Straight Edge Savior? CM Punk, Legitimacy and a UFC Dream

December 10, 2014
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As the collective MMA world loses its mind over Saturday’s announcement at UFC 181 that Phil “CM Punk” Brooks would be joining the company, there has been heavy emotion on both ends of the spectrum.

On one side, you have a group who understands the business aspect of the former WWE champ’s signing. Just to put it in perspective: Brooks, with his signing, makes him the second-most relevant MMA personality on social media, with only Dana White eclipsing his reach (2.3 million vs. 2.9 million, respectively on Twitter)

“Does that mean Justin Beiber should get a UFC contract, too?!”

Slow down, slow down. No, it just means that people know who he is — and a very specific group of people at that.

CM Punk Go to Sleep on KaneOn the other side of this heated discussion is a group searching for answers, and demanding an explanation. They want to know why their beloved sport is being held hostage by a “poser” with an obvious death wish.

Well, rest easy, friends – we’ll get to that particular discussion momentarily.

As most know, Brooks has a solid grasp of jiu-jitsu after spending years training with Rener Gracie, of the world famous Gracie clan. He has also studied Kempo and Muay Thai on and off over the years. Certainly that doesn’t qualify the 36-year-old for a title shot, but it does give some credence to the change in profession when you take into account his undeniable star power.

And Phil Brooks’ star power is, without question, massive.

For the last decade, John Cena had ruled over sports entertainment. He was World Wrestling Entertainment’s millennial version of Hulk Hogan. His merchandise could be seen flooding the floors of every arena across the world. He was the golden boy, the cash cow, and the biggest moneymaker since Stone Cold Steve Austin.

SEE ALSO: Stone Cold Steve Austin: “I Think Brock Lesnar Woke Everybody Up in MMA”

Then came CM Punk.

He started in pro wrestling innocently enough. The “Second City Saint” made his name on the rough and tough indie circuit during the early-2000’s. Often using a “savior” persona or preaching the values of his “Straight Edge” lifestyle (Brooks practices a non-alcoholic, drug-free lifestyle), he would go on to become so popular that he was allowed to retain his name and likeness throughout his tenure and departure from the WWE – a rarity in the business of professional wrestling.

Building his reputation on being a tireless worker (once famously wrestling with a cracked skull), he was beloved as the charismatic anti-hero who would always tell it like it is. Grizzled wrestling legends like Harley Race and Mick Foley endorsed the Chicago-born brawler, as he transcended the business and spoke to fans, seemingly as one himself. He often voiced frustrations and preached the tenants of respect and honor, coming off as a true man’s man.

Outside the ring, Brooks was not afraid to speak his mind, either. He famously launched a memorable verbal assault at controversial R&B superstar Chris Brown, giving his fans even more reason to revere him.

Before leaving the WWE in January 2014, Brooks would be the only man to out-sell John Cena in merchandise (albeit for a short period), effectively solidifying himself as a top draw in the business and remaining one of the most beloved, fan-favorite’s of any generation. In fact, the WWE allowed Brooks to hold its championship for a modern day record of 434 days. Eventually he would drop the belt to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson at 2013’s Royal Rumble, proving to everyone his value within the company, as he danced with one of the most recognizable figures in Sports Entertainment history.

The WWE knew they had a star on their hands. But the “Chicago Made” Punk wanted something more. So he left the place that he has called home for the better part of a decade, in search of a new challenge.

Before we get too far into the history of CM Punk, let’s examine the modern day history of pro wrestling and mixed martial arts. Remember when The Ultimate Fighter Season 1 set the MMA world on fire? Remember when Forrest Griffin fought Stephan Bonnar, and Chuck Liddell was over-hand-righting fools into oblivion? Remember Randy Couture getting carried around Lake Meade in a recliner? Remember when Andrei Arlovski was heavyweight champion of the UFC and he had those cool, little fangs?

Man, those were the days.

Fans often like to forget that those days wouldn’t have been possible if the millions of fans who tuned into Monday Night Raw didn’t stick around immediately after to check out the reality TV fight show from the fledgling UFC. WWE President Vince McMahon and Spike TV, allowed that to happen. WWE was a behemoth in the entertainment business – still is – and he surely had input on what programming would follow his. McMahon ignored the UFC as potential competition, and instead, symbiotically embraced the promotion, allowing it to follow his flagship show. TUF 1 piggybacked off the throngs of 18-34 demos that were planted in front of their TVs for Monday Night Raw on those cold winter nights in early 2005.

Shortly after the TUF-boom, a man by the name of Brock Lesnar lead the company into heights once thought unreachable. From 2008 to 2010, pay-per-views would regularly hit the coveted one-million-buy-rate mark when Lesnar headlined. To this very day, fighters still talk about being on his cards and how much bank they made. Lesnar, of course, was a former WWE champion who many thought had no business being in the UFC. He would end up winning the heavyweight title from now UFC Hall-of-Famer Randy Couture at UFC 91 in November 2008.

Is Phil Brooks, Brock Lesnar? Of course not. But, Brooks isn’t being groomed for titles, either. In fact, I don’t suspect that anyone thinks he will ever so much as whiff a flake of UFC gold – Brooks included. As he has repeatedly said, he is here to test himself.

