Former WWE superstar CM Punk looked every bit the part of someone with no mixed martial arts experience at UFC 203, losing swiftly by first-round submission to Mickey Gall. But just because the ex-professional wrestler might not belong in the octagon, that doesn’t mean he won’t get another shot on MMA’s biggest stage.
The odds were always against Punk having success in UFC, dating back to when he signed with the company in December 2014. Unlike Brock Lesnar, who was a collegiate wrestling champion before making the transition from WWE to UFC, Punk didn’t have any previous experience in combat sports. He was a celebrity that wanted a chance to compete in MMA, and he was given a shot because of his popularity and potential to draw fans.
“I don’t know if it was an experiment,” UFC president Dana White told Fight Network’s John Pollock when asked if the “CM Punk experiment” was a success. “I became friends with him. He’s a nice guy, I like him. I have a lot of respect for him. He wanted to give it a shot. I gave him his shot.”
With Punk making his UFC debut at 37 years old, the fight went as expected. Gall took him down within seven seconds, mauling Punk before the ex-wrestler tapped to a rear-naked choke just two minutes and 14 seconds into the first round. He was completely overmatched, unable to get any offense in.
But if the latest report proves to be true, Punk sold plenty of pay-per-view buys, accomplishing exactly what UFC signed him to do.
UFC 203 will likely have the most PPV buys by a card w/o McGregor, Rousey or Lesnar since UFC 183. Maybe since UFC 182.
— Marc Raimondi (@marc_raimondi) September 11, 2016
MMA Fighting’s Marc Raimondi estimates that the final numbers for UFC 203 will fall between 650,000 and 700,000 buys. A large portion of those buys can be attributed to Punk, considering the past performances of the fighters on the UFC 203 card.
UFC doesn’t often release PPV information, but it’s been estimated that UFC 198 on May 14 generated around 350,000 buys. That PPV was headlined by Stipe Miocic and Fabricio Werdum, who also competed in the top two fights at UFC 203.
Shortly after the conclusion of UFC 203, White indicated that Punk wouldn’t be fighting in UFC anytime soon.
"He probably shouldn't have his next fight in the UFC,” White told Pollock. “Just like I said with Brock, having your first fight in the UFC is tough and you [saw] tonight, even if it's against a guy who is 2-0. This is a tough place to learn."
That, however, was before the final PPV numbers came in. White might change his tune if it’s proven that Punk is UFC’s biggest draw outside of Conor McGregor, Ronda Rousey and maybe Jon Jones.
MMA is unpredictable, and White has changed his mind plenty of times in the past. Prior to UFC 202, White said that McGregor would return to 145 pounds for his next fight, but now it looks like the sport’s top star might never make it back to the featherweight division. In February, White said he expected Rousey to return in November, but now it looks like the former women’s bantamweight champion won’t be back until 2017.
UFC thought enough of Punk’s potential drawing power to guarantee him $500,000 for his first-ever fight. Punk’s underwhelming performance at UFC 203 could force a large portion of fans to avoid paying for his next bout, but UFC might give him another shot and find out if that’s the case.