Mixed martial arts, with its complex blend of skills, is an incredibly difficult discipline to master. If anyone should feel buoyed by that, it’s CM Punk the former WWE wrestler who made the walk to the Octagon for the first time on Saturday night in Cleveland, against Mickey Gall. It takes time to get ready forMMA, and it’s unfair to expect more of Punk, whose real name is the rather less exotic Phil Brooks, as he fought for the first time as a pro or amateur.
The match, one of the undercards during’s Saturday’s UFC 203, was the latest episode in a long history tying pro wrestling and mixed martial arts. Known as shooters, these type of pro wrestlers can legitimately fight. Japan’s Kazushi Sakuraba, who beat the great UFC champion Royce Gracie in 2000, was perhaps the most successful modern version.
It wasn’t clear coming in if Brooks would be in the mold of wrestlers who knew how to shoot, or wrestlers who didn’t. He said he was aware of the history he was stepping into but didn’t want to say how he thought he stacked up in the tradition of wrestling tough guys like Karl Gotch and Billy Robinson.
But Brooks, 37, was confident. Unfortunately, the big dreams he spoke of during a two-year odyssey from wrestling to MMA were broken when Gall, a 24-year-old welterweight prospect with a strong grappling game and a beaming smile, beat him in the opening round.
On the advice of his trainer, Milwaukee’s Duke Roufus, the former WWE champion charged out of his corner, throwing a wild right that gave Gall, now unbeaten in his first three fights, the opening for an easy double-leg takedown. In a matter of moments, he had capitalized on Brooks’s inexperience by smoothly securing back-control. By the time Gall had finished with him, Brooks was cut over his right eye, lumped up around his face and his right ear was swollen. The worst part of the experience wasn’t that Brooks didn’t win. It was that he never looked competitive.
However, if he was disappointed after the defeat, Brooks didn’t show it. “In life you go big or you go home,” he said. “I just like to take challenges. This was a hell of a mountain to try to climb. I didn’t get to the top tonight. That doesn’t mean I’m going give up or stop. Obviously Mickey’s a hell of a fighter. I will be back believe it or not. This is the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. Second best night in my life other than marrying my wife. I know there’s a lot of doubters. Life’s about falling down and getting back up.
Gall made the most of the moment, asserting that he planned on making a mark in the UFC. “I’m no gimmick,” Gall said before calling out another UFC prospect, Sage Northcutt.