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Like him or not, CM Punk is a draw at UFC 225

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist

There is a fundamental flaw among those who express outrage that Phil “CM Punk” Brooks is fighting in the UFC, let alone on what they perceive as a prestigious spot on the card.

The UFC is not a team sport, like the NFL, NBA or NHL. It is, rather, a collection of 40-something events a year. If you like what is on a given event – say, UFC 225 on Saturday at the United Center in Chicago – you purchase tickets or plop down the money to see it on pay-per-view.

If you don’t, you pass and wait until the next one. In team sports, it’s all about building to the title game. It’s trying to get that Super Bowl ring, or sacrificing to be able to hoist the Stanley Cup.

MMA is a sport, for sure, but it’s also an entertainment business with a series of one-off events.

Even without having seen so much as one minute of his training for his bout against Mike Jackson on Saturday, it’s probably accurate to assume that Punk isn’t one of the best fighters in the world. Nor, for that matter, is Jackson.

And for the group of people who only watch to see the absolute best fighters in the world, then UFC 225 is most definitely not for them. Not even Punk would argue with that.

“For the people who have a problem with me being on the pay-per-view and getting all upset and filled with outrage, hey, it’s simple: Don’t watch,” Punk said.

He’s right, unquestionably. If he were taking a job from someone else, a fighter who may have a future in the sport, then yeah, bring on the outrage. That’s not the case, though. The UFC didn’t give Punk a spot at the expense of anyone else. If you think it through carefully, Jackson has his job thanks to Punk. Jackson fought once before in the UFC against Mickey Gall in what was a bout to earn the right to face Punk, so Punk’s presence on the card actually created an opportunity for another fighter

None of the fighters on the undercard get pay-per-view points, so even if they were pushed into the spot on the card that Punk occupies, nothing would change. And if they’re fighting on the Fox Sports 1 preliminaries, they’ll actually have a larger audience by several multiples than those who fight on the pay-per-view will.

So there is no harm there.

Punk is on the card because people are willing to pay to see him fight, period, end of story. A UFC publicist required a reporter to cut short an interview with him because he had so many others lined up, and there wasn’t time to complete it properly. Those reporters chose to speak to him because they know the fan base wants to hear what he has to say.

They want to see him fight largely because of his notoriety from his professional wrestling career, which he’s desperately trying to walk away from. On Tuesday, a Chicago jury ruled in his favor in a defamation lawsuit brought against him by a WWE doctor, the essence of which was to sever ties to his wrestling past forever.

Punk’s brought the criticism of his UFC return on himself because he has opted to be known as CM Punk in his MMA career rather than using his birth name, Philip Jack Brooks. That name hearkens back to his WWE career, when he was one of the biggest starts in sports entertainment.

It’s a bit hypocritical of Punk to so publicly look to shove his wrestling career into the background but yet use the name he built in that market, but that is his choice.

It’s not impacting anyone on the card and his presence and the wrestling fans who buy the show to see him will only positively impact the bottom line of those who receive pay-per-view points, notably middleweight champion Robert Whittaker.

CM Punk interacts with fans during the UFC 225 Open Workouts at the Chicago Theatre on Wednesday. (Getty Images)

Punk’s debut came in 2016 when he met Gall at UFC 203 in Cleveland. After nearly two years of build-up – Punk first announced his intention to fight in 2014 – he was submitted in 2:14 of the first round with a rear-naked choke.

He was choked, but insists he didn’t choke. The pressure didn’t get to him, he says, and if anything, it was the exact opposite reason.

“I was too chill that night, honestly,” Punk said. “It was like I was going to training. I think I need to find a different level and kind of amp myself up and let myself get nervous and let myself be scared. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I have to use it, and I have to use it to my advantage this time.”

When Punk drove home from Cleveland to Chicago after losing to Gall, he called White and apologized for his performance. White told him not to worry because it was just his first fight. White didn’t commit to giving him another bout, but Punk let him know that he planned to fight again.

“Dana said to me, ‘Dude, it was your first fight, I wouldn’t worry about it,’ ” Punk said. “I told him, ‘Well, I’m not worried about it, but I’m just letting you know that if you cut me, you cut me. It’s nothing personal.’ Like, I understand that business is business. But I said, ‘Also know, I’ll fight somewhere else.’ ”

And he could say that confidently, and with complete accuracy, because he knew that another promoter would give him the same shot that White did. If it weren’t White and the UFC, it would have been with Scott Coker and Bellator.

That’s where the critics’ flaw is exposed. This is all about business, about selling tickets and pay-per-views. It’s not about purity or the sanctity of the sport or all of those other things that Punks’ critics have called it. Those folks, notably, have no money invested in the business.

If someone watches UFC 225 solely because of Punk, and turns into an MMA fan because of what they see on the other 12 fights, that’s a good thing. If pay-per-view sales increase 20 percent because of Punk, that’s a good thing for Whittaker and any other fighter who receives a portion of the sales.

Fans have the ultimate say on pay-per-view, because no one is forcing you to buy. If sales noticeably decline every time Punk is on a card, guess what? He’ll quickly be removed from the cards.

Here’s guessing, though, that won’t be the case. Somehow, I suspect more folks than normal are going to buy the show, even if some of them come kicking and screaming to it.

CM Punk lost in his UFC debut to Mickey Gall (R) at UFC 203 on Sept. 10, 2016, in Cleveland. (Getty Images)

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