Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Who Should C.M. Punk Fight First?

Evaluating 12  possible opponents for the UFC newcomer...

When Phil "C.M. Punk" Brooks announced he had signed with the Ultimate Fighting Championship late last year, it sent the MMA world into a tizzy. Sure, pro wrestling-to-MMA transplants are nothing new, but this Punk kid is no Saku or Brock Lesnar -- indeed, the very first time he steps into the cage will be his first actual fight, pro or amateur. 

Whether the decision to sign Punk is or is not beneath the company and or damaging to the sport is yet to be seen. Heck, for all we know, he could wind up being a surprisingly decent fighter, a'la Herschel Walker and make all of  us look like assholes for doubting him in the first place. That said, inking a dude who has literally never fought before definitely lends a few challenges to the UFC booking committee. Obviously, you want to make a fight as competitive as you can, but at the same time, you also want to throw in an opponent who isn't just some tomato-can out of a suspect gym somewhere.

Pretty much everybody has been named as a possible opponent at this point, ranging from the somewhat plausible to the absolute ri-goddamn-diculous. As a quasi-respectable MMA prognosticator, I decided I might as well play armchair booker and evaluate a few names that have been dropped across media outlets and social networking chatter as potential  foes for one Phillip Brooks. Which adversaries would lend themselves to pseudo-competitive match-ups, and which fighters would just pancake Punk into oblivion? Don't even bother reaching out to the Sherdog forums, fight fans ... this list below will tell you everything you needs to know. 

Jason David Frank

Yes, I fully understand that it sounds like a train-wreck, "Celebrity Boxing" match-up that's beneath the UFC. Then again, this is the same organization that let James Toney's Pootie-Tang-sounding ass crawl into the Octagon, and to be honest, both PRIDE and DREAM green lit even more horrific freak show fights than this one. Frank, who played the green and white Power Ranger, is a legitimate MMA fighter with a semi-respectable W-L record, and it's not like Zuffa would have to sign up to a 3-year, 10-fight contact or anything. This bout may not do much to advance the respectability of the sport, but it would no doubt garner a lot of eyes from folks who normally wouldn't have the remotest interest in mixed martial arts, and quite frankly I'd much, MUCH rather see this fight take place than just about any flyweight championship bout. Hell, maybe the winner can fight Shondo Blades in a follow-up match, no?

Alan Belcher

"The Talon" is a top 20 middleweight fighter who is really, really good but lacks a distinct personality. In fact, pretty much the only thing anybody knows about him is that he lost to Yoshihiro Akiyama that one time and he has a tattoo of Johnny Cash on his bicep. If Belcher greets Punk to the cage, I see it playing out not unlike the first Frank Mir / Brock Lesnar bout -- Belcher would be over HUGE with the UFC core if he knocks off the pro wrestling import, and who knows? Maybe it leads to some sort of flukey, Robbie Lawler and Anthony Johnsons-esque career resurgence for him. Alas, Belcher is probably a bit too much for the neophyte Punk ... which, for all we know, could be what the UFC wants in the first place. 

Michael Bisping

He's definitely the biggest British MMA star of all-time, and he can talk serious trash. The thing is, Bisping has some real KO power (as well as the ability to get KTFO himself), and odds are, he would flatline Punk in under a minute. This is a bout you would book, if and only if, Zuffa management wants Mr.  Brooks leaving the arena with a hefty facial reconstruction surgery bill.

Josh Koscheck 

Now this could be interesting. Five years ago, the Kos would have easily slain Punk, but today's Koscheck most certainly isn't the same fighter we saw back in 2007, or even 2011, for that matter. Josh can no doubt make a 185-pound weigh-in, and he definitely has name appeal AND can talk major bullshit like nobody's business. Plus, he, much like Punk, certainly knows how to make things theatrical ... remember that Oscar-caliber acting job he did with Paul Daley's phantom knee strike? As with Belcher, it's a win-win situation; if Punk wins, oh well, fuck it, it was a dude on his way down, anyway. But if Kos wins, it could lead to a possible career turnaround, and the MMA faithful would no doubt throw their support behind him, 100 percent, heading into the match-up.

Takanori Gomi

I don't know why, but as soon as it was announced CM Punk had signed with the UFC, my initial thought was "wow, wouldn't it be awesome to see him fight the Fireball Kid?" Granted, it's a seemingly random match-up, but I think it could lend itself to something fairly competitive. The 30 pound jump up in weight class would at least give Punk some equal footing against the veteran, and as we all know, Gomi can still hit dudes really, really hard. Of course, if things get horizontal, Punk is likely staring down a torn ligament or a few bones yanked out of their sockets, but the standing possibilities here, I suppose, could be very, very interesting. 