“But Punk is going to be taking up spots on cards where other, more deserving fighters could be showcased!”

Oh, yeah?

UFC 137 featured everyone’s favorite MMA bad boy Nick Diaz fighting bona fide legend…

  • Seth

    If Nick Diaz “deserves” to come back after 2 years and 2 loses (with one of them being totally UNDESERVED title shot, to which he talked his way into, like Sonnen did at 205) and fight on main card, then Brooks deserves spot on main card EASILY.

    Now I awaits Diaz’s fan boys screaming how great he WAS in 2011, when he won his last fight. He’s has-been at this point and shouldn’t be mentioned on the same line as Anderson, not to mention him having ANY chance to get title fight. Fortunately, Anderson will take care of that punk…no pun intended.

    • drkdisciple

      Interesting point …let me see if I got this right you are comparing a true martial artist (like him or not) that has a record of 29-9, who has fought top level competition with a 36 year old with no professional fights …excellent comparison, makes a lot of sense! Hope his first match in the UFC is a triple threat match, after one event he could be 2-0 …..would make perfect sense!

      • Seth

        No, Im comparing has-been loser who quit the sport for 2 years after he got his butt kicked TWICE in a row, coming back because he almost ran out of money. If you truly believe that 2014 version of Diaz DESERVES to fight Anderson, on main card – then you admit one thing. He deserves that because of his “star power”, because at this point Diaz has NOTHING left to backup his main card spot. And if his star power is enough to get main card fight, then Punk easily can get one too.

    • Lucas Freire


      What one thing has to do with the other?

      Sure you can say Diaz didn’t deserve the title shot. But still, he’s a talented seasoned fighter with a huge background on martial arts.

      Now, if you really think that’s the same as putting someone who has “has a solid grasp of jiu-jitsu after spending years training with Rener Gracie, of the world famous Gracie clan. He has also studied Kempo and Muay Thai on and off over the years. Certainly that doesn’t qualify the 36-year-old for a title shot, but it does give some credence to the change in profession when you take into account his undeniable star power.” a shot at the biggest organization of MMA…there’s nothing I can do to prove it wrong. :/

      Bieber does boxing lessons with Mayweather, why is it so absurd?

      • MuayThaiFood

        That’s a scary little elf you got there.

      • MuayThaiFood

        That’s a scary little elf there!

      • Seth

        All Im saying is that if 2014 version of Nick Diaz (after 2 years layoff and 2 losses) deserves to be on the main card and in the talk of potential title shot IF he wins his upcoming fight – then CM Punk deserves to fight on Main Card too. Because both guys are riding now on one and same thing – their star power. Nick gets that fight (same as his title fight) only because of who he is, not how good he is today. So that’s what it has to do with each other.

        • Lucas Freire

          No…Diaz has “star power” as a legit fighter. He has star power because he made a name for himself fighthing under the MMA banner.
          While CM Punk obviously has some athletic capabilities, he’s closer to an actor than to a fighter. The Couture/Toney fight was a fight that happened due to “star power” against a guy with no MMA experience. But he was an accomplished fighter.
          Has CM Punk ever fought on any grappling/striking event?
          As far as I know, the answer is no.
          What’s next? Why isn’t The Rock on the UFC already?

          • Seth

            Well…star power is star power. As long as you are known, you have it. I don’t see how CM Punk’s “non-MMA” star power won’t put butts in the seats for events. Besides, MMA fans may not know him – but im sure a few millions (prolly way more) of non-MMA fans know him. And that’s what UFC wants. Because if CM’s fanbase turns on to watch UFC events – there is big chance part of it will stay as UFC fans. That’s all UFC wants and that’s why they signed him. That’s called “Crossover star”. Dont be so butthurt, because UFC signs non-MMA fighter to fight. They just see $$$ with this idea so they will run with it as long as they can and profit as much as they can.

            If CM losses – well, so what? It will be your usuall “See? I told you he won’t make it”. But even if that happens after 1 fight – this 1 fight will be watched my MANY of CMs fans, again – thats all UFC wants from it. If he wins somehow a fight or two – all of the sudden he becomes bigger story for media (which means more coverage and more buzz) and CMs fans will then stick for more fights – so its even better situation for UFC. How can you not see that? .-. And if somehow you do see it…whats your problem with that case? We all know its only about the money here .-.

          • Lucas Freire

            Of course I can see it. The problem is the idea behind the UFC. It’s all about money, BUT, it’s also about putting the best fighters in a cage. If this little part is gradually forgotten, what will keep the UFC from signing every single human with “star power” and becoming a celebrity deathmatch?
            Who cares about a random prospect that may be the next LHW champion? Let’s see Miley Cyrus vs Taylor Swift. It’s huge draw!

