Longtime UFC commentator Joe Rogan called CM Punk "delusional" for trying to compete in the UFC for his first professional bout. Mickey Gall taught the former WWE superstar that lesson the hard way, because Punk was taken down, battered with punches then submitted all within the span of 134 seconds, ending his MMA debut is disappointing fashion for him and expected fashion for most observers.
Sure, Punk can be afforded some credit for the line of events that led to his fight at UFC 203, which took place at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, the very same arena where more than two years ago he notified WWE CEO Vince McMahon that he was done with the professional wrestling industry. In his mid-30s he left a career where he notoriously referenced himself as the "Best in the World" (and may actually have been as much), to do something else in life. That something else happened to be a venture into MMA, a sport he enjoyed as a fan, but had no experience in.
That didn't matter to the UFC, however, because once word got out that Punk wanted to fight, the organization recruited him to step in the Octagon with the hope to capitalize on his celebrity with viewers and pay-per-view buys. Punk had the resources to take the offer and seek out high level training for nearly two years, a stretch filled with intense training, injuries, fight delays and more. At UFC 203 he was finally graced the platform the UFC has long promoted as the proving ground for the best fighters in the world. But as was displayed in the one-sided loss Punk wasn't anywhere close to that – and he knows it.
"My initial venture into this was going to be at the lowest level," Punk told the media after UFC 203 while fighting back tears. "This opportunity just got presented and I would have been a fool to say no. I'm just really, really hard on myself. I lost, and it sucks, and it was lopsided, and it is upsetting. But I know I'm better than that."
Although Punk was steamrolled in a fashion where he failed to land a single significant strike, he said in the Octagon following the Welterweight contest that the experience was "magical." He described it as the second best day of his life following the night of his marriage to AJ Brooks (also known as former WWE star AJ Lee). Punk arrived at the post-fight news conference with bruises on his face and a bandage covering his right ear from the barrage of punches Gall threw to the side of his head before locking up the fight-ending submission. He spoke with conviction about wanting a second chance to compete and win, but he also showed awareness about the reality of his situation and how he might not get to it. At least not in the UFC.
"I don't know what happens from here on out," Punk said. "What if I get cut? I don't know. I think that's a possibility. Do I want that to happen? No. But whose to say where I go from here? I definitely want to keep going. I'm the kind of guy – I just fell off a bike. I'm not just going to shelf it and leave it in the middle of the street. I got to get back on and ride. I'm better than what I showed, but hats off to Mickey. He's an up-and-coming fighter, he's a prospect. It's not like I'm here to make excuses, I lost. Look at my face, I got beat up. I got some cauliflower ear, so I got some things to remember from the night."
Punk didn't belong in the UFC from the outset, that much is clear. But his crossover celebrity from his WWE career put him in a position where if he wanted to fight, the UFC was willing to oblige. He didn't have much to offer, though, and while UFC President Dana White praised his effort, he also said Punk "probably shouldn't have his next fight in the UFC."
"We'll see what happens with CM Punk," White said. "He trained for almost two years and he came in here and he did it. He's a great guy, I have a lot of respect for him and he did it. We'll see what happens."
If it were up to Punk he would grace the Octagon again, he said, and the man who ruthlessly beat him up agrees. Despite promising to "sour" MMA for Punk prior to the contest, Gall sided with Punk afterward. Gall argued that while the curiosity of the first fight was a big story, finding out whether Punk can come back from the adversity of defeat and show improvement is equally captivating.
"I think there's still money to be made on him, he's still big superstar and I think he will have another UFC fight," Gall said. "People are like, 'Ah, he doesn't belong here.' Privilege doesn't rub people in a good way, but I think he's kind of earned that privilege by being a talented guy in something else. I think he'll probably have another fight. I think he should focus in, train for a little bit, but he should get a chance at retribution."
Punk was humble and introspective in defeat, facing his failure head-on. He got what he wanted by training for and competing in a pro fight, but admitted that outside of completing the journey from Point A to Point B, it was largely meaningless absent of the desired result, which of course was victory. He didn't do much to prove deserving of a second chance in the UFC, but then again he wasn't deserving of he first one, either.
Nevertheless, Punk promised his career won't be a one-and-done. However, at 37, his physical and mental limitations will more frequently come into question as he attempts to achieve his goal of winning an MMA fight. But even with more more training any chance of victory would require an opponent with the fraction of the skillset of what he just faced, and that simply doesn't exist on the current UFC roster.
Punk will apparently be ready to fight again no matter the venue. And regardless of those who call him delusional or take joy out of seeing him lose in humiliation fashion, it won't stop him from investing more time and energy into the sport.
"I'm going to hang out with the wife and the dog, take a little vacation from the gym, which means I'll probably be there Tuesday, then see where we go," Punk said. "I just want to thank everybody for supporting me – even the people who didn't support me. You tuned in to watch me get beat up, you got what you wanted. It's not about how many times you get beat up, it's about how many times you come back from it. I'm looking forward to coming back. This was fun."