to try it with her younger brother Reid Flair before he unfortunately passed away.
Charlotte was blessed with amazing athleticism that even puts her dad to shame. She can do just about anything in the wrestling ring with enough time to practice it. The same could apply to MMA. It is impossible to know if she could thrive as a fighter but she has the physical tools to do it. If the determination to do it was there, Charlotte would make a bigger impact on the female side of UFC than Punk did on the male side.
7 Daniel Bryan
The retired Daniel Bryan may be a controversial choice due to his concussion issues. No one is suggesting he professionally fight, but he does have way more skill in the art than CM Punk. Bryan has spent years advancing his MMA skills in his free time in between wrestling shows. The passion of Bryan saw him train at Randy Couture’s MMA gym and learn from head trainer Neil Melanson. Bryan utilized many of the MMA aspects to his wrestling and would frequently win ROH matches via MMA elbows to his opponent’s head.
Brazilian jiu-jitsu is another trait in the fighting world learned by Bryan. If he had the time, health and ability to game plan before a fight, there’s no doubt Bryan could at least put up a fight against a fighter on his experience level. Punk and Bryan have been linked throughout their careers from the independent wrestling scene to the top of WWE, but Bryan has him beat when it comes to the art of MMA.
6 Baron Corbin
Baron Corbin doesn’t give the notion that he is the kind of talent that could translate to MMA, but you should never judge a book by its cover. The NFL past of Corbin is widely known as he tried his luck in football before making the move to WWE. A lesser publicized fact is Corbin also dabbled in professional boxing, and actually was a regional Golden Gloves champion. Corbin advanced to compete in the Golden Gloves national tournament but fell short.
The fighting background of Corbin would benefit him in the world of MMA. Factor in his deceptive size and decent speed, and you have a potential MMA fighter with enough training. CM Punk lacked the fighting talent that Corbin possesses. UFC may be too high of a level for a fighter with the skills of Corbin, but there’s no way he would do worse than Punk. Hell, Corbin without training may be able to get in more hits than Punk did in his fight.
5 Jason Jordan
As one half of American Alpha, Jason Jordan has become a standout performer in the WWE world. Fans adore the tag team and their style derived from backgrounds in amateur wrestling. Jordan achieved a great deal of success in his collegiate years with Indiana University. The incredible talent earned him a top fifteen national rank three years in a row. Jordan went 35-0 in his senior season to finish ranked second overall in the nation.
Many of the best UFC fighters come from an amateur wrestling background. It is what earned Brock Lesnar his spot into UFC, along with his massive size and celebrity. Jordan would utilize his amateur wrestling skills in the octagon to grapple opponents in the shoot atmosphere. The athleticism, talent and experience of Jordan are all the things that CM Punk lacked in his UFC debut. Jordan would outclass the cult of personality if he ever wanted to give MMA a go.
4 Chad Gable
You can’t have one member of American Alpha without the other. Chad Gable is another highly accomplished amateur wrestler. The talented young man racked up gold medals in the Pan-American Championships and Dave Schultz Memorial International. Perhaps more impressive than anything else in his career thus far, Gable qualified for the 2012 Olympics as a representative of the United States. Gable won his qualifying match before losing in the next round.
The honor of competing in the Olympics meant Gable was among the greatest amateur wrestlers in the country. WWE has done a great job showcasing his past and giving him a future as one of the exciting new stars in the company. Gable’s amateur wrestling skills could give him a fighting chance in MMA and he has enough talent to succeed in WWE if he could train in the other aspects of the sport. CM Punk has nothing on either member of American Alpha.
3 Dolph Ziggler
The background of Dolph Ziggler is usually not a topic of reference in his career due to his WWE character over the past few years. Ziggler was a legendary amateur wrestler in college for Kent State University. With 121 wins over his college career, Ziggler set a school record that lasted for a couple of years. The guy now known for his eccentric personality is a three-time All-Mid-American Conference champion in his weight class and no one has done that for Kent State since.
Ziggler was inducted into the Kent State Hall of Fame recently. The incredible wrestling talent often carries over to UFC. CM Punk lacked the background with experience and talent with success to make an impact in MMA. Ziggler possesses the qualities that Punk couldn’t bring to the table. You never know what Dolph will attempt in the future with his WWE career no longer thriving. If UFC offers any wrestler what they gave Punk, it is a damn worthwhile career risk.
2 Jack Swagger
Jack Swagger’s amateur wrestling background is actually what caused WWE to reach out to him, but it would serve him better in UFC. Jim Ross scouted Swagger due to their connection with the University of Oklahoma. Swagger competed in the NCAA Division I championships on multiple occasions and once named an All-American for his success. The accolades prove he was a superb amateur wrestler with more potential in other fields than WWE.
A rumor recently suggested Swagger would leave WWE this year to take a chance in the world of MMA. The background would have made it a compelling journey, but Swagger opted to take the reliable job of working in WWE longer. Age wasn’t on his side as it is extremely difficult to start a MMA career in your 30s. Still, Swagger has the talent to do much better and last longer in a MMA fight than CM Punk did at UFC 202.
1 Shinsuke Nakamura
One rising superstar in WWE that could be an interesting UFC fighter is Shinsuke Nakamura. The Japanese talent is known mostly for his inherent charisma, but the dude can fight with the best of them. Nakamura has a background in professional MMA during his time in Japan, and one trip to Brazil. With a record of 3-1, Nakamura scored all three of his victories with submission and showed impressive talent.
However, Nakamura knew he was meant to be a pro wrestler and invested completely in furthering his career. The rise to the top of New Japan led him to WWE and he is now bound to become a huge star here in the United States. Nakamura may no longer need or want MMA, but he has the skills to succeed if he wanted to dedicate his life to it. The most certain thing is he would absolutely put out a better showing in UFC than CM Punk could deliver. Hopefully it never happens as professional wrestling is a better place with Shinsuke Nakamura.