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07th Sep 2016

COMMENT: Should we be worried for CM Punk?

A potentially dangerous curiosity

Ben Kiely

Phil Brooks deserves our respect.

The would-be MMA star better known as CM Punk has no motivation to fight in the UFC other than to pursue his dream of becoming a fighter.

Money doesn’t enter into the equation. He has already made his millions from the WWE and there are far easier ways to earn a quick buck than stepping into an enclosed space with battle-worn warriors who want to render him unconscious.

After leaving the wrestling world, he had a plethora of options. Considering the size of his fanbase and his charisma, a career in broadcasting could have been one route he could have taken. He could have even followed the lead of other WWE stars like John Cena and Dave Bautista and tried his hand at acting.

But Brooks didn’t want that. He wanted a fight.

His opponent for his MMA debut, Mickey Gall, isn’t UFC calibre. The only reason the 24-year-old was signed to the promotion was to ensure that the matchmakers could find solace in the knowledge that they wouldn’t be throwing Brooks in at the deep end straight away.

The only reason Mike Jackson was brought in was to provide Gall with a promo-worthy UFC highlight-reel they could use to fill the void left by Brooks’ complete lack of professional combat sports experience.

Gall is raw and inexperienced, but all logic dictates that he’s better equipped for the art of war than Brooks.

Brooks may be dipping his toe into the shallowest part of the pool, but place someone who’s incapable of swimming into a body of water and they’re likely to drown.

CM Punk sparring 1

While Gall doesn’t deserve to be in the big leagues right now, as a promising young fighter he may have the potential to reach that level down the line.

His fight-tape and record suggest he’s the better striker and judging by his ability to hang in there against Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu whizz Gordon Ryan at the 2015 NAGA World Championship, he should also have the edge on the ground.

The main difference between the two is that, crucially, Gall has combat experience. It may be minimal (two pro bouts, two amateur contests), but those type of conditions cannot be replicated behind closed doors, which is what Brooks has been trying to do at Roufusport.

The Ohio State Athletic Commission states that a fighter must have at least five amateur fights on their record before being granted a licence for a pro-fight in the state. However, they made an exception for Brooks.

One of their reasons for allowing Brooks to compete – namely that his case is similar to that of Brock Lesnar, who skipped the amateur scene and went pro from the get-go – is worrying.

Lesnar was an elite wrestler at collegiate level, an NCAA Division 1 champion. Brooks, by his own admission, has done some Kempo karate, jiu-jitsu and began training in MMA two years ago. Their cases are not comparable.

Lesnar wrestling

Duke Roufus has really stuck his neck out with Brooks. He proclaimed that he wouldn’t allow his fighter to enter the Octagon unless he was ready. This Saturday, on UFC 203’s main card, we’ll find out whether the famed MMA coach is telling the truth or not.

One of his star students, former lightweight champion and current featherweight contender Anthony Pettis shares the same confidence in Brooks’ ability at this level. Speaking on the latest edition of The MMA Hour, he reaffirmed the gym’s stance that Brooks is ready.

“This is the right time for him to test himself. Anyone who puts the work in like Punk did can wear the Duke Roufus banner.”

WWE Smackdown - Sydney

The best possible scenario, regardless of the outcome of the fight, is that this doesn’t turn out to be a mismatch.

While some of his detractors will be hoping to witness Brooks get steamrolled in his first ever fight, any MMA fan worth their salt will be hoping this doesn’t transpire. We’ve come a long way from those freakshow fight early days when the sport was still finding its feet. Although the prospect of seeing brutal knockouts is the main incentive for a lot of fans to tune in, nobody wants to see anyone get badly hurt inside the cage.

The other reason OSAC granted Brooks his licence was because they trusted the UFC’s matchmakers. Here’s hoping this faith wasn’t unfounded because the consequences for getting this one wrong could be very grim indeed.

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