“Cash, Rules, Everything, Around, Me
C.R.E.A.M. get the money
Dollar, dollar bill y’all” -Wu-Tang Clan
Next weekend, CM Punk, former Ring Of Honor and WWE champion, will return to the octagon to fight at UFC 225 in his hometown of Chicago.
As is usually the case with any pro wrestling involvement in mixed martial arts, there was much criticism toward CM Punk and more specifically, UFC management when Alistair Overeem was moved to the preliminary card so that the former pro wrestler could get a spot on the pay-per-view card. Overeem, a nearly 20-year pro and former Strike Force Heavyweight champion, was involved in steroid controversies throughout his career, but was also considered a contender in the UFC title picture in recent years, which saw him ranked among the top five in the division.
Punk, a novice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner during the latter stages of his WWE career, embarked on a two-year journey toward his MMA debut before he stepped into the cage to compete against Mickey Gall in September of 2016. Among setbacks with injuries and surgery, Punk trained full-time at Roufusport MMA center, and despite the delay, there was a lot of anticipation for his start in the sport. Two years of preparation was summed up in 2 minutes and 14 seconds, as Punk was completely dominated, mounting virtually no offense before Gall, a brown belt in jiu jitsu, won via submission.
Most assumed that the lop-sided defeat was the end of the MMA experiment for CM Punk, but he later indicated that he wanted to fight again. Since he inked a deal with the UFC in November of 2014, that created questions about if the organization would promote another Punk bout or opt to release him from his contract, a deal that saw him make $500,000 for the Gall contest.
Still extremely popular from his sports entertainment run, Punk could theoretically be a draw for another fight. However, this contest for UFC 225 is more about the circumstances than his ability as a mixed martial artist. The event is being held in his hometown of Chicago with a lack of any major star power on the card so it makes sense to feature him at the show because at the very least, it’s a selling point and a boost to the live gate attendance. Keep in mind, tickets to UFC events are very expensive.
Through a series of interim title debacles and Georges St. Pierre vacating the middleweight belt without defending it, Robert Whittaker was declared the official champion. The point being, because the credibility of the championship was diluted, Whittaker is not a major draw for the organization so his title defense in the main event isn’t expected to garner big numbers. As I’ve written before, the UFC is very, very low on star power at the moment and most of their recent PPV cards have generated rather low buy rates.
It’s questionable about how that justifies the recent price hike to $65 for UFC pay-per-view events, but the bottom line is, the company needs a way to sell these cards. It’s a harsh reality, but as I’ve said many times before, the Ultimate Fighting Championship is as much of a business, if not more so, as it is a sport. WME, the group that bought the promotion a few years ago for over $4 billion dollars, made the purchase as an investment to make profit. Granted, the credibility of the sport is extremely important, and it’s disappointing when rankings are basically ignored to make the money on the table, but that’s the reality of business.
When UFC president, Dana White was recently asked about the switch of the card, he explained that CM Punk sells more pay-per-views, and he’s right. However, will CM Punk really be a major difference in the buy rate for UFC 225?
The UFC 203 event did a reported 450,000 buys, putting it among one of the better selling PPVs that year. But much of the intrigue of Punk’s debut was based on if he could transition to mixed martial arts. After such a one-sided defeat, much of the novelty of CM Punk as a cage fighter diminished. This time, he signed to fight Mike Jackson, who is actually the grappler that Mickey Gall beat to earn the spot against Punk at UFC 203. Jackson, who lost an amateur bout before he lost against Gall, hasn’t fought in two and a half years.
With a professional record of 0-1, you have to wonder if Jackson is actually trying to become a professional fighter or if he simply agreed to fight Punk for the payday. Either way, this is literally the most evenly-matched fight that CM Punk could possibly get under the UFC banner so this scenario is probably his best chance to be successful. That said, it remains to be seen if fans will want to pay $65 to see Punk fight a scrub.
The other aspect that could hinder the selling point is, even if Punk wins, what does that actually translate to?
Punk was dominated and embarrassed when he fought a talented upstart with potential during the Gall fight. It’s not as though a victory over Mike Jackson is going to propel his career. If Punk beats Jackson, what’s next?
Obviously, if he competes against anyone with any legitimate success in the sport, there will be a repeat of the Gall contest. Don’t get me wrong, CM Punk is a talented athlete, but the entire fight seems rather pointless in terms of ranks or the progress of his MMA career. In fact, regardless of the result, this will probably be Punk’s final fight in the UFC because if he loses, there’s really not anyone else they would sign for him to fight, and if he wins, there’s not much he can do next because the majority of the roster are athletes that had to work their way to the UFC so they are probably too experienced for him to logically compete against in the octagon.
But, the most important impact of CM Punk vs. Mike Jackson is the cash it generates, not the of effects on the ranking or progression of a career. Longtime UFC commentator, Joe Rogan was very critical of this bout, but Rogan is a smart guy and he knows it’s about the money.
For any diehard MMA fan that complains about the CM Punk pay-per-view spot, they don’t understand the bigger picture, it’s about the cash, not the sport. The most diehard fans are going to tune in regardless so UFC management added CM Punk to attempt to draw the casual audience. Remember, Punk doesn’t make those decisions so any hostility toward him is misguided. The card switch was a business decision, not a sport decision and there’s nothing wrong with that. Punk will make major cash for this, and the UFC wants a return on their investment. More than the actual fight, it will be interesting to see if Punk boosts the buy rate for the event.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
E mail firstname.lastname@example.org | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta
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