I don’t follow UFC, or any MMA for that matter, unless there’s a connection to pro wrestling.
I’ve seen a couple of Brock Lesnar fights, because he’s Brock Lesnar. I know who Conor McGregor is because he likes to play pro wrestler, and of course Ronda Rousey because she’s transcended MMA like The Rock did sports entertainment. That just about sums up my knowledge of UFC. When it somehow involves pro wrestling, I’m in. Other times, whatever.
As CM Punk’s widely discussed and criticized UFC debut has come and gone, I find myself once more misplaced in this strange, yet not entirely unfamiliar world of the UFC. Like a lot of people, I was intrigued to discover how the 37-year-old Punk, a former pro wrestler with no prior MMA training, would fare in a professional fight.
The answer was not particularly well to the surprise of no one.
But it wasn't even so much the result of the fight that had me invested. In fact, before watching the UFC’s The Evolution of Punk series, I only had a passing interest in the controversial bout, based mainly on the curiosity factor and pro wrestling connection. But the series got me thinking a lot more about the fight, what it meant to Punk, and the idea of Punk as a role model.
See, I was never a huge CM Punk guy. I enjoyed his run during the “Pipe Bomb Era" which I inaccurately define as the time from his sit-down promo roughly through to leaving the company, but he was never my favorite. However, there’s no arguing that he was very, very good, and as a wrestling fan, I could appreciate that.
But what I appreciated more about Punk, especially after his 2012 Best in the World DVD release and even more so after Evolution, is how in the era of disgraced heroes and icons, he stands out as this shining example to children and adults alike.
Personally, I’m not sold on the whole "role model" concept. More often than not, people we look up to tend to disappoint us in the end, especially those coming from the world of professional sports and entertainment. Lance Armstrong, Jon Jones, Bill Cosby, the list goes on, and on, and on. But while others fall from grace, Punk inspires.
And his story really is an inspiring one. It’s clear in footage of him doing autograph signings and meet and greets just how many lives he’s influenced, whether due to his straight edge beliefs or his dedication to hard work and "earning what you’ve got" mentality. What I personally find most inspiring is that he’s managed to come out of the world of pro wrestling on his own terms, and more or less unscathed (not counting the lawsuit he claims is being "bankrolled" by Vince McMahon). Not a lot of wrestlers can say that.
But he did make it out. And not only that, he managed to escape with his now wife AJ. And from the glimpses into their home life that we got in Evolution, the two seem to be a totally normal, happy, boring couple. As a husband myself, I think that’s beautiful.
Here are two people who started in professional wrestling as nobodies, paid their dues on the indies, made it to the big leagues, achieved pretty much everything one could hope to achieve on the biggest stage of them all, left the business on their terms, and in the process, they managed to find love and develop a seemingly loving, healthy relationship with one another.
We sadly don’t get to see very many happy endings when it comes to pro wrestlers. While I understand some fans may have felt let down when their favorite wrestler just up and quit on them, I’ll take that disappointment if it means just one ex-pro wrestler is happy, healthy, and living life to the fullest.
But what makes CM Punk stand out as such a good role model is that while other professional athletes and celebrities are getting done for drugs, committing hit and runs, making racial slurs on secret sex tapes, or being charged with sexual assault, CM Punk has been training his behind off and overcoming obstacles to compete in his first ever professional MMA fight.
And as if that wasn’t enough pressure, he did it with a very expensive lawsuit lingering over his head. But you don’t see him complaining, at least not in public. Instead, Punk just focused on his current goal. No falling off the tracks. No cracking under pressure. Punk just pushes through.
In the end, Punk lost, like many expected he would. But it was never about winning or losing. It was about following a dream, and Punk did that. Sure, ethically, this fight never should have been allowed to happen. The arguments against Punk fighting in the UFC are all valid. Yes, he took a spot on the card from someone more worthy, but he also gave a huge boost to the career of Mickey Gall, a previous unknown.
At the end of the day, the UFC is in the business of making money, and if Punk can use his stardom, which he built from scratch and literally sacrificed his body to attain, to achieve a dream, and make him and the UFC some money along the way, then all the power to them.
I'm happy for Punk. He didn't get to stick it to the naysayers, but he handled his defeat with grace. The most beautiful part of all was in a post-fight interview where Punk almost broke down when asked about his wife, who after the fight had told him she was proud of him. And that's just it. When it’s all said and done, Punk is still in a happy, healthy relationship with the woman he loves.
He’ll set new goals, if he hasn't already, whether they be in the world of comics, fighting, the squared circle, or something completely new, and put every ounce of effort he can into achieving them. That's inspiring to me.
Of all the comments and jokes about CM Punk that flooded my timeline on Twitter, the one that sums it up the best came from Gran Akuma:
"I respect the guy that strikes out way more than I respect the guy that never steps up to the plate."