Today Punk — aka Philip Jack Brooks — is the newest member of the UFC and the response has been mixed. Some MMA purists are seemingly on the verge of revolt about how a pro wrestler can be signed to the No. 1 MMA company in the world while other fighters toil away in the hinterlands waiting to be discovered.
It’s a good thing that those who are squealing like a pig stuck under a gate aren’t running the show or handling the marketing of an MMA entity.
For White, signing Punk is a no-lose situation. Punk brings with him immense name identity globally via WWE, and his main event visibility there for the past several years. When one’s former company — WWE — is in more than 150 countries in multiple languages, then one of their top and most popular stars is going to be known around the world, which makes Punk a highly marketable fighter — at worst, one time.
I’d surmise that Punk, a longtime MMA aficionado of the genre who has trained in Muay Thai and in Gracie Jiu-jitsu, will have his training documented on FOX TV and via all UFC platforms. Fans will make an emotional investment in the Chicago-born fighter who was never supposed to become a WWE superstar but overcame the odds working his way through the indie wrestling world to finally arrive at the top of the food chain in WWE.
During the time I worked with Punk, our conversations often times centered around UFC and MMA in general, and it was easy to see how passionate he was about mixed martial arts. It was akin to my own passion about football –borderline obsessive.
Punk might be the most unlikely major star to evolve in WWE in generations because of his non-traditional "look" and the indie wrestling sojourn that he traveled to live his pro wrestling dream. That speaks to the work ethic and intellect of the wrestler turned UFC fighter.
Dana White’s signing of Punk was victory No. 1 for the UFC and for Punk, who likely should be able to use his CM Punk ring name because of prior usage before he debuted in WWE.
White’s signing of Punk is nothing short of promotional genius. It’s a no-lose situation.
-- Jim Ross
Punk’s signing was made to feel special and it succeeded with the announcement being made at UFC 181 in Las Vegas. Fans who sprung for the pay-per-view got some value added with the announcement of Punk’s signing.
Following the training of Punk on UFC TV for the next several months and building the anticipation for Punk’s UFC debut is potentially great TV programming. Win No. 2.
Punk is a highly intelligent, street-smart athlete who stays motivated and hellbent on his dreams and goals as much as any pro grappler that I have been around in years. There is no doubt that Punk will be completely dedicated to training for his first pro fight. UFC can make him a star before he steps foot in the Octagon.
Without question, Punk’s first fight — and it should be on pay-per-view — will be a moneymaker. Curiosity will fuel fans to buy it, many for the first time. Big win No. 3.
MMA purists may buy the inaugural Punk pay-per-view because they want to see a faux pro wrestler get humbled inside the hallowed steel of the Octagon. The key term is "buy," so that equates to win No. 4 and the fight hasn’t commenced.
Finally, can Punk win inside the Octagon? Great question that no one can definitively answer. I do know that Punk is a true student of the genre, that he will be coachable, and he will physically and mentally commit to be as good as he possibly can. The straight-edge TV persona that he portrayed in WWE isn’t a "gimmick." That’s Punk’s legit lifestyle as he says he uses no alcohol, no drugs of any kind. He brings no excess baggage with him to training camp.
Punk will also be a marked man, as no UFC fighter wants to be known as the "guy who lost to the ex-wrestler."
If Punk leaves Chicago and his comfort zone to sign with an established fight camp that has a proven track record, then that will be a huge step closer to seeing just how committed he truly is about his new profession. This isn’t about the money because Punk has plenty. This isn’t about becoming more of a personality because Punk is essentially a loner except within his small circle of confidants.
This is about a man living his dream while he still has the time to do so — he’s 36 years old — and stepping into the Octagon to fight for real and for his own self-satisfaction. CM Punk needs to know if he can do this. In wrestling parlance, Punk might well be described as an "attraction," a talent who appears infrequently but is still considered special in the eyes of the consumer.
Punk will be a marked man, as no UFC fighter wants to be known as the ‘guy who lost to the ex-wrestler.’
-- Jim Ross
I’ve said many times that I thought CM Punk would be a great UFC broadcaster at some point in time, but I never foresaw the ex-WWE champion actually becoming a UFC fighter. However, I must say that I’m excited to ride along on his journey to the day Punk has his first fight.
If Punk never wins a UFC fight — and I’m not predicting that — the signing of Punk by White is that of a brilliant promoter who can create a journey that both the fans of Punk — and those who aren’t — can travel and one in which they can both emotionally invest.