Roger Zapata

UFC newcomer Zapata is 4-1 in pro fights. The welterweight has two KO victories, and his relative greenness, so it seems, would seem to tilt the playing field just a bit for Mr. Brooks. Allegedly, Punk has been working like crazy on his submission game, so if this thing makes it to the mat, he might actually have a chance ... or at least, as much of a chance as Zapata has to knock his head off his shoulders in the first minute of the fight.

Rich Franklin

Franklin, despite being a Hall of Famer, is just a shell of his former self. There are a lot of old-timers the UFC could possibly trot out for this match, but I think Franklin probably deserves the victory send-off more than, oh say, a Matt Serra or even a Dan Henderson. The odds would most certainly favor Rich, but his age and recent performances at least gives an auger of a chance to Punk. And man, just imagine the roar of the crowd if Franklin is able to land a knockout blow against the "Straight Edge Superstar?" 

James Te-Huna

Te-Huna could kick just about everybody's ass reading this right now, but in the cage, it seems like there's a good fifty-fifty chance he'll get flatlined no matter who he faces. Currently riding a three fight losing streak, Te-Huna is a dude who can definitely lose both the striking and ground game, and the weight cut to 185 would most certainly give Punk something of a advantage heading into the fight. Still, Te-Huna would have to be the favorite here, and honestly, I'm not quite sure the UFC would want to hand over the easy kill to a dude who ISN'T a big-name player in need of a career rebound. Still, it would be an interesting little match-up ... for a few moments, at least. 

Andy Enz

"Tank Mode" is a 23-year-old submission fighter on a three-fight losing streak, having last been KTFO by, of all people, Thiago Santos at UFC 183. While Enz does indeed have knockout potential, his less-than-sterling standing game would at least give Punk a chance vertically, and a submission ground battle between the two could be quite interesting. And if Enz makes his opponent tap to the Anaconda Vice, it would be even funnier than that time Cro-Cop got his head kicked off by Gabriel freaking Gonzaga. 

Ron Stallings

Stallings, a 31-year-old middleweight, has the least intimidating nickname of all-time -- "The Choirboy." An ardent atheist, that makes the CM Punk match-up at least a teensy bit more interesting, on a philosophical level. Last seen getting beat up on by Uriah Hall, Stallings is a mid-carder with a lot to prove, and his lack of striking power bodes well for Punk. Granted, it would take a hell of a PR job to make Stallings the type of character you would want to root for, but his stock would nonetheless rise substantially if he became the dragon slayer in this scenario. 

Bubba Bush

The 29-year-old middleweight, nicknamed "The Fightin' Texas Aggie," is 8-2, and he can both knock dudes out and submit them. He hasn't had a fight in well over a year, though, and as we all know, ring rust (or is it cage rust?) can be a huge game-changer. Now, nine times out of 10, Bush would probably smash Punk into oblivion, but on that one fight? Well, actually, he'd probably smash him anyway, but you never know and shit. 

Garreth McLellan

Since there's no way in hell I could possibly know what's happening in the South African MMA circuit, I had not heard of the recent UFC signee until recently. As soon as I saw the dude, I just KNEW he was a top-tier opponent for Punk -- if you're looking to make a star off of some dude throttling another would-be star, this Bushwackcer-looking motherfucker definitely presents one of those once-in-a-blue-moon opportunities.With a 12-2 record, "Soldier Boy" is known for his submission game, which gives Punk both a prayer in the stand-up game ad possibly a fighting chance on the canvas. By throwing Punk to the wolves in his first bout, the UFC is definitely pissing away money, but at the same time? You know, sometimes, you can make an even bigger star by killing another one ... ain't that right, Big Nog?

(Dis)honorable mentions:

  • Art Jimmerson -- although if they let him use two gloves, I'm not sure Punk can take him.
  • Jon Hess -- because if Punk can't overcome the world's premiere SAFTA expert, there's no way he's got a shot against anybody else on the current roster. 
  • Fred Ettish -- laugh all you want, he still has a better professional record than Punk does. 
  • Ruan Potts -- he's a bit oversized for Punk, but considering he has the gas tank of a motor scooter with a hole in it, this bout actually bodes pretty well for the pro wrassler. 
  • Tank Abbott -- it's the dream WCW vs. ROH match we had no idea we wanted to witness!
  • Kimbo Slice -- just for the possibility that Punk may attempt a Go-to-Sleep at some point in the first round. 
  • Kurt Angle -- because frankly, we all need more Kurt Angle in our lives. And if he's half as good in the cage as he was in "Warrior," he'd slay the entire middleweight division. 
  • Samoa Joe -- the dude is a free agent, after all, and who wouldn't want to see "Joe vs. Punk III?"
  • Alberto Del Rio -- not only do they have history in the scripted pro wrestling world, del Rio himself is a former PRIDE punching-bag superstar!
  • Big Van Vader -- with or without Frankie Stechino in his corner, naturally. 
  • Kimo Leopold -- presuming it doesn't end with Kimo getting disqualified for whacking him with a cross, of course. 


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