At UFC 203 on September 10th a hometown hero enters the octagon to defend his world heavyweight title for the first time after hugely upsetting the dominant Brazilian world beater to win it. It’s a Rocky movie, is you replace boxing with MMA and Philly with Cleveland. But nobody cares. To the casual fan’s who make up the lion share of the projected PPV revenue for this one, and thus become the driving lobby in UFC brass’ eyes, all they care about is an nonathletic old bloke with a 0-0 pro record and a 0-0 amateur record, whose name is Phil. He is, of course, former WWE superstar known as CM Punk (side note, Wikipedia suggest CM stands for “chick magnet”. We cringed so hard we turned into a fist. He’ll never replace Ladies Love Cool James in our eyes of toughest abbreviated creep name). Phil “CM Punk” Brooks is a WWE wrestler who isn’t particularly athletic, has no “legit” background, really only rose to prominence in the WWE because Vince McMahon recognised that his “Smarks” who love independant cloggers from ROH purchased more merchandise than children (a tactic now being abandoned in favour of muscle bound freaks now kids represent revenue once more) and used to pretend he had a “Kempo” background despite showing some of the most awkward leg work week in week out. Simply put, CM Punk is not a mixed martial artist. He’s in the UFC because they want to make money.
Should the fight happen?
At this stage I must state that the UFC is not at fault here. Their responsibility is to protect the integrity of the sport in terms of rankings and title lineage, but also to raise the profile of the sport and there’s no better way to do this than having crossovers from other major sports (and pseudo sports) and WWE is proven to be a big seller on that level with Brock Lesnar currently being the headliner of the 3rd highest PPV (UFC 100, after 196 and 202’s McGregor shows), comfortably eclipsing pro boxer Ray Mercer’s unsuccessful foray into MMA. On that level, CM Punk makes money and his fight doesn’t have any weight into the main title picture or rankings. So all innocent? No. Not at all.
How do you make a fight
First of all, let me state that there is no set rule on what permits somebody to be a MMA fighter. The inception of the sport combined traditional Martial Arts with Boxing, Wrestling and even street fighters (in fact Tank Abbot got very close to winning UFC six and also got to the final of UU 96 and Keith Hackney quickly gave up his Kenpo and Tae Kwon Do styles when beating Joe Son via testicular punches at UFC 4). Since sanctioning came in, which was a massive necessary step to legitimacy and mass market coverage, the sanctioning bodies have their own rules as to what conditions need to be met to justify a fight. In Ohio there are some relatively strict rules about weight cutting (this is a debate for another day), but they also have a very clear regulation that to fight as a professional Mixed Martial Artist in the state of Ohio, you must have completed 5 amateur fights. The purpose of this is to ensure you are skilled enough to safely engage in professional combat, having experienced the safer environment of amateur combat enough to make the step. CM Punk does not fulfil this criteria. His amateur record consists of precisely 0 fights. The reason given to sanction him is that his background in pro-wrestling is similar to Brock Lesnar’s. This is an absolutely disgrace. Lesnar was an NCAA champion and an athletic monster, a true freak of nature. That is where his MMA base came from, not from acting in the WWE week in, week out. CM Punk is about as close to Brock Lesnar as spam is to fillet steak. Worth noting also, Lesnar went off and fought at Dynamite, defeating Olympic Judo Silver Medalist Min-Soo Kim before he got what was seen then as a fast track to the UFC.
Punk’s utter lack of pedigree aside, there is another pretty significant point in sanctioned match making: Is the fight competitive? This is absolutely key to match making in the modern era. Fighter safety is key and the first port of call must be assessment of a fighters ability to step into the cage with their opponent. Weight classes are the basic indicator, but athletic commissions must ensure that one fighter won’t be so much better than the other that it causes active danger.
At this stage, to truly answer the question of competitive fairness, we must look at Punk’s opponent, Mickey Gall. There isn’t a great deal of information about Gall. He is a kid from New Jersey who appeared on reality show Dana White: Lookin for a Fight, calling out CM Punk. That seems to be pretty much it. Sherdog gives him a amateur record of 2-0 against guys who didn’t go pro. He has one independent pro fight (the Lookin for a fight one), which was his debut, and his opponent’s debut (who remains 0-1). After that, he entered the UFC to fight Mike Jackson, who was making his pro debut and remains, you guessed it, 0-1 after the Gall fight. It turns out Jackson is a some time kickboxer that does photography for Legacy fighting championship, the UFC friendly lower tier show that nurtured rising star Sage Northcutt. What this tells us is that Gall has fought 4 people who have precisely zero pedigree. They might have been monsters of delicate flowers, but no commission or sanctioning body can possibly know. He might be a good fighter. He certainly dispatched his pro fights earlier, but the whole thing raises significant questions as to his legitimacy. Obviously the UFC have decided they want to earn off CM Punk and they’ve also decided they don’t want to give him an absolute bum with no legacy (see Mike Jackson) to chew up in his main card PPV debut, so they’ve had to artificially create buzz about his opponent and try and make him look as legit as possible, while still assuring the fight gets sanctioned by the athletic commission.
Let me say now the UFC do not go to Ohio that often. Ohio’s rules on weight cutting do not fit with the standards of UFC heartland Nevada and also Ohio demands a 50% cut of the fight purse in fines for people missing weight. It isn’t traditionally an attractive commission to fight under. You certainly won’t ever get the likes of Conor McGregor risking a cut in Ohio if those are the conditions.
It’s also worth noting that while Michael Bisping is deserving of a home town first title defence for his decade long unrelenting service to the UFC, Stipe Miocic isn’t (yet. No disrespect to Stipe). Going to Ohio isn’t purely for pandering to a HW champ in his first defence. There must be other reasons.
Let’s look at what we know:
Both fighters have been cleared to fight despite not clearly fulfilling requirements.
Fighters have been cleared to fight each other despite not having matched experience of frame of talent reference.
Would Nevada or California sanction this bout? I doubt it. It’s too strange not to be suspicious. Is this all a Vince McMahon style work? Dana White will, I’m sure, say “No Chance”.