CM Punk's journey to the UFC and in life has been an interesting one. His WWE-produced documentary told the story of a man whose early life was a struggle and something that made him who he is today - for better or worse.
Since leaving WWE in 2014, he has been dedicated to becoming the best MMA fighter he can be. He's not out to be a champion, or even the best "guest" fighter in UFC history - he's just trying to prove something to himself. Before, he tried to prove that he could succeed at a high level in pro wrestling despite having size and his physique held against him and he did.
Now, he has to prove that he is worthy of this UFC opportunity.
When he was signed, everyone expected him to use his promo skills to hype up the fight. Instead, he has been doing the opposite, being honest to a fault and acting strangely humble. Instead of bragging and boasting, he's been very realistic about his chances and is open about the potential of getting his ass handed to him by Mickey Gall.
It's a unique approach to a fight as is the Evolution of Punk documentary series UFC has done on him. He comes off like an underdog just getting into MMA to begin with, let alone debuting in the biggest MMA group in history. You see that he is a driven individual and one that knows he's a bit crazy to get into MMA at this stage.
Punk's drive has defined him almost as much as his promos and personality, but it could be leading him to disaster here and he knows it. He's quite brave to just go right into MMA without any real athletic background beyond pro wrestling.
Unlike Brock Lesnar going into MMA from pro wrestling, he didn't have an NCAA-level wrestling background to fall back on as a base. His striking, grappling, and submissions were all about making things theatrical and keeping them within the confines of a pro wrestling match, not actually hurting someone to win a fight.
Having pro wrestling as his base works for his promos and he should have, at least, some familiarity with getting hit which also works in his favor. The Punk doc showed that he is fully aware of the risks, so even if his wife is terrified of the idea of him fighting, he knows it's something he has to do. He has a point to prove to himself, and he knows that whether he wins or loses his fight with Mickey Gall, he will have proven something to himself.
Just competing is a victory in its own way, and his journey to the UFC even after starting training hasn't been a smooth one. A shoulder injury set his return back several months, and as someone closer to 40 than 30, he knows his body takes longer to heal and fully recover from injuries. His mental toughness might be unmatched in either pro wrestling or MMA and that will probably carry him on even if he's down two rounds.
Punk is heading into a whole new world on Saturday night and it could determine his future in and outside of MMA. If he wins easily, he could either choose to retire on a high note with one win and become a commentator, something that would be a longer-term (and safer) job than in-ring competition. He could also opt to keep fighting and try to make a run for the gold. That would be a tough road and a big longshot, but one that could pan out very well if the hands of fate deal him a favorable deck of cards.
A loss, especially a first round KO loss, would seem to spell the end of his MMA career as an active fighter. My hope is that he does well, wins, and retires. If he absolutely blows away Gall, maybe then see where things go with a second fight. Regardless, Punk is in for the fight of his life on Saturday night, and many will be crowded around TVs at their homes or at sports bars anxiously awaiting the result.
Many are watching simply to see him fight, while just as many want to see him lose, echoing a John Cena-esque fanbase that loves and loathes him. I just want to see him do well and, most importantly, hope that he feels like the time and effort he spent on learning the craft wasn't wasted. He had the guts to try something new and expand his comfort zone, and should be applauded for it. He may not win the fight, but he will be anything but a loser on Saturday night.