When C.M. Punk enters the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Octagon later tonight (Sat., Sept. 10, 2016) at UFC 203 live on pay-per-view (PPV) from Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, the mixed martial arts (MMA) gods may turn over in their graves. After all, the former WWE superstar has never competed in MMA before and only has about one year of hard training under his belt. Still, Punk will get the opportunity to prove his most direct critics wrong.
As someone who is used to performing in front of thousands upon thousands of seething wrestling fans, Punk may not feel the magnitude of the moment when he steps inside the cage opposite Mickey Gall at UFC 203. While he'll be making his professional MMA debut on the biggest stage in the sport, Punk really has nothing to lose. He's already rich, already well-known across the world, already has accomplished great things in the realm of sports entertainment and has nowhere to go but up in a sport he just entered. But just because Punk is embarking on this epic journey with little to relinquish upon defeat doesn't mean his performance will be all that great.
There may never be another fighter in Punk's situation to crossover from another sport, get an immediate shot at the best fighters in the world (although Gall is extremely green at 2-0) and be featured on the main card of a fairly prominent PPV event. That's why the 37-year-old wrestling legend must be paid close attention to at UFC 203 later this evening. Whether it's the mystery of his abilities, his willingness to take a punch, his mental fortitude or his physical demeanor when the going gets tough, Punk is undoubtedly the "Fighter to Watch" tonight in Cleveland.
Luckily for fight fans, and the people closest to Punk, the former WWE champion has had the opportunity to train alongside the likes of former UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis and current UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, among others, at the famed Roufusport leading up to his promotional debut. Under the tutelage of kickboxing wizard and world-class head coach Duke Roufus, Punk has had the opportunity to not only evolve his athletic abilities on the feet, but also his technique, power, speed, fluidity and reaction time. Punk has also refined his takedown offense, submission defense and overall work ethic during his time at the Milwaukee-based gym.
When Punk stares across the cage at Gall at UFC 203, he'll ready himself to unleash all of the combinations, forward pressure, hidden techniques and ground positions that he picked up over the past two years. It's a lot to manage, especially considering Punk's performance will be directly attributed to Roufusport's ability to prepare a beginner martial artist for his first fight. That's why the WWE defector will presumably command nearly one million watchful eyes later tonight.
UFC 203 will be headlined by a heavyweight clash between current champion Stipe Miocic and the legendary Alistair Overeem.
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 203 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, and then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.