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On Saturday, CM Punk made his much-anticipated debut in Mixed Martial Arts, fighting Mickey Gall at UFC 203. In what was a predictable expose of Punk's fighting skills, Gall quickly overwhelmed Punk and defeated him by submission in the first round in one of the most one-sided fights to ever take place on the main card of a UFC PPV.
Punk's failure to achieve even a brief moment of competitive advantage in his fight against Gall was viewed by many as an incredible failure for Punk. It was one thing to expect him to win—I think that a majority of fans were not expecting him to actually defeat Gall; but the fact that Punk did not show any form of fighting competency surprised fans.
For many, it was justification against a figure that they were desperately hoping to fail. For fans of MMA who thumbed their nose at the world of professional wrestling, watching Punk immediately fall onto his back and quickly get put in a desperate situation against Gall brought a smile to all of their faces; a fake fighter who tried for years to pass himself off as a legit ass-kicker was getting put in his place against the real deal. For WWE executives and fans who considered Punk a quitter, someone who left the company as an angry and bitter employee who felt marginalized because he was not being paid like The Rock, it was just as sweet. Punk thought he could leave wrestling and achieve success without the aid of WWE, but that wasn't the case as he was strongly struck down with ferocity by Gall.
Punk was also actively criticized for debuting in MMA where so few have ever done, on the main card of a UFC PPV in a fight that was heavily advertised by the company. Even Brock Lesnar, who eventually proved to be one of the biggest drawing cards in UFC history, began his MMA career outside of UFC. Those who credited Punk for having the courage to step into the cage against a trained professional; they were countered by the fact that Punk was compensated by at least $500,000 to get beaten up by Gall. Punk also took a spot on the card from a more deserving fighter. Ironically, Punk is hypocritically taking the role that The Rock did at WrestleMania—a less dedicated performer coming in and taking the big spot away from another performer simply because of name value. The Rock worked the main event of WrestleMania because he was a bigger name than Punk, and Punk worked the main card of UFC 203 because he was a bigger name than another fighter who was left off the card.
While those criticisms are factually correct, their relevancy to Punk is questionable. If Punk is anything it is fiercely independent and the impact that criticism from those who have a pre-determined bias against him have on his psyche is minimal. The vocal detractors of Punk were prevalent throughout the extended build-up for his fight; but Punk showed no signs of it effecting him. He did not lash out at fans, he only remained positive about his experience leading up to the fight. After his loss to Gall, Punk remained positive in his post-match promo; greatly expressing his enjoyment from the fight, congratulating Gall and saying that he would be back to do it all again.
Even if you want to critique Punk for any number of reasons, you cannot dispute his dedication to fighting. This is a guy who took an incredible beating throughout his career as a professional wrestler, putting mileage on his body that is incomparable to pretty much any other field of work. He had to get multiple surgeries, which pushed back the date of his fight on two occasions. Without having any background in combat sports outside of a passion for the art, Punk decided he was going to try and step into the cage against a professional, someone who earned a living fighting and not someone that was just trying to check off something on their bucket list.
If you listened to the words coming out of the Punk camp leading up the fight, they were not necessarily gushing about his fighting prowess and the rapid improvements he was making as a fighter. They instead constantly talked about his commitment to working on his craft; admiring someone who did not need the money he was going to make from fighting, or the fame, but someone that was dedicated to getting better out of pure love of the sport. A lot of guys in his spot probably wouldn't have gotten the necessary surgeries, or driven to Milwaukee every day to train or deal with his setbacks. Say whatever you want about Punk's skills as a fighter, but he wasn't doing this for a cash grab or to cling onto the last rays of the limelight; he fought because of passion.
When the dust settled, Punk was decimated by Gall, who was not getting paid by the hour and defeated Punk in a fight that was not interesting for a moment outside of the comedy of watching someone so clearly outmatched fighting to survive. So crass jokes can be made about Punk and his apparent lack of skills, but that is not only unfair, it is ignorant to the true motive of Punk's cause. It wasn't about him winning the fight and although he would have liked to have looked better in the fight, it wasn't about him losing the fight. It was about working hard to try and do something that he really wanted to do. Someone that does that deserves to be applauded, not ridiculed and even if he didn't "succeed" in the black and white world of wins and losses; he was a winner in life when he finally step foot in the cage.
Six Pack Challenge for the SmackDown Women's Championship: ***1/2
Fun match to start the show with a lot of fast paced action and high-impact moves. Usually the fast opening match is reserved for tag team matches or multi-man matches for the InterContinental or United States Championships, so the Women getting this opportunity is a sign that WWE is committed to treating them closer to equally. I thought that Alexa Bliss looked as good as I have seen her and Carmella showed potential, even if her offense isn't quite all the way there right now. Becky Lynch winning the match was the right call as she is probably the best technical women's wrestler in the company and can work with a variety of different opponents. Since a lot of the Women in the division are still relatively inexperienced, it is important to have a champion that can work well with everyone, and Becky is exactly that.
