Disclaimer: I’m not an anti-CM Punk guy. I actually respect the hell out of his attempt to make it as a fighter in the UFC. Do I think he’s going about it the right way? Not necessarily. I think he should have taken an amateur fight or two before making the jump, and I think his viability as a fighter in the world’s biggest MMA promotion is questionable past his debut, which will at least be financially lucrative for all those involved.
That’s the curiosity factor at work.
After that, however? Well, if he flops, it’s going to feel like a belly flop from a high board. If he succeeds — and by succeed, let’s just say win, or even just look respectable in a loss — is anyone going to be shelling out big bucks to watch him fight another unknown, inexperienced opponent?
Remember, Michael Jordan turned heads in baseball, too — but only for a while.
CM Punk is not the issue here, however. You cannot fault a man for having ambition, at least not when he’s hurting no one but himself in pursuing his dream (obvious flaw in that statement: he is taking a roster spot in the UFC without really earning it, but that’s a business decision the promotion made, and a tired argument). The issue here is why an athletic commission bent the rules simply to allow him to fight.
Remember when athletic commissions worked in the best interest of fighters, to protect them from themselves?
Yesterday, Combatsportslaw.com pointed out that the Ohio Athletic Commission requires a minimum of five amateur fights before a fighter can turn pro. UFC 203, which features the debut of CM Punk against Mickey Gall (who, already with two pro fights, needn’t worry about this rule), is taking place in Cleveland.
As is well known to anyone following Punk’s transition to MMA, he has zero fights of any kind. Which would apparently see him run afoul of this rule. Only, the commission waived it, clearing the way for Punk’s debut.
It’s not all that surprising to see that the commission waived the requirement in this case: the UFC is the biggest player in the game, and the commission does have the power to grant exceptions. However, the reasoning behind waiving that rule is a concern. In Punk’s defense, he has been training for over a year with one of the top teams in the sport, Roufusport. However, given the possibility of severe injury that is inherent in any mixed martial arts bout, is that enough?
Disturbingly, a commission rep has now confirmed to Luke Thomas of MMA Fighting that the reason Punk was granted a license for this coming weekend’s event is that he has an athletic background similar to that of Brock Lesnar.
Let that sink in for a moment. The Ohio Athletic Commission is claiming it licensed Punk because he has experience comparable to Lesnar – who was a NCAA wrestling champion. Punk has no amateur background to speak of, but apparently, the Ohio commission isn’t aware. Commission chair Bernie Profato said Punk received a license because “CM Punk has a wrestling background similar to Brock Lesner being permitted to fight in the past.” Ouch.
It’s clear that in this case, the commission hasn’t done their homework — or they have, and know how much money the UFC represents here. The commission later added that WWE wrestlers train in top facilities — ignoring the fact that they are training for a performance, albeit a physical one, not a fight. Then there’s some even worse logic from Profato as he spoke to MMA Junkie:
If it was that weak a fight, it would have been one of the preliminary-card fights
So, the placement of CM Punk on the UFC 203 card indicates that this is a competitive bout safe for the athletes involved? We’re just taking it on faith due to the bout order? Well, folks, if you want to schedule the MMA equivalent of a squash match, do it in Ohio — just book it on your main card.
Of course, Punk could just as easily have fought at an event under a commission with no such rule, so this isn’t as big a scandal as it seems . . . unless something goes horribly wrong. For the sake of everyone involved, let’s hope not. Otherwise, the Ohio Athletic Commission is going to be under the gun. And in the meantime, let’s not pretend that this is about anything more than money. CM Punk should be commended in his attempt to make it as a fighter, but there’s still questions as to whether this is the right approach. It appears now that safeguards to ensure he went about it the right way, at least in Ohio, have been waived, making this yet another problematic footnote in the CM Punk story.