CM Punk did lose his UFC debut, and some claim that loss put his career prospects in jeopardy. However, there’s also the possibility that Punk’s UFC 203 fight had far-reaching implications that no one could have predicted.
Consider the reality of the situation: CM Punk, whose real name is Phil Brooks, debuted at age 38. Despite his athleticism and lengthy career with the WWE, he had no MMA experience. Fitness was a concern for Punk ahead of his debut. In fact, MMAFighting reported Punk’s first UFC fight was delayed because of back surgery.
Despite all of these negative factors, CM Punk made his UFC debut against Mickey Gall. After everything, CM Punk ultimately ended the night $500,000 richer and was credited by Forbes for being a huge PPV draw.
CM Punk’s pre-existing fame and the curiosity associated with his debut led to a big payday. His earnings were not at all inhibited by the negative factors raised ahead of his UFC debut. He also earned quite a bit of respect — even opponent Mickey Gall spoke out in his defense — for summoning up the courage to step into the octagon.
Even if Punk opts never to fight in the UFC again, he can still say he did something he set his mind to, and despite all the obstacles, has no regrets. Who’s to say that CM Punk didn’t quietly get other WWE stars thinking about attempting to cross over to the UFC? Who’s to say that Dana White might not be willing to hire another WWE star in the future.
Brock Lesnar, controversy aside, was a former UFC champion, and the New Zealand Herald notes that he helped save UFC 200 from implosion. Just because White might not let CM Punk back in the Octagon doesn’t mean he won’t offer a job to another WWE Superstar at some point.
So who in the WWE could the UFC President set his sights on next?
WWE Superstar John Cena heading to the UFC is not impossible. However, the only likely way it would happen is if (1) the UFC finds itself strapped for attention and (2) Dana White somehow didn’t learn his lesson with CM Punk.
Cena is actually a year older than Punk and is about as experienced an MMA fighter as Punk was. As in, John has practically no such experience. What he does have is far more relevancy than CM Punk, thanks to being an enduring internet meme.
Were Dana White to decide to replace CM Punk with John Cena, it wouldn’t be cheap. According to Total Sportek, John Cena earns $2.75 million per year, 7 percent of merchandise sales, and a large chunk of PPV revenue. In other words, nothing but sheer desperation would inspire Dana to go there.
Instead of going for another older, but well established WWE Superstar, Dana might target someone in his prime.
Seth Rollins has, according to Bleacher Report, filled the void left by CM Punk’s absence.
“Rollins has stepped into where Punk once stood as an in-ring performer and an overall star. The Architect has become a go-to talent for WWE much in the way Punk was before he abruptly left the company in early 2014.
“In 2012, Punk was at his peak, carrying around the WWE world title on his shoulders. Rollins was one of the company’s hottest prospects and the first champion of WWE’s revamped developmental brand, NXT.”
A couple of years later and Seth Rollins is one of the top talents in WWE. However, that doesn’t mean things are going swimmingly for Rollins.
Recently, Seth Rollins came under fire after a young wrestler named Jonah Snyder died at Rollins’ Black and Brave Academy.
Additionally, Seth has repeatedly been criticized for his brutal in-ring manner, often causing injuries to other wrestlers. At one point, Seth Rollins accidentally broke John Cena’s nose.
The entire point of WWE wrestling is to entertain and avoid injuries. You’re not supposed to break noses or cause a series of injuries to others. Rollins has even gotten himself injured.
Seth Rollins has a unique personality, popularity, and realism that puts him in a similar vein to CM Punk. However, Rollins is currently in his physical prime and is well known for his physical endurance thanks to his CrossFit training. If Seth was to start training as an MMA fighter now, he might actually fair better than CM Punk.
It’s worth noting that Rollin’s current contract has him earning $310,000 per year — a figure Punk beat in just one night, despite actually losing.
Dolph Ziggler had a solid amateur career before joining the WWE; he wrestled in high school and college. At Kent State University, Ziggler set the record for most career wins in the team’s history. He currently holds the third-place record with 121 wins between 2000 and 2003. PWMania reports that Dolph was just inducted into Kent’s amateur wrestling hall of fame.
There’s another factor aside from Dolph’s legitimate wrestling background: his happiness with the WWE. Right now, the Dolph Ziggler character is something of a square peg trying to work his way into a round hole. Writer Armads at Cageside Seats explained the issue.
“WWE wants Dolph to be a hero. They want him to be the protagonist. Well, there’s an easy way to get there. [What] Dolph needs is to learn how to get people to identify with him again. He’s so cocky, and so arrogant, and so downright unlikeable, that without some self-awareness, he’s dead in the water.
“The bottom line is, Dolph the character, assuming he’s to remain a babyface, needs to make his struggle about him, about proving it to himself, about trying to figure out if he’s still as good as he thinks he is… or he needs to learn some humility.”
Or he needs to consider that if he isn’t going to be a WWE megastar, despite a career that includes multiple champion belt-winning runs, he could look elsewhere. Rather than trying to develop a character according to what WWE fans are supposed to like — and failing miserably — he could build on his wrestling foundation and perhaps find the success and respect in the UFC that he hasn’t received in the WWE.
Although Dolph Ziggler is 36, he’d still be in a better position than CM Punk when he joined, given his experience.
Should WWE stars follow CM Punk to the UFC, there will likely be three factors.
The first is, of course, Dana White’s willingness to sign WWE stars. He has done so and has profited tremendously. The next factor is if the wrestler is unhappy in the WWE or otherwise driven to prove himself in a way he can’t in a mostly-scripted environment. The last factor may be whether or not the move will result in long-term gains of some sort. For Brock Lesnar, his UFC connection did boost his profile and credibility as a WWE star. CM Punk could have returned to the WWE, but he may have burned too many bridges to make a return.
What WWE Superstars do you see making the leap to the UFC in the future? Who do you think has the best chance of replicating Brock Lesnar’s success? Share your thoughts below!
[Featured Image by JP Yim/Getty Images]