After the first fight on the main card of UFC 181 concluded last night (full results here), there was a special announcement for the MMA masses: UFC had, in fact, signed former WWE star CM Punk and scheduled his Octagon debut for 2015.
Punk, whose real name is Phil Brooks, left WWE on bad terms back in January of 2014. He spoke to Joe Rogan for a few minutes about his decision, and WWE fans were Tweeting "It's clobbering time," an oft-used phrase by Brooks, to their hearts delight.
"It is now or never for me," said Brooks, who is 36 years-old and has trained on and off with Rener and Ryron Gracie in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. "I do have a limited window, as all fighters do. And I fully intend to get in there. And I'm here for a fight. I'm here to either get my ass kicked or kick someone's ass."
Watch his video here.
Brooks said MMA is his "new career" and he has "nothing but respect" for all who fight in UFC and added, "When it is all said and done everybody will have to respect me because I have come here to fight."
Rogan wished him good luck and Brooks responded with, "luck is for losers," which he has tattooed on his left arm.
Many MMA experts, myself included, have been knocking the signing due to Brooks lack of true fighting experience, while professional wrestling fans and casual MMA fans are embracing it. Whether you love or hate the move, it has generated quite a bit of buzz.
For a deeper opinion on the matter, MMAmania.com spoke with ESPN MMA analyst and former UFC middleweight Chael Sonnen on Sunday morning and he shed some light on the matter.
"There's two sides to it," said Sonnen, who was headed to the airport from ESPN headquarters in Bristol, CT. "For CM Punk this is a bucket-list thing. He's not making claims that he is going to win a championship. He is not even making claims that he has that goal. For the company, listen, this is media man. I just left SportsCenter and we just spoke about it. I don't think there has ever been a guy to debut that made SportsCenter and he had his own press conference. I mean, he had his own press conference. I think it makes sense on a lot of levels. There is no claims going on here. This isn't like when Brock Lesnar came and he was a National Divison-1 wrestling champion. There's nothing like that.
"There's a whole bunch of unknown questions and Punk has got some answering to do. They asked him yesterday what weight class he would fight at, and that's about the most basic question you are going to get. They are going to start with 'who is your opponent?' He doesn't have an opponent and then it comes to what weight class and he didn't know the answer to that. So, he's got some work to do and he doesn't have a whole lot of time to do it. He needs to get started. But, I think he is excited about it and he has been talking about it for a while, wanting to do it and he's a huge fan. Good for him. He's getting to live out his dream, man."
Aside from Brooks having zero fighting experience, he is a former pro wrestler and is getting the opportunity in UFC because he is a former WWE champion and a very popular personality, who some think will "move the needle" and sell pay-per-views. UFC, for the most part, has strayed away from any publicity type of fights or what Dana White has referred to as "freak show" fights in the last several years. For whatever the reason, White and Co. are being quite open to the idea and giving Brooks a chance to live out his dream of fighting inside the Octagon, despite the fact that he has never fought before.
"Dana doesn't do the oddity fights and every few years he will," Sonnen said. "Every few years he will do something and give a chance to do something that is more based around fun than anything else. James Toney comes to mind. Way back before James Toney, it was back in 2005 they brought a guy in by the name Sean Gannon, who was a police officer that beat a guy named Kimbo Slice in this video that got put on YouTube and 'went viral' as the kids say. Every so often somebody's lucky number comes up and they do something that is more based on fun. I think that is pretty clearly what is happening here.
"To me, CM Punk's friend and a supporter, I think it's cool. He's 36 and he wants to do this. He really has a passion to want to do it. He is not particularly worried about the outcome as much as he is the experience and the effort. I can tell you I can relate to that. There's a lot of things in my life that I had dreams of doing and some of them you get to do and most of them you don't. On a human level, if a guy can go out and try something that he really wants to do, I think that is pretty cool."
Sonnen says he was not asked by UFC about Brooks signing to the promotion. The three-time title contender had heard the rumors just like every one else, but didn't think they would come to fruition and said he had asked Brooks, but he was "beating around the bush."
