CM Punk Never Really Had a Shot at Winning in the UFC

Patrick Wyman@@Patrick_WymanMMA Senior AnalystSeptember 12, 2016

CM Punk came up short against Mickey Gall at UFC 203.
CM Punk came up short against Mickey Gall at UFC 203.Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

In his MMA and UFC debut at UFC 203 on Saturday night, CM Punk got beaten up. Drubbed. Shellacked. Dominated. Mollywhopped. Trounced. Clobbered. Crushed. Thrashed.

You get the idea.

The 37-year-old former professional wrestler walked toward his opponent, Mickey Gall, and never saw the double-leg takedown coming. Gall simply waited for Punk to come too far forward, ducked under and drove through, planting him against the fence before picking him up and slamming him to the ground.

Karl @Kimmage_

That is horrific from CM Punk doesnt get any worse #UFC203 https://t.co/3Jdz0Vycyg

A vicious barrage of ground strikes opened up a series of guard passes, and before long Gall was on Punk's back looking for the submission. It was only a matter of time before the 24-year-old New Jersey native, a veteran of two professional fights and several amateur bouts, sunk in the rear-naked choke for the finish.

At no point did CM Punk offer anything other than defense, and even that was limited. Gall needed just over two minutes to land 20 strikes, pass to dominant positions three times and attempt two submissions, per FightMetric.

The most striking thing about the bout wasn't that CM Punk lost—he was a heavy underdog, and few had picked him to win—but that anybody, anywhere thought the fight would go any differently than it did. What happened when CM Punk and Gall met in the Octagon is exactly what you should expect when an actual professional MMA competitor fights a neophyte hobbyist.

To be clear, this isn't a value judgment about whether CM Punk deserved to be in the UFC, whether he should have gone through with the fight or what kind of person he is. Some media members, such as ESPN.com's Arash Markazi, thought that making the attempt to fight professionally was inspiring.

In his post-fight speech, CM Punk emphasized this: "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 it sounds preachy and kind of weird coming from a guy who just got beat up, but f--k it—this is the time of my life." (Warning: Video contains NSFW language.)

That's not a bad sentiment, and if the hundreds of thousands or millions of people who heard it derive some motivation to pursue their dreams from CM Punk's attempt to fight professionally, good for them. The world won't be a worse place because people decide to try harder.

With that said, what happened in the Octagon plays out in gyms across the country every day. There are levels to MMA. It's not just about effort, and it's genuinely farcical to pretend that's all that matters.

Gall beat CM Punk because he's more skilled.

"This is what I want to do, man," Gall said at the post-fight press conference (warning: NSFW language). "Since I was 16, every decision I made in my life was toward being here."

Think about that for a moment. No matter how hard CM Punk worked in the 21 months since the UFC signed him, a time marred with various injuries and layoffs, he was never going to make up the gap in skill in that brief period. He was effectively an amateur making his debut.

Let's say, very conservatively, that Gall spent an average of 10 hours a week in the gym in the six years he trained to be a professional fighter before CM Punk ever started to seriously work in MMA.

That's at least 3,000 hours Gall has spent on the mats drilling grappling and wrestling technique or rolling; hitting pads and working striking drills; sparring; and generally learning what it takes to be a professional fighter. He spent much of that time working with the Miller brothers, a pair of veteran fighters who know what it takes to compete at the highest level.

CM Punk was working from behind even before he stepped through the doors at Roufusport.

I've sparred with professional MMA fighters and professional kickboxers, and even when they were going light, they put a beating on me. Why?

They were better athletes, sure, but mostly they knew so, so much more about both the basics and the intricacies of fighting. They had a deeper understanding of technique in both variety and application, their fundamentals were sharper and they knew how to control the fight-or-flight response that threatens to overwhelm you and force you into making bad decisions in stressful situations.

Even the very worst professional fighters have invested thousands upon thousands of hours in developing those skills, and that's not a gap anyone, no matter how dedicated they are, can make up in 21 months of training, even with a good team.

Gall showed just how big the skill gap was.
Gall showed just how big the skill gap was.Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

That's exactly what CM Punk was trying to do against Mickey Gall. More than a statement about who deserves to be in the UFC or whether the UFC should be booking fights purely to draw eyeballs, this was a referendum on how much better professional fighters are at what they do than everybody else.

In the course of my career covering MMA, I've spent a fair bit of time in the sport's elite gyms. I've watched practices and individual training sessions at Tristar, Jackson Wink MMA, Kings MMA, Black House and Team Alpha Male.

What watching those practices has made clear is how high the level of technical skill to be even a mediocre professional fighter really is. You grasp how many things they've worked on and trained for and their sheer depth of skill; what we see in the cage is just a minuscule fraction of their total knowledge. If you're a fan of MMA who appreciates technique, it's genuinely awe-inspiring to watch fighters hone their craft.

What's even more striking, if you watch a session or two, is the realization they do that every single day, and usually more than once.

Think about how that knowledge compounds over time, the little tricks and details and intricacies they pick up in the course of thousands and thousands of hours.

A guy like Gall, who has spent his entire adult life in that kind of environment, has forgotten more about fighting than CM Punk could have possibly learned in the 21 months since the UFC signed him in December 2014.

That's not an insult to CM Punk. It's not hating on him to point this out. It's not to say that he shouldn't have gone through with the fight or that he shouldn't have spent the last couple of years pursuing this goal, if it was a dream of his to fight as a professional. Good for him to get paid, presumably handsomely, for following his dreams.

It's just a statement of fact, and it doesn't care how you feel about it.

The competitors we see in the UFC are the product of years and years, thousands of hours, of focused, dedicated training. Everything they do routinely in the cage, from double-leg takedowns to jab-cross combinations to guillotine chokes, requires an incredible amount of skill to pull off. They've all worked hard and all followed their dreams to get there.

This fight, whether you think it was a farce and an insult to the sport of MMA—I'm not one of them—or an inspiration that will drive you to try harder to achieve your goals, should reinforce the audience's respect for what professional fighters do each and every day.

Patrick Wyman is the Senior MMA Analyst for Bleacher Report and the co-host of the Heavy Hands Podcast, your source for the finer points of face-punching. For the history enthusiasts out there, he also hosts The Fall of Rome Podcast on the end of the Roman Empire. He can be found on Twitter and on Facebook.


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