Showdown Joe: Lessons Still Being Learned From CM Punk Experiment

Every so often, a UFC event and/or fighter continue to carry a post-show buzz well into the following week and such is the case for the CM Punk experiment.

The variety of differing opinions surrounding Punk’s initial foray into mixed martial arts have bordered on sympathetic to flat-out venomous. No matter which side of the fence you are on, or even if you are sitting on the proverbial fence … you are probably right.

I’ve read what feels like countless opinions on many social media platforms as well as websites regarding his dominant loss to Mickey Gall. It has all culminated into a personal retrospective of my own journey into MMA.

In 1996, while taking back to back BJJ and Muay Thai classes, just north of Toronto, it dawned on me: I wanted to fight professionally.

But no sooner than the thought of me mapping out my journey to becoming a prizefighter could be realized, I suffered a back injury. When I finally returned to the mats, I suffered a knee injury. This cycle repeated itself with every major joint in my body. That’s when it dawned on me: my body was simply too fragile to go through a training camp. The dream of fighting professionally was likely not going to happen.

I heard all the insults … I was “a <insert cat adjective here>”, “weak”, “just not man enough”, etc. None of that bothered me. I knew what my body was capable of and the constant pain of nagging and recurring injuries. The dream had to change - and it did - eventually guiding me to a successful broadcasting career and to who I am today.

It’s been 20 years since those days at that BJJ academy and I’ve seen my fair share of MMA bouts, fighters, events, storylines, and much, much more. But when the CM Punk story first came out two years ago, I viewed it from a different perspective.

Like all MMA fighters who step into a cage, I’m neither jealous nor envious … I feel proud for them. They all can do what I could only dream of doing. And Punk was no different (with the only exception being I would have obviously started on the grass roots regional scene).

I tried to get into view it all through his perspective though. The training camp. The injuries. The setbacks, opponent announcement, press-conferences, interviews, fight week, walk to the octagon and hearing my name announced.

How would I have fought Mickey Gall? What would my strategy have been? Would I be able to execute it?

But then it all changed when he basically walked into that takedown. As Gall proceeded to unleash his BJJ for MMA fury, I felt sorry for Punk. His worst MMA nightmare was unfolding in front of millions of eyeballs. The beatdown was strangely heartbreaking to witness. I wanted him to put up a better fight, but seeing him not close his guard sent me into a worrying phase that quickly proved the point that this was a massive mis-match unfolding in the octagon.

Despite Punk’s on again, off again training for two years at Roufusport, it proved a variety of MMA facts that so many casual observers hopefully finally understood. Theories many of us have tried to preach for years.

The sport has so many levels within it, the untrained eye simply cannot understand nor appreciate it. It’s a conversation I once had with one of my old producers at UFC 88, as Dan Henderson was taking on Rousimar Palhares.

He was in awe of Hendo’s technique, especially when comparing it to the six fights and twelve fighters before him on the card. I explained to him how it may not be evident, but in time, he will notice the different levels of skill between some fighters but especially if he would join me one day at a grassroots MMA event.

In time, he was able to quickly pick out a fighter with potential, to a fighter who was UFC ready. He was then able to debate the merits of a fighter who was a true contender, in the title mix and who was a true number one contender. And was confident enough to make bold predictions as to who would one day be a UFC champion.

In CM Punk vs. Mickey Gall, he called a first round finish. Despite never seeing CM Punk fight (and no one other than those at Roufusport really knew … kind of) he knew enough that if Gall took Punk down to the ground, it would not be pretty. Being underneath a legit brown belt is bad enough … now allow him to throw punches as well, and look out.

After the bout, the next proclamation was even clearer: Punk lost to a 2-0 fighter, one who is not even ranked in the UFC Welterweight Division’s Top 15, 20, 25 … etc. And CM trained to be in the same cage as him.

Imagine never training a day in MMA … how would one fair vs. Mickey Gall? Or other welterweights like Tarec Saffedine, Gunnar Nelson, Matt Brown, Donald Cerrone, Nick Diaz, Robbie Lawler, Tyron Woodley or Georges St-Pierre.

Put some serious thought into it, and you will quickly see the level differences between some of these fighters and their peers. And for those who have trained before, perhaps a humbling perspective of where your own skill level may be at.

It’s been an interesting few days post UFC 203, and I can’t help but think about how many times I’ve had conversations with casual MMA fans about CM Punk and how he was dominated. And dominated was not the word they used. The words were far more degrading.

I voiced my opinion, which is neither right or wrong. Neither was theirs. We are all entitled to express our thoughts, most of which foster some excellent debate.

From my end, I commend Phil “CM Punk” Brooks for taking the MMA leap of faith and doing it on the biggest stage possible. Strangely, I wish it was me. The more I think about it, I’m glad it wasn’t. As beautiful as MMA is, and though I truly love this sport, it always proves that it’s a brutal one and not for the feint of heart.

I was reminded of where certain people stand when it comes to a legal form of survival of the fittest and the pecking order amongst the elite of the elite. Now that the CM Punk storyline has been completed, hopefully it’s the last time we see anyone step into a UFC cage without going through the MMA regional scene.

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