"In this industry where there's smoke there is fire, darn near 100-percent of the time," Sonnen said. "So we started to hear the rumors that he was going to sign and I didn't believe him. I thought they were wrong. Like I said, where there is smoke there is fire and I thought for one time there is not going to be. I just didn't think he was going to do it and I asked him. I asked him flat out and he said, 'yeah, I want to.' He said, 'I"m not really interested in how this ends up. I want to do it. I want to do it bad and I don't have a lot of time left to do it.' He just left it at that and I understood. Fair enough."
ONE FC welterweight champion Ben Askren was leading the charge on Twitter during the UFC 181 card last night, along with several other pro fighters, attacking the promotion's legitimacy after signing a 36-year-old pro wrestler, with zero pro fights under his belt.
Sonnen was asked about the negativity, and jealousy spilling over into the gym (Brooks has not yet chosen which MMA gym he will train at) or into the locker room and Brooks dealing with backlash or treatment.
"Probably not in the gym, he probably won't deal with that," Sonnen said. "He will probably will have some good teammates and some good coaches that are excited to have him around. If he deals with that in the gym, I hope that he leaves that gym. As far as what you initially said about the locker room, that is a real thing. But everybody deals with that in the UFC. Everybody is looking to see what the good match ups are and try to get those bouts, or try to get the ones with the attention. I'm sure there is going to be some jealously. There is only so many spots and guys want them, but that is just the way it goes. So what.
"I don't think that is going to be a problem for him. I don't know if anyone will make him feel uncomfortable or be rude to him. I hear that goes on in the professionally wrestling locker rooms. Somebody goes over there and those guys are traveling around. That is a business solely based on politics as opposed to actual skill and accomplishment. If there is anything he will be ready for and used to, it's that. I was in the UFC for 10 or 11 years. That is just the way it is and the way locker rooms go. There is nothing wrong with that."
Based on Brooks former profession in an entertainment entity like WWE and how promos drive story lines, one would be inclined to think -- especially due to the fact that MMA fighters often take a page from that very book -- that one of the longest-reigning champions in WWE history will carry that over into his new profession at some point.
Sonnen said Brooks is not likely to fire the first salvo, but it could depend on who the "dance partner is," to bring out some verbal fireworks from him. Brooks came across very modest on Saturday and appears to be playing it very straight laced and reserved for now, which is obviously a stark contrast to his CM Punk days in WWE.
"I don't think he will throw the first punch in terms of a verbal fight. He is definitely going to respond. When Brock first came over, he did that and Dana pulled him aside and said 'knock it off. That is not what we do here. This is competition based and I'm not interested in selling a few more tickets tonight. I'm interested in if you have something to say and it's real, say it. If you are saying it to sell a fight, keep it to yourself.'"
Continuing on that topic, Sonnen gave warning to pro-wrestling fans and others expecting the promos, stagecraft and the other common thread characteristics associated with CM Punk in WWE. Brooks is here as a competitor first and foremost and if you think otherwise you are going to be let down.
"When it comes to verbal, that is to get yourself a contract," Sonnen said, explaining some of the finer points of how to speak up in the world of MMA. "That's to get in. He is already in. He doesn't need to do that now. He's got his fight. He's got his contract; he worked out the numbers and all of those things. No, if people think he is going to bring any kind of theatrical element to this, they are going to be disappointed. I think he is in this to compete and see what he does."
Brooks said he is still not sure if he is going to fight at middleweight or welterweight when he does step into the Octagon for the very first time. Regardless of the weight class he will choose, Sonnen said he "doesn't think it's a goal" for Brooks to set his sights on climbing the ranks in the UFC.
"You have to understand the guys that are doing this, myself included, we are trying twice a day, every day, since we are nine years old," he said. "This is a guy who is 36 and I think he is still picking the gym he is going to."
So really, the goal of Brooks is to prove it to himself that he can step inside the Octagon and have a professional fight, because that is a dream of his that Dana White and the UFC brass are allowing him to attempt.
