Needless to say, things didn't go according to plan for CM Punk at UFC 203. Well, outside of pocketing a likely seven figure payday.
CM Punk didn't look good in the UFC cage. He looked like a white belt taking on a brown belt, like a guy with about 15-16 months of training and no fights, against a guy with 8 years of training and four fights (between pro and amateur).
The UFC did Punk no favors with his matchup, and they shouldn't have. With all of the beef between the UFC and WWE in regards to Conor McGregor's now infamous "messed up p-ssies" comment, a Punk win would have fueled that fire even more. The UFC doesn't mind making a little green off of Punk, but one would imagine they weren't too keen on the idea of a 37-year old without athletic experience wiping the floor with someone who had already been (at least portrayed) as a UFC fighter in Mickey Gall.
Really, it's pro wrestling booking 101. Or at least how it used to be.
The WWE has often fancied itself as showcasing their stars in a 'bigger than life' manner. Despite Punk's stature relative to other pro wrestlers, he had a quality that allowed him to do that. One of the reasons Punk grew tired of the pro wrestling spotlight was the recent trend of WWE booking their part-time wrestlers to defeat full-timers, which negates a lot of the year-round booking.
Make no mistake, the UFC didn't want that in their uncontrolled environment, but they want CM Punk on their payroll.
Punk isn't a UFC quality fighter. By all accounts, it would appear he has UFC-quality work ethic and UFC-quality training. Bringing in a young fighter with little experience was already doing the former WWE Champion a favor, and it's hard to believe despite some of the questionable calls the company has made in regards to hires, that they'd take a step down for Punk again.
However, don't look for Punk to be cut.
Punk's coach Duke Roufus said recently that Punk has had several promoters reach out through him to offer fights. That's probably all the UFC needed to hear in order to make their call to keep him on the roster. They may not have even needed that. Rival company Bellator MMA has been snatching up free agents from the UFC, regardless of when their physical prime was, and have been building their brand in order to capitalize on attraction fights. CM Punk would fit that mold.
Bellator MMA has some benefits the UFC doesn't. A standard Bellator card already features fighters within a realistic experience range of Punk. On any given card you could find a debuting pro, or one with a couple of fights that was added to the preliminary card to boost local attendance out of familiarity for any number of reasons. Bellator would have no problem moving that up to the main event and subsequently raking in their cash (or ratings, or whatever).
Japanese promotion Rizin hasn't just showed a willingness, but an absolute desire to promote special attraction fights. Not only that, they've also been all too happy to book huge mismatches in favor of their featured stars.
Rizin and Bellator are the two leading candidates to snag Punk if he were to get released, but it's not happening. A dark horse in this entire situation was brought up by Fightful.com Podcast co-host Showdown Joe Ferraro, who threw Titan FC in the mix.
It's not as unreasonable as you might think.
The UFC was able to get by Punk's first fight despite all of the stigmas associated with it. After his performance at UFC 203, it's going to be tough to do that again. Granted, they're the biggest MMA company in history and can do it if they want to, but they also run the risk of damaging their own brand by having what many may perceive as the equivalent of celebrity boxing on their programming. Punk's training is legit, and he'd mop the floor with 90 percent of the general public with ease, but that same public saw him get waxed with no offense to show for it. Punk may have to take a step down so the UFC doesn't have to -- and he's said he was willing to do that in the first place.
Titan FC, along with EFN, AFC, Pancrase, BRACE MMA, Cage Warriors, Shooto, Combate Americas -- they're all perfect for CM Punk. There's one reason for that -- UFC Fight Pass.
None of these companies will match CM Punk's UFC pay, and they may not have to if the UFC foots the bill. It's not unheard of for the UFC, in special situations like Cris Cyborg, where the company will pay a contract while booked elsewhere. Despite his debut performance, CM Punk is a special situation.
Titan FC is really the perfect promotion for this to all go down. They're an American-based show that could run an event in Chicago to capitalize on the situation. As mentioned, they're a Fight Pass property, so the UFC could benefit from their contractual investment. The company is doing fine and dandy on pay-per-view over the last two years, but their Fight Pass shows leave something to be desired. Punk is an excellent name to attract subscribers that wouldn't normally do so. Not only that, the investment would pay off in spades if those fans stick around.
CM Punk is not a UFC-level fighter, and that's okay. Nobody should have realistically expected that. To be honest, he doesn't appear to be a Titan FC-level fighter. That's okay too. At the end of the day, there's money to be made off of CM Punk for all parties involved.
If the UFC doesn't, Bellator will.