The whole thing started 21 months ago when CM Punk told UFC commentator Joe Rogan that his “professional” wrestling days were over and that he was joining the UFC roster. On that December night in 2014 Punk also told Rogan that he wouldn’t have been able to live with himself if he didn’t take this opportunity and that for him it was now or never. Rogan wished him luck in his new career to which he said, “Luck is for losers.” With that, a long and controversial journey had begun.
Over those 21 months I’ve received numerous emails and texts and had many conversations about Punk’s decision to become a mixed martial artist. I don’t consider myself an MMA expert by any means, but having watched the sport since 2005 I would say I’m a high level casual fan. My feelings were always that CM Punk was a determined, hard working, self believing guy and that he was taking this seriously. It wasn’t a publicity stunt, it wasn’t some sort of leverage or payback to WWE. It was legitimately something he wanted to do and something he intended to follow through on.
Those conversations about how crazy Punk was to make this move turned into questions of whether he would ever actually step foot in the Octagon or whether he ever actually intended to in the first place. After numerous injuries and time off for a surgery I can’t pretend I never questioned it myself. In the end I couldn’t talk myself out of my view of this man as someone who believed in himself, who pushed himself and who always wanted more for himself. After all, he left WWE, his original dream, because he felt stifled. He felt Vince McMahon and Triple H were basically holding him back from achieving what he thought he was capable of. He achieved a dream of writing a comic book so why would he just pretend this UFC thing was a dream if it was anything less?
In addition to the doubt of his true intentions, a few other things seemed to creep in. Hatred and judgement. So many people derided him for this decision. Saying the hoped he got crushed or knocked out or legitimately injured. So many people acted as though he “didn’t deserve” to pursue this, as if somehow once you’re one thing you aren’t allowed to ever attempt to be something else. If people see you one way how dare you attempt to force them to see you another way.
These feelings aren’t true just for CM Punk. They are true of almost anyone. Tell someone you don’t want to work 9-5 for the rest of your life, you want to pursue a career in some form of creative endeavor. See how many people try to talk you out of it. See how many people tell you it’s not smart. Even Conor McGregor walked away from a career as a plumber to pursue his own MMA dreams. His parents didn’t understand but look how pursuing his dream worked out.
Despite all of the doubt, all of the hate and all of the judgement, CM Punk finally did step into the Octagon last night at UFC 203. At this point we all know how the fight itself turned out, but the fight itself wasn’t what mattered most. We all get caught up in life thinking all these trivial things matter and often fail to look into the heart of things. What mattered most was the fact that this man went out and did what he said he was going to to, he went out and did what so many people said he wouldn’t do. He did something that so many people doubted him over, hated him over and judged him over. And while he didn’t win the fight and wasn’t even competitive in the fight, he stepped foot into that Octagon in great style.
There was arguably not a wrestling fan in the world who wasn’t marking out when he actually walked out to Cult Of Personality. He gave us all what we wanted in that instance and he walked out there with a smile on his face, a look that said, “I’m doing exactly what I want to do and I love it.” The four weeks leading into the fight he actually starred in a documentary series about his journey to last night that was riveting. We got to finally get some insight into his training, his struggles, his goals and his improvement. While I enjoyed those four weeks and the 3 minutes and 30 seconds it took him to get to the cage, it was what happened after the fight that stood out the most to me.
After a lopsided defeat which saw Mickey Gall win by submission at 2:14 of the first round, Punk stood in there to deliver a message. He told the Cleveland crowd and a world full of doubters and haters that he likes a challenge, that it was a hell of a mountain to try to climb and just because he didn’t reach the summit he wasn’t going to stop. He told them it was one of the greatest nights of his life. He told them that if someone you look up to tells you that you can’t do something, believe in yourself and do it anyway. He told them that true failure in life isn’t when you don’t get your desired outcome, but when you don’t try. It was arguably the most beautiful promo he has ever cut and he did it on a huge stage that most people never wanted him to be on.
Not to be lost in all this, in true WWE fashion, Punk put over a young future star on the biggest platform he’s ever had. He allowed Mickey Gall to get a high profile victory and cut his own promo and build even more buzz on himself. The fight even helped him book a big match for himself against another young star in Sage Northcutt. Mickey Gall would not be in such an advantageous position right now if it wasn’t for CM Punk.
Getting a little bit into the actual fight before we “go home” I thought Punk was way more aggressive than I expected him to be. Whether that was always the game plan or if it was just from a rush of adrenaline I don’t know, but Gall showed his experience advantage by capitalizing immediately. Within 10 seconds he had Punk in a compromising position and from there the gap in experience continued to grow. What I will have to say for Punk is that he took some heavy punches like a champ, he transitioned a few times and kept Gall at bay and he even escaped a rear naked choke that appeared to have been sunk in. What happened was the absolute worst case scenario and for a little while he was able to weather the storm.
While my amateur eyes saw some positives to be taken away, so did a few men who would be considered experts. Here is what UFC Light Heavyweight Champion and avid WWE fan Daniel Cormier had to say:
— Daniel Cormier (@dc_mma) September 11, 2016
How about former UFC two-division Champion BJ Penn:
— bjpenndotcom (@bjpenndotcom) September 11, 2016
Maybe no one praised his skills, but everyone appreciates his heart and the courage he showed last night. He made an impression on fans, on fighters and possibly much to the chagrin of WWE, on social media. As of this writing at 2:40 AM on the east coast, both Punk and #CultOfPersonality were still trending on Twitter.
A 21 month-long journey didn’t come to an end last night but it was the culmination of the first part of it. CM Punk proved a lot of people wrong just by making weight and making the walk to the Octagon. He also entertained the hell out of us and even found some time to inspire us while many were basking in the glow of his defeat. CM Punk told Joe Rogan on that first night that luck is for losers. The biggest star in the sport, Conor McGregor often says the phrase that, “We’re either winning or we’re learning.” Punk didn’t have any luck, but he is far from a loser. He may not have won the fight but he learned a lot about himself and his new career and I look forward to seeing him get to do it again.
— ESPN (@espn) September 11, 2016