“This is what happens when a brown belt rolls with a white belt.”
The matchup between CM Punk and Mickey Gall was less than a minute old when Joe Rogan decided he couldn’t go along with the hype anymore.
You could practically feel the longtime UFC color commentator gritting his teeth as he forced his way through the last-minute hype Saturday night leading up to the UFC 203 pay-per-view broadcast from Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena. But once the fight started, and Gall shot for a double-leg and began to pick Punk apart, there was no use pretending anymore. The documentaries building up the former pro wrestler’s debut and the testimonials from coaches like Duke Roufus and teammates like Tyron Woodley were all put to lie when a competitor with two pro fights made Punk look like the rank amateur he was. So Rogan, carrying the weight of the product’s credibility, correctly called the action for what it was.
Don’t mistake this for personal animosity toward Phil Brooks, the guy behind the CM Punk character. He was a UFC superfan who always had the “what if?” question in the back of his brain. He was afforded the opportunity to live it out and make some money along the way. You shouldn’t begrudge him for seizing the chance when it was presented to him.
It’s also worth remembering that the decision to sign Punk back in Dec. 2014 wasn’t made in a vacuum. This was just weeks after Bellator rattled the MMA world with a killer cable rating for Tito Ortiz vs. Stephan Bonnar, which did a ground-and-pound job on UFC 180′s buyrates. So much time has passed since Punk signed that it’s been forgotten that he almost assuredly would have fought for Bellator by now, and drawn another giant rating, if the UFC hadn’t snapped him up at that precise moment in time.
Still, for all the relentless BS that swirls around the mixed martial arts world, to steal a phrase from another sport, Octagon don’t lie. As Gall made a mercy killing of the Punk experiment, there was no denying this was a sports fantasy camp gone awry (And hey, that crew of wrestlers who were butthurt over Conor McGregor’s comments last month sure seemed to be silent on Twitter last night).
Maybe UFC 203 drew in a bunch of new casual viewers, though that number was likely down from what it would have been even a year ago, given how long Punk was out of the spotlight. If those viewers stuck around to see the thrilling main event between Stipe Miocic and Alistair Overeem, and became new fans in the process, the exercise may have been worth it after all.
The best lesson from the Punk experiment, though, just might be the timely message it sends to the UFC’s new ownership group. WME-IMG is mainly an entertainment conglomerate. While mixed martial arts often blurs the line between sports and entertainment, there is, in fact, still a line, and you better be very careful if and when you decide to cross it.
UFC 203 quotes
“I don’t remember tapping out, I just remember punching his face repeatedly until he was unconscious.” — Stipe Miocic, on Alistair Overeem’s concussed claim that Miocic tapped to his guillotine attempt.
“I’m beating myself up way more than I got beat up. I’m supremely disappointed. … I wanted to win. I wanted to perform. It didn’t happen.” –Punk on his loss
“Between me and Punk, before tonight, we had a combined two fights. I was 2-0 and he was 0-0. It was kind of a weird thing. But he was saying, ‘always believe you belong.’ And it was a motivational, positive message. It was nice of him.” — Gall, on words of encouragement from Punk
“I just keep my distance, I don’t want to kick him, I just keep the distance, you know, he’s a boxing coach, and I see in his eyes he wants to punch my face. And I just want to keep the distance. But he comes first. He says a lot of things, a lot of bad things.” — Fabricio Werdum on his postfight confrontation with Edmond Tarverdyan
Up: Stipe Miocic Ohio’s favorite non-LeBron James son now has one heavyweight title defense under his belt, which puts him halfway toward a tie for the most successful defenses in the championship’s 21-year history. But it’s the way in which he defended the belt which leads one to believe Miocic just might be the one to hang on to the belt awhile. Miocic was rocked by one of MMA’s most fearsome strikers, put in a choke (where he most decidedly did not tap), and not only escaped, but shook off the cobwebs and rallied for victory before the round was out. That’s the sort of mettle from which MMA legends are made.
Down: Travis Browne There’s enough of a body of evidence at this point that this statement should be obvious: Browne is a dirty fighter. And one whose skills are rapidly regressing. Browne has now lost three out of his past four fights after a dreadful performance against Fabricio Werdum. It should have gone into the books as a first-round TKO loss, but he was inexplicably allowed to call time-out (more on this later). His only victory in the past two years, over Matt Mitrione, was a fight which turned on uncalled eye pokes (what is it about Browne that seems to intimidate lower-tier referees, anyway, and why do they keep getting assigned to his fights?). Either way, it’s painfully obvious Browne needs changes in both scenery and attitude.
