16 for 16 – No. 15 CM Punk debuts
December 20, 2016
After a prolonged wait, CM Punk made his professional MMA debut at UFC 203 in September 2016. Punk took on Mickey Gall in a one-sided match which saw Punk do nothing until he tapped to a rear-naked choke.
While there was a UFC title defense by heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic, it was clear that Punk was the headliner. FS1 did a three-part documentary on Punk’s transformation from WWE performer to MMA fighter at the age of 37. He was also a prominent figure on the Embedded episodes leading up to the PPV.
Punk earned $500,000 for his debut fight which was the same amount made by James Toney in his unsuccessful MMA debut against Randy Couture. Punk proved his payout as the PPV buys for UFC 203 were up from a normal PPV rate: 425K-475K PPV buys.
The Punk experiment was backed by the UFC. He was one of the first fighters to train at EXOS. He had a three-part FS1 series leading up to UFC 203 which documented his training. The investment in Punk paid off even if he did not do well against Gall. The PPV drew more than the typical UFC buy rate baseline. While the fans in Cleveland were behind Miocic, he was not the PPV needle mover, it was Punk. One might infer from the buy rate that Punk had a great WWE following.
It will be interesting to see if Punk returns to fight in MMA, whether it is in the UFC or elsewhere. On another note, will Punk speak out about fighters organizing. Surprisingly, he’s not come out with a statement about the possibility. For someone that hated the WWE, he has been mum about what he thinks about fighters organizing in the UFC.