COMMENTARY | We are currently in the midst of one of the busiest and most buzz-worthy parts of the 2014 sports calendar. Not only have the Super Bowl and the stacked UFC 169 pay per view just taken place, but college basketball is in the heart of conference season, the Olympics are getting ready to begin and the hockey and basketball seasons are heating up. However, one of the top stories this week had to do with someone in the related field of "sports entertainment."
After this past week's Monday Night Raw, reports surfaced that former WWE Champion C.M. Punk had walked out on the promotion in advance of his contract expiring this summer. The news is a crushing blow to the WWE, as it may now be without one of its biggest stars as we approach the important Wrestlemania season. At the same time, Punk's apparent status as a free agent opens the door to the potential to what would undoubtedly be one of the most intriguing sports stories of the year: Punk making a run at competing in the UFC.
Of course, it goes without saying that Punk's ability and success in the scripted world of professional wrestling does not mean he has the skills needed to compete at the highest level of mixed martial arts. However, Punk is not your stereotypical muscle-bound wrestler whose fake punches and pandering would go nowhere inside a UFC octagon.
Rather, Punk has trained MMA in the past and has made no secret that he is a big fan of the sport. He has trained with legendary jiu jitsu coach Rener Gracie, who has gone on the record saying that Punk wants to, and could successfully, compete in the UFC. Punk has frequently commented on and attended UFC events, so it is not like the talk of a delusional outsider who thinks he could come in and take over the sport because he is a "tough guy"; Punk understands exactly the level he would have to reach to be competitive.
And the move makes obvious sense for the UFC. Much has been made about how the promotion will struggle going forward unless it is able to produce new stars, as former top draws Brock Lesnar, Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre will not be fighting again any time soon. With Punk, the UFC would have an instant star that could be counted on to garner mainstream attention and pay per view buys, two things many of the current rising stars seem to be lacking.
The key would be Punk's dedication and health. If Gracie is to be believed, Punk is a fast learner who should be able to make up for lost training time by soaking in lessons from the greats of the game. At the same time, he will have to be healthy enough to handle the intense training necessary to compete, something that may be an issue considering his reported burnout in connection with the WWE schedule. The good thing is that it seems very remote that Punk would even consider such a move if he didn't think his body could handle it.
Along the same lines, the UFC would, and should, only be interested in Punk if it is clear that he is up to it. The promotion has proven in the past that they are willing to take a chance on an ex-pro wrestler if he has the credentials to be successful (Lesnar), but not if the move would be no more than a cheap attempt at garnering attention (Bobby Lashley and Dave Bautista). Therefore, if Punk is able to prove to his coaches and the UFC that he could be competitive, there should be nothing stopping him from entering the octagon and giving the UFC on of its biggest shows of all time.
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Del Pearson is a big MMA fan who has been to many live UFC events. His all-time favorite fighter is Randy Couture. Follow Del on Twitter @DelPearson44.
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