Former WWE superstar CM Punk shocked the sports world at UFC 181 by announcing that he has signed a multi-fight contract with the mixed martial arts promotion. Now that he’s committed to fighting, the biggest question is who his first opponent will be when he finally steps inside the octagon in 2015.
Punk, 36, has no prior MMA experience. He doesn’t know where he will be training or at what weight class he’ll be fighting, though he thinks he’ll likely be a middleweight. Punk has been training jiu-jitsu for a while, but he’s admitted that he doesn’t even have a blue belt. With so many unknowns about how he will fare in the UFC, Punk won’t likely be facing anyone of significance in his debut.
"He wanted to fight here," UFC president Dan White told ESPN.com. "He wanted to give it a shot, so we gave him an opportunity. It's not like Brock Lesnar. We're not going to throw the kitchen sink at him. Lesnar had a wrestling background. [CM Punk] is going to fight a guy who is 1-0, 1-1, 2-1 -- something like that."
Lesnar made the transition from WWE Champion to UFC Heavyweight Champion, but he had a collegiate wrestling background. At the University of Minnesota, Lesnar was a two-time Big Ten Heavyweight Champion and NCAA All-American. His first UFC fight came he was just 29 years old.
Former UFC fighter and current ESPN analyst Chael Sonnen is a friend of Punk’s, and told MMAmania.com that he has a good idea who the former WWE champ will fight. While many have speculated that the promotion will put Punk in a fight that they know he will win, Sonnen says Punk will be an underdog.
"Well he is not a bottom-tier guy, I can tell you that," Sonnen said of Punk's first opponent. "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."
Upon Punk’s announcement, people throughout the UFC commented on the signing. Jason David, who has competed in MMA bouts and formerly portrayed the green Power Ranger on TV, made headlines by challenging Punk. Several UFC fighters also called out Punk on Twitter.
â€” michael (@bisping) December 7, 2014
Every UFC middleweight will be calling out CM Punk now. Damn! I'll call him out!! #MassiveOpportunity
â€” Cathal Pendred (@PendredMMA) December 7, 2014
Having received his share of supporters and detractors for his decision, Punk has been careful not to be arrogant, as he begins his UFC career. In an interview with Rolling Stone, the former WWE superstar said he’s not expecting to walk right in and be a dominant fighter.
“I'm not gonna sit here and make bold predictions about first-round head kicks and beating ranked opponents,” Punk said. “This is about me and my journey to get there. I understand other peoples' point of view about, ‘Oh, there's great fighters out there like Ben Askren.’ My only point on that is, 'Don't be mad at me, Ben. Be mad at [UFC President] Dana [White].’ I'm sure Ben Askren's a nice guy. If he's mad at me, I understand. But if the Blackhawks came to me before Dana and Lorenzo did and were like, ‘We're gonna put you in goal,’ I'd be like, ‘That's great. I played a little hockey when I was a kid.’”
It’s unknown when Punk’s first fight will be, but he’s committed to fighting sometime next year. Punk and White have estimated that he’ll need about six months of training, before facing his first opponent.
Punk walked out on WWE, after competing in the Royal Rumble in January. He said on the Art of Wrestling Podcast that he was fired from the company in June.