CM Punk is a fairly famous professional wrestler.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. is the most famous boxer of his generation.
They should be fighting in the UFC this summer, and they’re not.
That’s basically what we’re dealing with here.
The promotion announced this week—or perhaps, more aptly, TMZ scooped it out of Punk himself and spoiled the surprise online—that the wrestling sensation, 0-1 in his MMA career after a loss in his 2016 debut, would return in June.
The plan appears to be to give Punk, real name Phil Brooks, a second kick at the UFC can in his hometown of Chicago. The bout will air on pay-per-view, an occult curiosity designed to pry $65 from the hands of however many rubes are willing to fork it over.
And that’s fine. There’s real, genuine interest in Punk between his days as a top WWE star and his roundabout way to finding mixed martial arts as a second career.
Prior to becoming a UFC athlete, he had no competitive background to speak of. He was no different as a martial artist than any weekend warrior out there, only he had the star power and the pull with Dana White to get himself a contract with the biggest promotion on Earth.
It didn’t go well, though.
He was hurt in training a number of times, repeatedly delayed his debut as a result, and when it finally happened at UFC 203 he looked badly out of his depth in a beating at the hands of upstart Mickey Gall.
It will be nearly two years by the time Punk returns, pushing 40 and well past any conceivable athletic prime he may have had—and consensus would be that he’s always been more of a hard worker than a great athlete anyway.
It’s hard to find the right opponent for someone like that. Mike Jackson, a photographer and MMA internet darling, appears most likely to get the next crack at Punk, but in making that fight, the UFC is dropping the ball.
The right guy to fight Punk is, and always was, Mayweather.
After beating MMA’s biggest star, Conor McGregor, in a boxing match last summer, Mayweather has teased a return to fighting after retiring at 50-0 as a boxer. It seems "Money" is keen to give the fight life a try under mixed rules, and while most felt a fight with McGregor was an inevitability, a wiser person might see the benefit in one with Punk.
Mayweather is a far more experienced legitimate competitive athlete than Punk, but insomuch as Punk does anything well, he does things well in which Mayweather is inexperienced.
Punk has done some grappling in his life, finally claiming a legitimate jiu-jitsu blue belt in 2017 after years on the mats. Floyd has done none.
Punk has trained with great wrestlers like Ben Askren and Tyron Woodley, and great strikers like Anthony Pettis. Floyd has not.
Punk has endured a full MMA camp before, knowing the misery of daily beatings and ice baths and weight cuts. Floyd knows boxing camps, which are nothing close to MMA camps for the toll they take.
For as great as Mayweather is as a boxer—and he is undeniably, exceptionally great—he is not a great mixed martial artist.
He’s not even a good one.
In fact, he’s not even one at all.
And that makes him perfect for Punk.
To drastically understate it, Mayweather would pose a legitimate threat on the feet. There would be no way to prepare Punk for that level of boxing acumen, but the tables would be tilted in his favor in almost every other way.
The biggest challenge in making the fight would be to find a weight class at which the two sides could fight, with Floyd sitting around 155 pounds as a small MMA lightweight and Punk as a smallish welterweight, not looking huge when hitting the 170 pound limit.
It would almost surely have to be some sort of abstract catchweight, where the two contract to meet at a weight of their choosing, but with the modern UFC’s interest in promoting stars and making as much money as possible by way of big events, that seems a minor hurdle.
But alas, it doesn’t look like fate will conspire to provide the fight. With Punk booked, Jackson likely to face him, and the whole thing slated for Chicago—a far cry from Floyd’s preferred fight home of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas—it feels like a missed opportunity.
The UFC should have booked it, and they didn’t.
Oh, what might have been.