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The Case Against CM Punk: Why His UFC Dream Deserved to Die

Jonathan Snowden@JESnowdenCombat Sports Senior WriterSeptember 12, 2016

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 10:  Phil 'CM Punk' Brooks stands in the Octagon after being defeated by Mickey Gall by submission in their welterweight bout during the UFC 203 event at Quicken Loans Arena on September 10, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

On Saturday night, a smug look seemingly perma-etched on his handsome face as 37-year-old former professional wrestler Phil "CM Punk" Brooks made the long walk to the UFC's Octagon. As Living Colour's "Cult of Personality" blared, he soaked in the cheers from an enthusiastic Cleveland crowd, with his tattoos, short hair and extreme dad bod making him look every bit the professional fighter he wanted so desperately to be.

And then the bell rang.

We expected a harsh welcome from rookie Mickey Gall—but no one expected the shellacking that occurred. Once the fight started and the actor was forced into action, the truth emerged. Inside the cage, it always does.

There was never a second Punk looked like he belonged. From his awkwardly upright stance and terrible takedown defense to his desperate flailing on the ground, Punk spent the entire two minutes and 14 seconds of the fight simply trying to make it look respectable. There was no apparent thought of winning—all of his effort was devoted to saving face.

He didn't pull it off.

Gall manhandled him, beat him mercilessly, then forced him to tap out to a choke. Punk didn't manage a single significant strike and cried afterward when addressing the media.

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 10:  Mickey Gall (top) attempts to submit Phil 'CM Punk' Brooks in their welterweight bout during the UFC 203 event at Quicken Loans Arena on September 10, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Ge
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

It turns out Punk didn't belong any closer to the cage than the front-row seats he had so often occupied before making his abrupt career change. For Punk and his fans, this was a harsh reality, but it was one that even the most partisan fan found hard to deny in the face of demonstrable proof.

Shame on the media who treated this CM Punk fight like anything other than comedy. Shame on UFC for promoting it and Ohio for licensing it. And shame on coach Duke Roufus for not finding a nice way to tell Punk that perhaps a fight in the UFC wasn't the greatest idea.

That he was there at all was an embarrassment—to him, to real fighters looking to build their own names in the sport and to the UFC, a promotion that has spent 15 years establishing a reputation for excellence.

After the fight, Punk himself spun a different kind of story, one he had been building to throughout the fight week. In this fairy tale, winning and losing didn't matter. That he, an all-important wealthy celebrity, was willing to step into the cage at all was its own victory, regardless of outcome.

"In life, you go big or go home," Punk told UFC color commentator Joe Rogan after the fight. "I just like to take challenges. This was a hell of a mountain to try to climb. I didn't get to the summit today, but that doesn't mean I'm going to give up. It doesn't mean I'm going to stop. ...

"I know there's a lot of doubters, but listen, life is about falling down and getting up. It doesn't matter how many times you get knocked down, it's about getting back up."

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 10:  (R-L) Mickey Gall celebrates after defeating Phil 'CM Punk' Brooks in their welterweight bout during the UFC 203 event at Quicken Loans Arena on September 10, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LL
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

CM Punk gave himself a participation trophy after a dismal performance—and many in the media bought into it. With due respect, the least possible amount of respect, I declare that to be complete hogwash.

Much was made of Punk's "dream" of being a professional cagefighter. Leaving aside the fact that the UFC was a thriving enterprise for all of his athletic prime and he miraculously only discovered this dream after being cut from his seven-figure WWE contract—not every dream is destined to come true.

Punk is hardly alone in dreaming of professional athletic success, though usually those dreams fade after childhood. But sports is the ultimate meritocracy. You make it on to the main card of a UFC pay-per-view, into the starting lineup of an NFL team or to the finals of the U.S. Open based on your success on the field of play.

Trying hard isn't enough. Wanting it real, real bad isn't enough, even if you're a niche celebrity with a fanbase.

It's not just about good form or fairness or any of the niceties that fall to the wayside when money is there to be made. In combat sports, an overmatched fighter is a danger to themselves, especially an aged, injury-prone fighter like Punk. Lots of people have dreams. But if your dream involves leaping in front of a freight train or a pro fighter, I hope someone stops you.

If CM Punk had taken an amateur fight or fought on a small card to really help a local promoter, no one would have cheered harder than me. Wanting to test himself in an unscripted fight is admirable. It's the hubris involved in demanding the fight be in the UFC that rankles.

Every earnest plea that this was some kind of martial arts journey was proved a lie by his insistence on inserting himself among the world's best fighters. This wasn't someone wanting to establish his place in a new sport—this was a rich guy buying his way into an elite club, an extended fantasy camp with the world watching.

Punk wanted to skip the journey entirely and start from the very top of the ladder. His arrogance was stunning—that he might not get exactly what he wanted never even seemed to occur to him. The Wrestling Observer Newsletter (via Cageside Seats) reported that before signing with the UFC, Punk talked with former contender Chael Sonnen about filming a reality show building a fight between the two. He talked openly of possible title shots.

But there's a difference between a fan who dabbles and the kind of animal who makes it in the cutthroat world of professional fighting. Gall explained that to Punk, letting his fists do the talking, but it's not clear the lesson sunk in.

Starting from the top doesn't demand courage. Having the resources to devote years of his life to cosplaying pro fighter isn't admirable. Earning your spot is admirable. Overcoming obstacles is admirable. Punk skipped all of that inconvenient work and simply showed up. Worse, he wanted a pat on the back for even that questionable achievement.

Fernanda Prates @NandaPrates_

"Believe in your dreams." Disclaimer: being a millionaire who can spend months indulging a whim with no concern around outcome helps.

Before the fight, he claimed just showing up to fight was a win. That should have been a red flag. Real fighters are driven by an unquenchable desire to dominate. They feed their families by winning. Pay their rents by winning. Make it to the UFC by winning.

Punk can't recreate that feeling or manufacture a drive that doesn't exist. Being a fighter is about more than strapping on gloves and engaging in carefully controlled violence. On Saturday, Punk learned that the hard way.

      

Jonathan Snowden covers combat sports for Bleacher Report.

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