Up: Mickey Gall No, we’re not going to get carried away over a 3-0 fighter scoring a one-sided victory over someone who really didn’t have any business being in the Octagon. But this is a young fighter who trains with the well-respected Miller brothers, so you know he’s in the right hands and you know they’ll keep his ego in check. And he’s got a natural gift of gab, one that got him the Punk fight in the first place and one which led him to smartly call out Sage Northcutt afterwards. He’s got a long, long way to go, but when all’s said and done, Gall could turn out to be the star created by Lookin’ for a Fight.
Down: Urijah Faber Up until last night, The California Kid always bounced back from his losses in title fights with impressive victories that started a renewed push up the ladder. Last night, the 37-year-old Faber finally looked like a fighter who might be hitting his downside. Faber could never get untracked against an underrated opponent in Jimmie Rivera, coming out on the wrong end of an across-the-board, 30-27 decision. Faber still has something of symbolic importance to fight for: The UFC makes its debut at the new downtown arena in his hometown of Sacramento on Dec. 17. It’s up to Faber to decide how much longer he wants to continue fighting, but if he has an eye on going out on a high note, the planets will never better align.
Up: Jessica Andrade All things considered, Andrade did quite well for herself as an undersized bantamweight in posting a 4-3 UFC record. But at strawweight, Andrade’s a killer. The 24-year-old Brazilian had her way with Joanne Calderwood, slamming her to the mat at will before finishing her with a choke. This is just three months after she picked Jessica Penne apart at UFC 199. Those are two quality opponent she made look bad. It will be interesting to see just how much higher she can climb at 115 pounds.
A week of weirdness in Cleveland — which culminated in C.B. Dollaway having to pull out of his fight with Francimar Barroso due to an injury suffered in an a hotel elevator accident — was mostly spared on the night of the fights.
With, of course, one glaring exception: The Werdum-Browne matchup.
Start with one of the biggest referee botches we’ve seen in quite some time: Referee Gary Copeland, who sometimes comes across as more interested in showing off his guns on television than officiating the fights in front of him, inexplicably allowing Browne to take a timeout when he injured his finger attempting to deflect a Werdum punch. A fighter begging off the action in the middle of the fight is grounds for a stoppage. Copeland should have waved the bout off and had it been stopped at that point, this morning we’d be talking about an impressive rebound by Werdum after his title loss.
Instead, Foreman allowed Browne a break — a call so egregiously bad that John McCarthy, who doesn’t usually publicly question calls by fellow referees, did so on Twitter — and the bout ultimately went the distance. Which led us to our next fiasco. Coach Edmond Tarverdyan, who came off as a raving lunatic between rounds, hadn’t calmed down after the fight, and was jawing at Werdum and moving forward. Werdum kept him at bay with a push kick and a melee nearly broke out.
What’s noteworthy here is that over the years, any sort of post-fight extracurriculars in the Octagon have been greatly frowned on and swiftly acted upon, and yet it appears few people, if any, called for Werdum to be punished for his actions. If that doesn’t tell you what people think of the Glendale Fighting Club crew these days, nothing else will.
Fight I’d like to see next: Stipe Miocic vs. Cain Velasquez and a bonus fight
Yes, I know … half of you are getting ready to jump down to the comment section to make cracks about Velasquez and injuries. But after watching Miocic dodge out of danger and put out Overeem’s lights, the new champ vs. a healthy Velasquez is one tantalizing showdown. A victory over Velasquez would not only cement Miocic’s place at the top, but also put him in the elite club of two-time heavyweight title defenders. A third title reign for Cain would help bolster his case as the sport’s greatest heavyweight, injury issues or no. Maybe we can start a GoFundMe page to raise money to bribe the MMA Gods to keep Velasquez healthy long enough for this fight to happen.
And one more thing: I kind of hate myself for loving the idea of Gall vs. Northcutt, but I really want to see this fight. You’ve got two guys who have earned more than their fair share of publicity from the Lookin’ for a Fight series. A foul-mouthed Philly guy vs. a milk and cookies Texan. Both can already generate hype beyond their years. Unlike what we saw last night, even though these guys aren’t exactly the same as the rest of the UFC roster, it should be a fairly even fight. And one of them should come out of it with real momentum. This fight’s so wrong that it’s right.
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