CM Punk’s UFC debut was a disaster from a competitive standpoint. But the 37-year-old former professional wrestler, who tapped to a rear naked choke by Mickey Gall Saturday at 2:14 of the first round at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland at UFC 203, made a larger point.
He was nowhere near Gall’s class as a fighter, and it showed in the first 10 seconds. Gall, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, took Punk down with a double leg seconds into the bout and was immediately pounding on him.
Gall slipped in the rear naked choke after softening Punk up and he forced the tap.
Punk, a former WWE champion who had a bitter split with the organization, announced in 2014 at UFC 181 that he wanted to try a mixed martial arts career.
He trained for nearly two years under highly regarded coach Duke Roufus, and took on Gall.
He clearly is nowhere near prepared for UFC-level competition yet, but he didn’t see the loss as a failure.
“In life, you go big or you go home,” Punk said. “I just like to take challenges. It’s a hell of a mountain to climb, and I didn’t get to the summit today. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to give up. It doesn’t mean I’m going to stop.”
He needs to go to a lower level and work on his game and try to earn his way back, if he indeed does choose to continue to fight.
But his story was compelling. He put himself greatly on the line and risked all sorts of ridicule. No one had an idea of what to expect from him since he had no fights and his serious training was made private.
It was his long-time dream to compete in MMA and, nearing 40, he knew he had to make a decision.
So he did what he wanted to do and poured his heart into it.
He was blistered by many in both the media and the fan base.
But Gall supported what he tried.
“There are a lot of people, not just in the MMA community but a lot of people, they hate too much, man,” Gall said. “[Expletive] the hate. We’ll all be dead in 100 years. Let’s love each other. [Expletive] that hate.”
That was Punk’s attitude from the day he began. He is a smart guy and had to know what he was trying was extraordinarily difficult, if not nearly impossible.
But he didn’t let the odds deter him and had to endure some brutal beatings in a gym that includes the likes of UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley and former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis, among other elite fighters.
Punk took the punishment and kept going forward. It couldn’t have been easy in camp, and it couldn’t be easy for a guy who had been hugely successful in his former profession to potentially be humiliated.
But despite the loss, he didn’t feel humiliated — and for good reason. He learned a lesson about where he is as a fighter, and his presence for one fight in the UFC harmed no one.
If the UFC keeps him around after that poor performance, that would be a different story, but it gave a highly accomplished public figure a shot.
And Punk tried to use it to pass along a lesson.
“I know there were a lot of doubters, but life is about falling down and getting back up,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked down, it’s about getting back up. So if there’s any kid out there who’s been told by a parent or a coach or a teacher, somebody they look up to or somebody that’s supposed to push them and believe in them and they’re told no, don’t listen to that.
“Believe in yourself. Sometimes, the outcome isn’t always what you desire it to be. But the true failure in life is not trying at all. I know that sounds preachy and kind of weird for a guy who just got beat up, but [expletive] it. This was the time of my life.”
Punk’s fame also may have helped Gall boost his profile and push him down the road to stardom.
It’s far too early to tell how good he can be, but he has been impressive in all three of his pro fights.
He surely doesn’t lack for confidence.
He called out UFC wunderkind Sage Northcutt after his win.
“I want to punch the spikes out of his hair,” Gall said.
He may get his wish, as Punk got his.
In the end, Punk wasn’t a winner, but he didn’t really lose. He got the chance of a lifetime, and there is no shame in losing to someone younger, more talented and more experienced.
He did what a lot of people may have wanted to do but couldn’t summon the courage to try.
It’s time for the experiment, at least for the time being in the UFC, to end, but it certainly wasn’t a failure.
It may be the fight that launches one man to a successful career, and it allowed another man to deliver a message of hope.
What could be wrong with that?