"That's right," Sonnen agreed. "I think that is fairly uncommon at this level. Most guys in the UFC are trying for world championships and I think he is in a unique spot. He is not fighting for his family. He is not fighting for a living. This isn't a cash grab. And I also don't know that it's an achievement issue, where he is trying to win world championships. He's not. It's a bucket list. He wants to got out and fight. He's not worried about the result. He wants to go out there and do this. He's always wanted to do this, and that is the way it is. If I want to go play some pro football right now, I'm not looking to win the Super Bowl, my goals are going to be different. That doesn't mean I wouldn't want to suit up and play a down.
"Even when you listen to him, he's not coming out and challenging Chris Weidman or anything like that. He is just saying calling it exactly what it is. 'I want to do this. I'm going to work hard. I now have a goal and I'm focused and I have some time on my hands for the first time in twenty..' Let's do the math here. 16 years. Started wrestling when he was 20, maybe even 19. First time he is not traveling 252 days a year and he can actually do something he wants to do as opposed to what he has to do. That's it. It's nothing more than that. I'm not going to come out and try and sell this and I don't think anybody else is, 'hey this is the next great untapped talent.' This is a guy that has some fame and publicity that is getting to live his dream."
Brooks does not yet have an opponent for his UFC debut. Aside from 2015, that is all anybody knows about his upcoming fight. There has been plenty of chatter since last night's announcement and the common theme seems to be that he will fight a lower-level guy since he has never fought before.
Sonnen completely disagrees with that sentiment and said it is going to be an "interesting move by the company" what they do with Brooks, matchmaking wise. He thinks Brooks will definitely be on a main card and could even be the main or co-main event because "for what they are paying him, they don't have a choice."
The former UFC Tonight co-host gave his reasoning for not easing Brooks along or attempting to build him up.
"When James Toney came in, they gave him Randy Couture and I was pumped. It was still unknown even though it was just a few years ago. It was just a little bit unknown. Can this boxer land that one punch? Can one punch finish an MMA guy? I thought there were still questions. It reminded me of the 90's, when things just kept going. I think there will be some attention for it. I know I am excited for it. I can tell you this, it doesn't make any sense to put him against an older guy or an unknown guy.
"For the money that you got to pay him and the attention that is going to bring, he is likely to lose. It does not make sense to do the build up and have him lose to a guy that cannot gain momentum in his own career. If you are going to give a guy a push and put him on a main card or co-main spot, which is where I think they are going to end up. You have to give it to a guy that if he wins and he is expected to win, than he can go on and do something. You can't pay Punk the numbers you are paying him and then try and let it coast. You just can't do it. I think you stick him on a pay-per-view and you have some fun with it and you let him have some fun with it. I think that is what this is about."
According to Sonnen he thinks you could see Brooks debut in April or May and he also teased that he had a good inkling of who he might be put up against saying, "I have a pretty good idea who his opponent is."
"I'm going to keep that close to the vest," he said. "It would not make sense to give him a bottom-tier guy."
Since he wouldn't give a name, Sonnen was pressed on if he knew it was actually a ranked fighter or not.
"Well he is not a bottom-tier guy, I can tell you that," Sonnen said. "You will know who he is and he will be a pretty-heavy favorite to win. Punk is not going to come in as the favorite."
There will continue to be plenty of buzz and stories coming out about Brooks throughout the end of this year and into 2015. The former WWE star still has to announce what gym he will be training at, what division he is fighting in and then the hype will assuredly hit its peak when his opponent is finally announced.
Sonnen knows a thing or two about drawing people's interest and getting them to care about an upcoming fight and to lay down their hard-earned money to purchase the pay-per-view or tickets at the gate. Of course, he also had a bit of experience on his resume. Brooks does not and Sonnen said he needs to "get after it. He has to get in a gym, right now, today and I think he is going to."
That being said, he still thinks that Brooks will definitely draw some attention."
"Like I said, he was on SportsCenter already today," Sonnen said. "This is a promotion company. We are about bringing in eyeballs and all that kind of stuff and he is going to top the list. He has a lot of fans and a lot of supporters. He's been underground for a while and he has the law of supply and demand in his favor. Big demand and there is very little supply of Punk lately. It will be a big deal. The more attention it will bring in, the better."