With much of the recent hype surrounding part two of the Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz saga for this Saturday’s UFC 202 event, the promotional team absolutely has to be gearing up for the next major pay-per-view event taking place Sept. 10 in Cleveland, Ohio. Following two solid cards involving Demian Maia taking on Carlos Condit and Andrei Arlovski opposite Josh Barnett, will be UFC 203. Headlining by what is generally coveted as the ultimate prize in the UFC, the heavyweight championship recently won by Cleveland’s own Stipe Miocic, this is a wide open door for not only the UFC, but debuting star Phillip Brooks.
Who is Phillip Brooks? To many of his fans and followers he is better known as C.M. Punk. Brooks was a star with WWE, having held multiple titles during his tenure with the company. Voted 2011 WWE Superstar of the year, Brooks held the longest title reign of the “modern era” and what is recognized as the company’s sixth longest of all time.
On Dec. 6, 2014 at UFC 181, Brooks announced his signing with the UFC. This was met with very mixed reactions from fans and fighters. Much like megastar Brock Lesnar who made the similar transition, fighters weren’t shy about showing their displeasure with the former wrestlers making the switch to the Octagon. Through various interviews and social media, downpours of “fake wrestlers” flooded the mainstream. In Lesnar’s particular case, this only created more buzz surrounding his debut, which was already going to draw in eyes from hardcore WWE fans.
As we all know, Lesnar went on to be one of the biggest draws in UFC history and proved naysayers wrong. Brooks’s initial debut was garnering heaps of attention from fighters, fans, and the media alike, but was somewhat stifled due to a couple injuries. Now with a successful camp under him and the anticipated debut less than a month away, talk is picking back up.
The UFC has a very similar opportunity in Brooks as they did with Lesnar, and they know it. The official UFC profile even has him listed as C.M. Punk. He told the Las Vegas Sun, “I’ve come this far with C.M. Punk. That’s what people know. I’m trying to stick with that. I’m not shying away from it. I’m not ashamed of it.”
Should Punk perform, and perform very well, the relationship between Punk and the UFC could be quite the marriage. Additionally, this needs to be pushed to the max partly due to Brooks’s age. A little over a month following his debut fight, he will turn 38. One would think that Brooks and the UFC will maximize their opportunity, as the hypothetical MMA window may not be open for long.
Punk has also clearly stated, much like Lesnar’s most recent UFC 200 return, that this is about him and what he personally wants to accomplish. He’s not at the slightest worried about what fighters or the media has to say. In an interview with Complex, he said: “I don’t justify stupidity with an answer. I don’t give a shit what anybody thinks of me. Everybody knows how to throw a punch. Not correctly – he or she might not know how to turn the wrist or know what part of the hand to hit with… but humans instinctively know to fight.”
The criticism met from deciding to fight seems somewhat unjust. On one hand, fighters can be upset with Punk debuting on a main PPV card in UFC without having even one professional fight on his record. But not taking him seriously could be a massive mistake, especially for those who may be in line to face him. Just last year the Chicago native moved to Milwaukee to be closer to Roufusport gym, where he has been training.
No one knows what the MMA gods have in store for Brooks, and as his promoting debut draws closer, betting lines could be all over the place. But one thing is crystal clear, the UFC has the chance to take this and run with it. Will C.M. Punk become a superstar much like Brock Lesnar before him? If the stars align, many people will tune in to find out.
(Steven Consentino is a new MMATorch contributor. Look for more articles from him in coming weeks.)