The Usos vs The Hype Bros: **1/4
Nothing really unusual from this match, pretty much a basic tag team match. I want to complain about The Hype Bros because of how bad Mojo Rawley's gimmick is, but the sad fact is that it is getting Zack Ryder on television frequently, which is more than you can say for most of his career.
Kane vs Bray Wyatt: **3/4
Pretty basic street fight, one that they often do on the house show circuit. People might be upset about Kane getting the victory over Bray Wyatt, but I thought it was handled well. Wyatt dominated Kane for most of the match and only lost because the man he is really feuding with (Randy Orton) interfered and cost him the match.
The real story of this match is Orton being taken off the show earlier that day (although that didn't stop WWE from promoting the match right until the last minute) because of health concerns related to the finish of his match at SummerSlam. Whether it was because of lingering issues with a concussion or the staples in his head having not been healed, the issue remains the same. The finish to the SummerSlam match was so completely STUPID that it cannot be stressed enough. I get that WWE wanted to do a TKO finish and that required Orton to bleed a lot. Traditionally this would be done with a blade, but in the new family friendly world of WWE, cutting yourself would be barbaric, so instead they have to do it the "hardway" which is when blood is drawn "naturally" or without the aid of a foreign instrument. Let's take a look at the prospective scenarios:
Scenario A: Brock throws some worked punches at Orton and Orton uses a tiny blade to cut a small slit near the hairline. The result is Orton bleeds a lot and while it may seem violent to have a wrestler intentionally cut himself, the fact is that it is a relatively safe procedure to the point that during the heyday of blading, wrestlers were doing it on a nightly basis and there were few long-term health effects.
Scenario B: Orton is mounted by a 290lb MMA fighter and instead of using a blade, allows Lesnar to legitimately bash in his head with an elbow strike, opening up a huge gash in his head and giving Orton a concussion while causing him to bleed profusely all over the ring. A month later Orton still cannot wrestle and you have to take him off a PPV event where he is in a key match.
I guess they should have let him just blade.
Dolph Ziggler vs The Miz: ****
Good match highlighted by a lot of tight work and near-falls by Ziggler and The Miz. Ziggler was given a bit of a raw deal over the last month or so, jobbing out unceremoniously to Ambrose at SummerSlam and then losing to The Miz, but he continues to plug away by working as hard as anybody in the ring. It's interesting that The Miz continues to taunt Daniel Bryan because naturally it seems like they are teasing an eventual match between the two; which is strange because Vince McMahon is notorious for disliking the promotion of matches that he cannot deliver on. This suggests that Bryan may eventually come back; which if it is the case why on earth would you chose to have him come back and wrestle The Miz?
Heath Slater and Rhyno vs The Uso's: **1/2
They paid off this storyline nicely by having Slater actually win the tag team titles. In a lot of ways Slater has become a babyface under the classic formula of the crowd rallying behind someone they have sympathy for. It started off as a comedic kind of angle, but in today's day and age that might be the only way to get that character over. I personally would have Jason Jordan come out and play a role in costing The Uso's the match, but it was still an effective finish that got a nice reaction from the crowd.
AJ Styles vs Dean Ambrose: ****1/4
A culmination of Styles' great run in WWE since coming aboard in January; which is completely unsurprising to anyone that has followed his career. It's impressive that he has been able to quickly establish himself as a top wrestler in WWE, NJPW and early-TNA, three really different promotions that require a different type of style to get over. When it is all said and done he will have to go down as the best pure wrestler to come from the United States so far this century.
The match reminded me a bit of a classic Ric Flair NWA bout from the 1980s, with AJ as Flair and Ambrose as the babyface. Obviously it was stylized differently and the moves were different but the pacing and the storytelling was the same. Ambrose can get caught up in his shtick in the ring during a lot of his matches, but during long matches against a good opponent he can be a good worker and adapt his style. I thought he kind of got the short-end of the stick recently, getting transferred to the "B" show and working a mid-card match at SummerSlam despite being the WWE Champion. With Styles primed to continue his feud with John Cena whenever he comes back, where will that leave Ambrose after he gets his re-match against Styles?
Overall I thought the show was pretty good. Considering Orton got taken off the show, it came together nicely and there were some really strong matches on the show. I thought it came across closer to an NXT-show with the match styles and the booking, which is a good thing. It was also nice to see the show go under three hours, which meant that it was paced well without having too many worthless matches on the show. It might not have been the most hyped show in history, but I thought it was very solid and a big improvement over SummerSlam.
Must watch matches:
Zack Sabre Jr. vs Gran Metalik: **** - WWE CWC Final
Kota Ibushi vs TJ Perkins: ****1/2 - WWE CWC Final