          • Seth

            I think you are overreacting .-. Its…what? second non-MMA fighter who will fight in UFC? Toney and Punk are only two (Lesnar had MMA fight before UFC, so I would count him as MMA fighter when he signed with UFC), so I don’t think its that big of a deal at this point. If they start to sign that kind of people more often, then yeah thats a problem. But once in a few years? Its just attraction o:

        • boob

          My god how can anyone put diaz in the ring with silva? Just the size alone not to mention what weve seen spider do to people. Falling backwards knockin fools out. Diaz has some of the best hands in the bizz but gsp exposed him just like dos santos made his baby bro look like a liitle bitch.

    • MuayThaiFood

      That just figures that you would take the one thing in the whole article that made not one bit of sense and run with it.

      • Seth

        This article describes CM Punk and his previous career. Entire point of this article (and any other about Punk right now) is if he desevres or not opportunity he was given. I just used Nick Diaz as a example to prove that Punk does deserve that chance. You can quit stalking me, if you want my autograph you can just ask instead of commenting on me every comment, fan boy.

        • MuayThaiFood

          I’m about as big a fan of Nick Diaz as I am of you. Deserving of a title shot or not (and , no he wasn’t), it’s a really poor comparison. I totally agree with Lucas Freire’s comment. For the record, I don’t comment on every one of your comments, only the dumb ones. That does seem like a lot though, doesn’t it?

          • Seth

            Read my comment again. I said that if Nick Diaz deserve all he had in his last fight (title shot, main card status despite quitting sport for 2 years) then Punk deserves to make his debut on main card. Any problem with that? Im not saying that Punk deserves the same things Diaz had – only place on main card.

          • MuayThaiFood

            I really don’t care if CM Punk comes to the UFC or not. Nick Diaz, like him or not does not belong on an undercard, at least not yet. No one deserves a title shot after a loss though. Here’s what you said…”if Nick Diaz deserve all he had in his last fight (title shot, main card status despite quitting sport for 2 years) then Punk deserves to make his debut on main card.” I maintain, that Nick did NOT deserve it so where does that leave your argument? I’ll tell you where….two wrongs make a right and I don’t agree. And again, Lucas already made the points, Diaz is a bad comparison.

          • Seth

            So you want to deny he got title shot? You deny he is on main card after quitting sport. In eyes of some people he deserved it, since he got it and since people where almost rioting after he lost to Condit and were screaming for him to get title fight anyway. I never said he deserved it in your eyes, bro, but since he got it and it was so much buzz around it – some people thought he does deserve it and he got it. Is thinking really that much of a problem for you and you can’t think for 2 seconds what I mean by what I wrote?

          • MuayThaiFood

            Blah, blah, blah…you keep blathering on don’t you? I can out think, out write and out reason you boy so give up already. If you would shut your c*ck holster and quit being a little pr**ck I wouldn’t give you so much grief.

          • Seth

            You give me grief? xD In order for that I should give a F about what you say and I pretty much don’t, so keep trying. Maybe one day. And I highly doubt you can out think or out write me…unless you are talking about silly insults, because thats what you and your boyfriend MMAlive are good at 🙂 Keep on dreamin’, though 🙂

  • TheCerealKiller

    Brooks has just as many top ten wins as Diaz.

    • drkdisciple

      Well he did beat Lawler in 2004 lol

  • Guest

    Just because he was a pro wrestler who was a draw does not give ufc to sign his inexperienced vanilla midget ass to a contract? hell, even Brock Lesnar took a fight outside ufc before he was signed to the big time, not to mention he was an accomplished NCAA champion prior to his WWE.

    It’s ludacrious how Dana White tells an accomplished wrestler & fighter to get more fight experience but yet signs this fake wrestler? UGH!

    • MuayThaiFood

      Come on, we know it’s you Askren. Quit your whining already.

      • Spike

        Yeah I know it’s the undefeated welterweight champion & Olympic gold medal wrestler. Still id rather see him in ufc than that fake wrestler CM Chump

  • Sal

    Trying to catch lightning in a bottle ..just like with Brock, grab some of the millions of WWEF&G AWA etc crowd..econmics plus an atlete who wants it trained for it..all for it makes sence..James Toney thing was a bust..This Punk has skills, how much you ask we will pay to see! Great signing bizness wise

  • Sal

    Dana, The Bossman and brother want NYC badly we all do ..u need $$$$.. relavence to buy your way in NYC or the self proclaimed world greatest arena (yeah maybe 30 yrs ago), cause $$$ is the only delay to MSG..lotsa hands stickin out! I.M.H.O…The joke of it all in reality MSG needs the UFC more than the UFC needs it Pride

  • MikeMcK83

    Is anyone arguing that Punk deserves to be in the ufc?
    It’s not as if he did something in his life that makes anyone believe he’ll be a threat to the title. With that being said, everyone knows why he was given the shot. It’s not a secret.
    Biggest difference between punk and Brock is that brock is a freak athlete and presents a problem to anyone because of it. He certainly has his faults, but we still haven’t seen a guy in the ufc with his size, speed, strength ratio. That’s an advantage that he still would hold today over anyone.
    Punk doesn’t have any of that. His success will be basses on what he can learn. Not looking good for Punk.

  • Shocked_n_Awed

    Brilliant; best piece I’ve read on the situation so far – a perfect dissection. 🙂