Working The Marks: A Primer On CM Punk Vs. Mike Jackson

Andy Monson

C.M. Punk (artist Grant Gould © MMATorch)

CM Punk taking on Mike Jackson at UFC 225 is one one of the most unimpressive fights in modern UFC pay-per-view history. Despite this, the fight will garner a fair amount of public interest. However so little of the discussion will focus on the fighting acumen of either fighter. Andy Monson is here to give a fair assessment of how this fight might actually play out.

UFC 225 will take place in the great city of Chicago on the evening of June 9th.

The card is quietly stacked, featuring a main event rematch in which Robert Whittaker will defend his middleweight title against Cuban wrestling standout Yoel Romero.  Up and coming flyweight Sergio Pettis will fight perennial contender Joseph Benavidez in what should be a good litmus test for his future in the division.  Heavyweight sluggers Alistair Overeem and Andrei Arlovski are respectively featured against prospects Curtis Blades and Tai Tuivasa in potential slobber-knockers.  Carla Esparza and Claudia Gadelha will square off in intriguing strawweight bout.  Megan Anderson will face Holly Holm in an excellent bit of matchmaking at featherweight, which is hopefully a sign of the company’s commitment to that division.

So how is it that the most hyped feature of this event is a fight between two welterweights who share a combined professional record of 0-2 and are nowhere near the top of their division?

Simple:  Kayfabe. (Kayfabe is pro wrestling jargon for the story being presented to the public.)

Phil “CM Punk” Brooks will fight Mike “The Truth” Jackson in what represents Punk’s last gasp at anything resembling a legitimate career as a mixed martial artist.

Both men share first round submission losses to Mickey Gall.  Their relative inexperience makes for a theoretically even matchup on paper, but paper doesn’t step into the cage to throw leather.  There is very little tape available on both fighters but educated guesses as to how this fight might play out are still possible.

Mike Jackson’s Style

Mike Jackson fights like a man who prefers to stand up and box and could easily spend an entire fight without throwing a single kick or doing any grappling if his opponent obliges.

Jackson typically fights from an orthodox stance and favors a left check hook as his opponent enters distance.  Sometimes an eagerness to connect leads him to over-commit and throw himself off balance when he whiffs.  He’s active with his jab hand and can pump it two or three times in succession to set up a straight right to the body.  He can pivot well enough, forcing his opponent to turn to keep up which allows him to stay a step ahead in striking exchanges.

His defense consists largely of circling out or leaping out of range, though he does allow his hands to wander away from his body while doing so.

A fighter with a more diverse kicking game could exploit this with snapping front kicks up the middle or by stepping in with a round kick up top.  When blitzed by higher volume combinations he does sometimes show a bad habit of backing up on a straight line, which could see him put his back against the fence.  When his right hand stays straight he connects more cleanly and frequently but chucking out a looping overhand tends to get him in sloppy positions, which could be punished by an opponent clinching or looking to seize a takedown when he is off balance.

The brief amount of grappling footage that exists is somewhat inconclusive, as he clearly has at least a pedestrian grasp of submissions (in one bout using a double wristlock/kimura to sweep his opponent and secure the tap) but most of his grappling is a response to an opponent taking him down and not much can be deduced about his position game or pure wrestling skills.

CM Punk’s Style

Whereas most of Jackson’s available footage has been him working his standup game, Punk by contrast spent the majority of his MMA career grappling defensively off his back.

Punk has said in the past that jiu-jitsu was his gateway into mixed martial arts, and this is visible to an extent.  When taken down he instinctively fought from guard, attempting to keep both legs around his opponent’s torso for control while using his arms to block punches and tie his opponent up.

He falls into a trap of only using his upper body to activate his jiu-jitsu game, letting his arms do all the work while his legs simply hold on.  He would be better served striving for butterfly guard, using his feet on the hips or upper inner thighs of his opponents to elevate their center of gravity and give himself space to escape from the bottom.  If that option is not available, underhooking his opponent’s arm by reaching through the armpit and across the back will at least give him a fulcrum to pull them to one side or the other, opening the door to escape.

A major key to Punk’s success in this fight will be if he focuses on escaping from underneath or chooses to stay on bottom and fight for submissions–the latter option would be ill-advised.  He looked uncomfortable during the very brief stand up portion of his last fight, standing upright and flat footed.

What Will Happen?

All things considered, the outcome of this fight seems easy enough to predict but the method a little less so.

Punk’s jiu-jitsu game appears more focused on what to do once on the ground, but not so much on how to successfully move the fight there on your terms, and a jiu-jitsu fighter without takedowns is a snake without fangs.

Given that Jackson’s comfort level looks to be on the feet and he has at least an awareness of balance and reversals, the most likely scenario is one that sees Jackson turn this into a boxing match until he scores a left hook when Punk closes distance, following up with strikes on the ground for a TKO within the first round.

Of course, this is the fight game and anything can happen in a shoot.

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